The fine historian Thomas Kidd has been doing some excellent reporting work on the controversy surrounding David Barton’s book-length attempt to expose the “lies” and “myths” about Jefferson, his faith, his infidelity, and his view of slaves. The book has been promoted by Glenn Beck (who wrote the foreword), and Kirk Cameron featured Barton in his documentary Monumental.

Kidd reports that philosopher Jay Richards—who found the book to contain  “embarrassing factual errors, suspiciously selective quotes, and highly misleading claims”—asked some conservative evangelical historians to examine the book’s claims.

Glenn Moots of Northwood University wrote that Barton in The Jefferson Lies is so eager to portray Jefferson as sympathetic to Christianity that he misses or omits obvious signs that Jefferson stood outside “orthodox, creedal, confessional Christianity.”

A second professor, Glenn Sunshine of Central Connecticut State University, said that Barton’s characterization of Jefferson’s religious views is “unsupportable.”

A third, Gregg Frazer of The Master’s College, evaluated Barton’s video America’s Godly Heritage and found many of its factual claims dubious, such as a statement that “52 of the 55 delegates at the Constitutional Convention were ‘orthodox, evangelical Christians.’” Barton told me he found that number in M.E. Bradford’s A Worthy Company.

There is even a book-length response just published:

A full-scale, newly published critique of Barton is coming from Professors Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter of Grove City College, a largely conservative Christian school in Pennsylvania. Their book Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President (Salem Grove Press), argues that Barton “is guilty of taking statements and actions out of context and simplifying historical circumstances.” For example, they charge that Barton, in explaining why Jefferson did not free his slaves, “seriously misrepresents or misunderstands (or both) the legal environment related to slavery.”

Today Kidd reports that Thomas Nelson has decided to pull the book from publication.

The problems are not limited to a single book.

Political philosopher Greg Forster, an expert on John Locke, decided to take a look at one of Barton’s essays on Locke and found it to be filled with errors.

As historian John Fea points out, it appears that virtually no Christian colleges—conservative or otherwise—teach or endorse Barton’s revisionist views, though he is still very popular in some conservative Christian circles (especially in some, though of course not all, homeschooling networks).

This is actually a very interesting test case for those who have bought in to Barton’s historiography, methodology, and conclusions. Do we care about the truth, or do the conclusions we want to hear justify the means used to obtain them?

Print Friendly

Comments:


100 thoughts on “Thomas Nelson Ceases Publication of David Barton’s Error-Ridden Book on Jefferson’s Faith”

  1. Tad says:

    I have noticed the flaws in Barton ever since I was subject to him as a regular convocation (chapel) speaker at Liberty University. I criticized him then and often met vehement disagreement from other students. I am glad I am not alone in question both his methodology and his conclusions.

    1. Jordan says:

      I have had the same experiences as a current student. I just asked Johnnie Moore his opinion in hopes of stopping his future visits, though that is not likely.

      1. Tad says:

        It might be more likely than it once was. Dwayne Carson former head of student leadership said bartons convo’s here his favourites.

    2. FS says:

      I was also a student at Liberty and he spoke every year. I was an international student and I KNEW that his presentations were not accurate. I was always skeptical of what he said. He seemed to exaggerate and try to make America appear to be more Christian that it really was.

  2. I’ve been watching Barton’s rise to fame very carefully over the last couple of years, and have continued to remain skeptical of his claims. He has become a darling of those who wish to think to America as a “Christian” nation. The big SBC churches love him. It goes to show how undiscerning American Christians have become.

  3. John Mahan says:

    To my memory of the book, Barton never claims that Jefferson stood within “orthodox, creedal, confessional Christianity.” To the contrary, Barton claims that Jefferson was supportive of numerous denominations (but that doesn’t mean that he confessed to all of their creeds) and that he became less orthodox later in his life, even opposing certain orthodox teachings (like the Trinity).

    Whether or not Barton is guilty of the selective quoting he is so critical of is another question entirely. I am glad such a response was written.

  4. Daniel Moss says:

    I haven’t read The Jefferson Lies but I recently read an article by Barton regarding the Throckmorton/Coulter findings found on Bartons website. http://www.wallbuilders.com/LIBissuesArticles.asp?id=118208

    1. Daniel Moss says:

      Has anyone read this article Barton wrote? He seems to put the smackdown on Throckmorton and Coulter if you ask me.

      1. Tom says:

        Daniel,

        Is that before or after he likened himself to the Apostle Paul?

        Unfortunately, there are just too many holes in Barton’s conclusions / misquotations for him to remain credible. The most ironic thing about the article is Barton complaining about how his critics take quotes out of context. Good night, man!

        Knowing Barton, he’ll chalk up this action by Thomas Nelson as a conspiracy of academic arrogance arrayed against him and the “ordinary citizens.”

        1. Daniel Moss says:

          You say: “he likened himself to the Apostle Paul” and immediately follow it up with…”Unfortunately, there are just too many holes in Barton’s conclusions / misquotations for him to remain credible.” and I’m supposed to believe you over him when you so clearly did the misquoting?

