Students are the real victims of Waltke’s resignation

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

* See my first comment for updated information on this story.

As you may have heard, renowned Old Testament scholar Bruce Waltkeresigned from his position at Reformed Theological Seminary last week amidst controversy surrounding statements he made in support of evolutionary theory in a video posted by the BioLogos foundation. Conservatives are praising the decision as a firm stand against liberalism, while progressives are hailing Waltke as a martyr for the cause of truth and free thought.

Now, I know enough about university politics to know that there is probably more to this story than meets the eye and that we should be wary of casting Waltke’s resignation in sharp black-and-white terms. He did use some strong language in the video, so the fallout may have more to do with his choice of words than with his actual position. As a private institution, RTS is under no legal obligation to protect academic freedom, and if the administration there feels that its faculty must adhere to a single interpretation of Genesis, then that is their decision to make.

We can easily use this incident as an excuse to slip into our favorite combat positions and rally around our preferred positions as young earthers, intelligent designers, theistic evolutionists, and so on. But I think that misses the point, and I think it actually makes things worse for the true victims in this story—students.

Students are the true victims in this story for the incident (perhaps unintentionally) sends a clear message to young people at Christian colleges, universities, and seminaries around the country: "You have to choose - Christianity or evolution."

What’s worse is that the story reveals the fact that many academic institutions (or their supporters) seem unwilling to preserve a diversity of opinion within their faculties, which means the message is punctuated with this: "You have to choose before you attend our university, for only one perspective will be taught here." 

I hope that this is not an indication of a future in which each Christian academic institution adopts a single position on origins, forces out any faculty or staff member who does not hold to that position, and then exclusively recruits students whose parents/denominational backgrounds support that position. 

What this does is deprive young people of the chance to really wrestle with this difficult topic. It deprives us of the chance to think critically and weigh options. It deprives us of the chance to be exposed to a variety of ideas and perspectives and to struggle through this issue in the company of friends and Christian mentors. It deprives us of the opportunity to ask hard questions and engage in debate.  In short, it deprives us of a true education.

I know from firsthand experience that the message that one must choose between faith and accepted science is destructive. After graduating from a Christian college in which this was the prevailing attitude, I nearly lost my faith because I began to fear that being a Christian required checking my brain at the door and ignoring what this world has to teach us.

So on behalf of all the students who have yet to attend Christian colleges and seminaries, I urge administrators to think twice before creating monochromatic faculties and catering recruitment to one camp or the other.

Give young people the chance to wrestle with this issue. We want to talk about it. We want to hear a variety of perspectives. We want to ask questions. We don’t want to to choose between our faith and our intellectual integrity, but if we must, we want that decision to be ours—not yours, not our church’s, not our parent’s. We want an education, not indoctrination.

So, what kind of education did you receive regarding faith, science, Genesis, and evolutionary theory? What is your reaction to Bruce Waltke’s resignation?

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