Published on August 30th, 2012 | by Dr. Joel McDurmon86
Evil revisionism: Did Barton’s Jefferson get fair treatment?
[UPDATE Oct. 3, 2012: See end of article.]
David Barton’s latest book The Jefferson Lies promised to expose “the myths you’ve always believed about Thomas Jefferson.” These various myths—especially pertaining to Jefferson’s alleged “atheism” and “secularism”—are the result of twentieth-century practices of historiography which Barton calls Deconstruction, Poststructuralism, Modernism, Minimalism, and Academic Collectivism.
Barton intends to correct the errors concerning Jefferson that these practices have created, and in the process give us an antidote to the further use and effects of these practices.
Let me admit and say readily that a book like this is needed. I learned from reading Jefferson’s correspondence with Adams a long time ago that while Jefferson was hardly an orthodox believer (neither was Adams, by the way), he was certainly not the rabid atheist that many often portray him as.
For example, in a letter to Adams, August 22, 1813, Jefferson clearly affirms Unitarianism and denies the Trinity as one of many priest-manufactured “Platonic mysticisms.” He writes,
It is too late in the day for men of sincerity to pretend they believe in the Platonic mysticisms that three are one, and one is three; and yet that the one is not three, and the three are not one. . . . But this constitutes the craft, the power and the profit of the priests. Sweep away their gossamer fabrics of factitious religion, and they would catch no more flies. We should all then, like the Quakers, live without an order of priests, moralize for ourselves, follow the oracle of conscience, and say nothing about what no man can understand, nor therefore believe; for I suppose belief to be the assent of the mind to an intelligible proposition.
On April 11 of the same year, he had attacked John Calvin, even calling Calvin an “Atheist” (!), and yet at the same time, Jefferson affirmed an afterlife and final judgment:
So much for your quotation of Calvin’s ‘mon dieu! Jusqu ‘a quand’ [Lord, how long!] in which, when addressed to the God of Jesus, and our God, I join you cordially, and await his time and will with more readiness than reluctance. May we meet there again, in Congress, with our ancient Colleagues, and receive with them the seal of approbation ‘Well done, good and faithful servants.’
Now, modern Christians would recognize Jefferson here as placing his hope in a false God and false religion created out of human rationalism. But this view also refutes the claim that Jefferson was an atheist who believed in no god or gods at all.
But this is exactly the thing that gets Barton and many of his followers in trouble. For some reason, they harbor the tendency to overreach, to distort the evidence, and try to make Jefferson (as well as most of the other fathers) to be orthodox Christians who had a biblical worldview when nothing could be further from the truth. In the case of TJL, this tendency manifests many times, and even though it is interspersed with admissions that Jefferson denied the Trinity and held many other “unfortunate” positions, the bold claim that Jefferson was at any time “nothing less than orthodox” requires substantial evidence as proof, which we shall see is unfortunately nowhere near the case in Barton’s effort.
So while it is good to have a work which contains plenty of information to refute the more radical pro-atheist Jefferson critics, it is misleading and in fact damaging to the greater cause to stretch the truth and distort the image of Jefferson in the other direction.
Revisionism is needed in every generation and after ever movement. This is because the first historical writings are always skewed. These get revised by revisionists. But at every level in this process, agendas creep in. Further revisions are needed to revise the revisions of the revisionists.
Christians should not be afraid to enter this process. Indeed, we should be the best and most prominent leaders in the process of historiography. But we absolutely have to get over the fear of painting our heroes—and those who we want to make into heroes—warts and all. If Christians cannot stand and tell the whole truth bravely, we lose several important things:
1) We lose the moral high ground in criticizing liberals who distort history
2) We lose credibility when our own exaggerations are exposed publicly
3) With number 2, we lose influence in society
4) Most importantly, by papering over the deep faults of our revered figures, we lose the ability to chart the proper course forward.
In short, when we create a false reality of what a Christian and biblical society is or may be, we blind ourselves to the real changes and sacrifices we need to make. And in stretching the facts to create that false reality, we discredit ourselves and hand power and opportunity over to liberals to have free reign. But in the end, we have no one to blame but ourselves, because we have deceived ourselves, lied, and become complacent in the first place.
This is why I wish to offer an overview and partial critique of the important factual errors in Barton’s book. It is important that Christians see and understand the depth of these so they can have a true foundation from which to plan and to move forward.
