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Friday, April 16, 2010

Evangelicals on the Horns of a Dilemma

Dr. Bruce Waltke is perhaps the dean of evangelical OT scholars. He has a Th.D. from Dallas Seminary and a Ph.D. from Harvard University. He has taught at some of the most prestigious  evangelical schools including: Dallas Seminary, Regent College (Vancouver, BC), Westminster Seminary and Reformed Seminary. In the last week, he has been the subject of a huge controversy related to a video he did for the BioLogos Foundation in which he said that Christianity risks being reduced to the status of a cult unless it embraces the theory of evolution. Even though, Waltke had advocated theistic evolution for years in his books, this video and it's widespread dissemination over the internet resulted in his being asked to resign from the Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando.

Some have speculated that while these ideas could be tossed about in academia and scholarly treatises, once it reached the laypeople, who actually fund evangelical enterprises, the "party was over."

The President of Reformed Seminary, Michael Milton, according to a USA Today report, said that while the Seminary allows a diversity of views on creation and Genesis (essentially around whether the 6 days of creation are 24 hours each or long periods of time), he acknowledged that Darwinian views, and any suggestion that humans didn't arrive on earth directly from being created by God (as opposed to having evolved from other forms of life) are not allowed, he said, and faculty members know this.

The evangelical blogosphere has been ablaze with discussion on this issue. Some agree with Waltke and think that conservative Christianity cannot survive if it refuses to accept and then harmonize the findings of science with their faith, while others say it is sacrificing the authority of Bible on the altar of modern science. A sharp distinction is being draw in evangelical circles that could lead to a major realignment within evangelicalism.

On the left are those evangelicals who agree with Waltke. For example, on the BioLogos website, there is an article by Darrel Falk, a biology professor at Point Loma Nazarene University, entitled On the Courage of Bruce Waltke, in which he says:
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.
Falk laments the fact that the majority of evangelicals refuse to embrace evolution. He cites a Pew Forum poll from 2008 which concluded that only about 25% of evangelicals believe in evolution, and only 10% believe that evolution occurred through natural selection. As a professor of biology and an evangelical, he finds this appalling.

Rod Dreher of, wrote:
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.
On the right, the majority of evangelicals have applauded the decision and warned about the implications of accepting evolution. For example, Rick Phillips of The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, says that theistic evolution is the trojan horse in the camp of the evangelicals. He says Waltke and those who hold to it represent the conviction that where secular science speaks to history, it must be accorded a superior authority to the Bible. The Bible must be "reconciled" to accommodate the claims of secular science and archaeology. Any biblical reflection is offered after the history has been decided by secular orthodoxy. He continues that once science is given supremacy, all the major doctrines of evangelicalism will be "up for grabs." He writes:
Do they think they can restrict the hegemony of science over Scripture to the realm of creation issues? What will science make of the virgin birth, the miracles of Jesus, and the resurrection? The 20th Century gives us the answer. Moreover, do they think they can avoid worldly scorn merely by jettisoning biblical creation, while still holding to even more obnoxious doctrines like substitutionary atonement? The hermeneutics behind theistic evolution are a Trojan horse that, once inside our gates, must cause the entire fortress of Christian belief to fall under the humanistic sword.

