When Ideology and Indoctrination are More Important Than Education: The Bizarre Firing of Anthony Le Donne

When ideology and indoctrination are more important than education, it’s the best and the brightest and usually the most faithful who suffer the consequences, as is certainly the case in the bizarre firing of Anthony Le Donne, who was, for no really good reason, let go from his ‘Christian school’ merely because of a little book he wrote. A book, by the way, which is both excellent and informative.

Anthony writes (and I reduplicate it here with his permission) –

I am writing with disappointing news. After over a year of pressure from Lincoln Christian University donors, concerned citizens, and certain employees, the president of the university has decided to terminate my employment. I have been told that this decision is in direct response to the publication of my popular-level book, Historical Jesus (Eerdmans, 2011). I have no doubt that the LCU administration made a staunch effort on my behalf, but eventually needed to assuage the fears of (what I am told) is a largely anti-intellectual constituency.

Many of you have emailed with sympathies. Thank you for your concern. I can honestly say that I am quite well. I hold no animosity toward the administration of LCU and I am grateful for the opportunity to have met so many kindred spirits here in central Illinois. My deepest feeling at this point is concern for the colleagues I leave behind at LCU. The phrases “scapegoat”, “akademische Freiheit,” and “the state of evangelical higher education” have been frequent refrains in the many supportive emails I’ve received in the last week. I feel no need to make any statements at this point about these topics. I will only say that I remain proud of my work and stand behind it.

anthony le donne

Anthony Le Donne, PhD

My sincere hope is that Anthony finds an employer who rightly values his present contributions to the field of biblical studies and will allow him the freedom to pursue further studies which, like his previous ones, perform a very valuable service not only to the academy, but also to the Church.

27 thoughts on “When Ideology and Indoctrination are More Important Than Education: The Bizarre Firing of Anthony Le Donne

  1. Pingback: For the firing of Anthony Le Donne – Time to boycott the Jesus Conference at Lincoln Christian | Unsettled Christianity

  2. It is sadly what happens when you mix a good congregational ethos with the desire for pentecostal/entrepreneurial “flair” from pastors and a culture that despises reading and thinking. When Baptists (and other such “free church” groups) began Christians actually did read and study and think about the Scriptures for themselves.In such a context slogans like “Pastores pascunt, non regunt!” and “Sola Scriptura!” made sense and worked. With an ignorant lazy laity, and an equally lazy and often only a little less ignorant clergy neither does.

    As that interesting if unconventional thinker Oscar Wilde put it:
    “Better the rule of one whom all obey,
    than to let ignorant demagogues betray…”
    Maybe unless educational efforts or a cultural shift can stem the tide the church in the West will descend into a dark age and popery.


  3. That really sucks. This is partly why I teach the OT (call me a chicken). Everyone expects weird, controversial stuff in the OT, but look out if you touch Jesus. Although, I’ve gotten in trouble for a provocative title, God Behaving Badly…
    Jim, thanks for bringing this to our attention.


    • it’s incomprehensible. how long will it be before christians learn that they have nothing to fear from inquiry???


  4. Pingback: The question is, “Where is the invisible line?” (and how did Anthony Le Donne cross over it?) « Near Emmaus

  5. Pingback: What a Dumb Dismissal (or, I get it, but I don’t like it very much) | Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth

  6. Pingback: What a Dumb Dismissal (or, I get it, but I don’t like it very much) | Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth

  7. As a minister in a Pentecostal Denomination with some odd leanings, Tim, I heartily agree. Ministers should develop a deep well-read devotional life. Especially since we are held doubly accountable for what we give to our flocks.

    Speaking of texts which have been waved in defense of the fear-mongering notion of learning well. Whatever happened to “loving the L-rd with your mind…”.


    Jim, I appreciate this post, and Tim’s reply more than either of you can know.


  8. I have read some reviews of this book on Amazon, but I have to admit that I know little about it. I am all for academic freedom, but I am also for believing that there are some ‘fundamentals’ that we must hold to in order to properly call ourselves Christians. On the latter, it seems like most of the comments about his book believe that he maintains these. However, if what the reviews say is true, there is a serious problem in what this book purports. For instance, it is reported to doubt the ascension story on some pretty shaky grounds. It implies that the gospel writers made up or confused reality with what they perceived to be right based upon their view of history – this is very dangerous ground to walk upon indeed. I attend a certain school’s Ph.D. program with a relatively well known historical critical scholar who uses the same methodology. The claim is that one does not have presuppositions of their own when approaching the text. However, the reality is that the scholar’s presupposition is doubt. The effort is really a rehash of trying to find the ‘true Jesus’ behind the text (i.e. demythologizing). Many have aptly pointed out the fallacies and problems created in such work so I will spare everyone. I say all of that to point out that while I whole heartedly support academic freedom, I also understand that the Christian academy also has a responsibility to produce defenders of the faith. Now, I have not read the book so I cannot rightly say whether or not this firing was legitimate or if the critiques that I have read are accurate. I just want to say that I understand both sides of this academic freedom vs. defending the faith debate. I do not believe in an anything goes Christian academy. I also do not believe in restricting academic freedom so that all that takes place is indoctrination. There is a fine line that must be walked here. Personally, I think that any attempt to find the ‘real Jesus’ by getting behind the text is misguided at best from the very start. This methodology too often leads to ‘discoveries’ which are nothing more than an attempt to purport a new gospel message of one’s own creation. Again, I do not know if this is the case with this book or author. I just thought my comments were pertinent to this discussion.


