On the Courage of Bruce Waltke

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April 8, 2010 Tags: Christian Unity

Today's entry was written by Darrel Falk. You can read more about what we believe here.

On the Courage of Bruce Waltke

Having had several exchanges with Bruce over Easter weekend, I woke up very early on Tuesday morning, April 6th compelled to write the piece below. At the time I wrote it, I had no idea that several hours later I would learn that Dr. Waltke was no longer employed by Reformed Theological Seminary. (See official announcement here.) In this statement, I emphasize that Dr. Waltke’s reason for requesting that his video be removed from our site was his concern for the Church and for his students.

Two years ago a Pew Forum poll concluded that only about 25% of evangelicals believe in evolution, and only 10% believe that evolution occurred through natural selection. Given this state of affairs, academics who work in evangelical institutions put their careers on the line if they accept the scientific data that God created through natural selection. When the church as a whole thinks so differently about something so important, it takes courage to present a view that challenges the status quo.

Bruce Waltke is a person of courage.

Bruce has long been one of evangelicalism’s most respected Old Testament scholars. His 2007 Old Testament Theology textbook was an exercise in courage. In it he clearly lays out the basis for his belief in theistic evolution. Consider this excerpt from his book:

In my view—certainly not the view of all scientists––the best harmonious synthesis of the special revelation of the Bible, … and of science is by the theory of theistic evolution, not by insisting on a woodenly literal interpretation. By ‘theory,’ I mean here ‘a coherent group of general propositions used as principles of explanation for the origin of species, especially adam,’ not “a proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural. By ‘theistic evolution’ I mean that the God of Israel, to bring glory to himself, (1) created all things that are out of nothing and sustains them; (2) incredibly, against the laws of probability, finely tuned the essential properties of the universe to produce ‘adam …(3) within his providence allowed the process of natural selection and of cataclysmic interventions … to produce awe-inspiring creatures, especially ‘adam; (4) by direct creation made ’adam a spiritual being, an image of divine beings, for fellowship with himself by faith; (5) allowed ’adam to freely choose to follow their primitive animal nature and to usurp the rule of God instead of living by faith in God, losing fellowship with their … Creator; (6) and in his mercy chose from fallen ‘adam the Israel of God, whom he regenerated by the Holy Spirit, in connection with their faith in Jesus Christ, the Second Adam, for fellowship with himself.”
–– pp. 202-203 of An Old Testament Theology.

When you hold such a position in a conservative evangelical seminary, you cannot write something like this without understanding that there will likely be strong resistance. With only 10% of evangelicals believing in natural selection, you can be sure that there are very few major donors to your conservative seminary who support evolution through natural selection. A conservative seminary exists in part to hold the line against what evangelicals consider to be theological liberalism. Bruce was courageous enough to write the above in a theology textbook, cognizant of how controversial it might become.

Bruce made some equally strong statements with the BioLogos camera running and gave us the written permission to post the now-controversial video. What Bruce said on the video was simply an elaboration of things he had written already. Nonetheless, given the location of his faculty position, it took very significant courage for him to speak as he did on camera.

We were surprised and disappointed when Bruce asked that we take the first of two videos down. (The second has not yet been posted.) We have posted many other short videos this year and our audience has found them most helpful. Because Bruce was so clear and forthright, we were particularly fond of his video. It was Bruce’s courage, though, that we appreciated most of all.

Because we had seen letters from the leaders of his seminary asking that it be taken down, we drew the conclusion that his desire to take it down was predicated by external forces. Bruce, however, has made it absolutely clear to us that his request came from his own heart. If he had any fear, it was only that he might hurt the Church.

Decades from now, when the Evangelical Church has come to terms with the reality of evolution, we hope she will look back at those who were the pioneers on its journey toward a fuller understanding of the manner by which God has created. I could list other pioneers, a number of whom are good friends and colleagues. Right there alongside them will be Dr. Bruce Waltke who, in the latter phase of an extremely distinguished career, had the courage to tell the Church what it needed to hear. The fact that he did so with a remarkably gentle spirit of love will be a reminder to all that the real battles are won when we simply live the reality of the Gospel. To do this—in the face of adversity—is the ultimate in courage.


Darrel Falk is former president of The BioLogos Foundation. He transitioned into Christian higher education 25 years ago and has given numerous talks about the relationship between science and faith at many universities and seminaries. He is the author of Coming to Peace with Science.


