I see that Jim West has shared the news that Anthony Le Donne had his employment terminated by Lincoln Christian University (see “When Ideology and Indoctrination are More Important than Education: The Bizarre Firing of Anthony Le Donne”), so I guess this means that we are free to begin discussing this matter publicly. I was one of those who received notice a couple weeks ago that this was about to occur, but it was not appropriate to talk about it in the blogosphere at that time. I suspect that this may have been the motivation for a recent post by Larry Hurtado titled “Academic Injustice and Shameful Cowardice” wherein his lambasted institutions that let go of quality academics for “…what seem to be very minor differences of view on any one of a variety of relatively minor matters.” Of course, I can’t guarantee this, but it would make sense of Hurtado’s refusal to name the institution that caused his ire.
Apparently this decision was made by LCU because of the content of Le Donne’s book, Historical Jesus: What Can We Know and How Can We Know It? I was quite surprised by this (though after the Michael Licona fiasco I am a bit callous to this kind of news). I sense that the current climate of American evangelicalism is becoming increasingly hostile to evangelical scholars who are perceived to be “conceding ground” to so-called “liberal” or “progressive” Christians. There are many subjects that cause great contention (e.g. see my “The ten most difficult doctrinal/theological subjects that contemporary Christians must address.”) and if a professor finds himself on the wrong side of administration, a board member, or a prominent donor on any one of them there is a good chance that unemployment is in their future.
I can’t fathom how Historical Jesus was controversial enough to result on Le Donne’s firing, but I didn’t foresee Licona being a target over a few paragraph from his massive tome The Resurrection of Jesus. Likewise, I was very surprised when Peter Enns’ book Inspiration and Incarnation resulted in his departure from Westminster Theological Seminary (though I didn’t know much about WTS at that time). In an email correspondence with my friend Greg Monette he asked an important question, “Where is the invisible line?” What is it that moves someone from solid academic inquiry from a confessional perspective to being perceived as a rouge liberal who needs to be removed?
I don’t deny that confessional institutions have a right to hold their employees to their Statement of Faith or similar documents. That is fine and dandy, but it seems to me that there are hidden assumptions in these contracts. There seems to be an invisible line where an interpretive grey area quickly turns into a black-and-white matter. As a young evangelical seeking to serve the church through scholarship I am concerned. It is not like these people denied the basic fundamentals of Christianity found in documents like the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed. People like Le Donne, Licona, Enns, et al., were proven, committed Christians. Why are small, non-essentials enough to alter the career paths of those who are giving their lives to edify their fellow Christians by providing solid answers to difficult questions?!
Also, my context is the United States. I don’t know what to make of institutions who glory in the work of scholars like N.T. Wright, Richard Bauckham, Hurtado and others who refuse to allow their own professors the same freedom that these scholars experienced which allowed them to provide fresh and creative responses to those who critiqued “orthodoxy.” I find this confusing.
I join in the prayer that evangelicals in this country and abroad would address important doctrinal questions in the manner attributed to us in Ephesians 4.1-16. As Hurtado commented, “The text calls for ‘patience and forebearing in love’ to be exercised toward one another, maintaining ‘the unity of the Spirit’ now (vv. 2-3), while awaiting the ‘unity of the faith’ (v. 13), which is presented here as an eschatological event, not something that can be devised and enforced here and now.” If we do not do this we may find that the next generation of evangelicals calls our bluff and we would have silenced the very voices needed to address some of the most perplexing questions of our day.
Update: Chris Keith, a colleague of Le Donne at LCU, announced on Joel Watts blog that he is aiming to relocate a conference that was to be held at LCU discussing the issues raised in Le Donne’s work. See here.
Joel Watts, Show Le Donne your support