A Year Ago Thomas Nelson Lost Confidence in The Jefferson Lies

This week a year ago, Thomas Nelson publishers pulled David Barton’s book The Jefferson Lies from publication. As I recall, I first learned of the event from Tennessean reporter Bob Smietana who called me to ask for comment. I think the first to get it on the web was probably Thomas Kidd at World Magazine on August 9. The news broke the day after a major NPR expose on Barton’s historical claims. A day before that World posted an article citing Jay Richards and others who had raised concerns about The Jefferson Lies. There were many stories at the time on the removal of the book, an event which Thomas Nelson described as “extremely rare.”

Two of the stories World did on the constroversy (David Barton Controversy – #3; Lost Confidence – #5) were in World’s top 25 news stories for 2012.  In the aftermath, World magazine hosted a debate of sorts involving Barton, Glenn Frazer, Michael Coulter and me.

Another surprising source of coverage was The Blaze, Glenn Beck’s web presence. Without taking sides, Billy Hallowell made a good effort to present our concerns about Barton’s claims, and then allowed Barton to respond.  The Blaze also did two webcasts, the first with Barton and then with us. In the end, Beck allowed Barton to present his claims unanswered on his television broadcast. Since we were not invited to rebut those claims on the air, we addressed them in a  series of posts here (on Jefferson and slavery, part 1; Jefferson and slavery, part 2; Jefferson and slavery, part 3; Jefferson and the Bible, part 4; Jefferson and the Bible, part 5).  As I post these links, I notice that Beck’s network has removed some of the Barton videos.

Since then, a few Christian groups have reviewed Barton’s materials and made edits or ceased using his materials. Most notably, Family Research Council made Barton’s Capitol Tour video private on YouTube. Barton then made audio edits to the video to repair some of the errors and posted the edited version on his Wallbuilders’ account without explanation.

The Barton controversy continues to expose the gulf between evangelical scholarship and evangelical participation in the culture war. Just recently, Barton incorrectly said that out of 60,000 professors, just four criticized his book. He also said that “Christian professors were basically trained by pagan professors who hate God, and they’re just repeating what they’re been told.” Over the past year, Barton and his defenders have portrayed critics as academic elites who are using the strategies of Hitler and Alinsky. All because evangelical academics want to get the facts right.

For evangelicals to truly defend religious liberty and retake some moral high ground, there must be a truce in the war between culture warriors and evangelical scholars. Academics shouldn’t be judged by the academic cover they give to culture war talking points or icons. Nobody is really fooled anyway, and increasingly, younger people are just checking out. Hopefully, the ripples have not stopped rippling and there are more important lessons to learn from the controversy over The Jefferson Lies.

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  • Tom Van Dyke

    And in a bit of bad luck, Barton ran afoul of several left-wing activist ministers in Cincinnati, who were angry at his attempt to soft-pedal Jefferson’s slaveowning.


    They threatened religious book publisher Thomas Nelson with a boycott of ALL its books. Oy.

    Fortunately, Barton’s numerous anti-Religious Right critics of his “Christian America” thesis were available to supply the rope to hang him with, and supply Thomas Nelson with the necessary scholarly cover to escape the Barton debacle without being accused of “censoring” him.

    A group of Cincinnati pastors and church leaders is boycotting Thomas Nelson Publishers over David Barton’s book The Jefferson Lies, saying it glosses over the third president’s racism and justifies his ownership of slaves.

    Black and white pastors announced their boycott Aug. 1 in a press conference at Cincinnati’s New Jerusalem Baptist Church. Unlike most of the critics of Barton, an evangelical minister and author frequently accused of historical revisionism by the left, the Cincinnati ministers all serve in evangelical churches.

    Warren Throckmorton, a psychology professor at Grove City College and frequent Barton critic, said the controversial author can no longer complain that his critics are all liberals and secularists, because all the Cincinnati ministers are evangelicals.

    Well, of course the Cincinnati ministers might be “evangelicals,” but a quick google shows them as solid left-wing activists, more widely known for their politics than their preaching.

    The irony is that Barton was hanged by the slaveowning issue, which isn’t even very relevant to the “Christian America” thesis that garnered him 99% of his critics up to that point. After evading their slings and arrows all these years, he tripped up on a molehill.

  • Zoe Brain

    For evangelicals to truly defend religious liberty and retake some moral high ground, there must be a truce in the war between culture warriors and evangelical scholars.

    Not gonna happen, Warren. The objectives of the two are too different. One knows the Truth, so manufactures “facts” to match, the other uses facts as a guide to lead them closer to the truth.

    One’s interested in winning at all costs, the other in having any of their own erroneous opinions corrected.

    I might add that the Left has this problem too. Also that this situation is not new.

    “Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but — more frequently than not — struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.”

    — Martin Luther.

    Reason can never be relied on to support your views; it only supports what’s true.