What's the Big Deal?

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?

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63 thoughts on “What's the Big Deal?

  1. If you could wear your bow tie onto Beck’s program, and possibly get some mormons to buy your books, would that not be worth any possible alienation and disapproval from your professional colleagues?

    Oh wait, isn’t Beck only on the radio now? What does a tie signify when people can’t see the sign?

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  2. When I was 20 or so, I remember attending an evangelical small group where we watched Peter Marshall’s video series on american history(that the evangelicals stole my college years is a sin I’ll never forgive). I remember thinking; “well this sounds a little too ‘convenient'”(never have shaken that RC cynicism). Does Marshall even get consideration in the world of historians?

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  3. I think Marshall and son have died, and that after some marital “mistakes”. I am not lying when I say we all lie. Some of us are more famous, and we lie about different topics.

    Rosaria Butterfield, Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert

    p36 The church’s conversion prayer was printed in their bulletin. It read like this” Dear God, I’m so sorry for my mistakes. Thanks for salvation.” But we do not control God by saying magic words.

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  4. I’m not sure the Left has pulled bad scholarship off the shelves but plagiarism has gotten some lefties like Fareed Zakaria, Johann Hari, and Doris Kearns Goodwin in hot water. Simply because Thomas Nelson won’t publish Barton’s latest book doesn’t mean it won’t see the light of day. I suspect he could turn a profit even if he self-publishes.

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  5. If history is about evaluating evidence let everybody write their books and we’ll get to evaluating them. If people read more in general these fights wouldn’t be such a big deal. It’s when kids don’t read that deciding what is in the one and only history book they are going to read in their lifetime becomes part of the culture war.

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  6. I read the other day that none of the first 6 Presidents were what could be considered Orthodox Christians. Oops!

    Add to that the fact that the Declaration & The Constitution say very little that is distinctively Christian.

    Even if we would conceed Barton’s thesis, so what? Would we expect the left to just roll over and say “You got us. Now we’ll support your political program.” Would we go back to official state churches? It’s as if a lot of Christians aren’t happy unless the powers that be are affirming them in their faith (and their distinctive take on their faith at that). It’s as bad as gay people demanding that everyone else affirm their marriages. Try being a conservative Reformed Christian for awhile. Not too many in society or the Christian church affirming that.

    Jesus said the path would be narrow and that men would hate us. Learn to have a faith that doesn’t demand that the culture and the political establishment embrace you. Repeat after me: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people don’t like me!”

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  7. Christianity is about being saved from God, by God. It is about dying well, not living well. It’s about people being changed, not cultures being changed. The religious right gets this all backwards and is an offense to non-Christians for all the wrong reasons.

    If only evangelicals were as concerned about purity in their churches as they were about purity in their politics. They’ll allow sermons and worship to be watered down way more than they’ll allow the Republican Party Platform to be watered down.

    If only evangelicals were as concerned about purity in their churches as they were about purity in their politics. They’ll allow sermons and worship to be watered down way more than they’ll allow the Republican Party Platform to be watered down.

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  8. Speaking of politics, my daughter met the President yesterday. Picture is on my blog. A pretty memorable experience for a college freshman regardless what you think of him.

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  9. But Erik, you didn’t say that out here in Iowa the good citizens need to wear politician-repellent to keep Presidents and would-be Presidents away. John Kerry took a dump at my neighbor’s house. Or was it Joe Biden? They all run together after awhile.

    But, yeah, it’s a good opportunity to get kids to get a little education in that regard. My teenaged daughter worked the phone bank for W and had a picture taken with him that we later used as part of her college application.

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  10. “”The band would come in at 7 at night, have a big feast, party till 1 or 2 in the morning, and then when they were so whacked-out they couldn’t do anything, they’d start recording”.

    That’s kind of how I roll (minus the drugs – well, caffeine & 1 beer a day, maybe)

    Reminds me of the protagonist of my favorite Steely Dan song, “Deacon Blues”:

    I’ll rise when the sun goes down
    Cover every game in town
    A world of my own
    I’ll make it my home sweet home

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  11. Oh, you’re a mainstream fan who goes by the Billboard. But real fans know “Tusk” was their best. Sure, it’s heavy with Buckingham, and maybe my man crush is at play, but that’s why it’s their best. Plus it includes “Sara,” a sentimental favorite.

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  12. Erik, Zrim, stop with all the old music stuff. It dates guys as old as you. Did you feel like Jesus? Son(s) you were mistaken, You are obsolete, Look at all the white men on the street….

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  13. You know them better than I do. It is fun to know a band well enough to like the songs that most haven’t heard of more than the ones that everyone knows. That’s how I am with Steely Dan. I have their top 32 songs (in my opinion) in a blog post with links to You Tube and some in my Top 10 are a bit obscure to the non serious fan.

    It’s kind of like being a fan of Jesus and belonging to the URC, OPC, etc. now that I think of it…

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  14. “Oh, you’re a mainstream fan who goes by the Billboard. But real fans know “Tusk” was their best.”

