I just learned that Old Testament scholar Bruce Waltke (also Regent’s beloved emeritus professor) has just been forced to resign his professorship at the Reformed Theological Seminary, because he publicly expressed his views on theistic evolution on the BioLogos Foundation website. It is indeed a sad day for evangelicalism. This rigid confessionalism is not protecting, but hurting Christian scholarship.
I have taken Old Testament Theology from Waltke himself, and I am certain he is a man of integrity, who upholds the authority of Scripture, yet also intellectually rigorous and open to arguments that are sound and reasonable. I can’t help but question: Irrespective of whether his view is right or wrong, how essential is this to the gospel? Is it demonstrative that Waltke has given up the authority of the Scriptures and his belief in the centrality of Christ’s salvation? When has anthropogenesis elevated to the category of essential confessional doctrine?
Earlier I wrote an essay for my History of Christian Doctrine class, exploring Philip Melanchton’s understanding of adiaphora (i.e. non-essential matters in faith). I quoted a line from Charles Arand who said: “we should not conclude too quickly that adiaphora means anything goes as long as it does not contradict our theology… Nor should we conclude too quickly that every situation or every controversy requires that we enter into status confessionis.” I am more and more convinced that the distinction between essentials and non-essentials is necessary, because history tells us that we humans do have a natural tendency to enter into confessional warfare easily, entrenching ourselves in fixated positions and eliminating all others who disagree with us.
Alister McGrath also expressed in his book, Evangelicalism & the Future of Christianity, that one of the darker sides of evangelicalism is its apparent “dogmatism”, specifically understood as “a refusal to allow disagreement or doubt.” He further writes:
“All Christians can agree on the need to defend what is of vital importance to the Christian faith. Yet often issues of relative importance are blown up beyond any sense of proportion, forcing evangelicals to defend themselves to each other when they ought to be proclaiming the gospel to the world. The demand to ‘defend the gospel’ too often turns out to be ‘defend my rather rigid version of the gospel.'”
“Individual evangelicals owe the movement as a whole the responsibility of taking each other seriously, wherever Scripture permits more than one reading, just as they are obliged to defend evangelical truth wherever this seems to be under threat. But it needs to be realized that evangelicals are free to differ on matters of secondary importance. The escalation of such disputes serves no useful purpose, and it ultimately marks a serious lack of evangelical maturity and judgment.”
We evangelicals really need to come up with a clear understanding of what consists of essential doctrine, hold fast to that, and not let any secondary issues creep up and destroy our unity, which is exactly what the enemy wants. Otherwise, we’ll be expecting another Thirty Years War all over again. I thought we have learned enough from history already……sigh. Well, I’ll end with this motto that I find worth contemplating time and again: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.”
I hope Bruce Waltke feels peaceful to what’s happening to him. Maybe he can consider coming back to Regent =)