Dear Thomas Nelson: How many reviews will it take?

Last week, InterVarsity Press stopped printing a new book on the Reformation due to a negative review of the book by Reformation scholar, Carl Trueman.  The book pulled was by G.R. Evans and titled The Roots of the Reformation. Trueman uncovered multiple errors of fact and other misleading statements in the book which led IVP to make a decision to take the following action:

Therefore, as of the beginning of June, IVP has taken The Roots of the Reformation out of print and will no longer be shipping orders of this edition. Our goal is to publish a carefully revised second edition of the book by the end of August, in time for Fall semester classes. Further, IVP will offer a complimentary copy of the second edition, including free shipping, to everyone who has already purchased the current edition.

That is amazingly commendable of IVP. One fact based review and the publisher did an honorable thing. This action made me wonder when Thomas Nelson might do the same thing with David Barton’s The Jefferson Lies. How many reviews will it take? Before I list my own posts and link again to Getting Jefferson Right, let me list the reviews I have seen which have address The Jefferson Lies.

Wall Street Journal – “A Still Unsettling Founding Figure” by author Alan Pell Crawford.  Crawford asserts:

But to claim, as Mr. Barton does, that Jefferson was “unpretentious, living and acting as the common person for whom he had sacrificed so much” lays it on a little thick. Such a description would have surprised Jefferson’s purchasing agents, through whom he ordered hundreds bottles of French and Italian wine annually, on credit.

Jefferson’s religious beliefs are central to Mr. Barton’s thesis, in the service of which straw men are consumed in bonfires.


A commitment to the notion that Jefferson promoted Christian orthodoxy leads Mr. Barton to misinterpret the early history of the University of Virginia.


Mr. Barton seems not know these facts, and he virtually ignores the cultural and theological world of the young Jefferson’s time and place—what it meant to grow up a scion of the Virginia gentry, a classically educated Anglican, and an intellectual whose attitudes toward church and state were informed by a knowledge of the religious wars that had scarred Europe little more than a century before.

In a scathing and extended review, humanities scholar Clay Jenkinson blasts The Jefferson Lies, detailing the many errors of fact in it. Jenkinson, who hosts a weekly radio program called The Jefferson Hour devoted a program to the critique and provides a must-read review on his blog. About the errors in the book, Jenkinson says:

Barton makes a large number of factual errors in the course of his book. It would be interesting to enumerate all of them, but it would be a tedious and thankless task, and the book is not sufficiently important in Jefferson studies to merit the scores of hours it would take to correct all of them. A few will suffice to show the level of historiography in The Jefferson Lies. Almost all historians make mistakes. The problem with Barton’s errors is that many of them seem to be deliberate distortions.

He summarizes by saying:

David Barton’s The Jefferson Lies is a dangerous book. Although some of the arguments Barton develops might have served as a corrective to the somewhat over-secularized portrait of Jefferson that has emerged in recent years, he greatly overstates his case, omits whatever does not fit his preconceived notions about Jefferson, distorts the truth, takes Jefferson’s pronouncements out of context, and lines up a series of straw men to cast down on behalf of his irresponsible claims.

So far, the reviews are far worse than what Trueman had to say about the IVP book. There are more.

Noted church historian Martin Marty was one of the first to review The Jefferson Lies, doing so on his Sightings page at the University of Chicago’s Divinity School. Marty wrote:

Reviewer Craig Ferhman (sic) in the Los Angeles Times found all that Barton found to be “outrageous fabrication.” On TV, Barton even said, with no evidence, that Jefferson gave a copy of his Jesus book to a missionary, to use “as you evangelize the Indians.” Had the Indians been converted with that text, their heirs would have had no place to go but to what became the humanist wing of the Unitarian-Universalist church.

Why does any of this matter? One, basic honesty is at issue; do American religionists need to invent such stories in order to prevail? Two, what if they did prevail? Most of the founders thought that religion was most honest and compelling when its leaders and gatherings did not depend upon lies about the state and, of course, upon the state itself. “Separation of church and state” is admittedly a complex issue, dealing as it does with inevitable conflict and messiness in a free and lively republic. May debates over it go on, but with honest references to Jefferson and his colleagues and not on the grounds David Barton proposes.

