Review: Stephens and Giberson, “The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age”

Title: The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age
Author: Randall J. Stephens and Karl W. Giberson 
Publisher: Belknap Press/Harvard University Press
Genre: Evangelicalism
Year: 2011
Pages: 356
Binding: Hardcover
ISBN13: 9780674048188
Price: $29.95

If the word “Evangelical” popped up in a word association game, hair-trigger responses might include words like “Republican,” “anti-evolution,” “Jerry Falwell,” or “fundamentalist.” Word association games aren’t usually the best way to understand religion. (When it comes to Mormons, “polygamy” usually tops the list.) Numbering an estimated one hundred million people—sixteen million in the Southern Baptist Convention alone (7, 187)—the American evangelical community is actually more diverse than these labels can hope to communicate. Politically, the spectrum ranges from conservative to liberal (though perhaps heavily weighted toward the former), all bound loosely together by a common commitment to the necessity of being “born again” through Jesus Christ. Such Christians have no central authoritative body and no single all-encompassing creed. But the open marketplace of religion in the United States has provided space for an evangelical “parallel culture,” complete with its own schools, publishing houses, music industry, summer camps, school accreditation agencies, historians, scientists, and family counselors.

In the midst of this Christian crowd, certain evangelicals rise to the top as leaders, attracting a following by establishing parachurch organizations like Focus on the Family or Answers in Genesis. The more ubiquitous of such leaders are thought by their followers to be “anointed,” that is, especially blessed by God to speak on his behalf—in other words, they function as modern prophets (7). And for many evangelicals, the democratic God who once called a stammering Moses to lead Israel of old is certainly more likely to call a folksy down-to-earth preacher over some stuffed-shirt academic.

This concept of an “anointed” leader helps the authors explain how Don McLeroy, a dentist and chair of the Texas State Board of Education, could confidently decry the theory of evolution in 2009 as his board debated curriculum decisions that could affect public schools across the United States (Texas is a large market!). Evolutionary scientists were merely part of the “secular, liberal, elitist” movement in Americaattempting to stamp out Christian faith. McLeroy would draw on a cottage industry of various evangelical fundamentalists to make the case that creationism deserved equal time in public schools. But why would he rely on “Answers in Genesis” founder Ken Ham, a man with no scientific expertise, rather than evangelical Francis Collins, former director of the Human Genome Project and current Director of the National Institutes of Health? This is the question two evangelical scholars try to answer in their new book The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age.

The first four chapters cover science (evolution versus creationism), history (America as a “Christian nation”), social sciences (gay marriage, child rearing, etc.) and eschatology (end times prophecy and the rapture). In each instance, various ill-informed, simplistic figures hog the spotlight while better-educated, more nuanced evangelical scholars are disregarded as capitulators, if not ignored altogether. They catch the ear of the evangelical mainstream, up to some of the current candidates for the presidency of the United States. The pseudo-historian David Barton is routinely featured on Glenn Beck’s old television program talking about the faith of the mythical “Founding Fathers,” for instance, while Vanderbilt Ph.D. historian Mark Noll plugs away writing real history while being largely ignored by his own tradition. Ken Ham builds a multi-million dollar “Creation Museum” where statues of the children of Adam and Eve play near dinosaurs in a pre-deluge earthscape, while Yale Ph.D. Francis Collins struggles to gain traction as a believer in God and rigorous scientist. Outdated psychologist James Dobson opines on the dangers of gay marriage and the benefits of spanking your kids while the scholars from whose work he has cherry-picked data object that he is egregiously misusing and misrepresenting their research. Author Tim LaHaye sells millions of copies of his rapture-describing Left Behind series while New Testament scholar N.T. Wright shakes his head at the terrible exegesis (oh, and Glenn Beck apparently believes in the rapture, 172). What’s going on here?

Chapter five explores the spectrum of evangelical beliefs through the experience of Paul Miller, a twenty-something life-long evangelical. Miller felt intellectually stifled as a new student atBryanCollege, conservative Christian school in the south. He began having  doubts about his Christian faith until he discovered a wider evangelical culture which embraced different views on politics, science, and Bible exegesis than the ones he was raised with.

Often an evangelical “crisis of faith” is resolved with a simple liberalizing, whereby specific beliefs…are abandoned and other beliefs…move to the center as animating ethical and theological concerns. The evangelical spectrum encompasses both of these camps (216).

Miller transferred to Gordon College, whose motto—“Freedom within a framework of faith”—gave Miller a better sense of belonging. Some evangelicals will see Miller as a compromiser, a heretic, but there is still room enough in the wider evangelical tent for both colleges (221).

