German philosopher Fredrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844—1900) introduced the phrase God is dead in a philosophical novel called Thus Spake Zarathustra. By “God is dead,” he meant that the idea of an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-seeing God was no longer something in which modern humans could believe. Death of God theology, also known as radical theology, advocates secularism and an abandonment of traditional belief.
In the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, philosophers, theologians, and writers started to build upon the postmodern thinking that Nietzsche introduced and attempted to launch a movement called God Is Dead. It did not gain enough momentum to have widespread impact. However, the ideas behind it and the continuation of postmodern thinking did leave its mark on culture.
Until that time in history, most people, even those without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, still basically accepted that God was knowable and involved in humanity’s affairs. God is dead theology introduced people to the concept that there is no God at all or, at the very least, God is not who He said He was in Scripture.
Death of God theology teaches that religion is irrelevant, and churches and theologians will have to get along as best they can without God from now on. Death of God theology naturally leads to these associated ideas:
• there are no moral absolutes and no universal standard to which all people should conform
• there is no purpose or rational order in life
• any design seen in the universe is projected by men who are desperate to find meaning in life
• man is independent and totally free to create his own values
• the “real” world (as opposed to a heaven and hell) is man’s only concern
God is dead theology wrongly assumes that humans can determine if God is knowable or even exists.
A goldfish may decide that the moon does not exist. That doesn’t change the moon one bit. The goldfish could argue quite credibly that it has never seen the moon or that the moon doesn’t affect its life. But the moon continues its orbit around the earth. The goldfish may even go so far as to say, “You can believe in the moon if you want to, but I will not because of my logic.” The moon will still wax and wane despite the goldfish’s strong opinion. When people surmised that God is dead, God lost none of His authority, power, or divinity.
Death of God theology is primarily a challenge to God’s authority over our lives. Ever since the Garden of Eden, we like to make our own rules, and we dislike being told what to do. So we pretend that God is dead. But the truth is that God “lives for ever and ever” (Revelation 10:6). He is Life, and knowing Him is eternal life (John 17:3). Jesus showed us who God is: “He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory” (1 Timothy 3:16).
Nietzsche wrote, “God is dead.” A few people repeated it. They could not see God and argued that He had never interfered in their lives. But death of God theology will not and cannot change the God of the universe. People die. Churches may die. But God will not. Longfellow had it right for every generation: “God is not dead, nor doth he sleep.”