A Mind for Truth? (RJS)

On March 26 I put up a short post (Confronting the Data) that linked to a video excerpt of an interview with Dr. Bruce Waltke. In this video Dr. Waltke began his comments with a caveat, an if, but spoke of the need to confront the data, to wrestle with the data, to trust in God’s providence, to love God with all of our minds and think about the issues, to enter into open dialog. It is “our spiritual death in witness to the world” when we are not credible and cannot put out reasoned rational answers. Dr. Waltke did not explicitly endorse any particular position in the video.

Dr. Waltke also put together a white paper outlining the barriers to acceptance of evolution and I discussed some of these conclusions on two posts last October: Evolution
and Evangelicals … What are the Barriers
and Evolution and Evangelicals … Reflections. Again his comments were measured, well thought out, and considered issues of scripture and current debates. We had a good conversation on this blog centered on issues highlighted in his white paper.

I have never met Dr. Waltke, but all of these resources give me the impression of a careful, intelligent, Christian scholar.  I am sure that he and I would disagree on many issues coming from different perspectives, his area of expertise is Old Testament, mine is Chemistry, his doctorate is from Harvard, mine is from UC Berkeley, but I would learn much in the dialog – I hope he would as well. We need these conversations.

The video excited a great deal of controversy – controversy that has resulted in the removal of the video after Dr. Waltke informed BioLogos that the administration of Reformed Theological Seminary had asked him to request that the video be taken down. The controversy also resulted in a clarification statement by Dr. Waltke, a statement e-mailed directly to me (among many others I’m sure) by Rev. Lyn C. Perez (at least from his e-mail account), president of RTS foundation at Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando.

I will come back to some of the other issues later this week – including some of the points in Dr. Waltkes’s clarification – but today I would like to concentrate on a simple question.

What does it mean to have a mind for truth, a heart for God?

The phrasing of this question is not conjured from thin air – rather this phrase: A mind for truth, A heart for God is the motto of Reformed Theological Seminary.  It is a motto I would like to apply to my own life – although perhaps with a third phrase added reflecting the need for a life lived in service of love for God and man.

The idea of a mind for truth is a very important one. But this will only come about with openness. We need open, honest, and civil dialog about the tough issues. We need to trust in the providence of God and confront our doubts and questions face on. We do not preserve the church by drawing lines and building walls. I appreciated Dr. Waltke’s video comments and posted on them not because they supported my view of the “facts” – or because he and I would agree on all fronts, but because he put into words my core conviction – built on almost 30 years in secular academia as graduate student, scholar, and professor. From the video:

… to deny the reality would be to deny the truth of God in the world and would be to deny truth. So I think it would be our spiritual death if we stopped loving God with all of our minds and thinking about it, I think it’s our spiritual death. … So I see this all as part of the growth of the church. We are much more mature by this dialog that we’re having, and I think this is how we come to the unity of the faith, is that we wrestle with these issues. We’re all in the body of Christ as one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism. And we may disagree with one another, but we are really interacting in a very serious way, trusting God’s truth. And that we are testing what is true and holding fast to that which is good and we are the richer for it. And if we don’t do that we are going to die.

Unfortunately growth causes growing pains – and growth brings uncertainty. People get  defensive and people get hurt. We see this today and are poorer for it. It is also – my opinion, not from Waltke’s comments – our spiritual death in witness to the world when we backstab, fight, condemn, and censor amongst ourselves. We are our own worst enemy – Dawkins and the like can just sit back and laugh.

Pray for our church and our future.

What do you think? What does it mean to have a mind for truth and a heart for God? And what does this mean when it comes to the science and faith

If you wish, you may contact me directly at rjs4mail[at]att.net

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  • Scot McKnight

    A mind for truth means we are willing to submit our minds and our thoughts and our conclusions to what we perceive to be true instead of what we want to be true. It means we want to know and that we yearn to know, but that we let our capacities to know be shaped by what is there instead of what we want to be there.
    On science and faith, for some this is a slippery slope but for others it is not a slippery slope but the exhilarating joy of discovery. Time has taught me that God needs no protection, the Bible needs no protection, and that if we learn our interpretation of a science-faith issue along some strong set of categories (like the age of the earth) is out of kilter with what we can actually know, well that only proves our interpretation wrong. I, for one, found tremendous joy and liberty in John Walton’s recent book.
    Thanks RJS for this great question. I sure hope plenty of us today ponder this question with the seriousness it deserves.