          1. Daniel Moss says:

            I mean, the whole article and all you can do to try and trash it is to say “he likened himself to the Apostle Paul”…hilarious!

          2. Tom says:

            Daniel,

            Throughout his article he portrays himself and his book as standing against liberal academic hubris and misinformation. He portrays his critics as academic elites, who are jealous of Barton’s publishing success and guilty of a massive conspiracy against ordinary citizens. Please.

            His likening himself to the Apostle Paul is just the icing on the cake.

            1. Daniel Moss says:

              Not exactly but okay…you don’t like Barton so how you just said it is to be expected.

        2. Jason Alexander says:

          I will never be able to rely on a Thomas Nelson Book again! They either didn’t fact check the book and are incompetent or they are bowing pressure.

  5. “As historian John Fea points out, it appears that virtually no Christian colleges—conservative or otherwise—teach or endorse Barton’s revisionist views…”

    I heard him speak while a student at Pensacola Christian College. I think they would embrace his views.

    1. Matthew says:

      No surprise there. A hardcore fundamentalist school like that is highly likely to endorse him.

      I wouldn’t consider PCC a mainstream conservative Christian college. They are highly fringe. That’s really not meant to be offensive, just seems to be the case.

      1. John says:

        I went there, and it isn’t offensive at all. It’s the truth.

  6. Janet F. says:

    Who edited this book? There is no excuse for Thomas Nelson not to have it peer-reviewed, and perhaps fact-checked, before going to print.

    1. DanO says:

      This is a good question. To have one’s book pulled by the publisher speaks ill of the author. It also looks pretty bad on the publisher too!

      One really wonders if there is substantive fact-checking that takes place with the big publishing houses. At least with peer-review articles in academic journals there is some sort of checks-and-balances set up before publication.

    2. Tim Brown says:

      I was thinking the same thing. Thomas Nelson acted rather quickly since the World news broke. It’s as if Thomas Nelson was unwilling to stand behind their decision when pressure arose. This reminds me of the recent Susan G. Komen public relations disaster.

      Well, my copy of Barton’s book arrived faster than World magazine did. I decided to read it because of the controversy. Barton’s response at WallBuilders ought to be read as well.

  7. Joseph Spurgeon says:

    Its sad when Christians are read to dump all over the guy to appease liberal historians. I’ve read “the Jefferson Lies” and have also read every letter ever written by Thomas Jefferson. Barton does a great job explaining the truth. Barton never claims that Jefferson was an orthodox Christian. Jefferson held orthodox beliefs at times in his life but most likely ended his life as a Unitarian. Almost every critique I’ve read of Barton misrepresents Barton’s arguments. I suggest if anyone wants to know the history of our country they should read the original documents and ignore the so called “professionals.”

    1. Joshua Wooden says:

      I don’t think that is the case. Conservative Evangelical historians have the same problem – not just “liberal historians,” as you suggest. Mark Noll, George Marsden, and John Fea are by no means liberal, and they have all written against BARTON AS Evangelical historians. The ”us vs. them” mentality simply doesn’t work here – it doesn’t explain why almost all conservative Christian schools don’t use his work, as Fea pointed out in a recent post (see here: http://www.philipvickersfithian.com/2012/08/blog-comments-on-my-query-on-barton-and.html).

    2. Mark Bainter says:

      Joseph,

      I’m having a hard time finding your claim credible. Either you’ve not read the original documents, or you haven’t read Barton’s works. I haven’t read this specific work by Barton but I’ve read his other works and seen some of his video – and it’s appalling. These men are being far more gracious than I can be, as I don’t see how anyone could read the original source material and come away with Barton’s conclusions. (And I also reject the mainstream “interpretation” of early american history – so it’s not out of some misplaced affection for an entrenched view. That’s why I read the original documents in the first place.)

      Personally I cannot come away with any conclusion other than that Barton believes a well told lie in support of what he considers to be good “ends” is fully justified. He is a master of mixing in lies with just enough truth that it takes a lot of time and effort to refute, but is easily swallowed by people who already want to believe what he’s selling. Barton is not a historian, he’s a propagandist.

      1. Frank Turk says:

        What Mark said. There aren’t really any euphemisms for Barton’s approach to History.

    3. Darrell says:

      I was in washinton dc recently and saw Jeffersons bible on display. It was full of holes, cut by him. He was not orthodox at all. Barton is like his buddy Glen Beck, a charlatan.

    4. John, you do neither yourself nor Barton any favors by your portrayal of his Christian critics. Although I am not a historian, one of my areas of speciality is church and state. (I was for nearly 4 years the associate direction of Baylor’s institute of church-state studies). For several years I taught a graduate seminar at Baylor entitled “American Civil Religion.” In that course we read many works–including one by two secular profs, The Godless Constitution. As my students came to see, this book was the mirror image of the Barton approach. It cherry-picked the founders and tended to be anachronistic in its reading of Jeffersonian and Madisonian understandings of separationism. I know that my colleagues who are historians at Baylor–such as Thomas Kidd and Barry Hankins–are not afraid to criticize accounts of America’s founding that are consistent with the ACLU narrative. On the other hand, to offer slip-shod “scholarship,” as does Barton, in response to that narrative is clearly not the answer. As Christians, we have to be excellent in what we do. And that means being custodians of the truth, even when that truth may not be consistent with the way would like history to be.

