Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Easy Labeling Tough Laboring

Title: Easy to Label, Tough to Labour
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 14 April 2010

Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4)

The big news this week is the resignation of a prominent Old Testament professor from a conservative seminary. It started with a video recording of the professor’s views on creation and evolution. When it was released on the Internet, it created a huge controversy that shone unwarranted attention on both the professor and his seminary. The professor was not given an opportunity to vet the video in the first place. Upon realizing the damage, he laboured vigorously to explain and to re-explain what he said. He politely requested for the video to be removed. He decided eventually to offer to resign, so that negative publicity would fall on him rather than on his seminary.

A) The Repercussions of Technological Speed
Unfortunately, with modern technology, it is no longer possible to simply call the newspaper room to pull an article scheduled to be printed the next day. Once anything is released on the Internet, there is no turning back. Even if the main copy is removed, there is a good chance that copies lurk elsewhere in different computers around the world. Even Google, the mighty search engine keeps cached copies of information for purposes such as backup.

Technology makes it easy, far too easy to spread all kinds of information. It makes it easy for people to put forth their own interpretations without checking the truth. It is easy to react at the spur of the moment, to information coming in the spur of the moment. It is easy to distribute this video, and all its various interpretations. It is easy to become prey to this technological speed of delivery of information, misinformation and disinformation. Professors from other institutions jump in to comment. Bloggers and advocates of both sides (Evolution & Creation) jump in. Christians from both sides, (liberal and conservative) jump in. I too, jump in to defend my beleagued professor. Making slight comments, negative thoughts and accusations are becoming far too easy in the age of the Internet. Technology has sped things up so much, that people respond faster than their hearts can keep up. Without time to process one’s thoughts, it is too easy to hurt one another. When people are hurt, no amount of explanation can repair the damage. Only persistent forgiveness and a consistent humble attitude can help one weather the long storm.

B) The Resignation
Despite the video removal, the controversy continues to grow. Whatever the damage caused, they cannot be undone. At issue was the topic of evolution, and whether there are biblical grounds for Christians to believe in evolution. What made this situation more intense is that this professor is a world-renowned expert in the Old Testament book of Genesis. If anybody has something solid and substantial to say about Genesis, this is the man to listen to. This is the man many young evangelicals look up to.

Unfortunately, supporters and opponents are not willing to let this go. In the first place, it is a difficult issue to easily let it rest. Accepting the Darwinian form of evolution is taboo to many in the evangelical world. I am also cautious about any wholesale adoption of Evolution into Christian theology. That does not mean I should shut my minds completely about Christian thinking over it. Keeping an open mind is an attribute of humility.

As I reflect, I do not think that this is the video that ended a career. In fact, it is negative publicity and the over-enthusiastic desire not to ruffle the feathers of the powers to be, that led to the resignation. Lurking close behind is a climate of fear.

C) The Reactions
With the help of the Internet, reactions over the resignation are fast and furious. Soon, bloggers and the Christian media are full of talk over this matter. Some say that the professor was fired. Others say he resigned on his own accord. Still, others suspect foul play on the part of the seminary. Whatever it is, labels become free flowing. Many in the theological community engage one another in some rather heated debates. When major news media like USAToday screams out headlines like: “Evangelical scholar forced out after endorsing evolution,” the stage is set for a major debate from any angle. It pits scientists against theologians. It opens up the floodgates of controversy that draws in scholars and theologians holding views that range from extreme creationism to extreme evolutionism. Some defended the seminary and criticizes the professor. Others accuse the Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) for its unfair ‘sacking’ of their eminent professor.

During times of heated debates, labels fly freely. During heightened emotions, fellow Christians libel one another for their views. In one such instance, an aggressive blogger almost nearly call another Christian professor ‘Satan.’ When I read it, I was deeply troubled and disappointed. Why must fellow brothers and sisters say such nasty things to one another?