Then there are John Fea’s blog posts on The Jefferson Lies, parts one, two, three, four, five and six. John is chair of the history department at Messiah College and author of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? None of these posts are positive about the book and they expose Barton’s misuse of history from the beginning. Fea also approvingly notes my post on Jefferson as a slave owner, where I document Barton’s selective quotation of Virginia law. We should also add Fea’s quotes about Barton’s approach to history in this Salon article.

In his review of Getting Jefferson Right, University of Colorado history professor Paul Harvey outlines some of the factual problems with The Jefferson Lies. At the same time, Harvey wonders if exposing the factual problems with Barton’s book will matter. I wonder that too. Thomas Nelson, will it matter?

Finally, I have exposed many of these problems on this blog and in my book with Michael Coulter. As one can see, we am not alone. Scholars, Christian and otherwise, have exposed the significant issues of fact and Barton’s tendentious approach to Jefferson. There are far more errors in The Jefferson Lies than Dr. Trueman found in The Roots of the Reformation. These errors have been exposed in significant publications and blogs for the world to see.

Thomas Nelson, how many reviews will it take for you to follow IVP’s lead?



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  • Bernie

    Maybe it is because Barton is way more skilled at pulling the wool over their eyes.

  • Lynn David


  • jason

    Money. A lot of Christians believe Barton’s nonsense and are willing to part with their cash

  • Michael C

    Warren, Did you presuppose that Thomas Nelson accepted Barton’s work as factual?

  • Michael C. – Yes, I did. But you raise an interesting point. It seems clear that they did not fact check it. Is it possible that they didn’t care? I don’t know but I hope that is not right.

  • Daniel Garrett

    Thanks Warren for all of your hard, scholarly work in exposing David Barton and his falsehoods. I only wish that those who are my deceived friends within the church will look into this as honestly and open minded as they need to be to see the truth of the matter.

  • David Blakeslee

    What makes me sad is how this text is likely to be used in Christian universities. It undermines the Christian premise of being the light of the world. It needs to be confronted and humiliated.

  • ken

    Warren says:

    June 12, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    “Michael C. – Yes, I did. But you raise an interesting point. It seems clear that they did not fact check it. ”

    Seriously Warren? I thought you were being facetious when you asked if Thomas Nelson publishing would follow IVP’s example.

    Any publishing house that would publish something as blatantly false as Barton’s “Jefferson Lies” (under non-fiction 🙂 ) clearly isn’t interested in accuracy, merely sales numbers. I imagine the marketing dept. is loving the controversy. They are probably working up tag lines like “Read the book the liberals don’t want you to see” or “Did Barton lie in “Jefferson lies”? get your copy today and judge for yourself”

  • The Roots of the Reformation is a text book on history. The statements presented in it must be factually accurate, or it isn’t fit for purpose.

    The Jefferson Lies is a propaganda piece, designed to support a particular political view. Factual accuracy, while sometimes desirable, is often inconvenient, and can be dispensed with without it affecting the book’s purpose.

  • The #1 hit on Google for “Founders” and “Deists”

    includes the following passage;

    None of the Founding Fathers were atheists. Most of the Founders were Deists, which is to say they thought the universe had a creator, but that he does not concern himself with the daily lives of humans, and does not directly communicate with humans, either by revelation or by sacred books.

    Which is quite wrong.

    Until the academy, Barton’s critics, and assorted other haters stand up against this sort of “common knowledge,” Barton will thrive.

    Barton thrives because there is a truth to his thesis, that the scholarly establishment spent the 20th century bleaching Christianity out of the American Founding until all “most of the Founders were deists.” And deists of the blind watchmaker sort, at that, of the type that doesn’t fit a single Founder including Jefferson.

    To his credit, Dr. John Fea is #4 on the hits.

    But David Barton didn’t arise from nowhere: if he didn’t exist, another would have risen. The haters should be grateful for his incompetence.

  • ken

    You make a lot of claims Tom, but I don’t see any evidence to support them.

  • Note to Tom .. the John Fea reference is rather telling … here is its last paragraph..

