update on bruce waltke’s departure from reformed theological seminary

Bruce Waltkethe society of biblical literature’s website has posted a letter from dr. bruce waltke explaining his departure from reformed theological seminary in oviedo, fl. scott jaschik of inside higher ed ran a story last week that i blogged here.

in the letter, waltke apologizes to rts president robert (ric) c. cannada, jr. for ‘unwittingly involving’ them in a discussion about the issue of evolution and creation in genesis 1-3. why dr. waltke would want to exclude a seminary from a discussion about genesis 1-3 is beyond me, but i’m sure he has his reasons.

dr. waltke goes on to say in the letter that it was, in fact, he who resigned from rts, but did not elaborate on the circumstances, although waltke did acknowledge that he has received letters from many condemning rts president cannada for his action. dr. waltke goes on to state that he finds, ‘no fault with the rts administration; in fact, i think they did the right thing.’ (i discuss in a comment on my former post how many confessional schools get around having to ‘fire’ professors who don’t say what the school wants by not offering tenure to full-time faculty.)

dr. waltke then goes on to rattle off a list of things he would have edited about the video of his lecture on issues of evolution and creation that was posted on the biologos foundation’s website. these include:

  • altering the title to say why the church should accept creation by process of evolution (instead of must)

ok, fine.

  • deleting his title as a professor at rts since he was ‘speaking as an individual’

‘speaking as an individual’ makes no difference. each and every thing one says ‘as a professor’ is also said ‘as an individual.’ likewise, each thing a scholar says ‘as an individual’ reflects upon his or her university. i recall paul’s attempt at delineating between what he says and what the lord commands in 1 corinthians 7. methinks it’s safe to say that the early church always saw paul as a spokesperson for the lord, and included that which paul said ‘as an individual’ as authoritative as well.

and, may i ask, would ‘speaking as an individual’ have made a difference? would the rts administration have said, ‘he said the church should accept evolution??  oh, but he said it as an individual and not as an rts professor, despite the fact he works for us?  oh, ok then, that’s ok.’ i think not.

  • clarifying that he defines evolution as ‘theistic’ evolution as opposed to ‘naturalistic’ evolution.

i again must ask, is there a difference? if evolution is occurring (which it is) and we can’t prove or disprove the existence of god (which we can’t), what’s the difference? evolution is evolution. natural selection is natural selection. gravity is gravity. they all exist and take place whether one believes in them or not, whether one believes in god or not, and whether one believes god is responsible for them or not. what is at issue is the acceptance or denial of a six-day creation (literal or otherwise). i am guessing that many confessional institutions that place on their website a confession including language stating that the bible is “verbally inspired by almighty god and therefore without error” is not going to accept any explanation of creation as a process of evolution whatsoever, whether it be theistic, naturalistic, or otherwise.

  • surrounding himself with earlier advocates of theistic evolution

granted, this may have helped soften the impact. however, is that what dr. waltke wanted? to soften the impact of his message? i am not sure that waltke’s surrounding himself with ‘a cloud of theistic evolutionary witnesses’ would have appeased rts.

in all, i can understand dr. waltke’s desire to spare rts any further embarrassment. from what i am told, dr. waltke is a kind and congenial man. i certainly understand the notion of walking away and not burning bridges, despite the fact one has fundamental disagreements with what is being taught at a religious school. it is appropriate at times simply to walk away and speak kindly of one’s former school in a professional manner, even if it means not stating how one really feels.

that said, part of me wishes dr. waltke wouldn’t have let rts off the hook so easily. again, there may be underlying factors (financial or otherwise) that caused both parties to part ways amicably and speak favorably of one another. but once again we are left with yet another example of  an evangelical seminary teaching fundamentalist interpretations of the bible, where, when a faculty member dares speak against the confession (despite the fact that all evidence says that he is correct), said faculty member ends up conveniently ‘resigning.’ rts comes off once again as the bully winner, where those who dare speak against what they’ve preordained to be the truth will be (as they say in my hometown) ‘disappeared.’

still, it is my hope that dr. waltke finds another job at a place (perhaps knox?) with far less dogmatic views, where critical scholarship is valued and promoted, and where dr. waltke can continue his career. hiring dr. waltke will be a benefit for any school that wants to demonstrate its relevance to the modern world.

religion profesor bruce waltke dismissed from evangelical seminary for accepting evolution

Dr. Bruce K. Waltke

Dr. Bruce K. Waltke was dismissed from Reformed Theological Seminary for not adhering to biblical creation as the origin of humanity.

this is sad.

