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Christianity and Evolution

May 1st, 2010

bruce-waltkeThe issue of the relationship between science and Christianity continues to be fraught with controversy, and during this past month it made the news headlines with the resignation of Professor Bruce Waltke from the faculty at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. The ABC report can be viewed on Youtube.

Professor Waltke is a preeminent Old Testament scholar, holding doctorates from Dallas Theological Seminary (Th.D.), Harvard University (Ph.D.), and Houghton College (D. Litt.). His teaching appointments at Dallas Theological Seminary, Regent College, Westminster Theological Seminary, and at Reformed Theological Seminary Orlando, have earned him a reputation as a superb teacher with a pastoral heart. In addition to serving on the translation committee of the NIV and TNIV and as editor of the Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, Waltke has written commentaries on Genesis, Proverbs, and Micah. His latest publication, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical and Thematic Approach, earned the Christian Book Award in 2008. The problem with Professor Waltke’s views on creation and evolution became public when the BioLogos Foundation published a video on its website which it described in the following way:

In this video conversation Bruce Waltke discusses the danger the Church will face if it does not engage with the world around it, in particular with the issue of evolution, which many evangelicals still reject.

Waltke cautions, “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.”

We are at a unique moment in history where “everything is coming together,” says Waltke, and conversations—like those initiated by BioLogos—are positive developments. “I see this as part of the growth of the church,” he says. “We are much more mature by this dialogue that we are having. This is how we come to the unity of the faith—by wrestling with these issues.”

Waltke points out that to deny scientific reality would be to deny the truth of God in the world. For us as Christians, this would serve as our spiritual death because we would not be loving God with all of our minds. It would also be our spiritual death in witness to the world because we would not be seen as credible.

While Christians may still disagree with one another on some issues, Waltke emphasizes that it is important that we are really interacting in a serious way—and trusting God as truth. Testing these things but holding fast to that which is good will bring greater understanding and unity among Christians.

If we don’t do that, Waltke cautions, we are going to die. If we refuse to engage with the greater cultural/scientific dialogue, we may end up marginalized and that would be a great tragedy for the Church.”

Several of the people who viewed the video disagreed with these positions and contacted members of the administration at Reformed Theological Seminary. After viewing the video, Dr. Ric Cannada, the Chancellor of RTS, contacted Professor Waltke via e-mail. In his return e-mail, Waltke immediately offered his resignation for the good of the seminary. He apparently knew by then that what he had said in the interview was problematic for the seminary.

Waltke himself was clear that the videos were misleading. He explained that he was used to writing his materials and that writing could be edited before publication, but in this case – his first venture at a video statement – he did not have the ability to edit it prior to it being published. In asking that the video be removed, Waltke also wrote an explanation that BioLogos published. That statement was as follows:

I had not seen the video before it was distributed. Having seen it, I realize its deficiency and wish to put my comments in a fuller theological context:

·     Adam and Eve are historical figures from whom all humans are descended; they are uniquely created in the image of God and as such are not in continuum with animals.

·     Adam is the federal and historical head of the fallen human race just as Jesus Christ is the federal and historical head of the Church.

·     I am not a scientist, but I have familiarized myself with attempts to harmonize Genesis 1-3 with science, and I believe that creation by the process of evolution is a tenable Biblical position, and, as represented by BioLogos, the best Christian apologetic to defend Genesis 1-3 against its critics.

·     I apologize for giving the impression that others who seek to harmonize the two differently are not credible. I honor all who contend for the Christian faith.

·     Evolution as a process must be clearly distinguished from evolutionism as a philosophy. The latter is incompatible with orthodox Christian theology.

·     Science is fallible and subject to revision. As a human and social enterprise, science will always be in flux. My first commitment is to the infallibility (as to its authority) and inerrancy (as to its Source) of Scripture.

·     God could have created the Garden of Eden with apparent age or miraculously, even as Christ instantly turned water into wine, but the statement that God “caused the trees to grow” argues against these notions.

·     I believe that the Triune God is Maker and Sustainer of heaven and earth and that biblical Adam is the historical head of the human race.

·     Theological comments made here are mostly a digest of my chapters on Genesis 1-3 in An Old Testament Theology (Zondervan, 2007).

The key statement over which Dr. Waltke and the RTS Administration continued discussions for several days was this one: “I believe that creation by the process of evolution is a tenable Biblical position, and, as represented by BioLogos, the best Christian apologetic to defend Genesis 1-3 against its critics.”

It seems that the phrase ‘as represented by BioLogos’ meant Waltke’s position could be interpreted as agreeing with those who believe that genetic science has ‘proved’ that Adam and Eve could not have been the only ‘original’ humans, but that as many as 1,000 were needed to produce the genetic codes that science as identified. Not to mention the fact that ‘creation by evolution’ denies the miraculous creation of Adam and Eve from dust.

RTS came to the conclusion that these views of BioLogos and Waltke’s support of them could not be reconciled with the confessional statements to which all RTS faculty must adhere and informed Dr. Waltke that his resignation was going to be accepted.

Since then, Professor Waltke has been offered a position on the faculty at Knox Theological Seminary where the chairman of the Board is a former President of RTS, Dr Luder Whitlock.

Some people might find the politics of the whole situation a bit confusing. Knox Seminary is under the control of the Session of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale. It was founded by the long-time pastor of Coral Ridge, Dr. D. James Kennedy, who was known for his strong support of the inerrancy of Scripture and the full historicity of the Genesis account of creation, as well as being an ardent defender of the young earth view of creation.

When a prominent conservative scholar like Professor Waltke raises these issues, it causes shock-waves throughout the evangelical and reformed community, and reminds us that the discussion of these issues will be on the agenda for a long time to come. Rick Philips makes an interesting response here for those who wish to think more about this debate.

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