      What you are suggesting is a sort of Sampson approach to criticism. Instead of dealing with it by offering counter-arguments, you bring the whole temple of knowledge down. Rather than showing deference to Christian historians who have devoted their lives to this field of scholarship, you simply dismiss them as suck-ups who don’t want to offend their liberal colleagues. That’s not the way a Christian should approach such questions. We, of course, must be critical thinkers, even when it comes to understandings that are dominant in the academy. But that means that we have to be excellent in what we do, and it also means that we should not abandon our critical thinking when Barton speaks at our churches, conferences, etc. and begins to tickle our ears.

      At some point you have to stop blaming the liberal establishment for all the crappy stuff that dominates popular Christianity. When Ken Ham is your scientist, David Barton is your historian, and Bill Gothard is your pastor of spiritual formation the problem isn’t the liberal academic establishment, it’s you.

      1. Steve D says:

        “At some point you have to stop blaming the liberal establishment for all the crappy stuff that dominates popular Christianity. When Ken Ham is your scientist, David Barton is your historian, and Bill Gothard is your pastor of spiritual formation the problem isn’t the liberal academic establishment, it’s you.”

        Excellent! We need to take responsibility individually for own our education and corporately for the poor scholarship that passes in some parts of Conservative Christianity. Twisting facts to fit a view does no justice to the cause of Christ.

      2. I agree with Steve: that final paragraph (not to mention your whole post) is excellent. That you for taking the time and effort to post it for us. I’m glad to see real scholars willing to engage the public like this.

  8. Richard says:

    What’s sad is when Christians, who ought to know better, since we stand for truth, are so caught up in making a point, are willing to fudge the historical facts as long as we do it in a good “cause.” Truth doesn’t need to be explained. When the Soviets doctored their history, competent historians called them out on it. Thank God for historians at Grove City who are willing to challenge Barton for his writings, and who do so at the risk of being called “liberal.” Jeepers.

  9. Christians could stand to do some fact-checking once in awhile. We need to challenge our presuppositions from time to time. Odd though, what’s Richards or Barton doing quoting that 52 out of 55 of our founding fathers were orthodox Christians? Strictly speaking, Jefferson wasn’t a founding father because he was in France at the time the delegates were meeting to write the Constitution.

    But the claim itself appears factual from what I’ve been able to find out. At that time, church membership entailed a sworn and public profession of the denomination’s doctrines. According to a guy named John Eidsmoe, among the delegates were 28 Episcopalians, 8 Presbyterians, 7 Congregationalists, 2 Lutherans, 2 Dutch Reformed, 2 Methodists, 2 Roman Catholics, 1 unknown, and only 3 deists–Williamson, Wilson, and Franklin. (Christianity and the Constitution, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987), p. 43) Jefferson, not a founding father, was not evangelical, but more of a universalist or deist.

    But since we’re checking, anyone got anything that says otherwise?

    1. John Mahan says:

      “Jefferson wasn’t a founding father” I think one can argue that he is a founding father because he wrote the Declaration of Independence. The United State began with that declaration–not the Constitution.

      “He was in France at the time the delegates were meeting to write the Constitution.” Barton does not dispute this, but rather showcases this fact in his chapter about “the separation of church and state”.

      Barton does make the claim that Jefferson was not a Deist and gives evidence from letters that he (at least sometimes) believed that God has continued contact with the universe.

  10. RationalN says:

    Glenn Sunshine… what a cheerful name for that particular reviewer… :)

    As for revisionist history, I wonder how many TCG members and readers routinely herd their children off to the State re-education camps (aka public schools) where revisionist history is daily par for the course and yet think nothing of it. “Oh, I’ll just do my homework with the kids at night and correct the historical fallacies and distortions of the leftists…” Sure, that’ll counter-act 40+ hours a week that the secular school system has to indoctrinate the kids.

    I don’t get what the big deal is over this book. Why don’t you start with bigger fish, like the public school textbooks wiping out Anno Domini from dating conventions, and why Christian parents send their kids to these secular camps in the first place, and let trifles like this Jefferson book go?

    1. Mark Bainter says:

      So – your position then is that we should always try to hold the secular world accountable for the lies they tell, but give people (allegedly) within our own camp a pass when they lie?

      Barton’s problem isn’t one book, it’s in everything he does and it has tremendous influence. People trust it because nobody bothers to stand up and point out that it’s built on flawed premises, supported with arguments that cannot be supported by serious study of the source materials.

      Do you believe history has a purpose? Do you believe we’re supposed to learn from it? And what exactly happens when we “learn” from history that isn’t actually true? What do you think results from that?