    “While few of these major founders could be considered “Christian,” and probably did not set out to establish a uniquely “Christian nation,” neither were they deists. They all believed in an active God who, to various degrees, governed the world by his providence and, at times, might even enter into the affairs of humankind.”

    Note from the above quote of Fea’s article .. that he says that few of the founding fathers could be considered Christian and that they probably did not set out to establish a uniquely Christian nation. So you are IMHO picking about words while missing the broader point.


  • I’m afraid you miss the point, sir, that there is disinfo out there as “common knowledge” as far off as Barton’s re deism, yet he gets the brickbats while its left/secular counterpart is permitted to proceed with barely a raised eyebrow.

    As long as that set of disinfo thrives, Barton will have traction.

  • Tom – If all Barton did was point out that Jefferson’s religious beliefs were more complex than simple deism, then he would be Gary Smith, John Fea, or Edwin Gaustad. Others have done this without any bats, not even brick ones. The response to Barton is about so much more than that.

  • Warren, look at what “Dave” just wrote me:

    “Note from the above quote of Fea’s article .. that he says that few of the founding fathers could be considered Christian… ”

    That’s not what John Fea said at all. Fea was speaking of a handful of “key” Founders, not the Founding Fathers as a whole, who were indeed more orthodox Christians than not.

    Until persons like yourself correct the “Daves” of the world while you’re banging on Barton, the issue will continue—Barton will focus on the errors of his critics just as they focus on his, the war goes on.

  • Tom – When Dave advises presidential candidates, sits on the GOP platform committee, and all other things Barton does, then I will jump all over him.

  • Exactly. It’s not about history, it’s about politics. So let’s drop the “crusaders for historical truth” angle of it, for we are interested only in the half of the historical truth that is useful as a weapon against David Barton and the Religious Right.

    Now the cards are on the table, Brother Throckmorton, my point all along. ;-O

  • Thanks Dr Throckmorton .. Since I have no intention of sitting on the GOP platfrorm and advising Presidential candidates I’m probably safe.

    @Tom .. I’ll probably have a longer post on this later but in reference to your picking on my words .. At least (in the minimal time I had on my lunch break at work) I provided the context of the full document (your own reference) so you could check it yourself. But you again miss the main point .. re: all the other things Barton is claiming and the place of prominence he has in claiming them. I dare say that if you analyzed Barton’s books and speeches the way you analyzed my one sentence your critique of Barton would fill a book shelf or two..

  • “Dave,” I daresay I know what I’m talking about, far more than you suspect. I didn’t parse a single sentence you may or may not have written less than carefully for the purpose of cheap points. It was an illustration.

    Barton’s thesis is a polemic: The historians have lied to us, turning the Founding into a deistic one rather than a Judeo-Christian one. Further, that Thomas Jefferson was not as hostile to religion in the public square as the left/strict separationists would have us believe.

    And despite his myriad errors, so many that Warren could fill a book with them—and did!—Barton is still correct on those two points.

  • ken

    Tom Van Dyke says:

    June 14, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    “That’s not what John Fea said at all. ”

    Dave cited exactly what he was referring to. Could Dave have worded his statement better..probably. However, there was no need for Warren to go off on a needless tangent because of Dave’s wording, because Dave gave the reference that made it clear what Fea said. Barton doesn’t do that and he deceives a large audience in the process. That is why warren is correct to focus on Barton and not Dave.

    Tom Van Dyke says:

    June 14, 2012 at 7:20 pm

    “The historians have lied to us, turning the Founding into a deistic one rather than a Judeo-Christian one. ”

    Specifically WHICH historians have “lied”? What were their exact words that were a lie?

  • Y’all must think I came here to argue. I personally didn’t realize until now—and Warren’s work—that Barton’s thesis is not an affirmative one as much as a polemic.

    See, we all play Law & Order. First one to be caught in a lie loses. But the fact is that Barton hath already caught the strict separationists in a lie. If he can prove the “common wisdom’ wrong on a single point—like the Founders were deists, which is mostly untrue—it’s he who wins.

    You can pound him point for point and factoid by factoid, but you have already lost in the eyes of his sympathizers. The people you convince already hate Barton and the Religious Right and the GOP, so you’re talking to an Amen Corner no less than he is.

