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Sunday, 20 July 2008

A Re-evaluation by Evangelical Theologians?: The ETS, the ASA, and Hints of Change

There has been some discussion on the gap between evangelical theologians and evangelical scientists on the topic of biological evolution. This gap is illustrated by the current relationship between the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) and the closest thing to an evangelical scientific society, the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA). As Ted Davis noted, it has been a long time since there was significant interaction between the ASA and the ETS.

ASA and ETS Background
Both the ASA and the ETS were formed in the mid-20th century, the ASA in 1941 and the ETS in 1949. Both groups share a commitment to the evangelical faith and sound academic scholarship. The ETS encourages biblical and theological research while maintaining a commitment to biblical inerrancy. The ASA describes itself as a “fellowship that shares a common fidelity to the Word of God and a commitment to integrity in the practice of science”. Although many members of the ASA affirm the inerrancy of scripture, the group’s statement of faith simply states, “We accept the divine inspiration, trustworthiness and authority of the Bible in matters of faith and conduct”.

For many years (I think starting in the late 1950s), the ETS and the ASA held joint annual meetings. However, at some point this was discontinued. I am not sure if ASA fellow Richard Bube’s petition to the ETS to “either to define inerrant or substitute some other term such as authoritative in its statement” was a factor in the fallout, or if this was simply a symptom of larger already-existing differences. (Ten points to anyone who can provide further background). In the ensuing years it seems even those who wished to renew ETS / ASA cooperation did not consider joint meetings to be a realistic target. In 1992 ASA member John McIntyre, commenting on the possibility of resuming joint meetings, said that “I do not believe that such a joint meeting would lead to the cooperation that we desire; we would spend all of our time arguing about evolution”.

I have indicated (on several occasions) my disappointment that evangelical theologians seem oblivious to the evidence for biological evolution. However, maybe this disappointment (and sense of impatience) is not warranted. Although I have no reason to believe that the ETS and the ASA are planning any formal dialogue in the near future, two potentially significant events give me reason for hope. The first is the participation of two theologians at the CIS conference later this year; the second is the open acceptance of theistic evolution by a former president of the ETS.

Evangelical Theologians at Christians in Science (CIS) Conference
The CIS is the UK sister organization to the ASA. Its 2008 annual conference is entitled “Celebrating Darwin? Creation, Evolution, and Theological Challenges”. It is interesting to note that two impeccably evangelical theologians will be presenting at this conference (HT: David Opderbeck). The conference program includes lectures from both Henri Blocher (Wheaton), the author of the very important In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis, and Richard Hess (Denver Seminary). I’m not sure if either of them would describe themselves as EC or TE, but the very fact they are presenting at this conference indicates that an important & neglected dialogue may be occurring. (Note: While in the UK, Hess will also be leading a session at the Faraday institute on God and Origins: Interpreting Genesis).

Bruce Waltke’s Support for Theistic Evolution
Bruce Waltke is a former president of the ETS. He has taught at Dallas Theological Seminary, Regent College, WTS, and RTS. Last year Waltke released his massive An Old Testament Theology. In a chapter entitled “The Gift of the Cosmos” (the whole chapter is excellent) Waltke candidly states his acceptance of theistic evolution, noting that Francis Collins “The Language of God” was very helpful to him (HT: to Glen Davis in this comment). Here is Waltke’s summary of his own position (pages 202 and 203 – note, the capitalized ADAM below refers to humanity):

The best harmonious synthesis of the special revelation of the Bible, of the general revelation of human nature that distinguishes between right and wrong and consciously or unconsciously craves God, and of science is the theory of theistic evolution.

By “theistic evolution” I mean that the God of Israel, to bring glory to himself,

1. created all the things that are out of nothing and sustains them

2. incredibly, against the laws probability, finely tuned the essential properties of the universe to produce ADAM, who is capable of reflecting upon their origins

3. within his providence allowed the process of natural selection and of cataclysmic interventions – such as the meteor that extinguished the dinosaurs, enabling mammals to dominate the earth – to produce awe-inspiring creatures, especially ADAM

4. by direct creation made ADAM a spiritual being, an image of divine beings, for fellowship with himself by faith

5. allowed ADAM to freely choose to follow their primitive animal nature and to usurp the rule of God instead of living by faith in God, losing fellowship with their physical and spiritual Creator

6. and in his mercy chose from fallen ADAM the Israel of God, whom he regenerated by the Holy Spirit, in connection with their faith in Jesus Christ, the Second Adam, for fellowship with himself.

Now, I could quibble with a few points in the description above, and I’d never personally use the term “theory of theistic evolution”, but on the whole this is pretty good. That someone of Waltke’s pedigree can change his mind in this matter is heartening. Maybe we should provide some of those ten books to more evangelical theologians. Maybe we just need to be patient and let them think this through for awhile.

7 comments:

dopderbeck said...

This comments a bit late, but...

I corresponded with both Hess and Waltke.

Hess thinks the Biblical text allows for some evolution within kinds.

Waltke thinks Biblical theology seems to require a monogetic origin of humanity.

So yes, there are seeds of some good interaction here, but not yet, it seems, a real appreciation for all the issues.

Steve Martin said...

Thanks David. Personally I'm choosing to look at this from a glass half full perspective. We have to start somewhere.

Murray Hogg said...

The timing of this post is ironic, Steve.

Waltke has just been forced out of RTS following his comments on evolution in a (now removed) video on the Biologos site.

See the report from USA Today

Also the response from Biologos

The Biologos piece, by the way, has a statement by Waltke clarifying his views and, as David Opderbeck suggests, a monogenetic view of the origin of humanity is amongst them.

Steve Martin said...

Hi Murray,

Thanks for the links. Yes it is ironic that Waltke runs into trouble with RTS 1.5 years after this post and probably 3 years after the publication of his widely acclaimed book - in which he said basically the same thing as in the video.

I'm still trying to digest what this means for Evangelicalism - and for those Evangelicals that support Biologos. Wonder if Tim Keller will also run into problems.

If only the administration at RTS had read your post Origins and the Pastoral Task: The Priority of Love over Knowledge maybe things would have been different.

But I doubt it.

David_Morris said...

Guys, I don't think the Waltke resignation is as clear cut as it sometimes appears to be (or as I initially thought).
http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2010/04/09/on-theistic-evolution-and-professor-waltkes-resignation/
http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2010/04/12/updates-from-waltke-and-from-rts/
#2 has a full statement from Waltke.
Also
http://blog.christianitytoday.com/ctliveblog/archives/2010/04/ot_scholar_bruc.html
If you read the Inside Higher Ed piece, it's used a stick to beat us with by many of the commenters. If only this could have been avoided. Oh well. At least he wasn't called a heretic.
http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2010/03/orthodoxys-best-friend.php
Oh wait....

Steve Martin said...

David,

Thanks for those links. I have been too busy lately to really look into this issue, but I need to soon. You say some similar things to Rob Mitchell in his comment on the ASA voices blog entry on the Waltke situation.

Again, I need to read and think about this some more but my respect for Waltke has only increased - his actions demonstrate the type of integrity and love for the church that we all need to have.

Anonymous said...

I believe that God through Christ could have used any means to create our beautiful universe. I do not believe in Young Earth Creationism since the view puts humans and dinosaurs together; however, I can accept other Old Earth Views. Since there is more than one Old Earth View, I just say I believe in Intelligent Design. Our Lord knows the method he used.

Charles Miller, BA, Old Dominion University; MA, Liberty University