David Barton’s “Creative” Re-Interpretation of the Founding Fathers

I had a great Fourth of July weekend. How about you?

On the 4th itself, I spent a great afternoon with Christian friends, complete with hotdogs, hamburgers, corn hole games, and watermelon seed spitting contests, and we even gathered for a moment of prayer, with a young man, who is serving his first year as a United States Marine, defending a country that we Americans love so dear. The fireworks got rained out, but that was okay. It was a great day to remember the freedoms that all Americans share. At the top of the list, as a Christian, I am most grateful to live in a country that values the freedom of religion, that allows me to worship freely, and celebrate the life we believers have in Christ, without fear of government interference or reprisals. Amen!

It is a freedom that Americans, of all worldview backgrounds, should never take for granted. I do wonder if it was as hot as it was back in the summer of 1776, when the Founding Fathers met together, as compared to the Virginia heat of the past weekend!

So, I was intrigued to learn that David Barton, of Wallbuilders, a popular Christian speaker, who goes around to various churches, to talk about America’s Founding Fathers, was recently interviewed by popular conservative talk show host, Ben Shapiro.

Let me say something right up front about David Barton. I admire his enthusiasm for American history and his concerns about how so many people have forgotten about the Christian roots of American society. He is an excellent communicator, and I do hope that his excitement in learning about history will become contagious, for the next generation.

Barton has had a number of critics on the secular left. Books with titles like The Godless Constitution have prompted many to dismiss the Christian heritage of the United States, and in many ways, David Barton has been right to try to correct that misunderstanding of history.

However, David Barton has proven to be a controversial figure. In 2012, Barton’s book The Jefferson Lies was pulled from publication, by his Christian publisher, due to criticism from other evangelical Christian historians and other leading scholars, regarding certain misrepresentations of history. As Jay Richards put it, Barton’s books and videos are full of “embarrassing factual errors, suspiciously selective quotes, and highly misleading claims.”  The Museum of the Bible has had to correct years of misinformation propagated by David Barton, surrounding the so-called Aitken Bible. David Barton has issued confusing statements about whether or not Mormons can hold orthodox beliefs about Christianity, prompting a Christian radio outlet to cancel Barton’s radio show in 2011. In 2016, David Barton made the claim that he had an “earned doctorate,” only to retract that claim a day later, when he was challenged by at least one other scholar, with an earned PhD.

Nevertheless, David Barton must have some type of teflon coating, as he still manages to bounce back from the controversies. He was able to find another Christian publisher to republish his book on Jefferson. Popular Christian actor Kirk Cameron made a movie that featured an interview with David Barton, without addressing any controversy. Even one of my (otherwise) favorite Christian authors, Eric Metaxas, featured David Barton in a book Metaxas wrote, a few years ago, without mentioning Barton’s troubles.

Like Lazarus, David Barton manages to rise again.

It is enough to drive conscientious, but otherwise less entertaining, evangelical Christian historians and scholars bananas. Because David Barton has no doctoral training in history, he is not part of any peer-reviewing, scholarly community, that can double-check his work. Why Christian leaders still promote Barton, while simultaneously failing to encourage him to submit to peer-review, and thereby correct some of his errors, is baffling.

I actually enjoyed meeting David Barton, when he came to my church to speak, about 14 years ago. We had a pleasant conversation, and I got the sense that he is a sincere man, with a desire to serve God and honor our nation’s Christian heritage. But two weeks of fact checking his presentation, and finding glaring errors, made me rather leery of what he is doing. I just wish he would fess up to making such mistakes and correct them, instead of dismissing all of his critics as secular, left-leaning liberals.

This is hard to quantify. But if I had to ballpark it, roughly about 80% of what David Barton says is reliable. The other 20% is pure bunk.  The Gospel Coalition has a very helpful blog post covering some of David Barton’s problems in detail, with a fantastic interview with prominent evangelical historians, George Marsden and Mark Noll, to help set the record straight, regarding The Search for Christian America.

The strange thing about this is that most Christians would never knowingly tolerate reading or listening to someone, who got 4 out of 5 things right. Christians are supposed to be people committed to the TRUTH, more than anything else. Right? How would you know what 80% to trust, and what 20% to distrust? But hey, that is apparently the world we live in today.

So, in the interest of setting the record straight yet again, here are some reflections on Ben Shapiro’s interview with David Barton: first, from Warren Throckmorton, the author of Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President, and then secondly, a running commentary of the Shapiro interview by Messiah College historian, John Fea, the author of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? Revised Edition: A Historical Introduction.

Last count, there were over 120,000 views of David Barton on Shapiro’s show on YouTube. So, we somehow have to get the word out to at least 120,000 people that maybe there is more to the stories that David Barton is telling.

About Clarke Morledge

Clarke Morledge -- Computer Network Engineer, College of William and Mary... I hiked the Mount of the Holy Cross, one of the famous Colorado Fourteeners, with some friends in July, 2012. My buddy, Mike Scott, snapped this photo of me on the summit. View all posts by Clarke Morledge

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