    My argument here is a formal argument, not about fighting over one sentence by “Dave” or one paragraph in an essay by Dr. John Fea. Nor am I even bothering to get into the facts of the matter. This is not the place for it.

    I trust Dr. Throckmorton knows what I mean by a formal argument as opposed to a substantive one. Catching David Barton in a million little [or big!] errors doesn’t make up for the fact that he correctly catches “The Founders were deists” as the primary lie about religion and the American Founding.

    Since he has a sympathetic jury, David Barton has already won, before Dr. Throckmorton even presents his case. Thing is, Warren, you don’t have a case, a counterargument. You only have disputes about Barton’s use of the facts and factoids, on which you are [mostly] correct. But

    Barton’s thesis is a polemic: The historians have lied to us, turning the Founding into a deistic one rather than a Judeo-Christian one. Further, that Thomas Jefferson was not as hostile to religion in the public square as the left/strict separationists would have us believe.

    And despite his myriad errors, so many that Warren could fill a book with them—and did!—Barton is still correct on those two points.

    That’s the facts, jack, and Barton’s thesis is in the end correct, even if and as he punts 99 out of 100 factoids. “The Founders were deists” is the Big Lie, and Barton wins—regardless of the quality of his arguments—simply by being on the other side.

    [Jesus, Warren. This is more about critical thinking than anything. Like they said about Churchill, he was wrong about everything except that One Big Thing. I can’t stand comparing Barton to Churchill, but…]

  • Tom .. I am not really sure what wavelength you are on here. So the (main) founding fathers weren’t deists .. per your research and beliefs. Well that certainly doesn’t make them dyed in the wool Christians. I am not aware of them proclaiming faith in Christ or submission to Christ. Their writings don’t reflect that to my knowledge. And what Jefferson did with the bible would certainly not sit well with most Christians today. The King James only crowd (not that I am one of them) would have a field day with anyone who did such a thing today.

    I am not sure what you are fighting for here or what you think is the critical issue. For me .. credibility and honesty coming from Christianity is key. Without it we look like idealistic fools who will twist anything to support our beliefs. If Barton put this out as a polemic he sure did a lousy job of it .. so much so that a whole book can be accurately written challenging his poor conclusions and research. IMHO, integrity in Christians is more important than any so called win against so called revisionist historians or liberals or whatever or whoever you think the other side is. I don’t get your reasoning that Barton wins just because he gets (in your opinion) one thing right but punts 99 out of 100 factoids.

    I have no interest in the culture war ( with all the mudslinging, overstatement of points, false information and so forth). I am interested in integrity as a people of God. And if that integrity (being like Christ) loses us a few points in the culture war then so be it.


  • I’m trying to feel you on this, Dave, but I don’t have it yet. I do appreciate you not wanting to fight.

    What I’m getting is that a Christian, David Barton embarrasses you. I do not know if it’s because he makes so many errors or because he’s a frontman for the GOP and the Religious Right.

    So that’s our problem here, you and me. If you wanna talk the American Founding, it was a lot more religious than y’d think. Every manjack one of them thought God had a hand in the founding of America, even the so-called non-Christians like Franklin, Madison, Washington. That’s the starting point, not Jefferson or Barton.

    Not even Jefferson would have objected to the idea or the slogan that we are—or should be—One Nation Under God. And that’s why this whole thing has nothing to do with much.

    “God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?”

    Jefferson. I’m not a Bartonite, you know. I wish he’d go away the same as you do. But although he’s very damp, he’s not all wet.


  • @ Tom .. Embarrassment does not even get close. Where do you get embarrassment from my statement of a lack of integrity? Barton can’t even get his facts right on who is challenging him and why .. see this post ..

    Here is what I am getting from you .. You agree with Barton because he is (in your opinion) getting one thing right .. never mind that his research is easily discredited, that it often appears to be contrived and that he refuses to deal with fellow Christian critiques in an honest and upright way. Never mind that he dismisses those critiques with dishonest information on public radio. As long as he says something you agree with then thats good .. or he wins or whatever. At least thats how I hear you.

