Lincoln Christian University’s decision to terminate the employment of Anthony LeDonne because of his book Historical Jesus: What Can We Know and How Can We Know It? (see my post The question is, “Where is the invisible line?” (and how did Anthony Le Donne cross over it?) has resulted in continued conversation across the blogosphere regarding academic freedom and confessionalism. 

Le Donne’s book ‘Historical Jesus’ sparked the most recent controversy around academic freedom and evangelical confessionalism.

I think many suspect that Larry Hurtado’s post “Academic Injustice and Shameful Cowardice” was motivated by this news. John Hobbins shares several responses to Hurtado’s post (see Reactions to Hurtado’s Claims of Academic Injustice and Shameful Cowardice). It appears that many want Hurtado to name the institutions that upset him.

Michael Bird discusses Evangelical Confessionalism and Academic Freedom. He writes,

Universities generally promote academic freedom (note the qualification “generally,” absolute academic freedom is a myth in every institution). Some ChristianUniversitiesalso have a confessional standard whereby administrators, faculty, and staff volunteer to operate under a statement of faith and a code of conduct. That is fine, acceptable, and quite normal. But if in one of these institutions a faculty member is dismissed on doctrinal grounds, but without denying an article in an approved document like the Nicene Creed,  the UCCF statement of faith, or engaging in misconduct, then there was no real reason for him or her to be dismissed. Just because a few old ladies out in the sticks don’t get the synoptic problem, or believe in John’s tweaking with chronology, or gel with Luke’s redaction of Mark, and are threatening not to send the proceeds of their bake sale to the university scholarship fund, is no reason to dismiss a scholar from a university … without forfeiting your reputation for being a Christian University.

In Academic Freedom and Evangelical Seminaries Ben Witherington writes:

My own view is that Christian institutions which have statements of faith that faculty are expected to sign or affirm in order to teach there have every right to hold their faculty accountable for what they say and do, though this should be done in a fair and compassionate manner. The problem is, that too many institutions leave it up entirely to the administration to decide whether a faculty person should be let go or not, though some have faculty review committees as well.

The danger of course is there will be an administrator or administration that: 1) misreads the statement of faith and interprets it too narrowly, or worse, 2) assumes that his or her own take on what counts as orthodoxy and what amounts to adequate affirmation of the faith statement is the correct one, and in line with the original intent of the original framers of the faith statement, when in various cases it is not.

James Crossley writes from the perspective of someone who is not part of a confessional institution in Academic Freedom, Christian ‘Universities’ and ‘Secular’ Universities. He says that Christian institutions shouldn’t use the word “university” if they are more like a seminary:

One thing is striking: the label ‘university’. Why don’t such institutions just stick with the clear label ‘seminary’ or go for ‘seminary plus’ if they teach other things? It seems that there is a potentially duplicitous game being played here which might explain some of this: wanting the credibility of the label ‘university’ whilst not buying into the ideal of independence associated with universities. That may be beside the point because I suppose we all know that places which impose theological and historical demands on scholars are seminaries in another name, and at least ‘Christian’ flags up what might be expected, but still.

See related:

B.E. Lewis, Are History and Faith Antithetical?

James McGahey, Another Unjust Firing: Reflections on Anthony Le Donne’s Dismissal from Lincoln Christian University

James McGrath, Time for the End of the Sectarian University?