Bruce K. Waltke, a distinguished evangelical scholar and a (former) professor of Old Testament at the Reformed Theological Seminary, has been forced to resign because he said that evangelical Christians can believe in evolution without denying the teachings of the Bible.
When it comes to incriminating videos these days, the one of Bruce K. Waltke might seem pretty tame. It shows the noted evangelical scholar of the Old Testament talking about scholarship, faith and evolution. What was incriminating? He not only endorsed evolution, but said that evangelical Christianity could face a crisis for not coming to accept science.
“If the data is overwhelmingly in favor of evolution, to deny that reality will make us a cult … some odd group that is not really interacting with the world. And rightly so, because we are not using our gifts and trusting God’s Providence that brought us to this point of our awareness,” he says, according to several accounts by those who have seen the video. Those words set off a furor at the Reformed Theological Seminary, where Waltke was — until this week — a professor. (The seminary is evangelical, with ties to several denominations.)
The statements so upset officials of the seminary that Waltke had to ask the BioLogos Foundation, a group that promotes the idea that science and faith need not be incompatible, to remove it from its website (which the foundation did) and to post a clarification. The video was shot during a BioLogos workshop. But even those steps weren’t enough for the seminary, which announced that it had accepted his resignation.
Waltke is a big enough name in evangelical theology that the incident is prompting considerable soul-searching. On the one hand, his public endorsement of the view that believing in evolution and being a person of faith are not incompatible was significant for those who, like the BioLogos Foundation, support such a view. Waltke’s scholarly and religious credentials in Christian theology were too strong for him to be dismissed easily.
But the fact that his seminary did dismiss him is viewed as a sign of just how difficult it may be for scholars at some institutions to raise issues involving science that are not 100% consistent with a literal interpretation of the Bible.
“I think it’s a really sad situation, even if this isn’t the first time a scholar at a religious institution has been released for unorthodox views,” said Michael Murray, vice president for philosophy and theology at the John Templeton Foundation, which supports BioLogos and other efforts to bridge science and religion.
Waltke could not be reached for comment on the situation. He did issue a joint statement with the head of BioLogos in which he stood behind the substance of what he said in the video, but also said that he wished he could have provided more context, particularly his view that it is possible to believe in evolution and also believe in “in the inerrancy of Scripture.”
Michael Milton, president of the seminary’s Charlotte campus and interim president of its Orlando campus, where Waltke taught, confirmed that the scholar had lost his job over the video. Milton said that Waltke would “undoubtedly” be considered one of the world’s great Christian scholars of the Old Testament and that he was “much beloved here,” with his departure causing “heartache.” But he said that there was no choice.
Milton said that the seminary allows “views to vary” about creation, describing the faculty members there as having “an eight-lane highway” on which to explore various routes to understanding. Giving an example, he said that some faculty members believe that the Hebrew word yom (day) should be seen in Genesis as a literal 24-hour day. Others believe that yom may be providing “a framework” for some period of time longer than a day. Both of those views, and various others, are allowed, Milton said.
But while Milton insisted that this provides for “a diversity” of views, he acknowledged that others are not permitted. Darwinian views, and any suggestion that humans didn’t arrive on earth directly from being created by God (as opposed to having evolved from other forms of life) are not allowed, he said, and faculty members know this.
Asked if this limits academic freedom, Milton said: “We are a confessional seminary. I’m a professor myself, but I do not have a freedom that would go past the boundaries of the confession. Nor do I have a freedom that would allow me to express my views in such a way to hurt or impugn someone who holds another view.” Indeed he added that the problem with what Waltke said was as much his suggestion that religion will lose support over these issues as his statements about evolution itself. (The statement of faith at the seminary states: “Since the Bible is absolutely and finally authoritative as the inerrant Word of God, it is the basis for the total curriculum.”)
Given Waltke’s role and reputation, Milton said that his resignation wasn’t accepted on the spot. But after prayer on the question, Milton said, officials accepted the resignation.
Even before word of Waltke’s resignation spread, his need to ask BioLogos to remove the video worried many Christian thinkers who want more public discussion about science. In his blog, Jesus Creed, Scot McKnight, the Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies at North Park University, wrote that he didn’t agree with all of Waltke’s views, but very much agreed that they deserved serious discussion.
McKnight focused his praise on a quote from Waltke in the video in which he said that “to deny the reality would be to deny the truth of God in the world and would be to deny truth. So I think it would be our spiritual death if we stopped loving God with all of our minds and thinking about it, I think it’s our spiritual death.”
The the article in its entirety by visiting USA Today online.
As the article says, Reformed Theological Seminary is a confessional school and the school’s curriculum is based on the view that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God and as such, the school teaches that evolution is contrary to the view that the Bible is inerrant.
There are many Christians who believe that evolution is compatible with Christians faith. These Christians are scientists, academics, pastors, and church members. One of my college professors, Dr. Young, a professor of Biology, taught a course on the Bible and evolution. He was a committed believer and yet he believed that evolution does not deny the view that God is the creator. He believed in what is called “theistic evolution.”
It is sad that Bruce Waltke had to resign over the issue of evolution. Those who know Waltke and those who have read his books also know that he is a committed believer. What Waltke’s resignation is teaching us is that there must be more dialogue about this issue so that Christians may discover whether faith and evolution are compatible.
On Bruce Waltke, read my post: Bruce Waltke on the Nephilim.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary