Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Cruel Mistress Indeed


Between sessions at Together for the Gospel I was able to check a few of my favorite sites on the web. Carl Trueman has posted an article concerning the situation with Dr. Waltke. In particular Trueman responds to Waltke's assertion that unless we (theological conservatives) get with the program and embrace evolution then we risk the sneers of our cultured despisers.

The recent comments by Professor Bruce Waltke, to the effect that Christianity risks becoming a cult, or at least being perceived as a cult, unless it embraces evolution, have provoked a storm of comment, pro and con. I do not wish to address Professor Waltke's comments directly; for the record, I have always enjoyed his writings (and found them helpful). He is a scholar and gentleman, and when Professor Waltke speaks, I listen, even when I disagree. Thus, what I want to reflect on here are not Professor Waltke's well-known and long-standing views on origins but the questions surrounding the claim that a Christianity which rejects evolution really does risk becoming a cult, and, if so, whether that is something about which we should worry...

To the first point, it is clear from the New Testament that Christian views, particular of the cross, were regarded as stupid and offensive by the wider world. I Corinthians 1 makes that point in dramatic fashion; and the various Jewish and Gentile persecutions of the church described in Acts would imply that the church was not only seen as holding silly beliefs but as doing so in a way that scared society - a hallmark of being regarded as a sinister cult. This continues in the post-apostolic period. Pliny, writing to Emperor Trajan ca. 112, describes how he broke up a local Christian group. He describes them as secretive and engaging in strange practices which reflected their strange beliefs. In other words, he seems to have regarded them as a cult. Historian Tacitus is much the same: when he alludes to the Neronic persecutions, he speaks of Christianity as `shameful and hideous.' Well, as I have said in this column before: if it's white and woolly and goes `Baaaa!' when you kick it, it's a sheep.

To the second point, every theological discipline has its own point of whackiness. Perhaps evolution is where Old Testamentlers feel the pinch. Homosexuality would be the hotspot for contemporary Christian ethicists. For me as a historian, it is the resurrection: my friends in the secular history world will always regard me as a mediocre, or, perhaps more charitably, methodologically inconsistent, historian because I believe the tomb was empty. I am guessing that scientists would probably regard that belief as ridiculous too: the empirical and theoretical evidence for bodies being resurrected after traumatic execution and days of decaying in a tomb is, to say the least, not very compelling. Let's face it: opposition to homosexuality and belief in the resurrection are whacky views in today's climate, enjoying little or no support from the scholarly scientific world. Do we therefore change our views on these in order to avoid being seen as a cult? Even more dramatic, perhaps, is the increasingly strident voice of the aesthetic atheists, of whom Hitchens and Dawkins are just the most famous. As aesthetic atheism gains ground, any form of theism will increasingly be regarded as idiotic and cult-like. What will we do then? Cultural acceptability is a cruel mistress...

The question of evolution is a tough one, but it is not to be determined by whether rejection of it leads those who despise Christianity as whole to regard us as a cult. That is an utterly irrelevant point. What I want to know is whether evolution is consistent with biblical teaching, particularly Genesis 3, Romans 5 and I Corinthian 15. Which form of evolution is it at which we are looking (there being significant disagreements even within the scientific community)? What about the scientific objections of men like Michael Behe? And how come some people, with little or no scientific training, and who spend their lives telling us how difficult it is to understand messy, written texts - texts designed to, ahem, communicate in a relatively direct fashion -- seem to think that scientific data is univocal, unequivocal, and perspicuous on this point? Funny how old Enlightenment views of science can be found alive and well in the most postmodern quarters, isn't it? Given the stakes in play, it is not unloving or divisive for me to ask for answers to
these questions; but whether I run the risk of looking like a cult member if I find the answers I am given to be inadequate and unbiblical is, frankly, a matter of sheer indifference to me. I may be destined to live life on the cultic fringe of society, but there are worse places to be.
Read the entire article HERE.

1 comment:

Harley A. said...

I know very little about Waltke, but I feel for him. I think it is understandable, to a degree, how a man like Waltke can be fatigued with always fighting against the culture. The desire of the apologist is to find some common ground – a common thread from which he can engage the wider culture. Evolution has moved from being a field of scientific inquiry to being a cultural norm – not only a scientific “certainty”, but the very basis of natural science, anthropology, psychology, sociology and even philosophy. It is a bully pulpit. Forget swimming upstream - if you don’t embrace evolution, you’re not even in the stream – you’re trying to swim on the bank. The temptation to give in to such a cultural behemoth is great for those who would like to engage the modern culture. Ultimately, I agree with Trueman’s thoughts, but I think we need to maybe give men like Waltke a little more time and consideration, though I know it’s difficult when they are in such an authoritative position.