David Barton’s Conservative Critics: Debunking the Liberal Attack Claims

To promote David Barton’s second edition of The Jefferson Lies, World Net Daily, Glenn Beck, and David Barton claim the first edition was pulled from publication by publisher Thomas Nelson due to ideologically motivated attacks by liberals.

World Net Daily:

Despite the wildly popular success of the original hardcover edition, or perhaps because of it, a campaign to discredit Barton’s scholarship was launched by bloggers and a handful of non-historian academics.

What happened next was shocking – virtually unprecedented in modern American publishing history. Under siege from critics, the publisher spiked the book and recalled it from the retail shelves from coast to coast. The Jefferson Lies is thus a history book that made history – becoming possibly the first book of its kind to be victimized by the scourge of “political correctness.”

Glenn Beck:

And you know, the other nice thing about it [republishing The Jefferson Lies] they say, is that it takes this, excuse the expression, this isn’t my expression, this would be somebody elses’; I don’t know who’s, but, the liberal bastards that went and have an agenda and not based in facts had it pulled off the New York Times bestseller list because it just didn’t have the facts. This [holding up The Jefferson Lies] has taken all of their arguments and dismantled all of their arguments.

David Barton:

Many in academia today openly proclaim their disdain for traditional American ideals and heroes, including Thomas Jefferson, routinely twisting his words to suit their own agendas. This is what happened four years ago. But through the new release of ‘The Jefferson Lies,’ Americans will not only meet the unfiltered Jefferson as he speaks clearly for himself on a variety of issues, but they will also understand why he was so proudly esteemed by Americans for literally centuries, until trashed by modern professors and critics.

The problem with this narrative can be illustrated with a sampling of conservative criticisms of The Jefferson Lies.

First of all, let’s recall that Thomas Nelson is a Christian publisher who continues to publish books by conservative authors, including Jerome Corsi, Eric Metaxas, Richard Land, Judge Napolitano, Tom Coburn, William Bennett, Kevin McCullough, Star Parker, Sam Brownback, and others. 

When the book was pulled in 2012, several conservative organizations and media sources reacted with approval.

Gospel Coalition

Just after The Jefferson Lies was pulled, Gospel Coalition’s Justin Taylor titled an article: “Thomas Nelson Ceases Publication of David Barton’s Error-ridden Book on Jefferson’s Faith” Taylor concluded: “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?”

Joe Carter, also on the Gospel Coalition’s website, wrote:

Why It Matters: In 1950, British biologist Sir Peter Medawar said that French philosopher Teilhard de Chardin “can be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that before deceiving others he has taken great pains to deceive himself.” A similar criticism could be made about Barton. While his books and videos have deceived thousands of Christians about the historical record, Barton appears to be sincerely convinced of the superiority of his own interpretations.

Yet despite his claims to being an “historical expert,” Barton tends to make sloppy, factual errors and extrapolations that are wholly unsupportable. For instance, he claims the U.S. Constitution is laced with biblical quotations.

The Gospel Coalition’s council consists of additional mainstream, conservative evangelicals such as John Piper, Al Mohler, Russell Moore, Tim Keller and Anthony Carter, just to name a few better known non-liberals.

Colson Center for Christian Worldview – Breakpoint:

On The Point, a Colson Center radio show, John Stonestreet summarized the controversy over The Jefferson Lies by referring to Jay Richards’ efforts to involve 10 Christian historians in an evaluation of the book. As Stonestreet noted, the response was negative.

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Then, writing in a Breakpoint column, Tom Gilson said:

The story has been told in both the secular and the Christian press: Barton’s most recent book, The Jefferson Lies, was riddled with misinformation. Its publisher, Thomas Nelson, pulled it from distribution. Barton is standing firm in his position, but reliable historians—strongly conservative Christian scholars among them—continue to hold him in error, and not just because of this work but because of others as well.

Gilson concluded:

To accept any human teacher without checking on his message with due diligence is to abandon our responsibility to the truth. David Barton’s errors are not only his. They also belong to those of us who bought his message carelessly, unquestioningly, too eagerly, and too comfortably.

Later on his own blog, Gilson said:

Barton’s errors seem sufficiently well documented. They are nothing less than tragic, for him and for his large audience. Inevitably some Christians will be angry with those who have shined a light on David Barton’s errors. Far better they recognize that the best way to rally around him is to encourage him to stick close to the truth. Far better we all stick close to the truth.

Institute for Religion and Democracy:

The IRD was founded in order to monitor and counter the evangelical left. From IRD’s website:

Welcome to the website for the Institute on Religion & Democracy. We are a watchdog of the religious and evangelical left, disputing their claims to represent millions of church members when espousing a liberal or far-left political agenda.

In 2012, Bart Gingerich wrote about Barton’s work on the IRD blog, concluding:

And as for the powerhouse spokespeople for such reactions, David Barton provides the material to meet the agenda. Thus, the “exaggerations” are propped up even more since they meet the requirements of a belly-aching pattern of decline and ruin. Unfortunately, the agenda comes at the expense of individual souls. Students—especially the scholastically adept—are hurt very badly by the misinterpretations, misportrayals, mistruths. I barely survived coming across the knowledge, and there are many who do not. David Barton isn’t helping by circulating lies. Those of Christian-cultural influence must realize that we their children are not just bullets in the culture war. I’m not really much for the metaphor in the first place, but if we’re really serious about protecting marriage, life, and the Western heritage, we ought never to stretch the truth to get our way. Proceedings have already gone underway; it’s time to court martial David Barton.