The book initially flew off the shelves, reached the NYT Best Seller list, and went through several printings. Especially with the promotional help of Glenn Beck, Barton’s resurrection of Jefferson seemed to be a smashing success.
Then came the bad news. Early this month (August 2012), publisher Thomas Nelson abruptly announced they were ceasing publication of The Jefferson Lies (TJL). World Magazine reported how this decision came about:
The Thomas Nelson publishing company has decided to cease publication and distribution of David Barton’s controversial book, The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed about Thomas Jefferson, saying it has “lost confidence in the book’s details.” . . .
Casey Francis Harrell, Thomas Nelson’s director of corporate communications, told me the publishing house “was contacted by a number of people expressing concerns about [The Jefferson Lies].” The company began to evaluate the criticisms, Harrell said, and “in the course of our review learned that there were some historical details included in the book that were not adequately supported. Because of these deficiencies we decided that it was in the best interest of our readers to stop the publication and distribution.”
The decision to pull the book was widely reported in the news. Liberals greeted with cheer and the sentiment (paraphrasing), “We knew Barton was a crank all along.” Some conservative historians were less gleeful and less harsh in rhetoric, but no less critical of Barton’s work in general.
One liberal, and the most outspoken activist against Barton, has been Warren Throckmorton of Grove City, College. Throckmorton has written a book-length response to Barton, and has been introduced by some as a professor of “a largely conservative Christian school.” This is highly misleading. Not only has Grove City long since gone “liberal” theologically, and largely secular academically, but the outspoken critic in question is himself not even an historian. Throckmorton is a psychology professor, and worse, one who specializes in “sexual identity” and lists as his interest “sexual orientation research.” He has mitigated this deficiency somewhat by having a colleague from the political science department co-author.
(Just for reference, some time ago LifeSiteNews.com outed Throckmorton for his practice of “sexual identity therapy” and for “endorsing same-sex civil union legislation, and claiming that homosexuals can live ‘normal, natural and healthy’ lives.”)
Thus this highly-referenced critic is not only not trained in historiography himself, but focused on an agenda which puts him at odds with Barton from the start. [For a correction on Dr. Throckmorton, see the UPDATE at the end of the article.]
More level heads have seen both good and evil at work in this whole debacle. I agree largely with Doug Phillips of Vision Forum, who wrote:
My first thought after reading about the withdrawal from Thomas Nelson was this: Something else is going on. Even if the accusations were true, this withdrawal is an unprecedented move against a giant of the Christian community by a company that publishes a broad spectrum of books, more than a few of which could easily come under scrutiny for containing inaccuracies.
Scott Lively had the same question, and offers these thoughts about the withdrawal of The Jefferson Lies from the market place and the smear campaign against David.
For the sake of argument, let us say that David’s book did have errors. Why not just fix them? Why drag David through the mud? Why not recall the book and fix it?
David and I agree on many things, but like all men who try to fine-tune our understanding of faith, politics, and theology, we have some differences as they apply to politics, history, and theology. I am not, for example, persuaded that Thomas Jefferson had a robust Christian faith. My present understanding resulting from the course of my personal studies over the last thirty years is that he was an unbeliever, but an unbeliever who benefited greatly from the common grace of God, and who operated in the context of a very distinctively Christian and Calvinistic understanding of politics and social order. But I have not read David’s book, and I am ready to be persuaded.
I hope that Thomas Nelson will reconsider their decision. More importantly, I earnestly pray that those forces which hate David’s many heroic stands, including his opposition to the homosexual agenda, will not be given a foothold as a result of what appears to me to be a rather flippant and incongruous decision to pull the book and issue such a negative public statement.
I disagree that the move was unprecedented, as I will cover in a moment. But I do agree that there is something larger going on here. It’s just that Barton’s book, as we shall see, virtually handed the liberals an opportunity to savage him as they did.
But perhaps you can see why a Throckmorton would take the opportunity to lead a crusade against Barton. Not considering this at first, I asked Throckmorton for a review copy of his book, so as to consider it as I offer my own critique of TJL. This was three weeks ago. As of the time of writing this article, I have received no response, and no copy.
