Thomas Nelson decided Thursday to stop publication and distribution of David Barton's The Jefferson Lies. The book, about Thomas Jefferson, had come under criticism from both Christian and secular historians for taking quotes out of context and making unsubstantiated generalizations about Jefferson's life.
Christian historians claim the book goes too far in concluding that Jefferson was a believer in Christ as Savior, citing clear evidence – including a national archives Bible Jefferson owned that cut out all New Testament miracles performed by Jesus – that Jefferson did not believe in the deity of Christ.
After Thomas Nelson began hearing criticisms of the book, it reviewed the book and discovered "some historical details included in the book that were not adequately supported," Casey Francis Harrell, Thomas Nelson's director of corporate communications, told Thomas Kidd, associate professor of history at Baylor University, who broke the story for World Magazine, an evangelical publication.
Barton is the founder and president of Wallbuilders. He is popular in some evangelical Christian circles for presenting a view of U.S. history that emphasizes, critics say overemphasizes, the role of Christianity in the nation's founding.
Kidd also wrote an article for World Magazine on Tuesday that brought broader attention to the controversy. He reported on a wide array of evangelical scholars who found Barton's work to be lacking sufficient evidence to justify his claims about Jefferson and U.S. history more generally.
In the article, Jay Richards, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, had reportedly "grown increasingly troubled about Barton's writings." After consulting 10 evangelical scholars, he concluded that Barton's books and videos contain "embarrassing factual errors, suspiciously selective quotes, and highly misleading claims."
Barton responded to some of his critics last month in a post on his website. While he spent most of the post responding to some of the specific allegations, he also charged that his critics are "academic elitists" who are "intolerant" of those who try to write books for a mass audience. He also asserted his critics' "shallow motives" are behind their "self serving and disingenuous attacks."
"Their real objection is that I make history uncomplicated, and thus make [my critics] irrelevant," Barton wrote.
Two evangelical scholars in particular, Professors Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter, both of Grove City College, recently wrote a book for Salem Grove Press, Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims About Our Third President, to debunk Barton's book.
Readers of George Mason University's History News Network website last month voted Barton's book the "least credible history book in print."
On Wednesday, Dr. Greg Forster, program director for American history, economics and religion at the Kern Family Foundation, wrote a post for First Things' "First Thoughts" blog examining Barton's claims about the work of John Locke, one of Forster's areas of expertise.
Forster, who describes himself as a politically conservative Republican and a theologically conservative evangelical Christian, concluded that "Barton's attempt to fit Locke into his larger historical narrative forces him into numerous distortions," and found "a number of incidental factual errors that don't even advance his thesis, indicating that his inability to write reliable history stretches beyond ideological cheerleading and into outright incompetence."
Barton also got some attention this week from National Public Radio where he was described as "The Most Influential Evangelist You've Never Heard Of." The broadcast featured Barton as well as several of his critics.