A message to WORLD readers on the David Barton controversy

by Marvin Olasky
Posted on Thursday, August 16, 2012, at 7:14 pm

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, and "Doubting Thomas," by Thomas Kidd, WORLD Magazine, Sept. 8 issue). 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?"

As we've received mail from both sides, I'm happy to say that most have emphasized the question of accuracy (which is part of truth). A few Barton defenders have argued that his critics are not true Christians. Personal invective like that is not helpful here. After all, biblical writers emphasize accuracy. Luke starts his gospel by noting that he has "followed all things closely for some time" and is therefore in position "to write an orderly account." Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 says if he is factually mistaken about Christ's resurrection, the faith he proclaims is futile and "we of all people are most to be pitied."

Accuracy is also crucial in American history. The most popular American history book at colleges, Howard Zinn's leftist A People's History of the United States, is full of inaccuracies, and folks on the left don't seem to mind because they need fables to increase their faith. Folks on our side want to build up—but if we are inaccurate, we are not following the example set by the Bible, and we are giving America's opponents opportunities to undermine the credibility of what is true.

David Barton should not be, nor does he want to be, defended as if he were inerrant: If his history writing does include some inaccuracies, I trust he'll make corrections. The harder questions involve interpretation, and on that Christians may disagree. Here's one hard question: What if through the reexamination currently underway we were to learn that some aspects of America's past aren't as great as we might want them to be? What if we learn that a leader like Thomas Jefferson had more faults than we would like?

Seems to me that's not a problem. The Bible honestly brings up faults in Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, and many others. Jefferson was a great writer, and America is a great and exceptional country, but anyone with biblical understanding knows he wasn't perfect and we're not perfect. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." That goes for individuals. That goes for countries.

We should not be like those Israelites in Jesus' time who claimed righteousness because they were children of Abraham. We are not saved because we are children of America. Our hope lies in Christ.

Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. His latest book is World View: Seeking Grace and Truth in Our Common Life. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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