Should Christians Trust David Barton?
Second, Barton impresses his constituency with the thousands and thousands of original documents that he claims Wallbuilders owns. He even brings these documents to his various speaking engagements. By touting these primary sources, Barton implies that he has some kind of special insight into the meaning of these texts simply because he has them in his possession. But the texts for most of the documents he owns can easily be found in any good college library or via the internet. There is nothing sacred about these documents. While not all Americans can see the originals, they can read them. And by the way, if Barton is really serious about bringing United States history to the people, then what is he doing hoarding all of these documents at the Wallbuilders headquarters in Aledo, Texas? Why not donate them to an archive or library where they will be properly protected and where everyone can see them?
Third, Barton is not particularly interested in interpreting the original documents that he owns. He likes to brag about how many footnotes are in his books. Fair enough, Barton does a lot of research. But historians do not merely quote, they interpret. Doing history requires investigating original sources in light of the "Five C's of Historical Thinking": change over time, context, causality, contingency, and complexity.
Fourth, Barton speaks in conspiratorial tones about how academics and liberal college professors have removed religion from the story of American history. Here Barton shows his ignorance of historical scholarship. How do you reconcile Barton's claims with the fact that religion is the most studied topic among members of the American Historical Association? Or that American Religious History is the most thriving subfield in American history today?
I could go on—and in fact I already have. Over at my blog, The Way of Improvement Leads Home, I have been doing a series of posts on Barton's appearance on The Daily Show.
Here is the bottom line: Christians should think twice before they rely on David Barton for their understanding of the American founding. Let's not confuse history with propaganda.
John Fea chairs the History Department at Messiah College in Grantham, PA, and is the author of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? A Historical Introduction (Westminster John Knox Press, 2011). He blogs daily at philipvickersfithian.com.