What bothers me most, however, is that few of the reports of Thomas Nelson’s decision actually included any substance to show the alleged errors in Barton’s book. I have to admit, I did not doubt they were there, but just a couple of solid illustrations would have gone a long way toward justifying their decision to the public.
In the interest of doing this from a conservative Christian perspective (not leaving to the liberals’ public agendas), I offer the following critiques. I cannot cover the whole book (in the interest of time), so I have focused on one of the chapters most relevant to my ministry and background: “Lie #7: Thomas Jefferson Was an Atheist and not a Christian.”
Of course, any analysis like this requires one to define “Christian” and “Christianity” up front. Barton never does. So while it’s easy to show Jefferson was no “atheist,” the other side of the coin is left indefinite. In the end, as we know, Jefferson was a Unitarian. Barton argues that Unitarianism was considered a type of Christianity in its day, which implies that we can rightly call Jefferson a “Christian.” I would reject this notion outright. So you see, it all depends on definitions.
What’s more troublesome, however, is the tendency to argue that Jefferson was “orthodox.” When Barton crosses this line, I expect serious justification and argumentation. And here, Barton is at his weakest.
“Nothing less than Orthodox”
For example, Barton argues that the First Great Awakening impacted young Jefferson, and “for well over a decade after it, Jefferson’s writings and statements on religious faith can be considered as nothing less than orthodox.”(1) As his proof for this, Barton notes:
- When elected as vestryman in 1768, Jefferson promised “to conform to the Doctrine and Discipline of the Church of England.”(2)
- In 1776, Jefferson “affirmed that Jesus was the Savior, the Scriptures were inspired, and that the Apostles’ Creed ‘contained all things necessary for salvation.’”(3)
The first point is interesting, but not conclusive to the degree Barton claims. The promise made by Jefferson was a standard oath taken by vestrymen and was printed in many vestry books of the era. It was taken by many men—then as today—for whom the phrase “doctrine and discipline of the Church of England” was hardly taken to mean “after detailed study of the 39 Articles of Religion and assent to every detail in them.” Similarly today, elders are sworn in many churches agreeing to uphold either the Articles or the Westminster Confession, for example, and yet hardly any has even read them, let alone could expound them, and most would disagree with many elements, or consider the theological quibbles and curiosities. In short, without anything from Jefferson about what he understood that phrase and those doctrines to mean, we cannot conclude one way or another. And we don’t have that, at least not at this point in his life.
Keep in mind that in 1768, Jefferson was fresh out of law school, unmarried, and a bare 25 years old—hardly the image of the wise vestry member. He was likely selected for his connections and intellectual reputation. But of the orthodoxy of his personal opinions—despite his taking the routine vestryman’s oath—we have little to nothing written. It would be years before Jefferson wrote anything substantial on religion.
In 1776, as Barton notes, Jefferson wrote his personal “Notes on Religion,” but this is where Barton’s claim gets most egregious. He says these notes reveal that Jefferson personally “affirmed” that Jesus is Savior, the inspiration of Scripture, and that the Apostle’s Creed taught “all things necessary for salvation” (this would include, of course, the Trinity and the virgin birth of Christ). Is this true?
Turning to Jefferson’s “Notes” we do find such statements written, but they are not affirmations of Jefferson’s. They are, as the title of the work says, “notes”—in particular they are notes of other people’s affirmations, many of which contradict each other.
For example, in these notes Jefferson does refer to “our Saviour,” the “holy Scriptures,” and the Apostles’ Creed that contains “all things necessary to salvation.” But these are clearly in the context of descriptions of other people’s views.
In particular, Jefferson is making notes on the works of John Locke and the Earl of Shaftesbury—both very popular works on religion at the time, but also very rationalistic and unorthodox works as well. This is especially true of Shaftesbury’s work, and it is this work to which Jefferson devotes the vast majority of his attention in these notes.
The nature of Jefferson’s notes being so, Barton’s presentation of these comments as beliefs that Jefferson “affirmed” is simply untenable. It’s simply wrong, and as a piece of historical scholarship, it is beyond naïve, it is beyond a high-school level mistake. Among the first questions one should ask when interpreting a primary source document is “What is the nature of this document?” What is it, what is the context of it, why does it contain the text that it does in the way that it does? These are fundamental questions a historian would ask, and it does not appear in this case that Barton did.
Nevertheless, he rushed to present the text of this document as evidence of a highly controversial and radical claim—that Jefferson was nothing less than orthodox—and in doing so badly distorted its nature of context.
