The Templeton Prize is one of the most prestigious in the world. It was established in 1972 by the late Sir John Templeton, who said he wanted to identify “entrepreneurs of the spirit”—individuals who have devoted themselves to deepening our understanding of human purpose and ultimate reality.
As the Templeton Prize website puts it, “The prize celebrates no particular faith tradition or notion of God, but rather the quest for progress in humanity’s efforts to comprehend the many and diverse manifestations of the Divine.” The prize’s monetary award is £1,100,000 sterling (a little over $1.5 million currently).
Recipients have come from a variety of religious traditions (the Dalai Lama won it in 2012), but most have been Christians, and some, evangelicals (Billy Graham, Bill Bright, and Charles Colson, to name three). This year the award was given to Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. According to Templeton, he “has spent decades bringing spiritual insight to the public conversation through mass media, popular lectures and more than two dozen books.”
In particular it noted, “Central to his message is appreciation and respect of all faiths, with an emphasis that recognizing the values of each is the only path to effectively combat the global rise of violence and terrorism.” CT invited Miroslav Volf, professor of theology at Yale Divinity School, to write about the significance of this prize for Sacks, since Volf himself has argued along similar lines in his recent, Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World.Volf is likely best known among CT readers for his now classic book on forgiveness and reconciliation: Exclusion and Embrace.
I cannot think of a worthier person to receive the prestigious Templeton Prize than this year’s recipient, Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. I am partial. I have known Rabbi Sacks for many years; I have shopped with him for Indian clothing in Amritsar; I have hosted him as a public lecturer for the “Life Worth Living” class that I co-teach at Yale; he serves on the Advisory Board for the Templeton-funded project at the Yale Center for Faith and Culture on “Theology of Joy and the Good Life”; and he has welcomed me as a dinner-guest at his home in London.
One need not be partial to recognize that Rabbi Sacks is one of the most significant public intellectuals today speaking in a distinctly religious voice. As his many books and public lectures attest, his brilliant intellect, deep devotion to his own religious tradition, and an exceptional ability to communicate ideas clearly combine to make his influence exceptional among his peers. All three of these qualities are amply demonstrated in his books, and especially in The Politics of Hope (1997), The Dignity of Difference (2002) and Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence (2015). But he is not the only public intellectual with such qualities—and, significant as these qualities are, they would not have sufficed to earn him the Templeton Prize.
So why is Sacks such a worthy recipient of this honor, and more to the point here, why can evangelicals celebrate this as well? There are four main reasons, and they form an integrated whole in public philosophy.
I am partial in naming them, of course. Over the years—especially in A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good (Brazos, 2011) and, most recently, in Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World (Yale, 2016)—I have advocated very similar positions from a Christian perspective, sometimes in explicit conversation with Rabbi Sacks.