    2. Michael H. says:

      You’re right about the public schools, but the only way we can offer a credible alternative is if we use the highest possible standards of intellectual honesty and factual accuracy ourselves. What Barton does is public, and it involves all of us because it is a reflection on the Church as a whole. If these allegations are correct, then he misrepresents Christ. Besides, when someone comes along and challenges the received wisdom of academia, I want to know that I can take it to the bank if I’m going to use it. It is vital for the church to sort these things out so that when we do take on liberal historiography, we know that our sources are trustworthy.

  11. Michael says:

    The guy cut out most of the Bible and made up his own, taking only the moral teachings of Jesus. This is historical fact and the Jefferson Bible is owned by the Smithsonian. I’m not sure we need any more evidence than that to know he wasn’t born again.

    1. John says:

      Yes, but Barton does not dispute it. Actually, he explains what motivated Jefferson to do it, and from what Barton says, it was not to reject everything else in Scripture. It was done to define the moral teachings of Christianity for a possible primer for teaching civic duty.

      1. mel says:

        How can anyone explain what is in another man’s heart?

  12. Laura says:

    Hello…I have homeschooled for 15 years and I never heard of David Barton until Monumental and Kirk Cameron and the criticism I read in the reviews. We never did get to see Monumental. I don’t know ANY homeschoolers in my area who have even seen this yet, and I know many homeschoolers. Of the homeschoolers that don’t live near me, with whom I have contact by Facebook, I still don’t know any who’ve seen Monumental or who make any reference to David Barton. This is the 2nd time this week that I’ve read some ‘homeschoolers think this’ or many ‘homeschoolers think that’. We’re all pretty independent, but we share information freely and if there’s anything readily available that’s riddled with errors, word gets around fast and the investigation begins. I may look into this if I have time, but school is starting here. I’ll check back again and see how this is going. :)

  13. Tamara says:

    As a home-school parent and a member of an SBC church in the south, David Barton’s name has come up quite often in conversation. We have never used his “resources” due to their error and revisionism. It is so very hard at times to be the “odd man out” in those conversations and I often cringe when his name comes up, knowing that someone is going to ask me if I use them and if I am asked why, I need to be honest but my answer will *not* go over well in a group where his word is practically gospel truth. It is always refreshing and renewing to have other sources to point to, to reinforce our reasons for not “going with the flow” on these matters. We will continue to carefully discern the history our children (and we!) take in, and make sure it is from credible sources, “Christian” or not.

    1. Susan says:

      Good for you!

      Your description really hits home for me. Glad to know I’m not the only one.

  14. Barbara Kidder says:

    The person posting as: Rational, makes a good point.
    When one reads this article and the considerable hostility to David Barton’s belief that America is a Christian nation, it does seem a bit like ‘straining out gnats and swallowing camels’!
    Shouldn’t you writers on this blog be warning the flock of the danger to our children of giving them over to the government to educate? In addition, there are the snares and follies of watching a lot of television, and parents as well as their children are lured by such charms. This is a huge issue in many Christian homes.
    It seems that there is a lot more motivation here than Mr. Taylor has chosen to explain. When I read his reference to Greg Frazer of TMC, to support his position, I knew that he was aligned with a man who, however sincere, has spent a great deal of his academic career fighting this ‘windmill’ (whether or not America was founded as a Christian nation).
    Nobody has the corner on this subject and, as can be seen by these first sixteen comments, most people reading this post, fall into one of these two views.
    There is a smugness in Mr. Taylor’s dismissal of those who hold this opinion (that America was founded as a Christian nation), that seems small.

    1. Mark Bainter says:

      As I replied above, hypocrisy has no place within orthodox Christianity. If someone who (at least claims) to be part of our camp is making a living by fomenting lies and half-truths even in the service of they think are good ends we have a duty and responsibility to call them on it.

      There is a lot more to this than you seem to understand, and I would urge you to carefully consider the impact of what you understand about history on how you make decisions. Barton isn’t doing this just cause he thought it’d be fun to twist some people’s minds. He wants people to think a certain way about American history, because he wants them to *act* a certain way. He’s doing it for the same reason other “revisionists” do it – it just so happens that some in the “Christian” camp prefer his brand over the others available.

      1. Barbara Kidder says:

        If you are correct, then the same holds true for ‘the other side’, doesn’t it?
        Mr. Taylor, Mr. Frazer, and the other academic historians cited in Mr. Taylor’s piece, obviously care so much about this issue that they devote much time and thought to ‘exposing’ the flaws in David Barton’s work.
        They are in the company of some national organizations that are in the business of influencing minds; National Public Radio, Americans United Against the Separation of Church and State, MSNBC, to name a few. All of these entities have recently mounted attacks, similar to Mr. Taylor’s, on David Barton, and his view that America was founded as a Christian nation.
        Aren’t we being offered a choice between two false alternatives?
        Surely one can take the position that America was founded by men, most of whom were sincere Christians, and that they intended for the Bible to be an influence in their civic writings and decisions.
        Most of us don’t know or read David Barton or his Wallbuilders organization, but we do think our country was better off when our leaders allowed their faith to guide them in their decision-making.
        When we watch Mike Huckabee (former candidate for the Presidency) interview and praise David Barton (see this 8 minute video on youtube), or organize support for Chick-Fil-A, we are sympathetic.
        Those of you who know the underlying tension between your own views and those of David Barton and have a history between yourselves that, perhaps, goes back for years, are the ones who sound so judgmental and harsh (see Justin Taylor’s advice to those who wish to post on his blog).

