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Regarding actual examples, perhaps one of the most high profile dismissals in recent years has been the Peter Enns/Westminster case. Here is a situation where a true OT scholar has made a compelling case for a different view of the first chapters of Genesis but has taken up the theory of evolution as the true explanation for creation. As I understand it, the faculty supported him and yet he was still dismissed.

Personally, I think his view of Genesis is correct but not his view on evolution. But the real issue is academic freedom. How can a person be free to explore truth without fear of where it will lead? What is your thinking in his case?

John Hobbins

Hi Greg,

That case is one about which doctoral dissertations will eventually be written.

I blogged about it more than once. For example:

Important background: Ken Schenk's interview with Pete Enns:

Given its confessional commitments and tie-ins to specific churches in the Reformed tradition, Westminster Seminary, an institution dedicated first of all to training pastors in churches with a highly articulated confessional profile at some distance from that of Enns, was not a particularly good fit for Enns, a productive and gifted scholar with evangelical views of another kind.

I am not saying that Westminster handled the crackup well. At the time, I read widely among bloggers with first hand knowledge of the process. Art Boulet, for example. It pains me that Art took his archive offline.

John Hobbins

A case that Hurtado quite possibly had in mind is that of Anthony LeDonne. For a first orientation, I recommend the post by fellow blogger Jared Calaway:

Here is my response to Jared:

Thanks, Jared, for drawing attention to this.

I ordered LeDonne's book on your recommendation. It is a fine, well-written, scholarly work accessible to the general public.

Based on my reading of the book, I am nevertheless not surprised that the book is causing a stir in some circles. It should, shouldn't it?

LeDonne challenges the "tacit" (not necessarily the "real": you will appreciate the distinction) epistemological foundations of broad swathes of Christendom.

Moreover, at least not in the book in question, he does not offer a cogent alternative epistemology whereby a believer in Jesus in the sense of Philippians 2, Romans 1, or John 1, to cite confessional statements from the NT, would have justified belief.

Am I missing something?

LCU's mission statement is plain as punch. Whereas I am convinced that LeDonne is an excellent scholar, it is not clear to me that he was contributing well to the objectives of the institution which hired him unless he also articulated an epistemology (a rationale of justified belief) compatible with his findings as a NT scholar.

Since I have some knowledge of the tradition LCU represents, I would add that this would appear from the outside to have been a train wreck just waiting to happen.

Here's hoping that an institution that relates to a more post-modern polity (in the positive sense!) picks up this fine scholar.


So Deane Galbraith was/is NT Wrong? Is this the majority opinion of scholars out there?

John Hobbins

I don't know if it is the majority opinion, but it is the right opinion. "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing."


Thanks for your comments, John.

I would say that LeDonne offers a possible new epistemological paradigm based upon memory refraction; that is, once you can identify how different memories have been refracted in different ways, you could develop a new model of historical plausibility. It is an epistemology that goes to the source of understanding: the brain itself and its memory. In some ways, he is allowing aspects that have been along the fringes of historical Jesus research (Gospel of John) back into the discussion (I am thinking of how he brings the Wedding of Cana back into discussion as a memory refraction of a historically plausible reflection on Jesus' relationship wit his mother). You are not going to find any of the great cosmic passages here (like John 1), but that is the case in historical Jesus research more generally; thus, I am not surprised at that. I do wonder, however, if you can expand his scheme as memories are refracted, and refractions are refracted (and blended with other refractions, as well as scriptural exegesis in light of the new circumstances in the decades after Jesus' death) until you get to the cosmic Christ, and reintroduce it that way.

Whether such an alternative epistemology based upon the vagaries of human memory can be aligned with LCU's mission is a matter for debate (and clearly the debate has turned against LeDonne). On the other hand, although this book under question was not written yet when he was hired, his first book (which lays out his framework of memory and perception for a scholarly audience) would have been finished (if not published). LCU should have known who they were hiring, what his research was, etc. As such, there appears to be a division between the administration which did the hiring and those elements (donors, etc.) who felt threatened by his work (as LeDonne's public statement implies).

John Hobbins

Hi Jared,

You make excellent points (as usual).

It is the case that the vagaries of human memory are to be kept in account in our reading of anything and everything, literature and ancient and current realities among them. LeDonne argues that well. In the process, he is able to argue for the historical plausibility of elements of the life of Jesus reported in the gospels that have heretofore resisted inclusion in the plausibility column on the basis of more traditional historiographical methods.

I would think that LeDonne's insights might be appropriated by a wide cross-section of believers and non-believers on the "I believe" spectrum. It ought to be possible, as you intimate, to develop a robust epistemology such that one might justify belief in the Jesus of the passages I cited based on the combined witness of the canonical gospels understood as (among other things) refracted memories, the letters and other lit contained in the NT, later tradition that flows from that, along with reason and experience, including experience understood as experience of the risen Christ, in accord with a quadrilateral the corners of which will receive emphasis of diverse weight in accordance with particular confessional locations.

Ben Witherington over at Patheos has this to say:

"the idea of academic freedom has to be balanced with the idea of academic responsibility, if one is serving in a confessional institution. Honesty and integrity would suggest that if a teacher finds he or she can no longer comply with some aspect of the faith statement, then there should be a discussion with a senior faculty and administration committee about how to move forward. If the differences are significant, then integrity and honesty suggests the person should voluntarily resign, though this seldom happens for obvious financial reasons."

