Bruce Waltke’s Forced Resignation – theoryspace
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Bruce Waltke’s Forced Resignation

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[1] 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.”[2] 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.'”[3]

“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.”[4]

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 =)

  1. Refer to Francis S. Collins’ The Language of God p.199-201 for a definition of theistic evolution. []
  2. Alister McGrath, Evangelicalism & the Future of Christianity (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 143. []
  3. Ibid., 144-5. []
  4. Ibid., 148. []

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6 Responses

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  1. Perng Shyang says


  2. Edmund says

    According to Michael Bird, Tremper Longman was also fired recently because of this video:

    Something is really boiling in the Reformed circle.

    • Anson says

      Well, some say he’s just been “disinvited” to teach as an adjunct professor at RTS, and it appears that his name is not on the adjunct faculty list anymore.

      Anyways, I think what’s happening to these Reformed guys is not just one or two issues, but largely a mindset problem. Calvinism with all its corresponding doctrines in general cannot accommodate much uncertainty, or in other words, feel threatened if certainty is lost. This permeates all their thinking, at least in their understanding of the revealed will of God (as opposed to the counterpart of God’s hidden will.) It is apparent in their choice of words like in the “Together for the Gospel” 2010 conference, titled “The Unadjusted Gospel”

      I’m definitely not saying that the gospel message needs to adjust itself just to keep up with culture, but it’s just their choice of words that reflect a certain rigidity, almost a Platonic outlook that everything remains eternally static, and fail to do justice to the dynamic and radical accommodation of human history and culture that the Incarnation of the Word has shown in the first place.

  3. Wayne Park says

    You sound like you’d be a great fit for the Evangelical Covenant denomination, in stressing essentials over non-essentials (a diaphora). Google them!

    re: Waltke’s dismissal – lamentable… indeed.

    • Anson says

      Too bad I’m an Anglican already =)
      But I didn’t know they have this emphasis. Let me check them out.

  4. littleho says

    Ann, it is very essential to distinguish what is non-essential. Yesterday, a little brother told me that he has been struggling about whether he is ever a Christian because he always doubts about the historicity of Gen 1-3 and other “spiritual” slangs currently taught in his church.

    I think the situation in UK is much better, al least Hastings is a St. Andrew graduate.