    2. mel says:

      I don’t know Barton from the man in the moon. What I find disturbing is that this is endorsed by a man that thinks the bible can be added to and so many people are defending it as though it is additional scripture or something. Barton is just a man. NO one has been perfect except Jesus Christ, yet people defend this man as if he is. That is really really scary.

  15. Ray says:

    When did this become a homeschool vs. public school debate?

    1. Justin Keller says:

      Sorry to be getting in on this so late…

      @Ray — Barton is fairly popular among homeschoolers (though apparently not all — thanks for your comments, Laura and Tamara). The discussion was bound to devolve eventually.

      @RationalN — What you offer (1) is a classic Red Herring. What an excellent example of shifting the subject by presenting something different to argue about! And (2) you beg the question. If Barton gets the facts so horribly wrong, it is hardly a “trifle” and has fairly significant implications for the beliefs of those who rely on his work. But rather than make an argument, you assert that which is in question, in order to dismiss the question.

  16. Tom says:

    Barton has been called out several times and continues to be called out for his revisionism and for his misquoting / out-of-context quoting of historical documents. He is not a reliable source when it comes to original intent or to the beliefs of the framers. As far as I know, Barton does not respond to any of these serious challenges to his “scholarship.”

    Unfortunately, schools like Pensacola Christian College (which awarded Barton an honorary doctorate) and organizations like the American Family Association continue to promote and peddle his work.

  17. thatmom says:

    Thank you for this information. I have been suspect of David Barton for many years. He has been a featured speaker at Bill Gothard’s conferences for homeschoolers for more than 25 years and has been invited to speak at homeschooling events all over the country, even though he lacks credible credentials. Perhaps this will open the eyes of Kirk Cameron who has fallen in with the wrong crowd these days as well, ie Doug Phillips and his 200 year plan for a theocratic government. If you peel back the layers, reconstructionism and dominionism are at the core of why Barton continues to publish a revised history of our country.

  18. Rob says:

    Thank you for publishing this information. My wife begins homeschooling our daughter next week and this is helpful information. As a conservative Christian I have been asked about Barton from time to time and while I’m not too familiar with him I’ve been suspect of the claims that America was founded as a Christian nation, largely from reading reformed works by Michael Horton and attending John MacArthur’s church. We, as Christians, have an obligation to stand for and speak the truth in love and we ought to teach our children real history without Christian (or non-Christian) spin applied. As a professor myself I have found that the truth is neither liberal nor conservative. If we want our faith to be taken seriously we must stop creating false dichotomies and peddling lies as if they were the truth. We have to rise above the standards set by this world and live up to the standard established by our Lord.

    1. Mark Bainter says:

      Well – I was about to write a general response, and then I read yours – so I guess I’ll just say “+1″. I’m not a professor, but I am an avid student of history and I have no time or patience for the spin. I want the truth, good and bad, and I want to learn from it. It’s one of the awesome things about the bible that we have both, unvarnished and available for us to learn from.

      It’s critically important that we stand for truth *everywhere*, consistently and unflinchingly. Thank you Justin for posting this, as it is often difficult to get people to see these problems – and publication by reputable individuals can go a long way to getting people to start thinking seriously about it – and maybe even do some of their own fact-checking.

    2. Joshua Wooden says:

      I highly recommend John Fea’s new book, “Was American Founded As a Christian Nation?” Fea is an Evangelical, but is incredibly fair-handed. I was impressed by how even-keeled the book was. Essentially, his answer is yes and no, but it’s complicated, and it depends on what you mean, and then he delves into different aspects of the way it may or may not be a Christian nation. It was fascinating.

  19. Bo says:

    The fact that Glenn Beck (who has increasingly become a conspiracy-theorist nutwagon) writes the forward to the book should make everyone suspicious.

  20. Frank Turk says:

    On a professional/technical level, Justin, don’t publishers fact-check books anymore? I thought factual credibility is the first hurdle for getting non-fiction published?

    1. This is Thomas Nelson you’re talking about here…

      Have you seen some of the books they publish.

      Thomas Nelson is owned by HarperCollins. If it looks like it’ll make money, they’ll publish it. Who cares about factual integrity? Or even Biblical integrity, based on some of the stuff they’ve published.

      1. Joshua Wooden says:

        Which other books are your referring to that were published by Thomas Nelson (or HarperCollins who owns them), that were factually or theologically inaccurate? Just curious.

        1. Well, for starters, there’s books about a little kid’s trip to heaven…

          Books by Andy Andrews…

          All sorts of self-esteem, self-help books published under the Thomas Nelson name as “Christian” books.

        2. Not to mention the publication of “The Voice”, a pretty horrendous paraphrase of the Bible, eschewing good translation in favor of modern cultural norms in a number of places.