  9. Shameful, yes, but hardly a breach of their own (non-academic) standards, is it?

    A look at a recent job advertisement issue by Lincoln Christian “University” (http://www.lincolnchristian.edu/documents/ICS.pdf) shows that the institution requires teaching staff to “invest in the University’s mission, statement of faith, and philosophy of education (see http://www.lincolnchristian.edu/GeneralInformation/)” The pages under General Information contain many confessional statements, include this one: “Undergirding our educational approach is a fundamental commitment to a Biblical worldview. We want our students to look at and live all of life from a distinctively Christian perspective that is derived from Scripture so they can ‘think with the mind of Christ.’ We want them to see everything through the larger Biblical story of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation.”

    Simply put, Lincoln doesn’t do academic biblical studies. Without commenting directly on the Le Donne case, it is clear that anybody doing anything truly academic would immediately find themselves at odds with the purposes of such a pseudo-academic institution.


  10. The dismissal of Dr. Le Donne is a serious breech of academic ethics and standards and an open breech with the principles of the university. Lincoln Christian should be censured by the Anerican scholarly community and those societies which are committed to maintaining the academic standards of the study and teaching of religion, the Bible and theology, such as the Society of Biblical literature and the American Academy of Religion. I would urge all American scholars to boycott any association with Lincoln and to advise their colleagues not to work for or seek employment with Lincoln until the harm done to Dr. Le Donne’s career has been redressed.

    Thomas L. Thompson
    Professor emeritus, University of Copenhagen


  11. First, it’s my understanding that Lincoln Christian University has virtually no endowment and is, therefore, dependent on the donations of its constituency of private donors and supporting congregations. That alone and irrespective of the merits of the complaints from its constituency meant that the University’s administrators could have put its financial viability in jeopardy had they not acted as they did.

    My cursory read of Le Donne’s “Historical Jesus” suggests the following:

    1. Le Donne ventures outside his area of expertise into philosophy. I find several of his assertions about the origins of modern philosophy problematic, and they betray a less than profound or technical acuity;

    2. Le Donne, however, appears to accept quite uncritically several of the tenets of a modernist world view. He could serve as a poster child for MacIntyre’s “encyclopedia” as portrayed in his Gifford Lectures;

    3. As such, Le Donne’s arguments are illustrative of what is problematic with postmodernism, at bottom. The problem with postmodernism is not so much that it is “post,” but that it accepts the tenets of modernism, seemingly not only uncritically but all too often apparently unself-consciously.

    Worst of all, Le Donne appears to lack even an educated layman’s understanding of epistemology — “how we know what we know.” As the work of the past generation of epistemology suggests, modernism itself oversteps its epistemological truth claims for itself. The tone of Le Donne’s offering suggests that at bottom he accepts modernist epistemological claims for itself, as over and against the epistemological reliability of the biblical and, specifically, the narratives of the synoptic Gospels.

    Pity, that.

    Russ Kuykendall


  12. Pingback: Jesus: revisiting criteria and controversies « blog without a catchy title

  13. Pingback: Are History and Faith Antithetical? | Orthodox Wars

  14. Pingback: The Curious Case of Anthony LeDonne « PEJE IESOUS

  15. @ Prof. Thompson,

    Though I echo your disappointment and anger at LCU’s decision to fire Prof. Le Donne over what appears to be a good contribution to the field, I respectfully disagree with what you call for, namely the censuring and boycotting of LCU by societies and scholars. Again, I agree that LCU breeched the ethics of the academy, but I am not certain that turning this into a larger fight would help. If anything, I think that would be hurtful and only push LCU (and their constituency) further afield from where the rest of the academy is and would like LCU/its constituency to be. To run the risk of sounding like I am batting for their team, it would only confirm what the anti-intellectuals connected to LCU already think about us. I would urge you and other scholars towards a solution that seeks for reconciliation rather than retribution, whatever that solution may prove to be. All that said, however, please let me reiterate that I share your disappointment and anger. This is not an issue to be taken lightly, and LCU is not without serious blame.

    @ Prof. Le Donne (if you are reading this),

    Your response quoted here speaks to your character and grace. I wish you the very best in your future endeavors. Grace and peace.


  16. As an Illinois resident, Stone-Campbell Church adherent, and supporter of this fine Christian University, I strongly condemn any attempt to censure, boycott, or otherwise harm LCU. I wonder how many people commenting here have any idea what went beyond the scenes, and are only reacting to what they have heard from one perspective to this situation. Regardless, it’s very easy, and very un-Christian to weigh in and cast judgment on a brother or sister when 1.) you are not directly involved, 2.) you are being destructive and divisive, and 3.) you are nor privy to all the facts. If you see yourself in one of those categories, I encourage to stood gossiping, causing division, and making a messy situation messier, and instead take some time to pray for all the parties involved.

