I read with disbelief (and extreme anger followed by depression) that a most important OT scholar of our generation, Bruce Waltke had resigned from his position in the Reformed Seminary (heard the same about Tremper Longman as well). When Peter Enns was let go in Westminster, I swore I was going to bite my tongue, but this proves too much even for me. This special North American phenomenon has caused the young (former Aussie now British) scholar Michael Bird to write about it.
The gist of what got Waltke dismissed has to do with his statement that Christianity and science not having to be contradictory and that it is possible to believe in Jesus and also evolution. I may or may not agree with what Waltke believes but in principle, yes, Christianity and science can work together hand in glove as both are revelation from God. Below is the news of Waltke’s situation.
It is a time to have serious soul searching among evangelicals. I mean, really really, serious soul searching, especially among its rank of academic leaders.
Enslaved to Self-Interest?: A Utilitarian ("Microscopic") Faith
North American Christians are pragmatists. Why Reformed Theological Seminary even fired Waltke is beyond me. Bird makes the observation that this whole situation has to do with constituents (i.e. donors) raising eyebrows over Waltke’s view on theistic evolution. If this is the case, then this is inexcusable. Having been under the knife for other similarly inflammatory issues in my former institution and in my relatively short academic ministry, I can truly relate to Waltke’s feeling. Are seminaries leaders of the Church, or are they truly just followers? We who educate need to understand our role and follow through to that goal. Not having done so is to show a lack of faith in God.
In Waltke’s own OT Theology text book, he clearly states his position. There is no misunderstanding of his position. In fact, I know his position very well personally because my brother-in-law Charles Yu (soon to be Dr. Charles Yu from Wisconsin University) co-wrote parts of it with him. I’m in the NT studies. If I can understand, I cannot imagine why those who hired him from the OT department did not understand it. Are they just that ignorant?
Here’s my proposal. There are two possibilities. Either the scholarship of the OT department that hired him was so bad that those scholars who hired him read him and didn’t understand what he stood for or they hired him knowing full well what he stood for. I wonder which it is. If they hired him without understanding, the entire department should be fired for stupidity. If they hired him with understanding but fired him because of some donor, they should also be fired for the lack of integrity and intestinal fortitude. In the case of the former, they hired Waltke based on reputation alone which is inexcusable. I’m sure my hiring here was based on a full knowledge of my publication and not my reputation alone. I'm sure my boss had read my publications. If not, he wouldn't be encouraging me to continue to publish along the same strategy. In the case of the donor(s), I would say that the department “used” Waltke’s great name. They hired him based on how much money his name would raise, knowing full well that the entire OT department did not believe in Waltke’s theory. When his name no longer drew money from donors but began losing money, they spat him out like a piece of maggot-filled meat. In the latter case, I wish to ask such people whether they worship God or worship mammon.
Enslaved to Modernism?: A Christian “Cult”
Bird points out along with N. T. Wright that this worship of the minor details in Christian theology is uniquely North American. At some point, we have to ask why this is. Bird says that there is a resurgence of fundamentalism among Reformed circles. I would say that problem is spreading much wider beyond Reformed circle. If we look at the Southern Baptists, for example, the strength in number of fundamentalists is staggering.
Fundamentalists are a lot cleverer these days. They "call" themselves evangelicals to earn academic credibility and pay lip service to biblical criticism, but deep down inside, they're wolf in sheep's clothing. This is the reason why I distance myself from that term these days. I cannot see myself being associated with “evangelicals” any longer simply because they have lost the evangel. They do not distinguish the core of the gospel from its peripheral. In the case of those who forced out Waltke, the details of the creation account would be on the same level of importance as Jesus Christ’s resurrection. Though they may deny this, but how else could you explain the reason why Waltke was fired?