    Uh oh, look out for hipster formation, which relishes the obscure as cool and eventually leads to the mysterious profundity of Rome, topped with epistemic certainty, and validation of their intellectual superiority, sprinkled throughout. Pretty soon you’ll be lighting candles, and repeating religious incantations while rubbing beads between your fingers.

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  15. Erik,

    But then it’s not so much an obscure statement but a statement without any audience to attend to it. More along the lines of; If a tree falls in the woods and nobody hears it………………………

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  16. Erik, I’m a mainstreamer on Steely Dan. But you must know how they got their name. Hide the women and children.

    Ted, being old is the point at a place called OldLife. Your new life slip is showing. Again.

    Sean, does it help that I once told a music snob roommate in college that “Penny Lane” was the Beatles best song? Though admittedly, it was mainly to zetz him. Everybody knows it’s the entire Abbey Road album.

    MM, the only time I’ll tolerate country music is when I have peanut shells under my feet, a piece of red meat in front of me, and a girl named Megan in a black T-shirt bringing me another Blue Moon. Even then, though, barely.

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  17. And the hole gets deeper;

    Penny Lane Irish Pub (didn’t think of going to one of those in Italy?) is right on Piazza del Papa (also known as Piazza del Plebiscito). It has a great atmosphere and friendly service. During the warmer seasons, the pub provides outdoor seating so you can enjoy the square and stare back at the statue of Pope Pius (I don’t remember which one!)

    Read more: http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/p/m/9c727/#ixzz24xXPiLIN

    And then there is this;

    “But now in a move sanctioned by Pope Benedict XVI, the Catholic Church has offered the Fab Four its official seal of approval, forgiving them their various excesses and even lauding them as a “precious jewel”.”

    So of course you’re a fan Zrim. Probably hummm ‘Let it be’ during devotions.

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  18. Zrim,

    How are you certain, epistemically speaking of course, that you haven’t exchanged Old Life for Miller High Life?

    Even Cathy Berberian knows there’s one roulade she can’t sing.

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  19. I onced performed “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” in the 3rd or 4th grade in a unit where we made our won instruments.

    I can’t decide if “Your Gold Teeth” or “Your Gold Teeth II” is the better song. Depends on the day.

    Sean – That blew my mind.

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  20. Sean, are you still in an ex-Roman-turned-Reformed cage phase? Vatican City is on my travel list. Does it help that Scotland comes first? But thanks for the pub tip.

    Ted, OldLifers don’t concern themselves with epistemological certainty. More new life slippage.

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  21. Zrim – You are the ideal Steely Dan fan. There is not a hint of sentimentality in any of their songs.

    Go to my blog and click on the Steely Dan category. Listen to the list 3 times through. After doing that you will receive total consciousness (so at least you’ll have that going for you).

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  22. Sean, I’m just being contrary. I have a half dozen FMac songs on my ancient Nano. Of course, one of them is “Sarah.” But they were kind of an offshoot of the Bluesbreakers initially.

    What, Erik, “Razor Boy” isn’t sentimental? And why are you censoring “darn”?

    Ted, thanks. I’ve been singing “Even Kathy Beverian knows there one oola she can’t eng.”

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  23. Zrim,

    I was provoked. The scottish bit helps only if the ‘ladies from hell’ will be coming with you to the Vatican City. But, the whole, ‘I’m off to see the Wizard in Rome’, is another knock against you. I’m almost to the point of telling.

    Erik,

    It’s about as uncategorical as Ted’s ecclesial sympathies.

    MM,

    I’m a big Tusk fan but not for the same reasons Zrim is.

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  24. Ted is like the guy in our church who would attend but never join. It was before I was an elder, but Rev. Lucero told me that when they would press him he would say that he considered himself a member of the church universal. I think he mostly just liked to go to the lake house on Sunday mornings…

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  25. Erik, and what about “Hey 19” for sentimentality? But I’ve never been romantic, and sometimes I don’t care. I know it may sound selfish, but let me breath the air. Yeah, let me breath the air. (Sean, do budding Roman hipsters quote Little River Band? Or find themselves utterly puzzled by Stellman?)

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  26. Erik, somebody say lake house? Is the water deep enough for dipping sprinkling?

    See, your and Zrim’s problem is you never resolved your own version of a Talking Head’s angst: “take me to the river.” You guys are way too content with a spritz of RCC approved whiffle dust, smoke and mirrors. Either that, or sprinkling actually did impart to you Old Life. You’ve been here since infancy, or outgrew the new?