The authors close the book with a final explanatory chapter, weaving together the threads of the previous chapter to identify the reasons some fundamentalist evangelicals receive greater cultural purchase than others. They outline a “confluence of factors” which empower amateurs like Ken Ham and David Barton compared to their evangelical scholar counterparts. The approach of the amateurs is marked by anti-intellectualism and anti-elitism, a down-to-earth “I’m just like you” aw-shucks-iness. As 20th century historian Richard Hofstadter argued decades ago, Americans go a bit nutty with the “democratic impulse” according to which we all can be specialists (236). The authors also draw on historian Mark Noll’s observation that the fundamentalist amateurs are dedicated in a single-minded fashion to create knowledge for a particular end (to “Christianize” each branch of knowledge and policy). Young Earth Creationist movements spend time decrying the ill social effects of evil Darwinism while evangelical scientists are actually out there doing actual research projects, although their plodding academic approach and style might make your average American’s (myself included) eyes glaze over (241). This anti-elistism impulse grows out of American confidence in the every-man. “Armed with simple explanations of the world, winsomely affirming that common people can think for themselves, they are often preferred to experts” on issues like evolution, global climate change, and vaccinations (237). Sarah Palin asserts that Americans “need a commander is chief, not a professor of law standing at a lectern” (237). Just this week Rick Santorum similarly decried the President: “Don’t you see how they see you? How they look down their nose at the average American — these elite snobs.”  Words like “elite” and “secular” become dog whistles alerting us that we’re on the same team. The authors point to research on “cue-based epistemology” to uncover the bias we all seem to have toward people who are a lot like us (245). We can’t all be specialists, we take much of what we learn on faith:

Christian audiences, understandably bewildered by competing claims about the age of the earth, human origins, the nature of homosexuality, the religion of the Founding Fathers, genetic engineering, or raising children, often hear two very different arguments. One…from an unknown but well-credentialed scientist who works at a famous but very liberal university…This case is made with no consideration of how this new information fits within the larger framework of Christian theology and whether the new facts challenge other deeply held beliefs. The other argument comes from a fellow believer and is couched in specifically biblical terms; the more academic argument is critiqued as both uncertain and incompatible with Christian beliefs. The credentials and affiliations might not be as impressive, and the science/history/psychology might even be a bit thin, though that would be challenging to determine. But all the relevant clues indicate that the argument is trustworthy, largely because of who is making it (248).

This final chapter offers plenty of interesting food for thought, drawing on studies in history, sociology, evolutionary psychology, and other methods of analyzing why we believe who we believe. But the execution is a bit sloppy, especially in comparison to the earlier chapters. The authors fail to point out how many of these same speculations could be applied to people who rely on any sort of experts, evangelical or otherwise. And they’re certain to offend any fundamentalist readers, as they conclude with an appeal to the presently-fashionable speculative enterprise of evolutionary psychology to argue that evangelicals are predisposed to believe the way they do. Additionally, for some reason they fail to offer much advice to scholars, the evangelical academic ones like them who are competing for limelight with the amateurs. Perhaps this book will be most appealing to young readers like Paul Miller–those who struggle with feelings of doubts or wince at the glares of nay-sayers as they transition to a less-fundamentalist-style faith. What the latter parts of the book lack in organization and focus the first four chapters make up for with entertaining and informative descriptions of the historical and contemporary circumstances surrounding the rise of evangelical fundamentalism. Despite its flaws, I enjoyed The Anointed. But I’m not sure it strikes the right chord in order to rise above preaching to the (very real, and very-cool-scholarship-producing-and-receiving) choir.

_____________________________________________________

Co-author Randall Stephens is something of a head honcho over at the Religion in American History blog, where JI’s own Christopher Jones is a regular contributor. Co-author Karl Giberson was recently featured on that liberal bastion/radio station NPR discussing his work on American evangelicals. Other essays and related links about the book are available at Harvard University Press’s website.

Comments

  1. There are some interesting parallels between evangelical culture and some corridors of Mormon culture. A few points that deserve further expansion/exploration include:

    -How does the democratic/self-sufficiency impulse in Mormonism contribute to Mormon anti-intellectualism?
    -The Church assigns attendance based on geography, which is perhaps one reason why Paul Miller’s somewhat easier move from fundamentalist to more liberal evangelicalism doesn’t have an obvious counter-part option in Mormonism.
    -What are some of the dog whistle terms Mormons use, and what are their benefits and drawbacks?
    -What sorts of barriers exist for current Mormon historians, sociologists, theologians, etc. outside official Church channels, making their work perhaps less-known to Church membership than some of the more popular works from, say, Deseret Book?

    etc.