scott jaschik of inside higher ed ran a story today about harvard trained religion profesor, bruce k. waltke, who was recentely dismissed form his position at reformed theological seminary in oviedo, fl. interestingly, it was a video of dr. waltke posted on the biologos foundation‘s website that prompted his dismissal. and what heinous crime was dr. waltke filmed committing? a sex scandal? public drunkenness? a financial scandal? no. the video showed waltke doing what he does best: lecturing. to be precise, dr. waltke was lecturing about creation and evolution. specifically, waltke not only endorsed evolution, but said that evangelical christianity could be facing a crisis if it does not come to accept science, and specifically evolution, as a viable explanation for the existence of humanity. but apparently, certain school officials didn’t like what the highly respected professor was saying. and amazingly, the school’s officials, who were apparently policing the content of another organization’s website, decided that what waltke said was worthy of dismissal. (thus, it is not only students that must beware of university policing of facebook photos in an effort to discipline students for underage drinking, but apparently senior faculty must now also be cautious of expressing academic opinions that are not congruent with a school’s religious standards committee. i shake my head.)

of course, dr. waltke is absolutely correct. we evolved. the earth was not created in six days 6000 years ago. in fact, the bible’s redactors couldn’t even decide which of the two creation stories (gen 1-2:3 and gen 2:4b-25) to include, so it canonized both stories. this is freshman level biblical studies material. but because waltke teaches at a ‘confessional’ school, his academic opinions are subject to censure by the very white and very male school administrators, who may or may not have advanced degrees in science or biblical studies. (unlike the rest of the practical theology faculty, chancellor and ceo dr. robert “ric” c. cannada, jr. does not list his academic pedigree or a link to his c.v.)

in fact, the school is so tied to its understanding of the biblical text as ‘inerrant’ that it places a full confessional statement on its website, including this nugget:

All Scripture is self-attesting and, being truth, requires the human mind wholeheartedly to subject itself in all its activities to the authority of Scripture complete as the Word of God, standing written in the sixty-six books of the Holy Bible, all therein being verbally inspired by Almighty God and therefore without error.

the university has defended the dismissal with a very weak response. according to inside higher ed:

Michael Milton, president of the seminary’s Charlotte campus and interim president of its Orlando campus, where Waltke taught, confirmed that the scholar had lost his job over the video…

Milton said that the seminary allows “views to vary” about creation, describing the faculty members there as having “an eight-lane highway” on which to explore various routes to understanding. Giving an example, he said that some faculty members believe that the Hebrew word yom (day) should be seen in Genesis as a literal 24-hour day. Others believe that yom may be providing “a framework” for some period of time longer than a day. Both of those views, and various others, are allowed, Milton said.

so essentially, you can interpret the creation stories in genesis any way you’d like, as long as it involves god creating and doesn’t involve science or evolution. i am reminded of henry ford’s famous claim regarding his model t cars: ‘any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.’ essentially, at reformed theological seminary you can interpret creation any way you’d like, so long as it’s creation.

the article continues:

But while Milton insisted that this provides for “a diversity” of views, he acknowledged that others are not permitted. 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.

Asked if this limits academic freedom, Milton said: “We are a confessional seminary. I’m a professor myself, but I do not have a freedom that would go past the boundaries of the confession.

perhaps the most disgusting (or at least stomach turning) part of the article came in the school’s attempt at conciliation:

Given Waltke’s role and reputation, Milton said that his resignation wasn’t accepted on the spot. But after prayer on the question, Milton said, officials accepted the resignation.

you see, we didn’t really want to fire him, but after we prayed about it, we felt it best. essentially, god wanted it this way. this actually makes me angry, and i don’t get angry. let me just state for the record: when those in authority attempt to defer responsibility by claiming that they ‘prayed about it’ or claim that their decision is ‘god’s will,’ they betray their cowardice and their lack of leadership. if you’re going to fire someone for petty, sectarian, doctrinal reasons, fire him, and tell him so. tell him why you’re firing him. do not fire someone and then feign sincerity while claiming the decision is god’s responsibility and ‘god’s will’!!!!

in the end, waltke is correct. until christians wrest the faith away from evangelical fundamentalists and the power brokers at christian colleges and seminaries, christianity will continue to appear like a backwards faith that is completely incongruent with modern society. the sooner christians can come to an educated understanding of the biblical texts – not simply the recitation of memory verses and confessional creeds, but the true understanding of the text, its context, and its interpretation in the light of critical study – the better off the faith will be. the more the likes of glenn beck are looked to as the champions and representatives of the christian faith, the more the  church will hemorrhage parishioners. academics and biblical scholars must stand up. we must stop talking only to ourselves and must begin addressing the public directly via blogs, online lectures, and other digital media. for the sooner the public is disabused of the notion that in order to be a real christian, you must be an evangelical fundamentalist, the sooner they will demand that the schools they choose not teach nonsense, which is exactly what is going on at reformed theological seminary: nonsense.

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