The largest Christian publishing company, Thomas Nelson, has shelved a NY Times bestselling book called “The Jefferson Lies” by David Barton. After receiving many complaints, including those by evangelical scholars and historians, the publishing company has done something that is rare in the publishing industry. They pulled a book that was making money.
It seems that David Barton did not do his homework and his work has been discredited. Mr. Barton who is well loved and respected in conservative political circles, may have made a fatal mistake. In a story I found on The Atlantic, evangelical scholars Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter published a rebuttal to Barton’s work. Now as much as I may question the depth that these scholars hold to evangelical values, I know from my own research that Jefferson was a deist and not a Christian in the traditional protestant sense. So if that was Mr. Barton’s claim, then it is in the best interest of all Christians that we police our own and make sure that when we make claims, we can back them up with sufficient facts. Here are some excerpts from the story.
David Barton’s Book “The Jefferson Lies” Pulled For Lack Of Evidence.
Barton’s book, The Jefferson Lies, was withdrawn Thursday by Thomas Nelson, the world’s largest Christian publisher. It’s rare enough for a publisher to withdraw a book that has already been printed; rarer still if the book has been on The New York Times bestseller list. Thomas Nelson spokesman Casey Francis Harrell announced that the publisher had received a number of complaints that the book is inaccurate. “Because of these deficiencies, we decided that it was in the best interest of our readers to cease its publication and distribution,” Harrell said.
The Jefferson Lies portrays America’s third president as an orthodox Christian who favored religious support for Protestantism, and as an early hero of the struggle against racism and slavery. It’s more than just a whitewash of this fascinating, complex figure; it’s invented out of whole cloth. And though it was challenged by the media — History News Network’s readers last month voted it “the least credible history book in print” — its downfall occurred not because of secular opposition but because genuine Evangelical intellectuals took it on.
In May, Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter published an ebook called Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President. They are hardly pointy-headed secular humanists: Both teach at Grove City College, a Christian college in Pennsylvania.
Coulter is the co-editor of The Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought, Social Science, and Social Policy. Getting Jefferson Right was endorsed by a number of Evangelical intellectuals, including John Fea, a genuine historian at conservative Messiah College, whose Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? A Historical Introduction is an invaluable resource for anyone wanting a sophisticated understanding of the debate.
Most of his (Mr. Barton) books are self-published and will never be withdrawn. But the rebuke from Christian scholars and a Christian publishing house is a mark of shame he will carry from now on. It should remind us all to be skeptical about certain religious claims. Barton claimed to be a spokesman for Christian values; but American Evangelicalism is a huge, complex tradition, one that has made major contributions to American culture. As a former religion reporter, I have learned that those outside a religious tradition should be careful not to accept quacks and fakers as exemplars.
Does this mean that everything that David Barton has ever said is false?
I don’t believe so. Has there been a systematic removal of references to religion in our history? You bet! Were most of our founding fathers Christians and did they follow the teachings of the Bible? Yes most of them were. So I believe that this is more of a mistake on David Barton’s part in trying to continue to make a point that he had already made. There is always a pressure to come up with something bigger and better. I believe that he fell into this trap. But now the ball is in his court unfortunately to restore his credibility.
We have a generation of people that have no clue about America’s religious heritage. Just yesterday I had to show people how Christians have been at the forefront of civil rights issues in our history as claims were made that Christians had stood in the way of social justice. So there is the need to correct the record, but we must do so with scholarly integrity.