      2. Barbara Kidder says:

        …and then there’s the big Grand-Daddy of them all, News Corp.(Richard Murdock), now infamous for their phone-hacking scandal in the UK, which owns HarperCollins!

  21. To answer your test-case question (at the end of the OP), one need look no further than Michael Moore, and then be honest enough to admit that the right has largely adopted the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” ideology.

  22. Noel Davis says:

    Reading a lot of comments bashing Christians for believing Barton in the first place. But why is it that it’s only the right that eventually exposes these frauds and punishes them? If Barton was a leftist, he’d be forgiven because ‘his heart was in the right place and the ends justify the means’ and the next week you’d see him spewing untruths about something else like nothing had ever happened (See Al Sharpton, Keith Olbermann,etc.) My congratulations to those who have debunked this charlatan, I only wish the other side had as much moral fiber to police their own.

    1. Joshua Wooden says:

      I doubt that. This kind of “exposing” happens often enough, and it’s not only the right who does it.

    2. Phil says:

      Why the partisan shot in an article that isn’t about partisanship, or partisan politics, or really about left v. right at all?

      At any rate, I suspect you see only what you want to see. (Unless you are willing to admit that Rush Limbaugh, Fox and Friends, etc. is basically the equivalent to Al Sharpton, Keith Olbermann, etc.)

      A simple google search found this:

      http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/fighting_words/2004/06/unfairenheit_911.html

    3. American History X says:

      Noel,

      I doubt we really need to pat ourselves on the back. You mention Sharpton on the left, let us not forget Arpaio on the right. The guy embezzles millions of dollars, dehumanizes people, writes fallacious books and spews vitriol about non-issues i.e. Obama’s birth place. I am a cstrong conservative and am amazed at the embracing of Arpaio or Romney with such open arms by the evangelical world. Grudem once penned an article in 2008 about why Romney was the best candidate. Yet it is clear that Romney equivocates with the truth on a daily basis (I am not saying Obama is better, but I am saying the Church would do well to get out of bed with the right.

  23. Not enough has been said about the ROOTS of Barton’s “spin”.

    He is a well-known advocate of Christian Reconstructionism, the idea that America should be run similarly to Theocratic Old Covenant Israel, a-la Rushdoony, complete with the death penalty for any serious violation of Bible/Government laws.

    It’s bad theology, constructed by brilliant men who simply were incapable of “rightly dividing” the Old Covenant (for Israel — made obsolete…see Heb. 8) from the New Covenant (a spiritual covenant for the Body of Christ comprised of Jew and Gentile believers).

    Bad theology, having already twisted the Scriptures, is not averse to twisting a little history.

    1. Jay says:

      He is a well-known advocate of Christian Reconstructionism, the idea that America should be run similarly to Theocratic Old Covenant Israel, a-la Rushdoony…

      And there is the connection to homeschooling, Christian Reconstructionism, a-la Rushdoony. While I think Christian Reconstructionism is probably a relatively small minority in the homeschooling community, it certainly does speak with a loud voice and wield an inordinately high level of influence.

      1. Tad says:

        There is also a large libertarian homeschooling movement as well.

  24. Here’s a [theologically Reconstructionist] quote from Barton:

    “The Christian goal for the world is the universal development of Biblical theocratic republics, in which every area of life is redeemed and placed under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the rule of God’s law.”

    Sounds good, but [shudder] is a form of “Christian” Sharia that the Bible, after the Cross, knows NOTHING of.

  25. John Haas says:

    Noel Davis, you’re painting with a very broad brush there. I don’t know a single historian that takes their cues, or even pays much attention to, Al Sharpton or Keith Olbermann. I do know a lot of historians however who are broadly “liberal” and who are as dismissive and critical of Howard Zinn (a better counterpart to Barton than Sharpton) as they are of Barton. If you look through the book reviews in academic journals, in history at least,you can find plenty of criticisms of scholars for indulging Political Correctness, post-modernism, stereotypes, self-righteousness, and etc.

  26. As a writer of American history and a Christian, I have raised the alarm for a while over the Religious Right’s portrayal of American history, and our tendency of screaming about the leftist historians revising our history, while we do the same. Truth is not something we revise to our own likes and dislikes. It is a terrible testimony to scholarship and to the world in general when we do such things. A half truth is a whole lie.

  27. Christie says:

    I have followed David Barton for years. It was our son, who during his high school years pointed out that one of Barton’s references in his book was a reference of HIMSELF in another book. That made me uneasy. But I figured nothing of it.
    We have several of his books at home, and I have enjoyed them. But that little thing we caught years ago has always been in the back of my mind.
    Then, Monumental came out. During the movie, he mentioned a book called “The Godless Constitution” saying something like, colleges us this book and then went on to quote from the book. None of our sons have ever mentioned that book from college. So, I bought a used copy online to see if what he said was true.
    Not only was it NOT true….. it was a disturbing distortion of what they said.
    He said they said they didn’t have to give references because they were experts. (my loose quote) What they SAID was, because it was not meant to be formal publication for education, they would list all references at the end of the book…. The very next paragraph starts something like 3 pages of references.
    I was very disappointed… but TRUTH is what is important.
    As Christians, it make ZERO sense to try to lie and make things look better than they really are. I don’t get it.

