Shocking news from the world of Protestant theology: Bruce Waltke, arguably the pre-eminent Old Testament scholar in the field, has resigned from the Reformed Theological Seminary Orlando. Why? It’s not clear, but this comes right after he was excoriated by other conservative Protestant figures for statements made in a video posted to the BioLogos website. (Full disclosure: BioLogos receives grant money from my employer, the John Templeton Foundation). According to an eyebrow-raising statement on the BioLogos site, Waltke stated in a video commentary that had been posted to the site that the church needed to come to terms with the fact of evolution, explaining that “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 said that refusing to deal with science as it is will marginalize Christians.
Outrage from the Evangelical community, and a directive from his seminary, compelled Waltke to ask that the video be removed, though he still stands by his position.
The unsigned commentary from BioLogos says, in part:
The fact that Dr. Waltke felt he was unable to leave the video in place, despite the fact that he still agrees with its contents, is an extremely important statement about the culture of fear within evangelicalism in today’s world. Leading evangelicals who support evolution are rightly fearful of personal attacks on the integrity of their faith and character. Even when they believe that scientific data must be taken seriously, and that science has revealed the ways in which God created the world, they are more willing to be associated with those who are clearly wrong about God’s truth as revealed within His World, and who are thereby also wrong about how they understand His Word. How will the Church ever come to discern truth and falsehood if academic discourse is neutered for fears of public perception? This situation, before us, more than any that we are familiar with in the one year history of biologos.org, poignantly demonstrates the importance of the task we all have.
There are countless people, especially young people, who are discovering that the world of science is not out of touch with reality. Data emerge every day that make this even more clear. As Dr. Waltke himself says in the video, we cannot allow Christianity to become a cult–but this is what will happen if the Church continues to turn its head. When young people discover that neither the science they’ve been taught in their churches nor the theology that undergirds it are credible, many will feel they have to throw out their faith. For the sake of those countless young people, and for the sake of intellectual integrity, courage of conviction is required.
Though I work for Templeton, I have had no contact with the BioLogos people about this or any other subject, and nothing I blog here should be taken in any way as an official Templeton Foundation position. That said, even though I would agree that Waltke’s controversial remarks were overstated, it is all but incomprehensible that in 2010, any American scholar, particularly one of his academic distinction, could be so harshly bullied for stating an opinion consonant with current scientific orthodoxy. Doesn’t Waltke at least have the right to be wrong about something like this? Don’t mistake me, I believe that any and every religion, and religious institution, has the right, and indeed the obligation, to set standards and to enforce them. But is this really the hill these Reformed folks want to die on?
To be sure, the intolerance goes both ways, as Dr. Richard Sternberg can attest. Still, Waltke was not questioning basic Christian dogmas, only asserting the importance of religion reconciling itself with science. As 2010 Templeton laureate and eminent scientist Francisco Ayala recently said, he’s had university students who, when they learn about evolutionary science, come to believe quite wrongly that they have to choose between science and their faith. However well meaning, the people who have apparently pushed Waltke out of the seminary over this are not protecting the integrity of the faith; they’re badly compromising it.
See more Beliefnet commentary on this scandalous turn of events by Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed. I spoke with an ex-Evangelical friend about this today, telling her how mysterious Waltke’s bullying was to me. She said it’s not the least bit surprising to her. “You didn’t grow up with it, so you have no idea how central Biblical literalism on this stuff is,” she said. “It’s all about Biblical inerrancy. If Genesis is not literally true in every respect, in their minds the whole thing falls apart. They can’t give an inch on this.”