In some places, Jefferson’s comments are so taken out of context that Barton has to leave out actual words from the original quotation itself in order to make the case he presents. Note in particular Barton’s selective quotation of “contain[ed] all things necessary to salvation.”(4) Reading this in Jefferson’s context, however, does not reveal that this was Jefferson’s view, but just the opposite: he specifically attributes this to others. Speaking of the early Christians, Jefferson writes, “The Apostles creed was by them taken to contain all things necessary to salvation, & consequently to a communion.”(5) This changes the meaning entirely.
This level of misquotation cannot be a mere mistake. When important qualifying words are left out from the very heart of a quotation, it brings the trustworthiness and integrity of the author’s entire work into under suspicion. I hate to sound harsh, but there is simply no other explanation of the matter.
This particular quotation is also merely a summary from Locke’s work, so Jefferson is providing a summary of Locke’s description of early Christians—not Jefferson’s own personal affirmations. Notably, it is in this same contextualized paragraph that Jefferson refers to Jesus as “our Saviour.”
As for the Scriptures being inspired, it seems this idea has been lifted from its context as well. Jefferson cites Locke as teaching expressly the opposite: some of the Scriptures, notably the Epistles, are not to be considered inspired. Even if the writers may have been generally inspired, we are not to consider everything they wrote in the Epistles to be inspired and authoritative:
The Epistles were written to persons already Christians. A person might be a Xn then before they were written. Consequently the fundamentals of Xty were to be found in the preaching of our Saviour, which is related in the gospels. These fundamentals are to be found in the epistles dropped here & there, & promiscuously mixed with other truths. But these other truths are not to be made fundamentals. They serve for edification indeed & explaining to us matters in worship & morality, but being written occasionally it will readily be seen that their explanations are adpated to the notions & customs of the people they were written to. But yet every sentence in them (tho the writers were inspired) must not be taken up & made a fundamental, without assent to which a man is not to be admitted a member of the Xn church here, or to his kingdom hereafter.
Despite what he may have said elsewhere about the Bible (and he did praise parts of it and the use of it in other places), he recorded in his “Notes on the State of Virginia” in 1782 the State’s move to take the Bible out of schools, and why:
The first stage of this education being the schools of the hundreds, wherein the great mass of the people will receive their instruction, the principal foundations of future order will be laid here. Instead, therefore, of putting the Bible and Testament into the hands of the children at an age when their judgments are not sufficiently matured for religious inquiries, their memories may here be stored with the most useful facts from Grecian, Roman, European, and American history.
It is not clear whether or not Jefferson supported this measure. As a mere chronicler, he doesn’t say either way.
Jefferson’s “Notes on Religion” further contain quotations that are clearly from the heterodox and heretical world of Christian history. He lists all the anti-Trinitarian and Christological “heretics”: Sabellians, Sorcinians, Arians, Apollinarians, Macedonians. Does Jefferson’s inclusion of all their views here mean that he “affirmed” them? Hardly.
The response may be, “No, but he clearly labeled them ‘heretics’ in the notes.” True, but this is also as per the convention of history—a description—not necessarily Jefferson’s own affirmation. Indeed, later when discussing Shaftesbury’s positions, he seems to believe that Trinitarian views are peripheral and not part of the “fundamentals” or earliest history of Christianity:
A heretic is an impugner of fundamentals. What are fundamentals? The protestants will say those doctrines which are clearly & precisely delivered in the holy Scriptures. Dr. Vaterland [Daniel Waterland] would say the Trinity. But how far this character of being clearly delivered will suit the doctrine of the trinity I leave others to determine. It is nowhere expressly declared by any of the earliest fathers, & was never affirmed or taught by the Church before the Council of Nice.
So what was Jefferson’s purpose in taking these notes? The editor of this edition of his works ventures a best guess: “They were probably materials and notes for his speeches in the House of Delegates on the petitions for the disestablishment of the Episcopal church.” Indeed, in highlighting all of the random controversies in the Christian church, and arguing from the rationalistic basis of Locke and Shaftesbury—two know proponents of “toleration”—that the tedious aspects of Trinitarianism and Christology should not be matters in which the civil government has any involvement or sanction, Jefferson (and Madison) could and did argue for religious tolerance of all sects, as well as the disestablishment of the Episcopal Church in their State.