  2. Great article, although I was rather disappointed to see the term “gay marriage” used therein. The term seeks to normalize homorrhage by making it sound like it’s just another kind of marriage; the more people use that term, the more mindshare the homorrhage proponents gain (not to mention the obvious legal ballot, e.g. the recent Ninth Circuit Court ruling).

  3. Oops… autocorrected, hit (Post Comment) too quickly. *the obvious legal FALLOUT.

  4. I’m not sure what you mean by hemorrhage, Jeff. Are you concerned that saying “gay marriage” somehow dangerously legitimizes marriage of same-gender couples? I think the term “gay marriage” is fine, although perhaps over time people will be able to drop the “gay” part of the term. (This little exchange is a good example of the sort of dog whistle attention to words I referred to in the review.)

  5. Interesting review of an interesting book. They seem to provide good comparisons between the evangelical “chosen” versus the actual experts. The David Barton one is a bit disingenuous, sincce he is widely considered an expert in early American history and has, according to several experts, read more original source documents from that time period than any other historian currently alive (and he has the largest collection of originals too). Still, his style of writing and presentation is, without a doubt, heavily settled in the same kind of evangelical “anointed” speak and audience. His material is generally accurate, but his presentation is not focused on academic or simple informative work. It is couched in “dog whistle” terminology that you mention. Thus, good research and documentation can become obfuscated.

    It’s a shame the final chapters aren’t well organized. Without a solid thesis conclusion, do you feel it has anything more in concept than what perhaps was handled in your review?

    Also, I think Blair your point about the LDS church on geography is interesting, and something I haven’t really pondered in extent.

  6. Thanks, MattT. I have to disagree with you, I think David Barton is a terrible historian. It doesn’t matter to me how many original source documents he’s read or how many he owns. He selectively misuses them for his own political and religious purposes and anyone who spends a week or so looking at the relevant context and sources will quickly discover this is the case. So no, I don’t think his material is “generally accurate,” in fact I think it is obscurantist–either dishonest or terribly uninformed, and I don’t know which it is. He may draw near unto scholarship with his lips, but his heart is far from it. (As you can tell, I have strong feelings about it!) Here’s a quick blog post example on this subject from one of this book’s authors:

    http://usreligion.blogspot.com/2011/05/not-into-history.html

    As for the conclusion, I think it will appear as a strong conclusion to the target audience I think the authors are appealing to. My problem is that the authors don’t turn the mirror back on themselves enough to tease out the larger point about the ways we all seek and share knowledge, evangelical and otherwise. Is this what you mean by “anything more in concept”?

    The geography point was first drawn to my attention by a Eugene England essay about the Church being as true as the gospel. I think his essay is terribly important, even if it doesn’t explore the downsides of the arrangement very much. (Maybe this is sort of like how the authors of this book don’t spend time drawing in the reigns on confidence in scientific progress, because they’re writing to a group of people who are already so skeptical of the enterprise that they can’t cede much ground lest they be misunderstood. England is speaking mostly to people who are frustrated with the difficulty certain folks face in feeling fellowship at church.)

  7. Excellent review. I see some of these tensions in Joseph Smith, who rejected high-falutin specialists who claimed you had to be trained for the ministry, but at the same time, sought for some of that same training (with Hebrew, German, etc.)

    “This case is made with no consideration of how this new information fits within the larger framework of Christian theology and whether the new facts challenge other deeply held beliefs.”

    Indeed. This is one reason I enjoy reading such Evangelical scholars as Peter Enns and John Walton. Though I have some disagreements, of course, they tend do scholarship AND talk about the wider doctrinal implications for a faith community. That’s not something you’ll find in JBL, or from Frank Moore Cross or whatnot.

  8. I often hear the words “the World” as a dog-whistle term at church, used to draw the line between “us” and “them.” While I think it’s just fine to band together against real opposition, it’s my impression that the “the World” get used currently excludes essentially everyone who isn’t a member in good standing and may prevent us from embracing people within our community and from assimilating beneficial ideas.

  9. I think we can see an example of this in the PBS special with Kathleen Flake. Because she wasn’t labeled as LDS but had her “secular” credentials, and wasn’t speaking insider language, some people discounted her as not LDS, an outsider.

    The corollary, for good or evil, is that if you want to have an effect on the mainstream, you have to speak in a register they understand and recognize as “insider-speak.”