D) Long and Hard Labour at Reconciliation
Seeking the best of others is not easy. Seeking the best interests of others during rough moments is even more difficult. It is harder still to love others when one is more interested in self-love. In many of the arguments that I have read, there is a consistent pattern. People seem more interested to prove themselves right and others wrong. I must confess that it happens to me as well.

I have known Dr Waltke since my Regent days. He is a very humble man. He puts the interests of others before his own. At one time, I went to his home to fix his computer problem. He graciously poured me exotic English tea, took time off his busy writing schedule to share a conversation with me. That showed me that not only does he has a brilliant mind, he has a warm pastoral heart. This week, I see his humble heart working more prominently than his rich biblical knowledge of the entire situation.

E) A Labor of Love from Bruce and RTS
Since the 6th of April, 2010, Dr Bruce Waltke has laboured to explain and re-explain his ideas about Genesis, evolution, creation and the fundamental points about Biblical inerrancy. Given his wide knowledge and expertise in the ancient languages and contexts, there are very few people who can match him. He labours meticulously to explain his views, from a solidly biblical perspective, with an understanding heart. He perseveres faithfully on biblical principles and faithful exegesis. For me, whether Bruce is right or wrong about evolution, his actions to labour with love and care for the Body of Christ speak louder than all his theological literature combined. In fact, in a recent press release, Dr Waltke defends RTS for their actions, and RTS defends Dr Waltke. I have rarely seen parties who parted ways, defending each other from the fiery darts of outsiders. In one hotly debated blog on the Internet on this matter, I urged the readers to take these latest statements by Dr Waltke and RTS at face value, and to let matters rest.While personally, I still feel that RTS has accepted too quickly Dr Waltke's offer to resign, we ought to respect both parties ultimate decision as they are.

Although this may be too little too late, there is an important lesson for us to learn. What is even more telling is the behaviour of Dr Waltke. In his statement, he goes to the extent of asking everyone to accuse him instead of belittling RTS. He expressly requests that he be held responsible for all that has happened. He will rather take the hit, than the brothers and sisters he loves at RTS. Dr Waltke is more concerned about the reputation of RTS than his own. Likewise, RTS releases a statement addressing Dr Waltke a beloved brother in Christ.

F) Learning Points
When we say we love Christ and neighbour, we must be prepared to defend one another’s honour and reputation. When Jesus asks us to love one another, he does not apply conditions. Love is unconditional. Not because, they believe in what we believe in. Not because they behave according to our expectations. Not because they belong to our favoured groups. There are no strings attached. Let me suggest that we practice readiness in three ways.

Firstly, be ready to defend one another even at one’s own reputation and expense. This may be harder, but that is what loving our neighbour is about. Love has a cost. Love is not free. It is costly.

Secondly, be ready to forgive one another, as Christ forgives us. Notice how central forgiveness is in Jesus’ teachings? It is even enshrined in the prayer Jesus taught his disciples. I am sure Dr Waltke is more than willing to forgive the third, fourth, fifth or whatever parties who have launched a personal assault on him or his works. Likewise, I believe RTS is willing to forgive people who have been misinformed about the whole matter. If Dr Waltke and RTS is prepared to let matters rest, should not we in the rest of the Christian community do the same. There is a time to debate, and a time to stop debating.

Finally, be ready to lead by example toward Christlikeness. There is a time to wrestle with facts and knowledge. However, any debate has to occur at the level of ideas, not people, not institutions. Better still, may our engagement of ideas always be done with an attitude of humbleness and gentleness like my Professor: Dr Bruce Waltke. Let me close with the words of one Regent alumnus I know who wrote to me recently.
Dr Waltke has set a stellar example in Christlikeness by doing what should be done in a potentially damaging situation.
I concur with gratitude. What good is it to claim to have all the ‘right beliefs,’ but wrong behaviour? Be careful when using technology. Be careful when our heads are not in sync with our hearts. While it is easy to shoot off the hip, recovery and reconciliation is not. It needs a diligent labour of love. It requires humility of heart. It demands courage. It begs forgiveness. All these are exemplified by Dr Bruce Waltke.


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