  • Rick

    Good question(s).
    Michael Patton at Parchment and Pen just wrote something that relates well to this. He said:
    “I am frightened by the lack of critical spirit this represents among Christians who blindly accept any bit of “evidence” that seems to support the faith. This is not the way God wants us to use our minds, even if the uncritical conclusions support his truth. We simply can’t do this folks….Most Christians are not too critical when it comes to this type of thing. They think that they are supposed to believe it…We have enough evidence for our faith to keep up from resorting to such things.”

  • Larry

    What does it mean to have a mind for truth and a heart for God?
    Tragically, I think it means that if you have such a heart and mind you won’t be selected to lead a seminary, most of which are more interested that you have the right 16th century answer to any question that arises. Also see the case of Peter Enns at Westminster.

  • Lyle Mook

    Perhaps the Jesus Creed is a better seminary mission statement. Keeping mind and heart focused on the love of God. We could learn from our Eastern Orthodox brethren with the more humble approach to theological knowing. It’s a great starting point for exhilarating discovery. ‘A mind for truth’ becomes so easily translated into ‘an apologetic for our theological system.’ One of my mantras as a pastor is to help our people recognize and push back against a brand of the faith that is defensive, escapist, and dualistic. Biologos and discussions around books like Waltons are greatly needed. Celebrating the arts and celebrating the creation are core theological values whose risks are quickly superseded by the rich rewards.

  • EricG

    It is interesting that the email came from the President of the school’s *fundraising* organization (the RTS Foundation). Apparently fundraising takes precedence over truth-seeking or academic freedom. So much for the school moto (“a mind for truth”).

  • Rick

    EricG #5-
    “Apparently fundraising takes precedence over truth-seeking or academic freedom. So much for the school moto (“a mind for truth”).”
    Yes, this does not appear good but in all fairness we should hear from RTS and get its perspective before making conclusions.

  • DRT

    The immediate issue is in the definition of truth and the fact that the word truth has been co-opted by the radical conservative crowd to now mean ‘agreeing with conservative principles”. So in the context of the theological seminary the whole phrase means thinking about how to fit reality in with conservative principles while maintaining authority from God. This is clearly a case of jargon/code speak.
    I lament the potential loss in our language of the true meaning of truth, if you will, since the political/denominational co-opt of the phrase by institutions like this “truly” will make “truth” false.
    One of the ironies of this is that they are trying to be non-relativistic, and therefore demand that their version of truth is true, only to make the term “truth” be relativistic to their theology and no longer non-relativistic. In other words they are doing exactly what they are trying to stop from happening (relativism) at an even more egregious level.

  • EricG

    Rick — fair point about my reading between the lines re: fundraising motives, and I’m always open to hearing explanations. However, to me, having the fundraising arm of the school do this certainly raises questions that should be addressed.
    And in any event, whether fundraising is the motive or not, there is something wrong about asking him to take down his comments.

  • RJS

    When I look at this – I think that BioLogos mistitled the video, Waltke isn’t really giving reasons why the Church must come to accept evolution – he is giving his view that the church must confront the data, realize that reality is God’s truth, and engage in dialog. This is what it means to fully embrace the gospel and love God with our whole being, to, as Jesus said, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”
    I think – as do many others – that this means that the Church will eventually come to accept evolution, but Waltke didn’t actually say this. In his clarification he does reiterate his position that evolutionary creation is a valid christian option.

  • RJS

    To complete the thought in my previous comment…
    Part of the reaction to the video may have arisen from the title rather than from anything that Waltke actually said in the video. This is particularly relevant to the fundraising issue … it is one thing to say that an open mind and dialog is necessary, another thing to imply, especially at a time when this discussion remains heated, that all must come to your point of view.

