I first heard David Barton speak at a large Calvary Chapel in the late 80’s and again in the early 90’s. At the time, this fast talking, historical quote wielding teacher persuaded me that most of America’s founding fathers were Evangelical Christians. That the United States was suppossed to be a Christian nation, and that liberals had scrubbed our Christian roots in order to promote secular humanism.
I assumed that what he said was true and it fit nicely with my own belief that Christianity should play a more prominent role in public life. It wasn’t until I started to read and study history that I realized that much of what David Barton was saying was misleading.
One example from Barton that stands out, was his claim that most of the founding fathers had attended seminary. At the time, it blew me away that so many of our nations leaders were seminary trained. It seemed a convincing argument that our Christian heritage as a nation was being diminished by omission.
The only problem with his claim (as I found out years later) is semantics. While it’s true that most of the founding fathers attended seminary, what I didn’t know was that most colleges or higher learning institutions were called seminaries. In other words, the common usage just meant a school.
So if I was alive in the 18th century and attending seminary, it might have been a seminary for architects and have nothing to do theology. For whatever reason, the word seminary has come to mean a school for Theological training in this day and age. But at that time, it meant nothing more than a school of higher learning. A detail that Barton omits and allows his listeners to assume that most founding fathers attended Theological seminary. Which would be incorrect.
After coming across my own suspicions about Barton’s claims, I was always curious to see his rise to prominence. First as a speaker and self published author, then to hosting his own radio show, and finally to some prominence within political circles in his own state of Texas and some Federal officials. Even appearances with Glenn Beck and featured in Time magazine.
But it seems that Mr. Barton has become a victim of his own success. After years of flying under the radar, he hit it big with a publishing deal with one of the worlds oldest and most prominent publishing houses, Thomas Nelson. Publishing a book on Thomas Jefferson titled The Jefferson Lies.
The book was supposed to show that Jefferson was actually an Evangelical Christian and that most of what we’ve been taught about him is untrue. In a twist of irony, the only lies exposed by the book have been the lies Barton has been telling. The overwhelming response, even by Christian Historians, is that Barton’s book is full of unsupported claims and outright falsehoods. So much so, that Thomas Nelson has recalled the book and put it out of print.
Here’s a quote from World Magazine about Barton’s book
Richards emphasizes that he and the scholars he consulted about Barton are politically conservative evangelicals or Catholics. They largely agree with Barton’s belief that Christian principles played a major role in America’s founding, but Richards argues that Barton’s books and videos are full of “embarrassing factual errors, suspiciously selective quotes, and highly misleading claims.”
Seems that Barton’s long run may be winding down. And I’m glad…not because I don’t like what he’s saying (I used to). I just think people claiming to care about truth, should tell the truth.
Is that too much to ask?
- Citing ‘Lost Confidence,’ Barton’s Publisher Pulls ‘The Jefferson Lies’ (crooksandliars.com)
- Truthiness, History, and ‘Murica (daniel.favand.net)
- Why the Work of David Barton is so Dangerous: The Importance of Credibility (matthewtuininga.wordpress.com)
- David Barton: A Test Case for Historical Revisionism (theseminarians.wordpress.com)
- Christian Historian in Freefall (thedailybeast.com)