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.