David Barton-A Victim of His Own Success

19 Aug
English: Portrait of Thomas Jefferson, founder...

English: Portrait of Thomas Jefferson, founder of the University of Virginia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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?

12 Responses to “David Barton-A Victim of His Own Success”

  1. Debra Baker August 19, 2012 at 4:34 pm #

    Well, it is nice to know the founding fathers had an education.

    • christianagnostic August 19, 2012 at 5:36 pm #

      Now that made me laugh….true enough, at least our founding fathers were educated.

  2. Debra Baker August 19, 2012 at 9:50 pm #

    Laugh? Well, the Articles of Confederation speaks of public intercourse and the author wasn’t speaking of a public orgy. Seminary, ha! Barton was either deliberately misinforming his readership or he doesn’t have a clue about American History. Either way Barton is a joke.

    • christianagnostic August 20, 2012 at 9:14 am #

      I agree…but what isn’t funny is the lengths he has gone to to promote his “history” of the US. He has many staunch supporters and he is spinning this whole event as “proof” that the mainstream can’t handle the “truth”.

      Sad really…since when could World magazine be accused of representing the mainstream?

      As for public intercourse…not sure I could touch that comment without putting my foot into my mouth. But I see you’ve caught on to Barton’s bait and switch approach to semantics.

  3. Freedom August 20, 2012 at 5:33 pm #

    What a joke!!!!!! The guy has obviously never bothered to study history – I wonder who gave him the ideas? My guess is that he heard the ideas from someone else and wrote a book. Most of these guys don’t have an original thought in their head and usually steal it from someone else.

    • christianagnostic August 20, 2012 at 6:29 pm #

      I’m guessing he’s a student of Peter Marshall.

      The difference with Barton, is that he isn’t just selective with his quotes and claims about America as a Christian nation. He seems to have fabricated and claimed to own original documents that prove his point of view.

      Seems to me he’s never studied history to find out what is true…rather, he seems to have come knowing what is “true” and tried to make history fit his “truth”.

  4. M. Rodriguez August 20, 2012 at 10:09 pm #

    I agree with you on this statement…I just think people claiming to care about truth, should tell the truth.

    If a person values and seeks truth, then the desire to speak it and preach it should not be tainted by a person biasness or opinion. No one is the owner of truth.

    • christianagnostic August 20, 2012 at 10:53 pm #

      I agree…I’ve gotten some funny looks from family, when I’ve explained that I value truth. Gets even weirder when I tell them that most of the Christianity I’ve experienced has been morally relativistic, which I find frustrating and ironic.
      They assume that someone who is agnostic is a moral relativist and doesn’t care about truth. When I hold that mirror up to their beliefs, they don’t seem to know how to react.

      I can’t say those conversations have gone well…but that is the way I currently see things.

  5. Donald Miller August 23, 2012 at 9:45 pm #

    Well, you know me, I’m a big fan of Christopher Hitchens. There are reasons for that, and one of them is that he isn’t a liar. I remember Lorena wrote a good article called, “Lying for Christ.” It seems so contradictory–and I suppose it is. The ends don’t justify the means, they just prove what a sorry excuse a liar is.

    Oh, by the way, I came across a modern-day Christian philosopher who I actually like (never thought that would happen). His name is William Craig Smith. I find his ideas intriguing, so I thought I’d mention him to you.

    Hope all is well and good with you and that your little one is fine.

    • Donald Miller August 23, 2012 at 9:49 pm #

      Darn, I keep confusing you with The Aspirational Agnostic. I just noticed her image on your Community board.

      (Loved your posts about working in the Christian bookstore.) I also think this one is very well-written!

      • christianagnostic August 23, 2012 at 11:34 pm #

        Thanks Donald…No worries, I take it as a compliment that you confuse me with AA. I enjoy her blog when she writes.

        What is it about William Craig Smith that you find compelling? I’m not familiar with him.

      • Donald Miller August 24, 2012 at 1:02 am #

        Well, he’s not a Fundamentalist, for one thing. 🙂

        I like the way he uses philosophy. As a matter of fact, right at this moment I’m watching him in a debate with Christopher Hitchens. There’s no denying that William Lane Craig has a brilliant mind.

        He is at a disadvantage when it comes to Hitchens, though — Pfft, like who wasn’t! — in that his arguments, though solid, seem a bit formulaic. Hitchens can do the philosophy part without it seeming like he’s doing it. Everything with him is personable.


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