For Jeff Straub of Central Baptist Theological Seminary its very simple.
If God did not mean what he said in Genesis 1, why didn’t he just say what he meant? Pardon my rather simplistic read (or as Longman disparages it, “a very literalistic way”) of Genesis, but if God had wanted to tell us that he created the world in six literal 24 hour days, what more could he have said to convince us? ”Hey humans, I really, really mean this!” The Bible taken without evolutionary thinking leads to creationism. Evolution is only necessary as a mechanism of explaining origins in a world where God does not exist. At its root historically, evolutionary thought is atheistic. Evangelicals who pander to it do God and the Bible a great disservice.
John MacArthur, of The Master's College and Seminary, has had a series of audio posts on his blog over the last week on this issue. He maintains that the subject of origins is a watershed issue, that if one accepts Darwinian evolution then one must conclude there is nothing special about the human race and certainly man is not made in the image of God. In typical fundamentalist fashion, he argues:
Evolution was devised to explain away the God of the Bible—not because evolutionists really believed a Creator was unnecessary to explain how things began, but because they did not want the God of Scripture as their Judge.. . . To put it simply, evolution was invented in order to eliminate the God of Genesis and thereby to oust the Lawgiver and obliterate the inviolability of His law. Evolution is simply the latest means our fallen race has devised in order to suppress our innate knowledge and the biblical testimony that there is a God and that we are accountable to Him (cf. Romans 1:28). By embracing evolution, modern society aims to do away with morality, responsibility, and guilt. Society has embraced evolution with such enthusiasm because people imagine that it eliminates the Judge and leaves them free to do whatever they want without guilt and without consequences.
Note that evolution was "devised" and "invented." It was not a genuine discovery of science but rather a grand conspiracy hatched by Satan himself to drive people away from the Bible. This kind of preaching may be popular in the pulpit and among the crowds that gather to hear John MacArthur and other leading evangelicals but, as Waltke implies, it makes them a laughingstock among those who are not blinded by faith. What amazes me is that evangelicals will accept the findings of modern science in every area except where it contradicts their interpretation of the Bible. If they get sick, they go to the doctor and follow what medical science prescribes. If they need to travel somewhere quickly, they board a plane and trust in aeronautical science to get them there safely. If they have outdoor plans, they will listen to a meteorologist to guide their activities. But when it comes to the common descent of life through evolution, they don't care what science may say. If they continue with this obscurantist attitude, they will, as Waltke says, become more and more marginalized.

So, evangelicalism is on the horns of a dilemma. Acknowledge the findings of science and admit that the Genesis story really is a myth including the fall of Adam and Eve (which effectively eliminates the need for redemption and the coming of Jesus) or pretend that science is wrong and continue to claim that their holy book is the supreme authority. It will be interesting to see how this develops.

Here are three fundamentalists (R. C. Sproul, Al Mohler, Ravi Zacharias) discussing evolution:

Contrast that with Michael Specter on the Dangers of Denying Science


  1. Ken,

    Thanks so much for posting this. I was unaware of the current evolution fireworks in Christianity. I think the conservatives are right to be afraid. But if evolution is correct, then it is correct. I need to familiarize myself with it more. It always seemed as far-fetched as Adam and Eve, but that's probably because I haven't really studied it yet.

    The Christians seem to be saying that if you accept evolution, you must throw out all morals. Well, nobody wants a world within morals, so it really works for them to set up that "either A or B." Scares people to death. The real answer is probably C or D or E.

  2. I meant "world without morals" ofcourse.

  3. That clip of Sproul, Mohler and Zacharias is very unsettling to me. In my believing days I devoured books by Sproul, and Zacharias was held up as something of a hero of apologetics. Now they just look like foolish cultists trying to appear authorative and rational. (What forum was this with the plush chairs, the pot plants and them in their Sunday best?)

    Sproul's anecdote about his students is vacuous. They accepted evolution because they were taught it in high school yet seemingly they didn't pay attention enough to be able to explain precisely what they were taught. Only the smartest kid who went on to Harvard (no less) dared to offer a pathetic explanation but good ol' RC was able to put him straight on that. But the story serves its purpose implying that evolution is mindlessly indoctrinated into our youth. Of course Christianity is true and so we never need to actually teach it to children - it's received by osmosis or something.

    Zacharias gets a cheap round of applause for calling liberalism bigoted (note how he pauses for the audience reaction). He opens by talking about irony but I think the irony of his own comments are lost on the conservative crowd there. Let's face it, if anyone knows how to define 'bigoted' it's evangelicals with their raft of exclusivist doctrines.

    These folks want their book of holy ghost stories to be true above everything else. I shudder to remember that I was like that once.

  4. So far, the evangelicals and fundamentalists have done very well by relying on ignorance and fear. While I'd like to think that this is ultimately a losing strategy, it's been my observation that those who rely on ignorance and fear can continue to do well for a very long time.