First Things:

Prior to Thomas Nelson’s decision to pull the book, the well respected conservative Catholic website First Things published an article by Greg Forster critical of Barton’s treatment of John Locke. Forster, a conservative, wrote:

The focus of the current controversy is Barton’s new book on Jefferson. My friend Jay Richards doesn’t mince words; he says this book and Barton’s other books and videos are full of “embarrassing factual errors, suspiciously selective quotes, and highly misleading claims.”

I’m not a scholar of Thomas Jefferson, but I am a scholar of John Locke . Barton has an article about Locke on his website, so I thought I’d weigh in with my opinion on whether it matches Jay’s description of Barton’s methods. It does, and then some.

I should note for the record that I’m not only a conservative (both theologically, as an evangelical, and politically, as a Republican) but one with a track record of defending Locke against claims that he was a deist or that his philosophy is antithetical to Christianity. As providence would have it, just over a week ago I published an article on how Locke’s Reasonableness helped me come to faith in Jesus Christ.

Grace University:

On the GU website, Professor Jim Eckman wrote in review (click through to read the entire review) of The Jefferson Lies:

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.

American Vision:

On some issues, I suspect American Vision is to the right of Barton. This Christian reconstructionist group is politically and religiously on the very far right. Writing on the American Vision website, Joel McDurmon provided a lengthy rebuttal to one chapter of The Jefferson Lies. About Barton’s book, McDurmon concluded:

Sadly, with the level and degree of error I have found in just the chapter I reviewed, I cannot recommend this book to the average Christian reader. While a book like this needs to be written vindicating Jefferson from much liberal nonsense, the reader nonetheless will need to fact-check nearly every claim Barton makes for accuracy. And this is way too much to ask of the average reader. If that is to be the task, it would be better to skip Barton’s book altogether and go read all of Jefferson’s papers directly, because that what the reader will have to do eventually anyway.

In light of these conservative criticisms, it is clear that Barton, Beck and WND are engaged in a massive effort to revise history, and not just about Jefferson. Liberal attacks did not doom The Jefferson Lies, numerous conservatives weighed in. Historians, pastors, culture warriors, and scholars from a wide variety of disciplines publicly expressed concerns. Eventually, Thomas Nelson conducted a review and made their decision.

Worldview Weekend:

Brannon Howse is a very conservative minister who has been a critic of Barton’s Christian nation teaching for several years. He consistently reposted information critical of The Jefferson Lies. Howse is quite conservative.

Getting Jefferson Right Reviewers

Some conservative reviewers of my book with Michael Coulter about Barton’s Jefferson claims, Getting Jefferson Rightspecifically mentioned their views of Barton’s claims in their review. For instance:

Getting Jefferson Right by Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter stands up for truth in scholarship against the scholarly problems found in David Barton’s ‘The Jefferson’s Lies.’ Because of the courage of Throckmorton and Coulter, Barton has regrettably fallen from his pedestal of preeminence as a scholar of the early American era. Throckmorton and Coulter deserve the ‘Medal of Honor’ for courage and probity.

-Chuck Dunn, Distinguished Professor of Government. Regent University. Author and/or Editor of 20 books on American politics, including The Seven Laws of Presidential Leadership and American Culture in Peril.

Getting Jefferson Right is an intellectual and historical take down of David Barton’s pseudo-history of Thomas Jefferson by two Christian professors who teach at a conservative Christian college. Michael Coulter and Warren Throckmorton have done their homework. Anyone who reads this book must come to grips with the untruths and suspect historical interpretations that Barton regularly peddles in his books, speaking engagements, and on his radio program. I have yet to read a more thorough refutation of Barton’s claims.

–John Fea, Chair of the History Department, Messiah College and author of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction

More Recent Conservative Criticism

Since The Jefferson Lies was pulled from publication, other religiously and/or politically conservative groups have advance critical opinions of Barton’s approach to history. For instance:

Jeff on the Pulpit and Pen blog wrote:

Widely discredited faux historian and seductive propagandist, David Barton, of Wallbuilders, along with his co-conspirator, Glenn Beck, are now joining TBN for a weekly series titled “Foundations of Freedom.” Barton, who pushes a politically right-wing form of Christianity at the expense of historical truthfulness, is widely known for his disproven book, Jefferson Lies, which was subsequently withdrawn from publication after being voted the “least credible history book in print.”

I am aware that some conservative Christian groups continue to laud Barton’s approach to history (e.g., after a brief hiccup, Family Research Council; even though they had to correct his facts, Focus on the Family; and American Family Association). My reason for documenting the response of other prominent conservatives is to counter the hoax now being perpetrated by Barton, Glenn Beck and WND that any opposition to Barton’s Christian nation approach to history and The Jefferson Lies comes only from liberals, non-historians, non-evangelicals or leftists.

 

Prior to Thomas Nelson’s decision to pull The Jefferson Lies, several critical reviews from Jefferson and/or American history scholars appeared in print. John Fea teaches at Messiah College; I don’t know how the others would describe themselves.

Wall Street Journal – A Still Unsettling Founding Father – Alan Pell Crawford.

Religion Dispatches – The Quixotic Task of Debunking David Barton – Paul Harvey

The Jefferson Hour – Review of The Jefferson Lies – Clay Jenkinson

The Way of Improvement Leads Home – (The Jefferson Lies, parts onetwothreefour,five and six) – John Fea

 

 

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