A Culture of Fear
I’ve been subscribing to BioLogos website basically since its inception a year or so ago. It has always been an interesting, provocative, and thoughtful forum for learning about and discussing matters related to science and faith. It is a refreshing voice in that, rather than positing science and faith as mortal enemies it seeks to embrace the contributions both make to the quest for truth.
The website often runs videos where this or that scholar will offer a short commentary on questions of science and faith. On March 24, I watched with interest as Prof. Bruce Waltke, one of the more well-known and well-respected voices in evangelical world, especially in OT studies, talked about scholarship and religious faith and, specifically, how to think about evolution. Prof. Waltke is Professor Emeritus of Old Testament Studies at Regent College and taught a few courses while I was a student there.
The Waltke video on the BioLogos website was called “Why the Church Must Come to Accept Evolution.” It is a provocative title, but the content seemed like fairly standard stuff to me. Waltke said that if the church didn’t accept the overwhelming scientific consensus of evolution, it would increasingly be seen as a marginal cultish type group. He said that we have been given the mandate to love God with all of our minds, and that our commitment to God and the gifts he has given us should move us away from a fear-based rejection of evolution. Pretty good and necessary stuff, in my opinion.
Well, a few days later the video was removed from the BioLogos website. Apparently, Waltke’s employers at the Reformed Theological Seminary had “asked” him to seek its removal. Despite the fact that he still stands by his comments, Waltke did so, and in addition provided a statement of clarification (scroll down to the bottom). The video, which was apparently a fairly popular one, was removed from the BioLogos website. And now, it seems, Waltke has lost his job over it. His employers at RTS stated that while they allow some divergence regarding how Genesis is interpreted, Waltke’s statements were unacceptable.
Here’s what the folks at BioLogos had to say after grudgingly taking down the Waltke video clip:
The fact that Dr. Waltke felt he was unable to leave the video in place, despite the fact that he still agrees with its contents, is an extremely important statement about the culture of fear within evangelicalism in today’s world.
A culture of fear indeed. You would think that someone who has been a trusted and respected voice within the evangelical community for as along as Waltke has would be given the benefit of the doubt. At the very least, he is owed a bit more of a gracious response than he seems to have gotten. This is a person who is committed to the gospel, who has devoted his entire life to understanding Scripture and training Christians to think well. But he doesn’t think correctly (enough) about the mechanics of creation, apparently. And we wonder why some are eager to put distance between themselves and the evangelical world…
The Waltke story makes me sad, and a little angry to be honest. I see similar, if not quite as sensational, stories happening closer to home as well, in both academic and church contexts. People getting bullied or having their orthodoxy questioned for holding different views. People getting intimidated into remaining silent about what they really think or providing “clarifications” and retractions about what they have said. Good and thoughtful people—precisely the kind of people the church needs!—who are trying to think about and communicate the gospel with intellectual integrity and pastoral sensitivity, yet feeling trapped and/or muzzled by unnecessarily rigid conceptions and ungenerous expressions of orthodoxy.
It’s not right. And if it keeps up, we’re going to lose a lot of good and necessary voices.