    This same attitude occurs with those who have a more conservative view on homosexuality. I am not putting you in this catagory .. just making a comparison across different issues. Once again .. often conservative Christians do not make distinctions between a conservative gracious pastoral positiion and a smear campaign of disinformation. Their logic is .. if its antigay .. its good .. regardless of the reliability of the information.

    I want to see the whole package .. a postion with integrity regardless of the topic.


  • Dave,

    You might want to check out American Creation where we feature news about Dr. Gregg Frazer’s new book (and other things as well, including news on Drs. Throckmorton and Fea).

    The “key Founders” — the first 4 Presidents, Ben Franklin, James Wilson, G. Morris and A. Hamilton — were not “strict Deists” in the absentee Landlord sense. Yet, they weren’t “Christians” in the orthodox sense either. They were, as Dr. Frazer categorizes them, “theistic rationalists” which is somewhere in between. The theistic rationalists were theological unitarians. So others might term them “unitarians.” There are smoking guns that prove this the case with Jefferson, J. Adams and Franklin. The others rely more on circumstantial evidence. They were all theists (that is believed in an active personal God). Hamilton was not provably an orthodox Christian until the end of his life (after his son died in a duel). The other FFs were not provably orthodox Christians during any time in their adult life when they did the work “Founding” the nation. I’m not aware of other key Founder than Hamilton having an end of life conversion to orthodox Christianity. George Washington, for instance, died a Stoic death where he asked for no ministers and said no prayers. But you never know what’s going on in someone’s head and heart before they take their last breath.

    David Holmes prefers to term the key Founders “Christian-Deists,” as opposed to the non-Christian deism of Ethan Allen, Thomas Paine and Elihu Palmer. But those three were the only notable “strict Deists” among the Founders. (It’s debatable whether Palmer was a notable Founder).

    There were a lot of orthodox Christians among the 2nd and lower tier Founders. They include John Witherspoon, John Jay, Roger Sherman, Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry.

    With regards to the rest, well, we just don’t know. Proving they had some kind of formal affiliation with an orthodox Church — which THEY ALL DID — really proves nothing other than they had some kind of formal affiliation with an orthodox Church.

    It would be error to assume, as some do, the rest were “all” something. Elias Boudinot and Fisher Ames were probably orthodox Christians. Benjamin Rush was an orthodox Christian Universalist who believed in the doctrine of universal salvation, believing all would be saved through Christ’s universal, as opposed to limited Atonement. Timothy Pickering was a unitarian, and William Livingston may have been. John Marshall was a unitarian who converted to orthodoxy shortly before he died. Joel Barlow was either a strict deist or perhaps an atheist.

  • Now you’re onto homosexuality, which proves my point: This kerfuffle has to do with destroying Barton and the Religious Right, not about history.

    They may be backward and ignorant, but they ain’t stupid. They see right trough you.

  • ken

    Tom Van Dyke says:

    June 15, 2012 at 2:44 am

    “But the fact is that Barton hath already caught the strict separationists in a lie.”

    Who are these “strict separationists”? And what was the “lie” they told?

    Once again you make claims without evidence.


    Peace, I’m out. You either get it or you don’t.

  • No Tom .. I think it is you that I (we?) see right through. It appears you have decided to trade in Christian integrity and holiness for an agenda. I must say that I am rather dissappointed to hear you act this way especially since one of your fellow bloggers wrote what was IMHO a well balanced piece concerning the faith of the founding fathers. It was apparently supposed to also appear here as a comment to me but apparently got lost in the software (something that has happened to all of us at times). So there is no confusion I am speaking of this post ..

    Thats all I have to say at this point.



  • (my post dissappeared so I will try again here.. ) Dissapointed to hear you say these things Tom .. Perhaps it is you that I(we?) see through. You see, I took time to follow the link back to your blog today and was pleasantly surprised to read what I thought was a well balanced piece by one of your fellow bloggers. See here..

    Then I logged on tonight and read some of your recent comments .. again .. dissappointing.

    I think I have spoken rather plainly to you about what my concerns are. unfortunately you have chosen to ignore that and assume an agenda. oh well…