David Barton: Tragedy Unfolding

I first learned of David Barton’s errors a couple months or so ago, in a conversation with Jay Richards who was already seeking ways to encourage Barton to correct himself. World Magazine fills in more of the details.

I’m not an historian, so I’m in no position to assess Barton’s accuracy. I note, however, that one of my True Reason co-authors, Glenn Sunshine, has called him out for historical inaccuracies. Jay Richards has. A pair of professors at Grove City College, Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter, have done so as well. That places Barton in a multiply negative light from multiple trustworthy sources, in my view.

And now World Magazine has brought the controversy public among a Christian readership. Far better that such disclosures come from fellow Christians than from more hostile observers (though there have been plenty such).

It is a painful revelation. I’ve been to a pastors’ roundtable with David Barton. I own (though I have not watched much of it) one of his America’s Godly Heritage DVD sets. He spoke recently at my brother’s church. (I was hesitant to tell my brother what I had heard about him–largely because I could not say it on my own authority.) He has encouraged Christians for years. But there is no place in Christianity for encouragement by misleading and misinforming.

America’s “godly heritage” is not as one-sidedly Christian as Barton has presented it. So be it. It is better to base our beliefs and our politics on truth than on fiction; and Barton’s misrepresentations notwithstanding, it remains undeniable nevertheless that the Founders’ worldview was informed by biblical understandings of humanity and of government, if not also of God and of Christ.

Barton says Throckmorton’s and Coulter’s charges against him are academic publish-or-perish “elitism.” Throckmorton responds, a $4.99 ebook hardly qualifies as elitism, or publishing for the sake of gaining academic brownie points—especially at Grove City, which intentionally rejects that ethos.

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.

12 thoughts on “David Barton: Tragedy Unfolding

  1. FINALLY!! So glad the Christian community is addressing this man and the facts. I truly believe theology can influence our facts on issues. Many times we Christians can take the skew the facts to fit our skewed theology. I have done it myself. A good read is the Two Faces of Freemasonry that can be read for FREE on this site. It shows what leadership around the globe, including the US, believes. I don’t endorse everything on the site but this is a great resource. http://enjoyingthejourney.blogspot.in/2010/12/faces-freemasonry-by-john-daniel-08.html

  2. Yeah, this is disappointing. The Founding Fathers were brilliant men, and if some of them don’t quite fit in the box that Barton wants to build, they shouldn’t be shoehorned into the box.

    From what I’ve read, there’s plenty of their writings that, while not explicitly Christian, nevertheless underscore the need for a moral society in order for the government they designed to function properly.

    I hope he corrects his errors, too. He now seems to be committing the same errors that many secularists have committed when studying the Founders.

  3. American History is not my area of expertise, so I hope someone competent in that area can tell me if these two sources suffer from the same problems as Barton’s output:

    Defending the Declaration by Gary T. Amos
    ©1989 Wolgemuth & Hyatt, Brentwood, TN
    ISBN 0-943497-69-8

    Christianity and the Constitution by John Eidsmoe
    ©1987 Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI
    ISBN 0-8010-3444-2

    Both of these seek to show that the Founders had been influenced by Christianity far more than has been taught in our schools and universities. Both quote a great deal of original sources. But as a non-expert, i find it difficult to track down every source and determine whether these quotations are in context and trustworthy.

    Any experts out there able to evaluate these fairly?

  4. Here’s an idea: why does it matter whether or not America was founded on Christian principles? Do the Founding Fathers have to be Christians (or more to the point, true believers rather than nominal Christians) in order for us to respect their accomplishments? Do we do the cause of Christ any favors by elevating the founders of worldly nations to that of the followers of Christ?

    They were mere men. Intelligent men, no doubt, but just as flawed and sinful as we are today. Even if many were Christians, that does not necessarily sanctify the political laws they came up with; they would have been just capable of making errors of judgment as we are today. As instructive as it may be to know what they believed in and how it let them to act, our priorities should be the souls of the lost today rather than trying to establish the salvation of souls long departed from this Earth.

  5. I agree with the approach to rally around the misinformed to help them rather than take them to battle to crucify him. The article was enlightening and well written..