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Dunemeister - #9535

April 12th 2010

Jeff Vaughn,

That’s one way to look at it. Another way to look at it is exactly the way you’ve already pointed out: Your take on things is highly idiosyncratic. Now, I don’t hold to anything like an “innerant interpretation”. But honestly, your interpretation doesn’t work even on its own terms. Whatever else resurrection means, it means the restoration of the cosmos to peace, joy and harmony. The tight connection between “resurrection” and “kingdom of God” in the NT assures us of that. But if the church has already been raised in every applicable sense of that term I have to say that resurrection isn’t much to look at. For even in the church, the lion doesn’t lay with the lamb and eat straw. Lions still devour lambs. So there MUST be some sense in which that prophecy awaits fulfillment. Or that now it is only partially fulfilled. And there MUST be some sense in which we will be raised. As you say, the ancient church had it right. “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”


Ken Pulliam - #9539

April 12th 2010

I should also point out that its not clear that Ramm espoused his particular views on Science and Scripture when he was at BIOLA. He was there from 1944-1950. When he published The Christian View of Science and Scripture in 1954, he was at Baylor Univ., where his views would have been considered conservative at the time. The four books he published prior to CVSS took an explicitly inerrantist stand.


John Warren - #9543

April 12th 2010

Unapologetic Catholic said, ‘“Any” is a disgrace.’  So it is a disgrace to take the Bible at face value, and trust God before trusting man’s fallible science?


Unaplogetic Catholic - #9555

April 12th 2010

“So it is a disgrace to take the Bible at face value, and trust God before trusting man’s fallible science?”

No, but it is a disgrace to worship false idols.  You do worship God, not your “face value” interpretation of the Bible, correct?


DB- scientist - #9561

April 12th 2010

On this message board we need to model the careful and loving dialog we want to see in the world around us, not anger or accusations.

peace to all of you.

My two cents are:
I believe the good creation included things we dislike. God is good, but we do not always recognize good. Evolution is not about things starting bad and becoming good. It is about fruitfulness, adaptation to new habitats, and burgeoning diversity. Neither Did God say the world was perfect. He called it “good”. He did not say it became bad. He said the ground was cursed because of humans, work would be hard, childbirth would be more painful.
Well, as I look at the world, the ground most certainly is cursed because of humans.  But to interpret all the bits of nature we are uncomfortable with- predation and competition, nutrient cycling, etc, to the fall- I don’t see that in Scripture at all.


Dick Fischer - #9696

April 14th 2010

Prof. Waltke’s commentary on Genesis published in 2001 was one of the books I used in researching my book, Historical Genesis from Adam to Abraham.  I was a little disappointed that he didn’t incorporate more ANE literature that corroborated Genesis and I emailed him some pertinent information from my own research I thought he could have included.

When my book was published in 2008 I sent him a copy and emailed him a couple of questions that arose from the ASA listserv to which he replied in February of 2009: “I have been reading your book slowly with profit and will need to reflect more on your inquiries.”

What influence my book may have had on his post on the Biologos web site I will never know, but it reflected a position much closer to mine than was evident in his Genesis commentary.

In one respect I hope it wasn’t my influence that helped put gears in motion leading toward his resignation, but I can’t help but feel my input may have been one of the nucleotides in a long DNA sequence of information leading to his recent published position and the left foot of fellowship from Reformed Theological Seminary.


m - #9741

April 14th 2010

Now we have official information about Bruce K. Waltke (born in 1930):

04/11/2010 -  Statement from Chancellor Ric Cannada to the RTS community and beyond,

April, 11, 2010:
The RTS community and I want to readily and sincerely confirm our deep and abiding affection for Bruce Waltke. We are brothers in Christ seeking to serve the Lord with all of our hearts and minds. We will continue to pray for one another and serve each other as the Lord gives us the opportunities to do so.


m - #9742

April 14th 2010

Continue…

In recent national news articles and blogs some incorrect statements have been made and wrong motives applied to RTS, such as the idea that RTS forced Bruce to resign as a professor at RTS. Bruce initiated the offer to resign after a certain video became public which was bringing harm to RTS. Bruce and I dealt with the issues of the video for over a week, seeking to understand the situation, praying and waiting on the Lord’s guidance. As I came to understand the situation better, I ultimately accepted Bruce’s resignation believing it best for RTS and also best for Bruce.