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  27. Eric: I onced performed “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” in the 3rd or 4th grade …

    Hilarious and disturbing. Surprised your teacher didn’t put the kibosh on it. Something about slipping up behind the teacher with a silver hammer …

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  28. With all this talk of Tusk, Nicks, Buckingham, and Fleetwood Mac, I figured I’d throw my hat in the ring…

    In a roundabout way, the very existence of my family is steeped in Fleetwood lore… well, at least Stevie Nicks. My wife and I were introduced at a Stevie Nicks concert amidst a plethora of tattooed lesbians and Lilith Fair types, because a mutual friend who was setting us up had extra tickets to her concert over at Coors Amphitheater in Chula Vista (aka Chulajuana to San Diego residents). It was an ironic place for us to meet, as neither of us were huge Nicks, or Fleetwood Mac fans… I was always more at home in Chicago’s indie rock scene, places like the Metro and the Double Door. While my eclectic tastes range from Jeff Buckley to Willie Nelson, I can’t say I would have ever suspected that Nicks would find her way into the Paschall family history.

    Enough about me, back to being all about the Dude, after all it’s his blog.

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  29. Ted – Don’t get me started on Talking Heads. They are my second favorite group behind SD. I’ve probably heard “Stop Making Sense” about 300 times since it came out in the mid-80s.

    If Bryan Cross ever comes back we need to warn him that “This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no fooling around.”

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  30. Zrim,

    LRB, lots of coded talk about going home, finding your way, does anybody care;

    It’s a long way.
    It’s a long, long, long way there,
    I’m gonna keep on tryin’,
    I’m gonna keep on tryin’, yeah,
    I’m gonna keep on tryin’,
    I’m gonna keep on tryin’, ah!

    If that isn’t purgatory headed, FWTL code for ongoing justification…… Then there’s this;

    Been away from home for such a long time,
    And got to know this town,
    But I don’t seem to matter much to anyone, who’s around
    Is there anybody around?

    -Sounds like white hipster angst, and the whole come home to Rome siren call and protestantism doesn’t care. Somebody on a QIRC.

    But yes, the whole thing is befuddling to moi as well, Jason is going to be saying the rosary, praying to the saints and submitting to the priestcraft and sacramentalism. I’ve been to a few masses in my time, and there isn’t much RH preaching or homilies born of hours of exegeting the text. He’s definitely taken up in the grace perfecting nature track, which looks to be what at least a good part of his ‘Destiny of the Species’ is going to explore. Btw, say hi to Fr. Whitley when you get to VC, he’ll be at the bank trying to figure out how to pay back the vig., so the Pope doesn’t have an ‘accident’.

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  31. Stellman is writing another book? Isn’t he about 30 with an M.Div and a few years of pastoral experience? What exactly qualifies him as an authority on anything? Not that you have to be an authority to write a book. Will he be breaking any new ground, though?

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  32. I always confuse Little River Band with Air Supply. I don’t know why. My next-door-neighbor/brother-in-law had an Air Supply tape when we married our identical twin wives and I give him crap about it to this day. I picked up an Air Supply LP at a garage sale this summer & gave it to him.

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  33. The left, pulling a bad history book?

    When forced — Michael Belliesiles’ Arming America comes right to mind.

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  34. By the way, a letter-writer in the last Christian Renewal magazine just denounced all Hollywood movies as of the devil. What wouldn’t he make of the rock stars being compared here?

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  35. DGH,

    Please pardon the (all about you) kissing of a**, but the chapter in Graham2Palin about evangelicals “finding a usable history” has been pretty helpful in deconstructing my own e******ical upbringing reading Barton-esque history (Mashall et al). I know it isn’t unhistorical to see the “use” of history as inspiration for the present (Livy), but the America-as-new-Israel hermeneutic shares the danger of the “Secret/Power of Positive Thinking” hermeneutic: if things are going bad, it’s because Christians aren’t praying enough/doing enough/”standing up for/against” enough. This lens for life feels good when things are going well and it feels self-righteously powerful when the country is spiraling toward eternal rebrobation.

    Why would you want to feel any other way?

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  36. “a letter-writer in the last Christian Renewal magazine just denounced all Hollywood movies as of the devil.”

    Probably Protestant Reformed (PRC).

    We have had a few kids raised in the PRC attand our URC church in Des Moines. Nice kids. They are not moviegoers, though.

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  37. My take on media (movies, music, etc.) and on life in the “secular” world is to examine all of this and take the “allure” out of sin. If you can fully understand something — drunkenness, pornography, adultery, etc. it has a way of taking the temptation out of it. You can see it as the ugliness that it is. Sometimes kids raised with the notion that these things are evil and you have absolutely nothing to do with them end up falling the hardest. Witness some of the wacky things going on in Pella lately. Just today there was a story about a lady who took her friends for $700k. Learn to be a little worldly wise in addition to being holy. Know more about your enemy than he knows about himself.

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  38. Now if someone would just call out Olasky and his works as well.

    And if anyone….anyone goes on Glenn Beck’s programme they should immediately be suspect. No respectable, self-respecting, sober-minded person, let alone Christian would have anything to do with Beck. Even a rudimentary knowledge of history and/or historiography…perhaps even simple skills in the realm of argument would for a moment listen to or respect him.

    That said, it is good to see some people beginning to question Barton. For those of us who came out of the Baptistic-Evangelical cults….his name is well known….going waaayyy back.

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