Carl Trueman is rightly confused about the allies of the gospel making such a big deal of complimentarianism. I’ll see him a confusion and raise him a bewilderment — why are professional historians so worked up about David Barton? For weeks, nay, months academics hounded the God-and-country amateur historian, who sees faith writ large everywhere in the American founding (like some seminary presidents we know). For a summary of some of the objections, go here and here. And when word came that Thomas Nelson was recalling Barton’s book on Jefferson, The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson, one might have thought that Lyndon Baines Johnson had just signed the Civil Rights Act. So seemingly controversial had Barton become that Marvin Olasky, editor-in-chief of World magazine, believed he needed to create distance between his own understanding of the United States and Barton’s:
We report in our current issue—and plan to report again in our next—about a controversy between two groups of Christian conservatives (also see “Lost confidence,” by Thomas Kidd, Aug. 9). On one side are David Barton and his many readers. Barton has provided a useful service for many years in fighting the left’s interpretations of history. On the other side are other Christian conservatives who point out what they believe are inaccuracies in Barton’s work. Left-wing historians for years have criticized Barton. We haven’t spotlighted those criticisms because we know the biases behind them. It’s different when Christian conservatives point out inaccuracies. The Bible tells us that “iron sharpens iron,” and that’s our goal in reporting this controversy. As the great Puritan poet John Milton wrote concerning Truth, “Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?”
Olasky goes on to observe that historians have not been so obsessed with another popular and flawed account of U.S. history, Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. Olasky has a point but it is not entirely accurate. This summer the History News Network ran a poll among its readers on the “Least Credible History Book in Print.” For most of the time that people responded, Zinn led the pack. But when editors made the final tally, Barton surpassed Zinn by nine votes (650 to 641). In which case, if this poll is representative, academics can spot a bad book on the left and on the Christian fringe (to call Barton the right is an injustice to conservatism). Do Christians have as good a track record of acknowledging bias among their favorite writers on politics, history, and economics?
And yet, the question remains whether professional historians have sought to have Zinn’s book recalled? I am actually not sure whether historians wanted to see Barton’s book removed from the marketplace. Thomas Nelson likely made its decision to pull The Jefferson Lies for economic as much as scholarly reasons. Even so, considering all the bad books that publishers print, I am still befuddled by the large and concerted critique of Barton. I get it. He’s on Glenn Beck. But how many academics listen to or watch Beck? Thomas Nelson is a big and profitable trade press. But how many academics receive the company’s catalog? Barton’s ideas are silly and irresponsible. So are Zinn’s, right?
So I guess I really don’t get it. It seems to me the free market makes a lot of bad products available including books. What’s one more?