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.