  5. Several years ago I went to Israel. I heard Dr. Gerald Schroeder, a physicist who taught at M.I.T. give a lecture from his book, The Science of God - The convergence of scientific and biblical wisdom. I bought the book and read it several times. I thought it was something my friends would like because they could keep their bible and not be afraid of evolution. Because it deals with evolution, my Evangelical friends would not listen to me or even consider their understanding of creation could be expanded and explained. No one would even read the book. It didn't help that Gerald Schroeder is Jewish and later in his life he became observant.

    Someone once told me that unless you ask the question, the answer will not make sense. Maybe people are afraid to question.

  6. Hey Lynn, one book that was recommended to me is Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution Is True. The person who recommended it said that she understood it, even though she's horrible at science. So am I, for that matter! I wish I could review it for you, but I just got it today. I just wanted to pass that along to you.

  7. Mark my words. In 50 years Waltke will be hailed as an Evangelical hero.

  8. James Pate,

    Thanks very much. I'm gonna get that one.

  9. Thanks for this summary, Ken... I'd not heard about either Waltke's statement or the brouhaha. Indeed, he's been around prominently a loooong time.

    If it's not the evolution issue, it will be others--probably a combination of several--that will further disturb and perhaps divide Evangelicals. McLaren has pushed the controversy further also lately.

    What I think will very shortly (perhaps within weeks, or at least months) push similar buttons as the evolution issue is evidence of ancien civilized intelligent life elsewhere in our solar system.... Most specifically it will likely break into the open via Phobos, a supposed tiny "moon" of Mars. The European Space Agency, perhaps in conjunction with NASA or other authorities, may soon describe more details of what is already partially in the public domain (see photographic and other evidence that Phobos is actually artificial/manufactured and very ancient. And that's just one of many such "stories," including lots of evidence for the extreme antiquity of human civilization on the earth... more than just a fossil here or there, but a variety of artifacts linked with other evidences that are already well-known though poorly understood and interpreted.

    As to evolution specifically, I agree w/ you, Lynn, that "the real answer is probably C or D or E." The way I'd put it is that evolution is well established as a process, but that current expressions of evolutionary theory are inadequate, and some of the "holes" Christians point to are indeed there. A good book showing this, as well as the foolishness of creationism, is "Creation, Evolution, and Other Modern Myths" by Vine Deloria. And one that goes further in proposing ways to retain God/god in some manner, but not the transcendent "God of the Bible," is "Thank God for Evolution" by Michael Boyd.

    Howard Pepper

  10. Emet, I don't like to keep bursting your bubble, but Schroeder takes some liberties, and sees what he wants to see. What he writes seems plausible to people without a science background, so they take him at his word and don't dig further.

    Bear in mind that his spiritual mentors come from the same background as do the rabbis I'm warning you to be careful around. They're fundamentalists, but it's harder to see because, as I'm sure you've already figured out, in Judaism, fundamentalism ≠ Biblical literalism.

    Ken, I agree with the conservatives - evolutionary theory, and, frankly, science in general, are incompatible with the evangelical worldview. One of them must go. You know my choice, and it can't happen quickly enough. Good riddance.

    If there's a lesson to be learned from Waltke's situation, it's that fundamentalism is, as I've said repeatedly, a form of addiction. Whenever their own turn against them, they never stop to consider, "If this is the behavior it inspires, perhaps I've been wrong about the entire belief system." Instead they find, or carve out, new niches for themselves, and they hunker down. They can't bring themselves to leave; they're like children clinging to a broken toy. It doesn't work (at least, not as it's supposed to), but they don't want to give it up. It's what my Buddhist acquaintances would call "attachment".

    Re: Dreher - If this really comes as a surprise to him, he should stick with Beliefnet; it's about his speed.

  11. cipher,

    You are not bursting my bubble. I value your opinion and your style. I read everything because I want to know what people from each "religion" believe. I even talked to the Witnesses that came to my door many years ago. Once you let them in, they always come back. Too bad Julia Sweeney already did a video of her quest.

    I was trying to point out that I had a source, describing evolution, with a chart at the beginning of chapter 4, that Christians would like and could use and still hold on to their beliefs. No one would even consider looking at it because - without reading it, they believed it challenged their beliefs.

    Thank you for the above link for Schroeder. Keep your comments coming.