And Jefferson would later note that this did not mean toleration for denominations of Christians only, but also for all non-Christian religions as well. Thus, Jefferson noted, the names of “Jesus Christ” as the “the holy author of our religion” was proposed but explicitly rejected by the Virginia legislature.
The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason & right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that it’s protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read “a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion” the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of it’s protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.
Note that: “by a great majority.”
These things considered, these “Notes on Religion” are little more than Jefferson’s own white papers from which he was studying before he launched his charge for toleration and disestablishment in Virginia. They were politically-motivated, mostly, and nowhere near personal affirmations. It is little wonder that Jefferson himself endorsed these notes as “scraps.” They are simply notes he took on other people’s views not his own. We cannot tell what he thought of any of these views merely from this document, and we have little else up to this point to help us tell.
So based on this slim and dubious information, we cannot come anywhere near confirming that Jefferson at this period was “nothing less than orthodox.” On the contrary, he seems to have been wary of the Trinity and Nicea, and already thought with Locke that parts of the Epistles were not inspired. Indeed, Barton himself notes that Jefferson “had always” held this view.(6) It makes no scholarly sense at all, then, to cross the line and claim Jefferson was so orthodox. There is absolutely no evidence to support this claim, and lots of evidence to refute it.
Lapse and return to Orthodoxy
Barton then claims that after Jefferson’s wife’s untimely death in 1782, his faith was “shaken.” There is no doubt that Jefferson entered a great period of depression, but the long anecdotal quotations Barton provides say absolutely nothing about his faith or religious beliefs (I will not recount them here for length). But then, as if he had proved that point anyway, Barton writes, “But by the time he became president, he had returned to a stronger and more orthodox position.”(7)
Again, when we expect some clear lines of evidence for such a claim, none are forthcoming. The only support we get is an anecdote. After the death of Jefferson’s daughter Maria in 1804, the following is allegedly reported by his granddaughter:
My mother [Martha] has told me that on the day of her sister’s death, she left her father alone for some hours. He then sent for her, and she found him with the Bible in his hands. He who has so often and so harshly accused of unbelief, he, in his hour of intense affliction, sought and found consolation in the Sacred Volume.(8)
This granddaughter, unnamed by Barton or his 1858 source, was identified as Ellen Coolidge in 1832 by B. L. Rayner. Ellen was born in 1796. As such, this anecdote would have taken place when she was but eight years old at the time.
Nevertheless, despite being a childhood memory recounted almost two decades later, Coolidge could indeed be correct when she insisted that “I have no doubt of its accuracy,” though she admitted, “I have no recollection of the time when I made this memorandum.”
Even granting its authenticity and accuracy (and why not?), the evidence in this quotation for Jefferson becoming “more orthodox” is non-existent. The fact that Jefferson was once found holding or even reading a Bible says nothing about what he actually believed. It says nothing about the content of his faith, or even that he had faith. We learn absolutely nothing about this at all from this anecdote, unfortunately.
Heck, I’ll bet Barack Obama has been observed holding a Bible. I suspect Hitler once was, too. Shall we call them “more orthodox” for this?
To say therefore that this anecdote reveals that Jefferson had “returned to a stronger and more orthodox position” is nowhere near tenable or even reasonable. And to present this weak anecdote as the sole support of that same claim is, to be blunt, embarrassing and unscholarly.
From bad to worse
Barton spends most of the rest of the chapter showing how the second great awakening and the Unitarians of the Restoration Movement had profound impact upon Jefferson’s views late in his life. He sees it as a sea change in Jefferson’s life. I don’t think so. We’ve already seen him amiable to anti-Trinitarian views and rationalism as early as 1776. Thus, everything Barton writes throughout this section actually does little but confirm that Jefferson indeed was not orthodox, and that he grew more entrenched in unorthodoxy as he grew older.
