Matthew Rose’s great First Things essay about the infamous 1966 “Death Of God” cover story in Time magazine is only available online to that magazine’s subscribers, but I think I can quote enough of it here to give you its gist.
Rose discusses the tenets of “Death Of God” theology — that is, how a group of liberal Protestant theologians in the 1960s came to believe and to proclaim that being faithful to Christ meant teaching that God is dead. The Time cover story was hugely controversial in its day, but, says Rose, has been vindicated. Rose:
Elson and his editors at Time, however, were prophetic in giving Death of God theology such attention. The United States today looks a lot like the society van Buren, Altizer, and Hamilton wished to midwife. Their ideas about the relationship between Christianity and secularization express, in exaggerated form to be sure, some of the most deeply felt religious intuitions of our culture. They also anticipated a crucial but under-examined phenomenon of our time: the institutional defeat and cultural victory of liberal Protestantism.
And so, fifty years on, to revisit the Death of God movement is not to witness the absurd apotheosis of sixties-era religion. It is to encounter a moment, at once traditional and radical, when liberal Protestantism sought a new dispensation to justify the moral supremacy over American life that it continues to enjoy to this day.
“God is dead” — the phrase is one of Nietzsche’s most famous — means here that man has no need of the concept of God. As Rose puts it, “God is dead in the way Latin is dead.” What made Death of God theology so controversial is that its advocates believed this was good news that Christians should embrace.