  • pds

    The Design Spectrum
    RJS #9,
    Glad to see you make this point about it being mistitled, which I did as well (I forget where). Also, Waltke suggested that those who disagree with him were at risk of becoming a “cult.” This is inflammatory language (and a bit vague), and raises the question why they aren’t a “cult” already. As Waltke stated:
    “I had not seen the video before it was distributed. Having seen it, I realize its deficiency and wish to put my comments in a fuller theological context.”
    He chose to clarify and give more context.

  • Darren King

    This is an interesting question. Put another way: what does it mean to be both skeptical, and a Christian?
    Now those terms might sound like mutually exclusive categories to many people. But they need not be.
    Unfortunately, the way that many people have been “sold” religion suggests that its an all-or-nothing enterprise. When people buy into that argument its doubly damaging; because they tend to end being atheists or Christian fundamentalists.
    Secondly, the fundraising issue still jumps out as a major concern. I say that having had experience going to a Christian university myself. At this university all of the faculty were expected to sign a statement of faith. Now my biblical studies profs signed the statement, but they made it VERY clear to me that the way they chose to interpret said document was vastly different than the school administration did. And what does that say of “following the letter but not the spirit?” Hmmm…
    I guess you could call that an exercise in finding a loophole. But, on the other hand, one has to ask: should such “fudging” be necessary in a university environment? How doesn’t this infringe on faculty’s pursuit of truth – right along with the students?
    Ultimately, the problem seems to lie in the fact that Christians, Christian schools, Christian churches, etc, don’t *really* buy into the idea that you should pursue the truth no matter where it takes you. People in these circles are willing to make new discoveries that hedge a detail or two, around the edges, but they’re not very often willing to let those discoveries bring into question larger aspects of the entire perspective. And this is exactly why people in secular circles (though they have some of their own unquestioned dogmas, to be sure) so often find it difficult to really recognize Christians as true partners in the same enterprise.

  • DRT

    I made a quick trip to the RTS statement of beliefs that all staff and ministry folks are required to sign ANNUALLY. Number 3 says it all as far as their definition of TRUTH?
    And I do solemnly promise and engage not to inculcate, sanction, teach or insinuate anything that appears to me to contradict or contravene, either directly or implicitly, any element of that system of doctrine.
    It is the system of doctrine that defines the truth. They are putting their system of doctrine at the same level as God’s word…. interesting.

  • EricG

    pds (11) — you suggest that “he [Waltke] chose to clarify and give more context.” If it was indeed *his* choice, why did the email come from the President of RTS Foundation (fundraising arm)? And RJS’s post says that he was *asked* to do this. I’m not sure you can say that this is his choice.

  • EricG

    To clarify, “this” in my second to last sentence refers to taking down the video.

  • RJS

    I quoted the BioLogos site about the video. I don’t know of my own knowledge that RTS requested that he ask to have it removed.

  • Andy W.

    This is so true RJS…
    “The idea of a mind for truth is a very important one. But this will only come about with openness. We need open, honest, and civil dialog about the tough issues. We need to trust in the providence of God and confront our doubts and questions face on. We do not preserve the church by drawing lines and building walls”
    I think this is such a crucial statement! The problem is that this is not very welcome in the local church. Heck, look at the concern it caused even in an academic institution that has a “mind for truth and a heart for God”. Look at the history of the Church…its been all about drawing lines and building protective walls! I believe that this is really an issue of culture, specifically the Evangelical culture. I’m sorry to say that I believe the change that you’re suggesting above will yet again come about the hard way. I fully expect that folks 100 years from now will look back and be embarrassed by some of the things we believe today, just like we do the folks 100 years ago. Why should this surprise us and should not we consider this especially when we see the track record of the Church when taking stands against scientific discovery.