Fundamentalism is a uniquely American sickness at this point. Its mentality is to hunt down every witch in every church pew and lecture hall and then proceed to burn them. I myself barely escaped such scrutiny in the American Chinese circle. Its other problem, which I think is more serious because it goes all the way deep into the social psyche of this group; fundamentalism is a worship of modernism instead of the historically orthodox Trinitarian Godhead. I say this without any apology (and I’ll say it again if anyone does not understand it) because their rationalism to justify their entrenched (often ridiculous) theological positions comes straight from modernism and not from Scriptural reasoning. Neither is their rationale historically orthodox either. The last time I checked on the Nicene Creed, there was no discussion on creation days, age of the earth, millennium, abortion, homosexuality and universal health care reform (not that I have no stance on any of such issues). The main issue remains that historical orthodoxy is about the Trinitarian Godhead, revealed in the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, resulting in salvation of the believing community, with the blessed hope of the second coming of Jesus Christ. All Christians believe this.
If a group has redefined what orthodoxy means, and varies from historical Christianity, it behaves like a cult. If it quacks like a duck, walks like a duck … it must be … I’m not at all in favor of this brand of Christianity which is “another gospel.” They're murdering Christianity.
Enslaved to Quick-Fixes: A Brainless Christianity
What are the consequences of this kind of intoleratlbe (in fact intolerant) atmosphere? People begin looking for quick fixes. If you look at what sells in North American Christian bookstores, the content alone will make you ill (only if you’re intellectually minded). Leadership books are dime a dozen. Every book promises an answer; what the answer is remains elusive. Why? It is because people are looking for quick fixes. When the brain is dead or untrained, they have no way to solve problems. So, they look for Mickey D solutions (or should I say "pollution"?).
The bookstores and top ten list of popular Christian book list will certainly prove me right. The sad part is that some of such books have also spread its poison to Hong Kong by market-driven publishers. The superficiality of such evangelical thinking is only highlighted to me in one comment from an editor, “Sam, it is not that your book on preaching methodology is not good. Pastors are looking for canned sermons in book form to get them through Sundays.” What? I nearly died when I heard that because after all, I teach NT interpretation. Just in case anyone thinks I'm tasting sour grapes, my book on preaching was published and is now on its second printing after less than one year (after some serious arm twisting and verbal wrangling, and two more will be coming in a monograph series from my seminary (stay tune).
Am I wasting my time by teaching NT interpretation, if people are just looking for canned sermons? In some sense, we are really fighting a losing battle. When the collective Christian academy has openly rejected engagement with secularism, culture and more importantly scientific data, how can we expect those from within to come out as anything other than superficial? Superficial leaders produce superficial followers. Superficial theological institution will produce superficial pastors. The vicious cycle continues.
True leaders in any age are thinkers. You cannot lead without thinking. The only way to mend the brainless state of evangelicalism, frankly, is to allow thinking to develop again. I mean, not the quick-fix solutions, but really hard thinking, the kind of thinking that may produce more relevant questions than answers. Why do we need so many books on coaching or church growth or whatever flavor of the month is? If you want to learn something about what makes church work, look in church history. Look what movements have worked and what have not. The worst thing is to dismiss history as passes in search for the next magic bullet which may ultimately kill the person pulling the trigger. As my friend, former Mr. Universe, bodybuilding expert Mr. Dave Draper once said, “The secret is that there is no secret.” The magic bullet, if it ever existed, should come from vigorous intellectual pursuit. It all starts with the educational institutions which are now faltering. I’m really afraid, even at this stage with so much information being disseminated, we’re facing a new Dark Ages in our churches, not because the information is not available, but because of the intellectual apathy among so many fundamentalists disguised as evangelicals.
I had a little afternoon chat with my good friend and colleague the other day. It was very delightful because he too sees the danger. He playfully said, “I’m not evangelical” in hope of shocking me. I was not shocked. I said, “Really? Me too … well, with some qualifiers.” He said, “I’m not because they can no longer define the ‘gospel’.” Remember, I’m not talking to a moron. This is a well-known theologian here and has a strong degree from a reputable institution with an unsurpassed publication record. He said, “I prefer to be called disciple of Christ.” I know it sounds like another cliche, but in light of the above discussion, I really do understand what he means, though not without a good bit of sadness. Evangelicalism has nurtured my head and my heart. I accept its heritage but I reject those who head it. It’s hard to say good-bye to it, but when something is this dead and buried without even knowing that it’s in the coffin, there’s no use being associated with it. In fact, being attached to it would soon cause the maggots to crawl over to my side. The bottom line really is that simple, “What is the ‘gospel’?” I'm not sure evangelicalism can provide the answer right now.