The response of ASA members to the resignation of Bruce Waltke from RTS prompts me to write this. Perhaps I am mis-reading my fellow ASAers, but it seems that there is little grasp of a divide that occurred in evangelicalism over forty years ago–a divide that continues to this day as I see it. This is a response in part as well to comments of Ted Davis and George Murphy to my post about Eugenie Scott’s visit to CSU.
The divide is over the distinction between inerrancy and what we might call limited inerrancy. Inerrantists, as defined by the Chicago statement, regard those who do not hold to this view as “neo-evangelicals”. The view of Rodgers, McKim, Bloesch, Pinnock, etc. would be in this camp. While these theologians may be theologically conservative compared to full-blown liberal theology on some key questions, e.g. the Trinity, Christology, the atonement, justification by faith, the work of the Holy Spirit, etc., as far as inerrantists are concerned, they are with the liberals as a consequence of their doctrine of scripture. These individuals and their associated institutions are not evangelicals–they are neo-evangelicals.
It is clear that the ASA as a whole is on the neo-evangelical side of this divide. Perhaps, even, the ASA helped pioneer this view with the writings of Richard Bube in the Journal of the ASA in the 1970’s. Paul Seely (among others) provided the Biblical scholarship arguments for this. Harold Lindsell’s The Battle for the Bible documents this from a highly critical perspective, and, while I don’t necessarily agree with all of Lindsell’s story, it makes the point. Today’s ASA remains in this camp for the most part. Lamoureux, Seely, Enns, N.T. Wright, etc., either ASAers or favorite theologians of ASAers, are among the ranks of Rodgers, McKim, Bloesch, Pinnock, etc. on the doctrine of Scripture. Biologos.org and those directly associated with it are in this camp as is evident from their books and the way that they address the science/Scripture problem.
What may surprise ASAers is that the conservative Reformed camp embodied in denominations such as the Presbyterian Church in America, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and institutions such as the Westminster Theological Seminaries, Covenant College, Covenant Seminary, and the various Reformed Theological Seminaries are on the more conservative end of this evangelical/neo-evangelical or inerrancy/limited inerrancy spectrum. There are other denominations and institutions that we would not necessarily label “fundamentalist” that would also be at the conservative end of the spectrum–I’m thinking here of places like Wheaton College. A significant group of ASA members and even leaders are from these denominations and institutions or are strongly influenced by them.
In these institutions to move from the evangelical to the neo-evangelical camp usually means losing one’s job if you are a pastor, college professor, or seminary professor. In making this move you have abandoned a key aspect of the modern conservative evangelical and Reformed faith. Witness the events surrounding Peter Enns at Westminster Seminary.
So what to make of the response to Bruce Waltke? The historicity of Adam and Eve and the Fall is a marker of adherence to the evangelical doctrine of Scripture. Most even go further and make the advocacy of any sort of animal ancestry of Adam or his body to be impossible in the inerrantist perspective. Thus, the reaction to Waltke (and in my opinion a similar fate awaits Tim Keller) for his comments at Biologos. Now for the record I believe that it is possible to maintain an evangelical/inerrantist perspective and to entertain evolutionary ideas, extending even to aspects of human evolution. I believe that both Waltke and Keller do this. If you read their contributions to Biologos carefully, you will see that there is no hesitation to affirm the evangelical/inerrantist view of scripture or to affirm the historicity of Adam and Eve and the Fall. We see this as well in the early 20th century theologian B. B. Warfield. In some respects, Waltke and Keller are finding common ground with neo-evangelicals on these evolution questions at the risk of their reputations as evangelicals.
So why do I engage in this “splitting” (as opposed to “lumping”) activity? Those of us in the ASA in the “evangelical” camp (in contrast with the “neo-evangelical” camp) are fully aware that the ASA is a big-tent organization, especially on this issue. While I can only speak for myself, I suspect that there are others with similar qualms. We are very uneasy with the “neo-evangelical” approaches to scripture/science questions. These approaches will not work in our churches or institutions. Thus, when we use Lamoureux or Collins or Falk or Enns, we have to qualify them, if we use them at all. They often provide good discussions of the science from the theistic perspective; they often point to acceptable ways of reading scripture on some issues (age of the earth, days of Genesis, the Flood, etc.) but often intermingled with these, especially when we start talking about human origins and the Fall, are what we regard to be compromising claims about the character of Scripture.
ASA members, especially those at the neo-evangelical end of the spectrum, should know that they are only preaching to the choir when they root their arguments in a neo-evangelical view of scripture. While some advocate that young-earth creationism is the only consistent inerrantist position, it is clearly not the case. However, arguments for evolution and human evolution need to be cast into an inerrantist perspective in order to be made convincing. This, of course, is a much trickier enterprise. Some ASA members seem oblivious to this divide and in doing so seem surprised when it becomes important. Their ignorance of or indifference to this divide muddles the conversation.
Alternatively, the ASA could just say that these inerrantist/evangelicals have their heads buried in the sand and that the “neo-evangelical” view of scripture IS the basis for a correct understanding of science/Scripture issues. This is largely what the ASA has done with young-earth creationism in practice. In the heyday of the fundamentalist/Modernist debate in the early 20th century, J. G. Machen in Christianity and Liberalism argued that in reality there were two irreconcilable and competing views of Christianity here–two different religions even. The evangelical world (in contrast to the neo-evangelical world) would argue similarly today. ASA could decide to play on only one side of this divide, but if we do, let’s fully understand what we are doing. When we call evangelicals to become neo-evangelicals, it is like asking them to change religions.