Thursday, June 03, 2010

Beginnings Causing Trouble (& Costing Jobs)

Over the past year or two, the interpretation of first couple chapters of the Bible have created quite a stir among evangelical theologians, and derailed several careers. First, Peter Enns [formerly] of Westminster Theological Seminary was ousted after the publication of Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament. In the short book, Enn's asserts that the Biblical accounts of beginnings are similar to other Ancient Near Eastern accounts and should be considered myth, not historical fact. Since his departure, he has gone on to question the historicity of Adam and Eve, arguing that they "could be viewed symbolically as a story of Israel’s beginnings, not as the story of humanity from ground zero." Of Enn's theology as outlined in the book, Bruce Waltke, OT Professor at Reformed Theological Seminary commented, "Each of us has his or her own walk with God; in that connection I do not call into question Enns’s integrity. I know he is a man of unflinching honesty. But as for me, his theology is unstable and the exegesis that supports it is flawed."

Ironically, within 12 months of Waltke's comments, he would be on the chopping block for a video posted by BioLogos, "Why Must the Church Accept Evolution", in which Waltke made the following comment: "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. And rightly so, because we are not using our gifts and trusting God’s Providence that brought us to this point of our awareness." (The video has since been removed at the request of Dr. Bruce Waltke). Doug Wilson has a pretty short and good critique of Walke's assumptions/logical errors.

While I disagree with Walke's conclusion, I greatly admire his charity through the whole process. His letter of resignation shows no ill will (he believes the administration of RTS did the right thing), shows grief over having brought controversy to the institution, and seeks to clarify his statements. I believe he will be taking up a teaching position at Knox Theological Seminary, but haven't heard definitely.

In addition, RTS disinvited Tremper Longman III from his regular spring teaching assignment due to his expressed doubts about the historicity of Adam.

So, should these men have been fired, suspended, disinvited, forced to resign, yaddayaddayadda?

Yes. I think so. I'm not a strict seven day creationist, and believe there are interpretation of Genesis 1-2 that make room for an old earth (see Sailhamer's view of Creation) and possibly even theistic evolution (only maybe). Yet, all three of these men seem to go beyond the scope of what Scripture legitimately allows. That is certainly up for debate; however, what isn't up for debate is that WTS and RTS are confessional schools, holding fast to the Westminster Confession of Faith. They are narrowly and militantly Reformed. These men, teaching at these schools, knew they would be held to that standard. Despite their attempts to show their teaching was in keeping with these standards, it was the decision of the institutions that the teaching/writing of these men did not uphold the standard.

Some will certainly argue that this impedes academic freedom. Yes it does. That goes with being a Christian seminary, and certainly with being a confessional seminary (whether Reformed or Lutheran, etc.). Being Christian means holding certainly beliefs. Seem intolerant. It is. But it's necessary. If a church/denomination isn't properly intolerant (of who will teach, pastor, serve as elders and be allowed as members), they will entirely loose their identity and distinctiveness. If the church allowed nonbelievers to serve as elders or even admit them as members, what then is the church. Just another social institution.

This was, in a nutshell, the debate Machen had with the liberals in his day. He argued that the liberals should feel free to believe what they wanted regarding the inerrancy of Scripture, the virgin birth, the reality of miracles, the exclusive nature of Christ's work, the historicity of the resurrection, etc. However, denying those things and you cease to be Christian. So don't call yourselves that and withdraw from historic Christian churches and institutions.

Similar issues of the confessional nature of the church and the seminaries/college that serve the church pop up frequently. Calvin College has gone through some rough waters of recent regarding it's policy that faculty not openly advocate homosexuality. Again, the tension is between academic freedom and confessional standards.

Does being confessional mean sticking your head in the sand and not engaging those with another point of view? No, certainly not. Doug Wilson gets at it, "there is a difference between 'staying in the discussion' with unbelievers [I would add, 'believers with a different point of view'] and sitting down and believing what you are told by unbelievers to believe. Paul was in a real dialogue with the philosophers on Mars Hill, and it did not consist of him getting into a high chair and having them cut his meat for him." So stay in the dialogue. However, if you are convinced to change your mind and your views are no longer in keeping with the standards of the institution/church you serve, have enough integrity to resign.

I remember my dad telling me, 'if you're going to break the rules, don't bitch about the consequences'. I broke lots of rules, don't think I ever complained about the consequences (but didn't usually get caught either).

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