Grace University Is Not One Of The David Barton Twelve

In October, David Barton said he worked with about a dozen colleges that he believed were right on history and theology. Messiah College historian John Fea followed up and identified six he thought might be on the list. One that is probably not on the list is Grace University in Omaha, NE. Grace’s president emeritus Jim Eckman posted a critique of Barton’s book The Jefferson Lies on the university’s website late last week. Before he identifies three specific problems, he summarizes his findings:

I am a Christian, and a published historian, who teaches history and have done so for over 35 years.  My Ph.D. is in history, and my other three degrees are in history or historical theology.  I am also an ordained minister and have served in the administration (as Academic VP and as President for a total of 20 years) of a Christ-centered University.  I take research and teaching very seriously.  I believe it is wrong to distort evidence or be selective to prove a point that the evidence does not support.  I believe very strongly that David Barton has done just this in his book on Thomas Jefferson.  As Christians, if we are going to make an argument, it must be true and it must be supported by the evidence.  What makes David Barton’s situation even more significant is that many evangelicals like what he says because it fits with their Republican or Libertarian worldview.  Even if he has distorted things, it does not seem to matter.  Before the Lord, as evangelicals, we cannot misrepresent history to prove a preconceived point.

After his brief critique, Eckman concludes:

As a Christian historian and Christian leader, I believe very strongly that we must be truthful and forthright about our beliefs.  We must also be people of integrity and be scrupulous in how we present our case.  In my judgment, David Barton has not done this.  (Thomas Nelson has ceased its publication of Barton’s book on Jefferson.)  He needs to be called to task and evangelicals in the US must be much more discerning and careful in what is claimed about our Founders.

Eckman was moved to write because Barton had recently spoken at Westside Church in Omaha.  Videos of his messages are archived on the church website. The message is about the same as other recent messages he has delivered in various churches around the country. In this speech, he claims the free market system “came out of five Bible verses,” and the republican form of government came from the Bible, the Constitution cites the Bible, and that violent crime has gone straight up since the removal of the Bible from schools, among many other things. I debunked the last claim in an earlier post.

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  • Lijdare

    Well, if Grace was one of the 12, it is not one now. So maybe Barton has to shave that number down to 11?

  • Tom Van Dyke

    Where does David Barton say “founded as a Christian nation?” These words are often put in his mouth, including by Dr. Eckman here:

    He is saying what evangelicals (and some Republicans) want to hear: America was founded as a Christian nation and its early leaders were virtually all decidedly Christian.

    It’s not unfair for Barton’s critics to demand precision, but they must be held to the same standards. Barton’s actual assertion can be found here:

    Contrary to what critics imply, a Christian nation is not one in which all citizens are Christians, or the laws require everyone to adhere to Christian theology, or all leaders are Christians, or any other such superficial measurement. As Supreme Court Justice David Brewer (1837-1910) explained:

    “[I]n what sense can [America] be called a Christian nation? Not in the sense that Christianity is the established religion or that the people are in any manner compelled to support it. On the contrary, the Constitution specifically provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Neither is it Christian in the sense that all its citizens are either in fact or name Christians. On the contrary, all religions have free scope within our borders. Numbers of our people profess other religions, and many reject all. Nor is it Christian in the sense that a profession of Christianity is a condition of holding office or otherwise engaging in public service, or essential to recognition either politically or socially. In fact, the government as a legal organization is independent of all religions. Nevertheless, we constantly speak of this republic as a Christian nation – in fact, as the leading Christian nation of the world.”

    So, if being a Christian nation is not based on any of the above criterion, then what makes America a Christian nation? According to Justice Brewer, America was “of all the nations in the world . . . most justly called a Christian nation” because Christianity “has so largely shaped and molded it.”

    • Warren Throckmorton

      Straining at gnats again: “Shaped and molded” certainly sounds like “founded” to me. Also, read Barton here: and here “That America was founded upon such Biblical principles is what made her a Christian nation, not that there was no sin in the Founders.”

      • Tom Van Dyke

        “Shaped and molded” certainly sounds like “founded” to me. No, Warren. “Founded” sounds like “founded.”

        • ken

          Only to someone who lacks reasoning skills. Warren posted 2 links to comments Barton has made that support Eckman’s comments about Barton. Including one where Barton gives a differing concept of a christian nation than in the link you cited. From Warren’s 2nd link:

          “Christian nations (those based upon Biblical principles)”

          • Tom Van Dyke

            Clearly you’re determined to read Barton as uncharitably as possible, ignoring what doesn’t fit your narrative. “Founded as a Christian nation” is an overstatement of “based on Christian principles.” I’m not going to fight with you on that level.

            BTW, for those interested in educating themselves on these issues, Dr. Eric Nelson of Harvard advances a similar thesis. From the left-wing New Republic magazine:

            “Eric Nelson’s magnificent [The Hebrew Republic] is none of these things. It is a trim and incisive scholarly history that aims to show how something called the Hebrew Republic “transformed political thought” between the sixteenth and early eighteenth centuries. The Hebrew Republic, imagined by Christian scholars during that golden age of new thinking about politics, was a reconstruction of the Israelite state described in the Bible. Its constitution, they believed, had been given directly by God and as such was a model of the perfect polity. Nelson argues that the discovery of this mythic civic past helped European political thinkers to establish three of the modern West’s “fundamental ideals”: the superiority of kingless government; the right of governments to redistribute wealth; and religious toleration. For the history of Western politics, this makes the story of the Hebrew Republic momentous indeed.”


            FTR, I’m not inclined to agree with Dr. Nelson, but it’s not an unreasonable conjecture. Dr. Eckman’s piece takes several differences of opinion [the Sally Hemings matter for instance] and inflates them into errors of fact on Barton’s part.

            That’s not right. Hey, I think he banged her, but none of us was there.

  • $2268610

    Meanwhile. So-called evangelical christians are doing this. It seems to me that Barton is a buffoon. But these people are evil.

  • Stogumber

    Eckman: “We must also be people of integrity and be scrupulous in how we present our case.”

    “Our cause” seems to imply that there is a common cause between the Eckmans and the majority of evangelicals. Is it?

    “We cannot misrepresent history to prove a preconceived point.”
    Can we afford to pay for historians who have no point at all?

    • ken

      Eckman didn’t say “our cause” he said “our case.” He was saying that when a historian reports his findings about history, he needs to do it properly.

      “”We cannot misrepresent history to prove a preconceived point.”
      Can we afford to pay for historians who have no point at all?”

      To which historians are you referring with your question?

      I think you may need to re-read what Eckman has said a little more carefully.