Money indeed. An institution with a mission focus that is tethered to a voluntary polity and financial base will need to take into consideration a ton of things that have little or nothing to do with academic freedom when it comes to the hiring and firing of faculty.

Private and public institutions in general take into consideration, and rightly so, many other factors beyond that of academic excellence in the human resourcing of its mission.

John Hobbins

Related thoughts by James Crossley here:

Ed Babinski

This keeps happening because various institutions believe there is only one inspired/infallible book on earth, the Bible. And they know that if they don't assert that they have an equally inspired/infallible interpretation of that book, based on what seems "plainest" to them and/or their church, then there's no use in claiming the Bible's own inspiration/infallibility. Because you must have an interpretive authority to back up the so-called initial authority of claims of a "holy book." If you admit you don't, then it's no use claiming the Bible as the world's most authoritative text in the first place.

It's like claiming you have found the most clear eye chart in the world, but you can't see it without your glasses, and then it appears clear to you. While others boast of how clear it seems to them too, but they spy some different letter on the chart than you do, and they use a different pair of eye glasses that you claim are heretical spectacles. And still others claim the chart is not so clear no matter whose glasses you use.

Christians have struggled amongst themselves with questions of how the cosmos revolves (geocentrism v. heliocentrism), the age of creation, the extent and historicity of Noah's Flood, and now many Evangelicals are struggling with the historical Adam question. They are also struggling with historical and moral questions related to the claim of biblical inspiration and authority.

And after all the struggles over different interpretations no one seems to want to abandon their interpretation. It seems like there will always remain conservative Christians who read the Bible like it was written for them and their generation from cover to cover. Like it's a breeze for them to understand it. And like everyone else who understands it differently is going to hell.

Secular colleges don't have a holy book, not even Darwin's Origin. They don't spend their lives interpreting and reinterpreting every jot and tittle in Darwin's Origin as if the secrets of the cosmos lay therein, nor do they claim that doubting The Origin leads to damnation.

Secularists want people to get along and not try to coerce each other. Even if discussions turn sour, at most they want people to throw verbal curses at each other rather than stones. And of course they don't see what all the hubbub is about concerning the age of the cosmos, or the scientific theory of evolution, or the necessity of believing every passage and story in the bible is more inspired than passages found in any other books on earth.

John Hobbins

Hi Ed,

Let me push back a bit. I would strenuously disagree. First of all, there are many kinds of secularism. You describe one only, the "nothing to kill or die for, and no religion, too" kind. But history is littered with examples of militant secularism (Marxism, Fascism, etc.). Moreover, "real McCoy" Enlightenment secularism was not wishy-washy or tender-hearted either. The Enlightenment in France produced its own form of terror; moreover, the French secularists burned more witches than the Puritans.

Still, I am well aware of, and have a soft place in my heart for, the kind of liberal views of which you speak. At its best, this worldview is a kind of religion, too, sometimes referred to (despite its deep differences with the anti-religion of the philosophes) as the religion of the Enlightenment. As Carl Becker noted in his classic lectures:

The essential articles of the religion of the Enlightenment may be stated thus: (1) man is not natively depraved; (2) the end of life is life itself, the good life on earth instead of the beatific life after death; (3) man is capable, guided solely by the light of reason and experience, of perfecting the good life on earth; and (4) the first and essential conditions of the good life on earth is the freeing of men’s minds from the bonds of ignorance and superstition, and of their bodies from the arbitrary oppression of the constituted social authorities.

[Carl L. Becker, The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers (1932) 102. The place of Becker in the history of ideas has been illuminated by Steven D. Smith, The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010) 151-186; the above passage is quoted and discussed on pp. 161-162.]

I vastly prefer this kind of gentle fantasy-based secularism to that of the many death-dealing militant secularisms the modern world has produced. I also prefer it to the militant "blinded by the light" atheism that enjoys a certain vogue in the current day.

But milquetoast secularism also has disadvantages. Whereas militant thought of whatever kind will err on the side of excommunication, laissez faire secularism sometimes reaches high levels of toxicity on account of an excess of tolerance.

For example, a figure like Ward Churchill, the professor of ethnic studies of "little Eichmanns" fame, is a typical expression of laissez faire secularism gone to pot (literally and figuratively).

For a vivid secular defense of the confessional university, I recommend Martha Nussbaum's "Cultivating Humanity." Have you read it, Ed? What do you think of this philosopher's defense of universities with a mission defined by a highly specific religious profile?

Mark Peifer

They hired Dr. LeDonne in 2010, and the "University" website brags about his both his books (at least it does now--wonder when this page will disappear). What could they possibly have learned in the last 18 months that changed that view, other than the sudden realization that he actually is a scholar. They needed to make this decision before hiring him, rather than acting in bad faith afterward.

John Hobbins

Hi Mark,

Your observations, based on the fragmentary information at our disposal, are logical and compelling.

On the other hand, at state universities (my abode), I have seen plenty of dismissals, non re-ups, etc. (attempted and effective). In all cases that come to mind, there were three sides to every story. I would not be surprised if that is the case here.

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