An evolving story or not?

Bruce Waltke's resignation from Reformed Theological Seminary Orlando set off a mini debate in the blogging world after he made remarks in a BioLogos Foundation video related to a paper endorsing the acceptance of evolution. ABC (video on the right) has picked up the news and run with an embarrassingly simplistic story.

Let's start with the headline on the web version of the story: "Evangelist Spurned for Supporting Evolution." We've harped on how often the media flippantly uses the term evangelist, most frequently used to describe a Protestant itinerant preacher. Evangelist is probably not the best word to describe Waltke, who is an Old Testament scholar.

Here's the intro to the story by Dan Harris and Michael Murray:

In a country where 61 percent of the population says it believes that the creation story in the Bible is literally true and in which a popular Creation Museum near Cincinnati shows dinosaurs co-existing with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, even a respected, conservative evangelical Bible scholar such as Bruce Waltke connot [sic] get away with supporting the theory of evolution. Waltke has caused an uproar in the evangelical movement for this "heresy."

Nowhere in the story, though, do we find anyone calling Waltke's statements "heresy." Where did those attacks come from? Blog comments? Who exactly is doing the "spurning" that the headline suggests? Here's the statement that appears to have people up in arms:

"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," says Waltke.

The odd part about this quote is that while the web version posts this full quote, the television version cuts out the "if," which Waltke said later is an important distinction. The story then quotes Ken Ham, who is the CEO of the Creation Museum, so of course he disagrees with Waltke.

Almost immediately after posting a video that included this statement on the Internet three weeks ago, Waltke was labeled a heretic, and called "anti-Christian."

Ken Hamm, the CEO of the Creation Museum, has vehemently opposed Waltke's proposition. Hamm says, "I believe what he is saying ultimately undermines the authority of God's word." apparently doesn't employ copy editors because Ken Ham's and (later) Randall Balmer's names are misspelled throughout the print story (though it is correct in the television story). I realize there's only so much time in a television report, but the reporter doesn't give Ham the time or space to explain exactly why he believes Waltke contradicts the Bible.

The story also does not indicate whether these ABC reporters attempted to contact Waltke for the story.

Even though Waltke had the video that supported evolution pulled down, and repeatedly explained that he believes one can believe in both evolution and biblical inerrancy (the position that the Bible is accurate), the attacks have kept coming.

After deciding he'd had enough, two weeks ago Waltke resigned from the Reformed Theological Seminary in Florida where he'd taught for more than a decade. He blamed the "sheriffs of theology" for hounding him out and causing his resignation.

In a letter to colleagues, Waltke said he declined to do an interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer and then said "I find no fault with the RTS administration." So where does this "sheriffs of theology" quote come from?

The television story transitions into some "moderate evangelical" quotes as it includes stock video of a random church where people with raised hands are singing worship songs.

Peter Enns, who lost his job at an evangelical seminary in Philadelphia under similar circumstances, says a refusal to accept evolution is likely to turn away future generations of Christians.

"They're being expected to have faith in God but being told that in order to have that faith in God, they need to ignore things that they hear in biology classes."

Moderate evangelical Randal Balmer says conservative evangelicals are starting to close ranks in the face of mounting evidence supporting the theory of evolution.

It's unclear why the reporters interviewed Peter Enns, whose departure from Westminster Theological Seminary didn't have anything to do with evolution and focused on whether his book adhered to a specific confession of faith that faculty must sign. The ABC story should have at least disclosed that Enns now works for the Biologos Foundation, which was the same group that posted the video of Waltke. Further, reporters should be more careful with the term "moderate evangelical." As tmatt put it, "Another person's 'moderate' evangelical is another's heretic." Perhaps the reporter should have found someone who focuses on science or evolution more specifically. After all, Waltke isn't the only Christian who has vocally supported evolution.

Inside Higher Ed does a much better job covering the affair as reporter Scott Jaschik contacted Michael Milton, interim president of the Orlando seminary.

Milton said that the seminary allows "views to vary" about creation, describing the faculty members there as having "an eight-lane highway" on which to explore various routes to understanding. Giving an example, he said that some faculty members believe that the Hebrew word yom (day) should be seen in Genesis as a literal 24-hour day. Others believe that yom may be providing "a framework" for some period of time longer than a day. Both of those views, and various others, are allowed, Milton said.

But while Milton insisted that this provides for "a diversity" of views, he acknowledged that others are not permitted. Darwinian views, and any suggestion that humans didn't arrive on earth directly from being created by God (as opposed to having evolved from other forms of life), are not allowed, he said, and faculty members know this.

These might seem subtle distinctions but they are important for many seminaries and Christian colleges. For future reference, ReligionLink offers a handy resource to journalists on the differences between Young Earth and Old Earth creationism. Unfortunately, the soundbites in this television story don't begin to touch on the complexities of this debate.

Update: After further reflection of this post, I should point out that stories on this controversy should further explore Waltke's beliefs, deeper than "Waltke endorses evolution." In his paper, Waltke suggests he would not accept that the process is random and without purpose.

"First, a differentiation must be clearly stated between evolution guided by the Creator and evolution guided by purposeless, random chance," he writes. "In my opinion, however, no evangelical theologian can deify Chance as ultimately ruling the process or origins."

It's inadequate to say that Waltke "supports evolution" (kind of like the old "Pope backs Darwin" story) without more elaboration on some intellectual position between the old Creationism label and evolution, as defined by the academic powers that be.

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