I suppose most everyone has heard by now about the kerfuffle over Dr. Waltke's video in which he pleaded for evangelical Christians to engage the issue of evolution. The video, which has since been removed, had appeared on the website of BioLogos, a think tank founded by Francis Collins, author of The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (2006). Dr. Collins is a geneticist and a committed Christian who converted from atheism. He was the former head of the Human Genome Project and is now Director of NIH. His BioLogos group is committed to advancing dialogue between science and faith, but with a decidedly theistic evolutionary slant. Dr. Waltke stated in his Old Testament Theology (2007) that reading Dr. Collins's book helped him to reach the conclusion that theistic evolution is the best way to resolve the apparent conflict between the modern scientific account and the biblical account of human origins (p. 202, n. 81).
I comment on this situation with some trepidation, since I know from firsthand experience how controversial the topic of evolution is in Reformed circles. There is something about this topic that causes some people to lose their minds. Like Dr. Waltke, I wish we as Christians could have a calm, rational conversation about this without immediately jumping to charges of heresy.
Now I have been perusing the various theology blogs to see what people's reactions are to Dr. Waltke's resignation, and I have observed that no one has raised the question of whether the RTS administration is right in its apparent view that theistic evolution is out of accord with the Westminster Standards. Let me back up a bit and provide some evidence that this is what the RTS administration thinks. I base this on the Inside Higher Ed report which has the following paragraphs:
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 Waltke would "undoubtedly" be considered one of the world's great Christian scholars of the Old Testament and that he was "much beloved here," with his departure causing "heartache." But he said that there was no choice.
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.
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. Nor do I have a freedom that would allow me to express my views in such a way to hurt or impugn someone who holds another view."
I have to say that I am a little puzzled by Dr. Milton's argument. I'm particularly interested in the last two paragraphs above. The penultimate paragraph states that "Darwinian views, and any suggestion that humans ... evolved from other forms of life ... are not allowed." The final paragraph states that RTS is a confessional seminary and that faculty cannot go past the boundaries of the Confession. If we put the two statements together, we have the implication that Dr. Waltke's view of human evolution is outside the boundaries of the Confession. This seems to be taken for granted on all sides. Even Waltke may have agreed with this, or presumably he would not have resigned so quickly (although we cannot discount the possibility that at age 79 he may have had personal reasons for not wanting to put up a fight).
Whatever Dr. Waltke thinks, the burden of proof rests with the RTS administration to make the case that Dr. Waltke's position is a violation of the system of doctrine of the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. This is far from obvious, at least to me.
I recall the same issue back in 1996 when the Terry Gray case came before the OPC General Assembly, at which GA his appeal was denied and he was found guilty for his defense of Adamic animal ancestry. I was not present at that GA, but I quizzed several commissioners upon their return to try to determine what the argument was for concluding that his views were out of bounds confessionally. To a man they all said, "We were convinced by John Murray's exegesis of Genesis 2:7." I sputtered in disbelief, "But that doesn't answer my question," and then I would repeat it. They had no answer. To me it was a travesty of justice that Terry Gray was removed from his office as a ruling elder because the majority of the elders in the OPC disagreed with his exegesis, not because they found him guilty of violating the system of doctrine contained in the Westminster Confession (cp. OPC Book of Discipline III.7.b). Perhaps the case was made at the lower courts, and I was simply unaware of it; in which case it is still disappointing that the men I spoke with voted guilty on exegetical grounds alone, without relating that exegesis to the larger question of whether it is essential to the system of doctrine.
It seems to me that in order to remain within the fence of the Westminster system of doctrine, we need to make the following minimal affirmations with regard to this topic:
1. The inspiration, authority, infallibility, and inerrancy of Scripture, which includes a firm rejection of any notion that the opening chapters of Genesis are mythical or non-historical, even as they polemically engage the myths prevalent in their Ancient Near Eastern context (e.g., Enuma Elish, the Gilgamesh Epic) (WCF I.1-5).
2. Affirming that when there is an apparent conflict between scientifically interpreted general revelation and special revelation, we can and should let general revelation serve as a warning flag to spur us to go back and reexamine our exegesis, but that in the final analysis special revelation has priority and ought to provide the ultimate hermeneutical context for interpreting general revelation (WCF I.6-10).
3. The historicity of Adam and Eve as real individuals, and of Adam as the federal head of all humanity descending from him by ordinary generation; this foundational affirmation is so interwoven with the very fabric of Reformed, covenantal, biblical, and Pauline theology (Romans 5) that it would seem to be essential to the system of doctrine (WCF VI.1-3; VII.2; WLC 21, 22, 26, 31).
4. That if God did employ secondary causes such as natural selection acting upon genetic variation within populations to create all of the species of living things, he sovereignly superintended the process by his providential concursus so that all biological diversity developed in accordance with his perfect decree and for his eternal glory (WCF III.1; IV.1; V.1-3; WLC 18).
I would think that within the doctrinal turf marked out by the fence of these affirmations it would be possible to hold to some version of theistic evolution, although one would want to examine the details of what is being asserted. Perhaps I've missed something essential; if I have, I'm open to being argued with. But as far as I know, Dr. Waltke affirms the above points. In fact, after having the video taken down he issued a nine-point clarification affirming that "Adam and Eve are historical figures from whom all humans are descended" and that "Adam is the federal and historical head of the fallen human race just as Jesus Christ is the federal and historical head of the Church." And in his Old Testament Theology, he argued that Gen. 1-3 are "essentially historical, not mythological" (pp. 189-90). Waltke also recently engaged Peter Enns in the pages of the Westminster Theological Journal (2009) in which he concluded that Enns's views were in his mind "inconsistent with the doctrine that God inspired every word of holy Scripture." Although both scholars are featured on the BioLogos site, they are not the same.
It needs to be pointed out that there are versions of theistic evolution that would fall outside the pale of orthodoxy, including, possibly, some of the versions advocated at the BioLogos institute. For example, Peter Enns is doing a series of blog posts in which he is calling into question the historicity of an individual Adam as the biological father of all humans (contra point 3). Other theistic evolutionists are better described as deistic or naturalistic evolutionists because they reduce God's role to the initial big bang and downplay his sovereign creative involvement thereafter (contra point 4).
I personally do not hold to theistic evolution. I'm committed to old earth progressive creationism as the most satisfying attempt to find concord between the book of nature and the book of Scipture. I have gone on record, with Meredith Kline, in rejecting animal ancestry for Adam (The Genesis Debate, ed. David G. Hagopian, p. 180). See also my "Evolution Disclaimer" here. But this conclusion rests on the exegesis of Gen. 2:7; it is not derived from Confessional boundaries.
Dr. Waltke has had a long and distinguished career as a beloved Reformed teacher. He has been a staunch defender of biblical orthodoxy within the framework of a commitment to the highest standards of scholarship. Not even RTS is prepared to label him a heretic, and they seem to acknowledge that it caused them some pain to let him go. It's disappointing that a longer, more deliberative process such as that which occurred in the Enns case at Westminster was not forthcoming at RTS. Perhaps at the end of the day, RTS would still determine that a parting of ways is in the seminary's best interests, but it would be nice to have an argument laying out precisely why Dr. Waltke is out of accord with the Westminster Standards. Given Dr. Waltke's orthodoxy, I suspect it would be harder to make that case than many assume.
Again, perhaps that case can be made. Perhaps my list of four essentials above is too minimalistic and I need to tighten the fence. Or perhaps I have misread Waltke or am unaware of something he has written or said. My point is that the argument hasn't been made yet and it would be nice to hear it before we cast out a highly regarded Reformed brother and scholar.