Barton provides only one more piece of evidence that directly supports his young orthodox thesis. He cites the autobiography of Benjamin Rush, saying,
Jefferson had personally assured Dr. Benjamin Rush that “he believed in the Divine mission of the Savior of the World,” “in the Divine institution of the Sabbath,” and “likewise in the resurrection, and a future state of rewards and punishments.”(9)
Now that sounds pretty impressive, but it is really a half-truth. Barton adds, “(Although Rush acknowledged that there still existed some theological differences between himself and Jefferson.)” This, of course, makes it sound like these differences were a minor thing, enough to be passed over and not mentioned specifically. But when you learn what Barton passed over here, the whole story changes. In the very same sentence mentioning Jefferson’s belief in the “Savior of the World,” Rush notes that Jefferson nevertheless “did not believe that he [Jesus] was the Son of God in the way which many Christians believed it.”
Some theological difference! It turns out to be the fundamental teaching of Christianity: that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, God of God, very God of very God, made flesh and dwelt among us as the Incarnate Son of God, etc.!
Yet Barton selectively quotes Rush to give just the opposite appearance of Jefferson’s views. Indeed, he uses this sole piece of butchered evidence to prove his claim that “for nearly every Christian doctrine that Jefferson called into question in his last fifteen years, there were times in his earlier sixty-eight years when he had embraced that very same doctrine as orthodox.”(10) As we have seen, this is utter nonsense, and is unsupported by anything Barton has presented. It is not clear by any means that Jefferson at any time in his life held orthodox Christian views. That anyone would claim otherwise, especially upon such terrible evidence, is a disservice to both historical scholarship and the Christian faith.
With all of these exaggerated and outright dishonest claims about Jefferson, there is indeed one thing about Barton’s book that is apt: its title, The Jefferson Lies. They abound not only from the “academic collectivists” and “deconstructionists,” but in this book as well.
As such, it is no surprise that when alerted, Thomas Nelson reacted as quickly as it did.
Whereas some have noted Thomas Nelson’s decision as “unprecedented,” it actually is not. Granted, it is not common to see a book abruptly pulled this way, but it does happen.
In fact, just this May, Westminster Seminary professor Carl Trueman severly criticized a recent book by G.R. Evans, The Roots of the Reformation: Tradition, Emergence, and Rupture. Trueman’s criticism was the same type as has been leveled at Barton: multiple factual, historical errors. As a result of Trueman’s devastating blog post, within weeks, IVP pulled the book abruptly from publication:
[T]he issues Trueman points out clearly do not represent the academic standards we as a publisher hold ourselves to. Unfortunately, these issues were not caught during our standard, thorough review procedures. The presence of such oversights in manuscripts is common in the publishing process, however, especially with large and complex texts.
Nonetheless, we as the publisher take full responsibility for them. Therefore, as of the beginning of June, IVP has taken The Roots of the Reformation out of print and will no longer be shipping orders of this edition.
However, IVP did at least give the author a chance to publish a revised edition.
Our goal is to publish a carefully revised second edition of the book by the end of August, in time for Fall semester classes.
While the reader might expect the same courtesy to be shown to Barton, I suspect that the very nature of his work made it impossible. After all, when several theses are to prove that Jefferson was an orthodox Christian (at least during parts of his life), and absolutely none of the evidence confirms this, but instead refutes it, this means essentially an entire rewrite of the whole chapter, or even an elimination of that chapter.
And if the rest of the chapters are of the same caliber, it may mean scrapping the whole book to start over. This is more than Evans’ need to fix a series of factual misstatements that don’t really impact the thesis of the work. It is essentially pulling the rug out from under the main thesis altogether. This a serious black eye for Barton and for Thomas Nelson together.
Sadly, with the level and degree of error I have found in just the chapter I reviewed, I cannot recommend this book to the average Christian reader. While a book like this needs to be written vindicating Jefferson from much liberal nonsense, the reader nonetheless will need to fact-check nearly every claim Barton makes for accuracy. And this is way too much to ask of the average reader. If that is to be the task, it would be better to skip Barton’s book altogether and go read all of Jefferson’s papers directly, because that what the reader will have to do eventually anyway.
For those with the patience and access to at least some of Jefferson’s papers, feel free to venture through The Jefferson Lies, though not without a critical eye. There is much to be gained here, but it will all have to be vetted before believing it.
In short, sometimes those revising the evil revisions need good revisionists of their own. Christians should be at the forefront of both admitting and solving these problems.
[UPDATE Oct. 3, 2012: I have been assured via email exchanges that Dr. Throckmorton is not a "liberal" in the traditional sense, and that his criticism of Barton has no connection at all with their respective views on homosexual marriage.]Endnotes: