John Fea warns evangelicals to be wary of David Barton

Historians in the News
tags: David Barton, John Fea, evangelicals



John Fea teaches American history at Messiah College in Grantham, PA.  He is the author of "Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past." He blogs daily at www.thewayofimprovement.com

David Barton’s Wallbuilders radio show is now referring to Barton as “America’s premiere historian.”  On today’s show his co-host Rick Green played a speech Barton gave at his  Dallas Pro-Family Legislators Conference.  (It is unclear when this conference was held).  During the speech Barton attacked me again.  Here is what he said (highlights are mine):

When you look at the Declaration, every single right set forth in the Declaration had been preached from the American pulpit prior to 1763. It’s a fun thing to do.  Read the Declaration sometime and look at it as a list of sermon topics. See if you could come up with Bible verses for all those rights.  Because that’s what they did. We’ve got the old sermons from those days to show you how the Declaration was built out of the pulpit.

So, that’s prior to 1763. Then when you get the Declaration itself it was largely based on the writings and John Locke. Richard Henry Lee said that they copied the Declaration from Locke’s Two Treatises of Government.

I have long said that Two Treatises of Government, John Locke in that work cited or referenced the Bible on 1,500 occasions. Two Treatises is about an inch thick and about 400 pages long.

An article came out last year by an academic named John Fea who just mocked me and said, “How stupid is Barton? There are only 121 references in there.” And it’s on a Biblical worldview website. So, it’s out there.  

So what I’ve been doing the last several months is I’ve gone into John Locke’s Two Treatises and I have documented every time he quotes a Bible verse. The deal with John Locke is he didn’t always tell you he was quoting a Bible verse because everybody knew it back then.

If I said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.” Most of us would say, “That’s John 3:16.” If I said that to the guy on the street they wouldn’t know what I was talking about.  They don’t know John 3:16. Well see, here’s a Biblical worldview guy who didn’t recognize Bible verses throughout John Locke’s piece.

So, I’ve already documented that 1,500- way over. It’s an embarrassment for a Biblical worldview academic to not recognize the Bible.  But that’s a difficulty we have now.

OK, where do I begin?  Here are a few points:

1. My name is pronounced “Fee-ah.”  It rhymes with the female names “Mia” or “Tia.”

2. David Barton puts the following sentence in quotes and attributes it to me: “How stupid is Barton? There are only 121 references in there.”  I challenge him to connect this quote with my name.  He will not be able to do it because I never said these words.

3. David Barton claims that I have written an article arguing that there are only 121 references to the Bible in John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government.  I have never written such an article.  In fact, I am not on record anywhere–either at The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog, in a published book, or elsewhere–claiming that there are 121 references to the Bible in John Locke’s Two Treatises on Government. Frankly, I have never really been interested in this question and I am too busy to read Locke and count the number of Bible verses. (Maybe one day I will have the time). Yet Barton has criticized me at his conference, on his radio show, and on the transcript of the radio show on his Wallbuilders website.  The fact that Barton has not only mentioned this falsehood, but has put my words in quotation marks, is especially disturbing.  I spend a lot of time with my students teaching them the proper use of quotation marks.

4. I am glad that Barton considers me a “Biblical worldview academic.”  At least he is not questioning my Christian faith.  I don’t really describe myself using the phrase “Biblical worldview academic,” but I will take it.  It is good to know that Barton still sees me as part of the fold. 

5. I am glad to see that Barton now believes that the “Declaration itself was largely based on the writings of John Locke.”  I always assumed he believed that the Declaration of Independence was based directly on the writings of the Bible.

6. I don’t know how many Bible verses are in Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, but Barton obviously thinks it is important.  Why?  Because if Locke was indeed the primary influence on Jefferson when he wrote the Declaration of Independence (a premise, by the way, that could be debated), then it is absolutely essential for Barton to show that Locke’s biblicism was somehow transferred to the words of the Declaration. Barton’s entire ministry at Wallbuilders depends on it. Let’s remember that Barton is not a historian. He is a politician who practices what the historian Bernard Bailyn once called “indoctrination by historical example.”  He is not studying Locke to advance general knowledge or even to help us better understand Locke in his 17th-century context.  He is doing this because he is trying to convince his followers that the Declaration of Independence is a Christian document.  And if he can prove that the Declaration of Independence is a Christian document then he can tell his followers that the United States was founded a Christian nation.  And if he can prove that the United States was founded as a Christian nation he can convince his followers that we need to “return” to such a place. And if he can do that, he can more easily advance his political agenda as a GOP operative.

I am going to stop there.  I have critiqued Barton’s work many times (including the idea that the Declaration of Independence was “built out of the pulpit”).  You can read some of those critiques by clicking here.  I have also addressed the relationship between Christianity and the founding in my book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.

I should also add that all of my critiques of Barton’s work are based on actually things that he has said and written.  As a fellow “Biblical world view” guy I would ask him to give me the same courtesy.




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