  6. 4.Here’s an idea: why does it matter whether or not America was founded on Christian principles?

    It has to do with how the Constitution is used (or abused) today. Knowing a bit about the thought processes of the Founders gives us clues (or in some cases, explicit instruction) on how they intended the documents to be read.

    Unfortunately, many politicians today are calling it a “living document” which is the subjectivists’ way of effectively ignoring the Constitution or making it say whatever they want it to say. Those politicians aren’t interested in Barton’s arguments (or any similar arguments) in the first place.

    Barton’s goal is admirable, and I think he can still make a strong case for the direct influence of Christianity on many of the Founders’ thinking, if perhaps not all of them, while still remaining faithful to facts and context. But the politicians today don’t seem to care what the original intent was.

    They were mere men. Intelligent men, no doubt, but just as flawed and sinful as we are today. Even if many were Christians, that does not necessarily sanctify the political laws they came up with; they would have been just capable of making errors of judgment as we are today. As instructive as it may be to know what they believed in and how it let them to act, our priorities should be the souls of the lost today rather than trying to establish the salvation of souls long departed from this Earth.

    These are great points to keep in mind when studying the Founders, especially the last. Christianity does not depend on any particular form of government for its existence, and can even thrive when the government is antithetical to it.

    The takeaway for me from studies of the Founding Fathers is simple – successful governance relies directly upon morality, and several of the Founding Fathers acknowledged this. If morality were subjective, that point would make no sense.

  7. A recently published work by Dr. Gregg Frazer from the Master’s College is a well-researched and authroitative look at the religious and secular beliefs that went into the documents produced by our founding fathers. It is aptly named The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders: Reason, Revelation, Revolution. His thesis is that the founders were for the most part not deists in the classical definiton of the term, but heavily influenced by the streams fo rationalist thought prevalent in the day. This does not remove the influence of Christian ideas on their belief systems, but certainly explains the modifications (particularly the notion of popular sovereignty) to their political thought that don’t seem to square neatly with the Biblical texts.
    it is well worth the read-although scholarly, and maybe for that reason-to anyone seeking more light than heat on these issues.

  8. Recently, I read several books by Christian authors about America’s founding. “One Nation Under God: Ten things every Christian should know about the founding of America” by David C. Gibbs and Jerry Newcombe seems to be slanted to making the Founders more Christian than they were. Jefferson was described as a biblical Christian. Technically, that’s true because he believed at least some of the bible. “America Declares Independence” by Alan Dershowitz tends to be slanted in the other direction. By reading books with differing views, one will gain, if not a balanced view, at least a sense of the contradicting statements available.

    Some authors get caught up in trying to refute the view that the Founders were deists, but they don’t mention anything about how unorthodox some of them were. By selectively quoting Washington or Jefferson or others, they can make them seem almost Evangelical. On the other hand, an author such as Dershowitz can add color that gives a more neutral shade to these men. My view is the the books on America’s founding by Christian authors tend to be over-correcting the ‘Founders are deists’ authors. A balanced book I recomend is, “Quotations from Founding Faith” by Steve Waldman.

    I am not an expert, but I am trying to learn the Founder’s views of human nature. In the Declaration of Independence, the author (Jefferson or Congress’ edit?) referred to the “good People of these Colonies”. Yet, this seems to contradict the orthodox Christian view of original sin. Madison’s ‘checks and balances’ seems to mean that selfish human nature needs to be counteracted. Maybe “good People” is a political statement, and not biblical. Maybe they were following John Locke more closely than the biblical view.


  9. I am not an American, but I have read some of the writings of the time. It seems to me that they were reasonable, sane men who debated how best to govern their new society.
    Their Constitution reflects their wisdom.
    But their wisest action was to set up a way to amend that Constitution in an orderly way.

    Their work was based on debate and on compromises between honourable men who disagreed on many details. They knew it was not perfect, or if it were it would not remain so in a changing world.

    Therefore there had to be a way to amend that Constitution to correct errors which they knew were there and to cater for changes in society.

    If you elevate the Founding Fathers to too high a status, then you risk misrepresenting them, which is hardly a good way to honour them.

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