Friday, April 9, 2010

John Stackhouse's take on the Waltke "resignation"

Professor Stackhouse writes:
Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) has dismissed Dr. Bruce Waltke because he recently stated publicly two radical convictions: (1) that a Bible-believing Christian could believe in evolution; and (2) that the church needs to beware of becoming a cultural laughingstock for retaining anti-evolutionary views that cannot be supported scientifically. 
What’s pathetic about this action is that those points weren’t even radical in the nineteenth century, when when Darwin himself had a number of orthodox defenders. So RTS apparently is not quite ready to catch up with almost two centuries of theology/science dialogue.
But that’s the easy point to make—glad as I am to make it on behalf of a beloved colleague (Bruce is a professor emeritus at Regent College). Here’s a different one.
If you examine RTS’s highly detailed declaration of their theological commitments, as you can here and here, you will find only a little commentary about views of evolution. And by “only a little” I mean “not a single word.” Bruce’s openness to evolution was so crucial to the theological integrity of RTS as to get him fired, but not important enough to articulate formally.
Yet in fairness to RTS, they’re hardly the only confessional institution in this situation. Lots of Christian schools nowadays have statements of faith plus a whole raft of other beliefs that one had better hold or face termination. Questions of sexuality; marriage and divorce (and remarriage); alcohol use; political allegiance and involvement;  gender in home, church, and society; and, yes, understandings of creation and evolution—these and others form the “hidden clauses” of many a school’s statement of faith.
We here at Regent struggle with this as well, so much so that we are considering ways of being more articulate indeed about what we expect of school leaders so that we truly are of one mind on whatever we agree is centrally important to our mission—and therefore free to disagree about what is not.
The RTS/Waltke fiasco, therefore—and it is a fiasco for RTS, while Bruce will be just fine, I’m sure—raises a basic question a lot of other schools have gotten away with answering behind closed doors. Those days are done: It’s time to put it all out there.
If Stackhouse is correct, it looks like RTS's board functions as a magisterium in matters on which the "catechism" does not provide explicit direction.  Freud would call it "Pope envy." (But sometimes a cigar is just what Charles Spurgeon smokes). 

1 comment:

DP Cassidy said...

Not commenting on the defensibility of the actions taken by the RTS Board per se, but if they take the Westminster Confession and Catechisms as their Confessional standard, it can be inferred that they felt they had little choice in the matter. These standards are more often than not taken with authorial intent - six 24 days, and literal Adam and Eve as individuals. Despite Warfield's oft cited sympathy for evolutionary views back in old Princeton days, the vast majority of confessional and reformed Presbyterians clergy, especially those in conservative denominations like the PCA or OPC, would find Waltke's views confessionally outside the boundaries of acceptability. If the Seminary found this to be the case, they should say so. If not, they should also say so! Then again, as with all private educational institutions, they may simply be aware of what their donor base could stomach. My guess is the former rather than the latter.