Bruce Waltke built a national reputation teaching the Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) for more than 20 years. But in March, when he seemed to challenge evangelicals in a video interview to consider the possibility of evolution or risk being seen as a "cult," Waltke's scholarly life exploded.
Seminary administrators asked Waltke to have the video removed from the website of BioLogos, a nonprofit promoting the integration of Christianity and science. Waltke promptly did so, but the video already had kicked up controversy. In early April, the renowned scholar resigned from RTS's Orlando campus.
Waltke's video addressed the barriers evangelicals face in considering the possibility of evolution, a process he believes is guided and sustained by God. Waltke said that "if the data is overwhelmingly in favor of evolution, to deny that reality will make us a cult … some odd group that is not really interacting with the world."
According to RTS interim president Michael Milton, Waltke's resignation was accepted because of his "mainline evolutionary" views and "uncharitable and surely regrettable characterizations" of those who disagree with his biblical interpretation.
Waltke said he does not fault RTS—which still praises his scholarship—and that he resigned willingly. But he also does not regret stirring up controversy about an important issue.
"I see it as Providence," said Waltke, who has been hired by Knox Theological Seminary. "I'm very glad the discussion has come to the fore."
Tensions continue between Christian scholars and their institutions over how to present the findings of science while upholding theological convictions.
Westmont College biblical scholar Tremper Longman III was disinvited last year from further adjunct teaching at RTS due to questioning in a video whether Adam was a historical person. Biologist Richard Colling resigned last year from Olivet Nazarene University amid ongoing controversy over Random Designer, his 2004 book which was banned from Olivet classrooms for arguing that God is behind evolution.
"The general constituency of the evangelical community is lagging way behind the teachers at its own colleges and universities," said Howard Van Till, a retired astronomy professor at Calvin College who survived an inquiry into his views on evolution and Scripture in the 1980s.
The Internet has needlessly inflamed conflicts that used to be handled internally, said William Ringenberg, a Taylor University historian of Christian colleges.
"Issues and controversies will sometimes be almost created by the process," Ringenberg said.
Such dustups pressure institutions "heavily dependent upon public reputation," he added. Theologians take greater risks than scientists in terms of how quickly a school's constituents are "going to be alarmed or pass judgment."
BioLogos itself is bringing the issue to the fore, says John Walton, a Wheaton College professor of Old Testament and author of 2009's The Lost World of Genesis One.
"People have to start declaring what they may have just kept to themselves before," Walton said.
RTS faculty have some leeway in how they teach creation, but Scripture gets the last word, Milton said. It is vital that evangelical schools clearly place science "under the banner of Scripture" so that other biblical teachings are not compromised, he said.
"Science is on a journey; revelation is a destination," he added. "We begin and end with revelation at RTS."
Walton hopes the debate pushes Christians to find common ground. "We have to start thinking more about values that we must affirm—biblical values—rather than conclusions [about how God created]."
Update: Waltke responded to this article in the August issue of Christianity Today.
Copyright © 2010 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Previous CT stories on science and evolution include:
Darwin Divides | Christian college professors split on Texas science standards. (March 3, 2009)
The Evolution of Darwin | The scientist's problem with God did not spring from his theory. (January 22, 2009)
At Origins' Margins | Michael Behe wonders how much Darwinism can really explain. (March 27, 2008)
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.