  • dopderbeck

    Wow, RJS, you got a private email? You must rate — or something.
    This is a great post and it gets to a reason why, IMHO, it is much harder for institutions in a conservative Reformed Evangelical tradition to deal with these questions. “Truth” from a conservative Reformed Evangelical perspective simply doesn’t mean the same thing as “Truth” from any other perspective, including in particular perhaps the scientific perspective.
    What we’re dealing with here is a very old epistemological conversation about the relationship between faith and reason. It is a variation on Tertullian’s theme about Athens and Rome.
    All serious Christians will agree that Truth should be pursued. All serious Christians will agree that “faith” is a legitimate source of “knowledge” that can transcend “reason.” All serious Christians will agree that “reason” is fallible, that God can be truly known only through faith, and that God is infallible.
    But many serious Christians will disagree wildly about the relationship between faith and reason, including the nature and role of revelation, in the perception and understanding of Truth. This is the dynamic that I see at play here. It isn’t an easy one to resolve, because it goes to the heart of one’s theological method.
    I’m afraid that, so long as the question is “what actually is True,” groups like BioLogos and Reformed Theological Seminary will probably just be talking past each other. The right question is, “how do we gain knowledge of Truth?”
    RJS (and Scot (#1)), you reflect a theological method in which “reason” and “experience” are highly valued as sources of epistemic norms — enough so that you advocate open dialogue when “reason” and “experience” seem to contradict “scripture.” A very conservative Reformed-Evangelical perspective will value scripture far more highly than reason and experience, and will value “tradition” just under scripture. (Incidentally, Scot and Roseanne, I suspect the two of you value “tradition” differently).
    I’m not sure there’s any way get beyond this impasse. At some point, the method is so different that we’re simply dealing with different paradigms. In that video, Waltke is perhaps unintentionally challenging the very conservative Reformed epistemic paradigm. Once you acknowledge that external “evidence” has some kind of regulative role, you’ve weighted the scripture-tradition-reason-experience quadrilateral in a different way.
    The trick, of course (or so it seems to me), is to weight these nodes in such a way that our pursuit of Truth is neither obscurantist (as in evangelical-fundamentalism) nor rationalist (as in liberal Protestantism) nor anachronistic (as in some kinds of Catholicism and Orthodoxy) nor subjectivist (as in some kinds of Pentecostalism). And also, I guess, to realize that none of us has a complete grasp of Truth in all its meaning.

  • dopderbeck

    BTW, an excellent, much longer and more thorough, and much better way of saying sort of what I said: Nicholas Wolterstorff, Terullian’s Enduring Question.

  • RJS

    Not so much that I rate – but I posted on the video and include an e-mail on the site.
    You make good points about epistemology, and I’ll get to some of this in Thursday’s post (but only just a bit). (And my main point is to realize than none of us have perfect truth – we all get some things quite wrong.)

  • JHM

    Thank you so very much for your post. I’m trying to wade my way through the “what is True” questions, and it’s very very difficult. You’ve hit the nail right on the head with:
    The right question is, “how do we gain knowledge of Truth?”
    While I find the information on BioLogos to be quite helpful, I am left with the feeling that everybody is still just talking past each other most of the time because they are fighting over “what’s true?” without laying down a whole lot of the epistemological groundwork.

  • SteveK

    Just wanted to say thanks for these kinds of posts/discussions.
    Really enjoyed dopderbeck’s quadrilateral discussion. And Scot’s line resonates with me: “Time has taught me that God needs no protection, the Bible needs no protection…”
    I see it more and more that we spend so much time on getting the jots and tittles right but don’t understand the message we’re writing.

  • Chuck

    I am an RTS-Orlando student, and I recently too Dr. Waltke’s class on Judges through Poets. The class in itself was amazing. The lectures were great, and the pastoral insight from Dr. Waltke that I gained is invaluable. Just to show how smart the man is, he obtained his first doctorate in New Testament studies, and then got his second doctorate in Old Testament studies. In class at one point, he was reading/translating out of the Hebrew Bible. Can’t remember the passage, but it didn’t seem like a difficult one for him.
    To really understand everything about Dr. Waltke and how he thinks about the Old Testament, I encourage you to check out his most recent book “An Old Testament Theology.” Big book, but easy to read in modern language and will be something I use to aid in teaching Scripture for years.

  • Lester

    Christian’s behaving like this is why it is so easy for myself and the majority of Americans whom are openly or secretly secular atheist to write you all off as a bunch of fools who’ll believe anything they are told to.
    Kudos to the author of this for seeing that. Albeit from a different standpoint.
    -LBC IV