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.

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