  28. Daniel Moss says:

    In the blog post there’s a quote: Glenn Moots of Northwood University wrote that Barton in The Jefferson Lies is so eager to portray Jefferson as sympathetic to Christianity that he misses or omits obvious signs that Jefferson stood outside “orthodox, creedal, confessional Christianity.”

    Okay, here’s a quote from Barton and lets see if Moots is right?…

    Significantly, in the chapter on Jefferson’s religious beliefs, I document that Jefferson went through several religious phases during his life. In the first half of his life, he held orthodox Christian views, and in his “Notes on Religion, 1776,” he consistently expounded what orthodox Christians still believe today. In middle life, his faith faltered when his beloved wife unexpectedly died, but he eventually retained his orthodox beliefs. But many decades later in the last years of his life, he embraced what was known as Christian Restoration or Christian Primitivism, which promoted Unitarianism and called into question some orthodox Christian doctrines, thus reversing his beliefs of earlier decades.

  29. Daniel Moss says:

    Another quote from the blog:

    “There is even a book-length response just published:

    A full-scale, newly published critique of Barton is coming from Professors Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter of Grove City College, a largely conservative Christian school in Pennsylvania. Their book Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President (Salem Grove Press), argues that Barton “is guilty of taking statements and actions out of context and simplifying historical circumstances.”

    Quote from Barton:

    “But aside from their flawed view about the importance of specific types of original documents, consider some of the absurdities contained in their critique. For example, Throckmorton and Coulter object to my statement that, “In 1803, President Jefferson signed a treaty with the Kaskaskia tribe to provide them Christian ministry and teaching.” 6 To prove their objection, they quote the treaty, including the part stating:

    And whereas, the greater part of the said [Kaskaskia] tribe have been baptised [sic] and received into the Catholic church to which they are much attached, the United States will give annually for seven years one hundred dollars towards the support of a priest of that religion, who will engage to perform for the said tribe the duties of his office and also to instruct as many of their children as possible in the rudiments of literature. And the United States will further give the sum of three hundred dollars to assist the said tribe in the erection of a church. 7
    This treaty is signed at the bottom by President Thomas Jefferson and Secretary of State James Madison.

    So, let’s see: I state that Jefferson signed a treaty “with the Kaskaskia tribe to provide them Christian ministry and teaching,” and the two provide the part of the treaty proving that it does. I made the simple statement; they show documentation that the statement was correct; end of story, right? Hardly! After proving that the treaty does indeed have that provision, they then launch into a lengthy explanation attempting to show why that provision is really not important. It is amusing to see the lengths to which they go in their convoluted attempts to explain why historical documents do not really mean what they actually say.

    Similarly, I state that “Other presidential actions of Jefferson include . . . closing presidential documents with the appellation, ‘In the year of our Lord Christ’.” 8 I then include in the book a picture of such a signed document. But Throckmorton and Coulter dismiss that document with the statement that “we know of no other document signed by Jefferson with the phrase ‘in the year of our Lord Christ’ printed on the form.” 9 So apparently, since they personally know of no other similar documents, then the one I showed apparently means nothing (at least to them). Significantly, however, we personally own other such Jefferson documents; and literally scores, if not hundreds, of similar Jefferson documents are contained in other libraries and archives. But because these professors don’t personally know about them, then they apparently don’t exist! Clearly, so strong are their own personal predilections about Jefferson that they won’t even allow what they see with their own eyes to alter their predetermined conclusions.”

    ………………….
    I’m not saying Barton is 100% correct 100% of the time but I definitely see some of the points he makes and I definitely see how there is a removal of God happening in our country.

    Look, when we have a President who frequently likeS to take the words “their creator” out of this sentence (We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.) you know there’s so historical revisionism going on. I’m glad that Barton is bringing some lost history to the forefront.

  30. Tad says:

    The funniest thing is that we as Christians would consider someone who was fighting against a government over an issue of taxation (mostly) were acting as good Christians.
    Even if our founding fathers were Christians, how can we claim to be a Christian nation when we ignored much of what he Bible had to say about obeying your government? (meaning the King)

    1. Jon says:

      How much of the criticism of Barton is driven by this belief? Is disdain of the American Revolution the silent letter in TULIP?

      1. Tad says:

        No not at all. It is merely obvious that the American Revolution was immoral once you strip away blind patriotism. As a Christian I consider it my duty to obey my government even when I disagree, but I do not have to agree, I am not truly a citizen of this world any way, but it bothers me that we hold the founding fathers in such high regard when they were rebellious and ignored their rightful governor the King of England.

        1. mel says:

          @Tad you make an extremely good point. What I find equally disturbing is how much emphasis we put on our ‘pursuit of happiness’ as Christians. While Christ said over and over to deny ourselves. But Jefferson didn’t like that part, did he?