    Eric Miller


    • your ‘condemnation’ of any who ‘attempt’ to ‘censure, boycott, or otherwise harm’ is ludicrous. ever heard of ‘freedom of speech’? or ‘academic freedom’ for that matter? every scholar has a vested interest in what happens to other scholars in the same way that every christian has – or should have- an interest in what happens to other christians. stomping up and down and crying foul and insisting that no one has the right to be offended at the dismissal of a good scholar is ostrich-esque. the rest of us can’t afford to stick our heads in the sand and we won’t be told we must either.


  17. It’s always sad when money, and the supporters providing said money, control academic thought and stunt the intellectual growth of others by stealing away the opportunity to think critically about their faith. I pray that this pattern stops here! Otherwise, LCU will be censured to the point of sterility. The image I see of LCU in the future, if it stays on its current course, is akin to a factory pumping out mindless drones indoctrinated with a limited and closed version of the Gospel. The mission of LCU claims to encourage students to think for themselves. Why then are we having our thinking being done for us? Censorship is the word of the day and it is a sad day indeed!


  18. As someone who values his Stone-Campbell heritage and is a graduate of LCU, this saddens me on two fronts: 1) It’s a major blow to one of our tradition’s educational institutions, and 2) it really makes the people of our heritage look ignorant and imprudent. I assure you we’re not all this way; unfortunately private institutions of independent churches are so dependant upon the monetary support of those who give that we are undoubteldy hamstrung. I am assuming that, as one of our former administrators has commented, our administration was forced to make a decision with which even it may not have totally agreed. This does not excuse the actions of some of the more conservative, fundamentalistic members of our faith heritage, nor the actions of LCU’s administration, but it does remind us that the sometimes lofty research of the academy does indeed take place in the real world.

    And before too many begin pointing fingers at institutions of the so called “free churches,” let us not forget that Westminster dismissed Peter Enns and Tremper Longman III, and Bruce Waltke was dumped from Reformed Theological Seminary. Of course, Evolutionary Theory and the Historicity of Adam are different than Dr. Le Donne’s interests, but the situations parrallel one another. Christians of all theological persuasions and levels of education are to blame for these dismissals.

    Though I am in deep disagreement with the decision and the school’s (mis)handling of the situation, my sincere hope is that the Lord may bring good out of situations that men intended for evil.


  19. And, though I don’t Dr. Le Donne personally, it’s sad on yet another front: this scholar – gifted, called, equipped, and published – now has the difficult challenge of finding employment in his field with the specter of being fired over theological disputes hanging over him.

    Christ, have mercy.


  20. I will write this and be done:

    Our freedom is found in Christ alone and He sets the bounds of that freedom. To disparage a Christian church, institution or person without full knowledge of what is going on and to strong-arm others into submission with censures and boycotts (as some here have suggested), may be legal and protected by the 1st amendment, but it is not in any way Christian. We do not fight the way the world does; we suffer each other in love and understanding, striving above all else unity in the body. We don’t take sides and act petty or smear those who disagree with us as “anti-intellectual”. This is not what Dr. Ledonne would want.

    Eric Miller


    • how can you say what he would want? and – do recall- the bible is loaded down with denunciation of wrong. so if something is wrong it is perfectly proper for christians to denounce it. or do you think sin is ok and christians should just shhhhh when it comes up?

      the removal of a christian scholar by a christian school for the sake of money… that’s about the least christian thing that can be done.


  21. Interesting conversation of which I find myself taking both sides 😉 I have some questions for those crying foul for this firing: Granted that one does want students to make their salvation their own through true inquiry of their beliefs, how far should supposedly Christian institutions go in promoting anything for the sake of being academic? I keep seeing posts about being academic, but the question remains. Do we not reach a point when being academic is a guise for being heretical or non-Christian? Is anything in the Christian, keep in mind the term Christian, academy to be ok for the sake of being academic? It seems to me that there are many former well known Christian bastions of learning on the East coast and around the world that teach things foreign to Christianity now after choosing to allow anything goes for the sake of being academic. And what is the role of the confessional elements that started these Christian schools to be? Are they to allow their schools to just teach and promote whatever for the sake of academics? Obviously, I am not speaking to this particular situation because I am unaware of the specifics. But it seems that many are quick to point out the horrible sin that has been done by this Christian school and this Christian group. (Hypothetically) Just because one sought to teach others that everything we know about Jesus could be myth. Should Christian scholars working for Christian Universities have a right to question, openly doubt, or even teach such things to their students and spread it beyond to the church? And do Christian schools have the responsibility to guard the young minds that come to learn or the minds of the church that may be impacted? And how can anyone say it is about money unless they were in the meetings? Again, I am not privy to the situation; my questions are mainly stimulated by the larger ramifications. I also am not for denominations censuring academics just because they touched a pet belief (i.e. rapture or whatever). But is it ok for them to act when it is the very core of Christianity that is being attacked? Just a curious fellow…


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