Resignation of Bruce Waltke over issues of science and faith

It was with astonishment and shared grief that I processed the news of the resignation of our beloved colleague, Professor Bruce Waltke from his post at Reformed Theological Seminary over the issue of his belief in creation by evolution. Astonishment because this is surely not a creedal issue, and such an action violates the preservation of Christian unity and catholicity which is grounded in matters of confessional orthodoxy, and which flounders when matters of a relatively secondary nature are inappropriately elevated. The creedal matter here is that God created the universe and humans, and the secondary matter is how He may have done so. If it may be countered that the inspiration and authority of Scripture is at stake in affirming the evolutionary creation option for the how of creation, surely RTS must have recognized Bruce’s consistently high commitment to this foundational matter (indeed, Bruce even speaks of ‘inerrancy’). And surely we must insist that Scripture is only authoritative as properly interpreted. It is more than ironic that B.B. Warfield, a hero of the Reformed tradition, whose seminal work in the area of the inspiration and authority of Scripture, was, amongst others in this tradition, an evolutionary creationist, and found nothing in Genesis 1 and 2 properly interpreted that contradicted this. Perhaps RTS, to be consistent, should remove readings in Warfield from their courses in bibliology.

Our own majority view on this Cosmos project is that Genesis 1 and 2, as interpreted in light of its literary genre and in light of its ancient near eastern context, is about theology and not chronology. As such it permits a harmonization with the best theory true science can offer for the way in which our cosmos and humans came into being.  Do we insist as a faculty at Regent that all must hold to this to teach here? This would be to exalt a non-confessional issue as a ground for unity in a manner that mitigates against the apostolic appeal for unity which is based on foundational, Trinitarian essentials (Ephesians 4:4-6). Despite the fact that I as a pastor may think evolutionary creation is a better viewpoint than literal 6-day creationism, or Intelligent Design, because it best fits with Scripture and because it best fits with true science, I would not stoop to making this a defining point of fellowship in my church, and I will affirm a doctrine of creation and its pervasive implications for the life and mission of the church, whilst encouraging open and loving dialogue on the matter of origins.

Why does this action by RTS evoke grief? First because it suggests to me that we have not learnt anything from the sad episodes in the history of the church where science was presumed to be in conflict with the Bible (the refusal of the Catholic Church to accept the discovery of Copernicus that the earth was not the centre of the solar system and the excommunication of Galileo for believing this – Bruce is at least in good company!) I am sad secondly because it is yet another example of the penchant for division and fractionation amongst Protestants. It works against the unity over which Jesus agonized in prayer in John 17, not only because the unity of the church was a sacrament of Trinitarian unity, but because He saw this as a vital missional matter. We Evangelicals tend to labour so much over styles of church and techniques for being missional and miss the fact that the most crucial element of the church’s missional power is its unity. I am sad because a seminary which is representative of the Protestant church has once again given it reason to divide over a non-essential. I suspect that the Board at RTS was motivated by pressure of a financial kind related to the popular view of creationism of the conservative Christian populus of the South. What causes me grief about that, in addition to the indignity inflicted on a godly, spiritual scholar to whom I owe a great debt, is that higher matters of the catholicity and mission of the Church at large were neglected. And lastly, at a very missional level, the longer we as the church keep denying science and don’t properly read God’s two books, the longer we will keep stumbling intelligent people from coming into the kingdom by insisting they must adhere to a certain view of the origin of the cosmos.

Ross Hastings

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Saturday, April 10th, 2010 Articles

2 Comments to Resignation of Bruce Waltke over issues of science and faith

  • okeydokey_dtm says:

    Dr. Hastings,

    I really affirm your evaluation of the situation with Bruce Waltke at RTS. It is sad that those within Christian academia are following the example of those in secular academia in persecuting those that do not hold to their theory on how life began. I liked your comment about how persecution such as this only adds to the “penchant for division and fractionation amongst Protestants.” We are only shooting ourselves in the foot as a church when we persecute those for non-creedal issues. Unity is definitely a crucial part of being missional to a world that is lost. I am a Day-age Creationist who may disagree with Mr. Waltke on the origin of life, but I still stand by him as a brother in Christ and choose to disagree agreeably and in loving mutual respect knowing that our belief in the Gospel and the person of Jesus Christ is of far more importance. I choose to be in unity with Christ and His body the Church by not aligning myself with those that persecute others with different beliefs on the origin of life by taking away their livelihoods.

    How do those who do not know Christ view us when they see us persecute our own for holding non-creedal beliefs? What kind of a witness of Christ is this action by RTS to folks like Richard Dawkins, William Provine, or Eugenie Carol Scott? I say that it is a poor witness indeed and only affirms what people like the aforementioned support, that Christianity is an overly dogmatic institution that endorses the hatred of science.

    I have a question for you just to satisfy my curiosity. You had written that the majority at Regent viewed “Genesis 1 and 2, as interpreted in light of its literary genre and in light of its ancient near eastern context, is about theology and not chronology.” I was wondering if this is the same as the Literary Framework view of the Genesis story of creation?

    God Bless,

    Dan (future Regent student)

  • Jonathan says:

    That was well said Ross! After moving to Florida a few months ago I was looking forward to spending more time with Dr. Waltke, being only 45 minutes away from RTS. I was disheartened to see Dr. Waltke leave over such a trivial issue, one with which I would agree with Dr. Waltke and you, Ross. However, maybe this should not be seen as a trivial as it has been expressed within Regent professors, especially within CTC. This is an important issue, as you yourself (Ross) said that this is a stumbling block for intellectuals to enter the church. This is an issue that should be taken more seriously in the course curriculum of a seminary education. In fact, this is one of the main issues that keeps the dumb dumb and keeps the skeptic away from the church. With the rude awakening of Dr. Waltke’s depature from RTS, I am sure more attention will be given to it’s importance.

    Thank you again Ross for your thoughts.

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