        2. LG says:

          Their rightful governor? You mean the syphilitic madman using unlawful taxation to fund his paranoia-fueled wars? Uh-huh. Keep going.

        3. Gary says:

          Tad, meet Bonhoffer. Bonhoffer…meet Tad.

  31. Jon says:

    I’m a bit torn here. Barton has performed a great service in popularizing the notion that “the Founding Fathers were far more ‘Christian’ than modern historians let on.”

    Even where I’d disagree with Barton about interpretation (or say it is hyperbolic), he’s usually right that the Founders had a far more religiously accommodating view than modern historians admit. For example, there’s a debate about whether or not Jefferson “invested” in a Bible. Throckmorton says he didn’t, Barton says he did. I’d say it’s more like a Kickstarter contribution — he wasn’t a partner, but Jefferson was showing a bit more support than just ordering a Bible. People loosely call that kind of support “investment,” like “investing in your local public radio station.” And that’s a surprising fact about Jefferson, if you think he wanted a strict “wall of separation.”

    But the debate over Barton has become so polarized (“Liar!” “Poor historian!” “Fomenting falsehoods!” “Rushdoonyite!”), it’s hard to tell what is really driving the rage.

    I’ve picked up on the “Reformed” angle, where MacArthurites apparently believe the Revolution was a wrongful act, whereas many other streams of evangelicals think the Revolution should have been supported by Christians. Some of Horton’s work seems to be driven by the idea that the American Revolution must be no more Christian than the French.

    Then there is the Cincinnati group that dislikes any rehabilitation of Jefferson because he owned slaves. “You can’t be serious about racial unity in the church while holding up Jefferson as a hero and champion of freedom.”

    Sure, even Barton’s pop history is subject to criticism, but I don’t get the feeling that much of this latest round is motivated solely by the “fact checking” by other evangelicals, as much as ideological opposition from evangelicals that don’t like jingoism.

    1. Barbara Kidder says:

      …and, perhaps, they also wish to keep the mantel of ‘academic respectability’ that they hope to wear by appearing to be above the unsophisticated patriotism of the hoi polloi!
      Often we see that those who invest many years of study and hard work, together with many tens of thousands of dollars, earning a degree, feel that those who are just students of theology or history as a lifetime pursuit, are not to be given much credit as serious thinkers.
      As in so many occupations in life, there is often a ‘us vs. them’ mentality. Add to that the weighty subjects at hand, and it is easy to see why there is such a rift here, between the learned scholars and those of us who disagree.

    2. Bill says:

      I also find this to be the most interesting story. What’s with the ire over Barton? It isn’t because he makes “errors.” If I had a nickel for every error I read in a major history publication or by a major historian, I’d buy my own publishing company. And it certainly can’t be because he draws inferences that extend beyond the available evidence. History writers are constantly accusing each other of drawing a wrong conclusion from the facts, often to sell their books with a competing hypothesis. But they don’t get the “special treatment” that Barton gets.

      So, what is it? Is it that he’s from Texas or that he wears boots and that Stetson wherever he goes?

  32. Richard says:

    It’s interesting that those who point out that Barton plays fast and loose with the historical facts are, in turn, denigrated as “liberals” or “elitists.” That’s a shame–Christians are above all to be people of “the Truth,” but it seems that some are more interested in shading facts to score more points in the culture wars.

  33. Bill says:

    Well, I’ve read

    “unsupportable” and I’ve read

    “is guilty of taking statements and actions out of context and simplifying historical circumstances”

    and let’s not forget that unbearable indictment

    “filled with errors”

    But what are these errors? The factual errors should be easy enough to list. The inferential errors will take more explanation. But are they going to be forthcoming?

    Now, that I’ve asked, I’m sure we’re going to get the full accounting of errors that this Texas backwater managed to slip by a major Christian publisher.

    1. Brent says:

      Nicely put in sarcasm, Bill. The detractors sure are vague.

      1. Richard says:

        “Vague,” eh. How about reading from that “liberal” publication, “First Things”? http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2012/08/08/david-bartons-errors/
        Some pretty specific errors listed here, don’t you think?

  34. John says:

    Boy was I surprised to find so many comments on this site. Barton is not a historian, he is a writer of alternative historical fiction. There are still Christians who believe in facts and critical realism; Barton conveys neither.

  35. SLIMJIM says:

    This makes me suspicious of other works I’ve read of Barton…must be an historical “Berean” just as much as we are Bereans of the Scripture!

  36. cheryl shellabarger says:

    Since his first involvement with trying to correct the errors written into history books in Texas where he was a history teacher, it is my understanding that David Barton is one of the most courageous historians of our day! The very fact that he is under attack in this fashion is so evident of his truthfulness and credibility that he is even more a hero than ever! When the enemy cannot defeat one on the basis of facts or ideas, the enemy simply makes up lies…which is exactly what some of the “fine historians” listed in the articles above are doing to Barton! God knows the truth and indeed tells us He is truth…may the TRUTH be exalted here!

Comments are closed.

Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

Justin Taylor's Books