Please continue to pray for Bruce as well as for RTS that we will be faithful to our Savior and His Word and that we will use our minds and hearts for the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ and for His church.

http://www.rts.edu/newsevents/newsdetails.aspx?news_id=1371


Jeffrey L Vaughn - #9746

April 14th 2010

How much of all this could merely be because Waltke is 80 and no longer has the strength?


Charles Austerberry - #9798

April 14th 2010

Waltke is gracious to blame the way he and BioLogos handled the video. Certainly he has handled his departure from RTS in a manner that should enable RTS to avoid damage. But I respectfully disagree with Waltke’s assertion that BioLogos and he himself are to blame. Sure, in hindsight one can always wish to have anticipated and proactively parried more of the misinterpretations and misrepresentations of his views. But I think the blame lies squarely with those who reacted to Waltke’s video with such knee-jerk alarm, fear, and indignant hostility. I’m thankful that Waltke was immediately contacted about another position at another seminary, not only for his sake, but also for the sake of countless others deciding whether it’s safe to speak truthfully, even within Christ’s church.


Herman Mays - #10316

April 19th 2010

As a professional evolutionary biologist and Christian with moderate to right political leanings I was overjoyed to finally hear the reasoned response on Evangelical Christianity and evolution by someone of Dr. Waltke’s status. It was incredibly brave. I only hope this is the beginning of an important dialogue among Christians as to whether we want our faith to play a central role in moral and spiritual development of the modern world or we want to be a cult.


Todd - #13628

May 14th 2010

I don’t know if courageous is the word I’d use.  Clearly he must’ve known that his statements would’ve started a firestorm.  To be honest pride often causes us to “buck the system” and while I believe that Dr. Waltke should have the right to express his views, to do so on such a hotly debated topic in such a very public way without consulting the seminary’s leadership is in my view divisive and unfair.  King David exhibited respect and reverance for authority and confronted it directly when he felt he was being treated unfairly.  Our LORD Jesus did the same to the religious authorities and so did the Apostle Paul when he confronted the other apostles.  Courage is confronting the issue directly and not allowing our desires to compromise our integrity.  Courage is Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey when He knew that murderous thugs were looking for Him.  Courage is His suffering on the cross while He had the power to call legions of angels to His defense.


Maryann Spikes - #14689

May 23rd 2010

I admire Bruce Waltke’s courage to be honest about natural evolution and settle this controversy gracefully.  What an example for all of us.

I am looking for a good seminary which will teach BioLogos to correct creation/I.D. “science” and am having a hard time finding one.  If anyone knows of one, which is conservative and moderate-Calvinist (like Norman Geisler)—please e-mail it to me at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), thanks.


michael - #15674

May 31st 2010

i understand that dr. waltke has resigned from biologos. is that true? if so, why?


Maryann Spikes - #21261

July 10th 2010

Michael, no that is not true.  He resigned from RTL and had the video taken down from BioLogos, but he is still listed as an author for BioLogos.


Jon - #32991

October 2nd 2010

“Decades from now, when the Evangelical Church has come to terms with the reality of evolution, we hope she will look back at those who were the pioneers on its journey toward a fuller understanding of the manner by which God has created.”

The “Evangelical Church” has been on a collision course with severe error for well over a hundred years now.  The fall of a well-respected, learned man like Dr. Waltke is simply another evidence of this inevitable fact.  Whenever people stop believing the Bible as God’s literal word to man, they set themselves unwittingly on this course.  I do believe the Evangelical church, led by groups such as BioLogos will continue headlong down this path.  But even in a few decades, when the Church-at-large has come to reject the Genesis account of creation, there will still be pockets of us who steadfastly hold to the word of Faith.  I thank God for the influence of people like Henry Morris and Ken Ham, and pray that their numbers increase.


Gay Atmajian - #38302

November 4th 2010

My experience of Bruce Waltke:  humble, gentle, generous, gracious,  genuine, exuding the love of God, and dedicated to faithful study, understanding, and teaching of Scripture.  He made the Old Testament come alive in powerful ways for many of his graduate students (myself included, Regent College). 

He taught that in the OT narratives, doom was always followed by hope, and that God’s grace always prevailed.  May Christians who stand criticizing Dr. Waltke’s views be led to examine and re-examine Scripture and study it more deeply, may they continue to broaden their understanding rather than cling to a religious movement or established line of reasoning, and may grace always prevail in how Christians respond to one another.  “If I speak in tongues of men and of angels. .  .”


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