  10. *the WAY “the World” gets used

    #corrections

  11. Ben S., I thought that was a great point in the book about not drawing connections between the professional scholarship people so wonderfully perform and the wider implications for a faith-based community. Also, the Kathleen Flake thing, that example also goes to show how cue-based academic discourse is, as well. Scholarly apparatuses like annotation style, certain turns-of-phrase, nods to the requisite mothers and fathers of the respective disciplines, and all sorts of signals that we send in academic literature, which are crucial to the exercise but which also tend to create hedges that outsiders interpret as elitist jerkiness.

    Cap: “the world” thing is probably one of the most grating insider terms I hear at church sometimes. This book talks about the same phenomenon occurring in the evangelical communities, where nothing can bind together usually battling internal elements as quickly as an easily identifiable outside enemy threat. So you see unusual coalitions develop, you see people like Pastor Jeffres (sp?) and Bill Maher sit down and have a laugh at the crazy Mormons without bringing up the sticky subject of, say, evolution, which would certainly set Jeffres’s alarm bells ringing. Jeffres is basically the sort of guy Maher was panning in his dreadful “Religulous” film, but they can share a drink over the lamentable Mormons, nevertheless.

  12. Blair, that is roughly what I meant in terms of “anything more in concept”. If it ends focusing on that single group and psychoanalyzing them from the outside, or does it tkae the principles into a broader, more meaningful context as food for thought.

    In some ways, reading part of the review reminded me of listening to an author interview on NPR back in October. A book had been written about evaluating groups who believe in conspiracy theories. The author addressed various religious mentalities, political groups etc. Something seemed a little odd. Then they get to the caller questions, and one caller asked how could the author categorically attribute mental or religious or other beliefs to why certain people see conspiracies in certain events when some may have legitimate evidence. The host broke in and said essentially “wait, the author isn’t passing judgment on the veracity of the groups claims.” But then the author jumped in and said “No, I am. I started this book from the mindset that there are no conspiracies. I just don’t believe they could happen because people are too sloppy or stupid to keep anything big an actual secret for long. So the caller is right. I go in trying to understand what affected them to believe in something that isn’t true.” And there ended my interest in his book. He wasn’t concerned about evaluating groups individually or even applying the “lessons” he learned in his research to a broader or more meaningful application. He went in with the notion that “These people are nuts, they have no basis in reality, and I am going to psychoanalyze them as a dispassionate outside even though I am not dispassionate.”

    That was rather lengthy, but that is what I am trying to figure out about this book. Does it come across as high and mighty, “smarter than they are”, or does it come across as academic, neutral, and perhaps with some good conclusions and take homes for everyone?

    I’ll agree to disagree on Barton. As I said, he uses a lot of Dog Whistle type things, but most of the arguments against him are shallow attacks,m name calling, etc. The blog you linked to offered little of substance and what it did was inaccurate. He has a very nuanced view of each founding father and, in most of his writings takes pains to show the personal beliefs of each person and their evolving theology over time, rather than painting their entire lives with broad Christian, Deists, Agnostic, etc brushes. He also is very deeply versed in the people, cultures, events surrounding and leading up to that period of time, so the analogy used was inaccurate. Anyone who had more experience with him beyond general accusatory high-fives would know this. But it absolutely depends on who he is writing to or speaking to. Some of his works are more thorough than others. While I don’t agree with all of his conclusions or even at times his purpose in writing/speaking to various groups (a past based on various religious beliefs does not in my mind necessitate those same beliefs are needed today to maintain various rights), the man is a walking Encyclopedia of early American history and culture. I’ve seen/heard several debates with him and other historians where he slapped them left and right. That doesn’t mean he is right in his drive (his Wall Builder organization, as pointed out in the blog, is myopically focused). It only means he is neither an idiot, a fool, or ignorant. If you read some of his works in a vacuum however, you could get those impressions. It’s a lot like Margaret Barker, where if you don’t read her earlier works, you don’t see how the heck she arrived at conclusions in her later works… and she is still off base sometimes either way.

    The great part about history is that since none of us were there or have the full picture, it’s important to read people who interpret it from multiple points of view in order to get as complete a picture of “historical probability” or historicity as possible.

  13. Cap,

    “The World” phrase is especially overused in Church. I agree, it’s use too often reflects not pride and vanity, but an outsider vs insider view.

  14. And there ended my interest in his book. He wasn’t concerned about evaluating groups individually or even applying the “lessons” he learned in his research to a broader or more meaningful application. He went in with the notion that “These people are nuts…

    I try to be of the mindset that even the poorest books can be extremely worth reading. Alfred North Whitehead noted something to the effect that “what is important about a proposition or set of ideas is not in the first place that it be true, but that it be interesting, provocative of further reflection” (from The Oxford Handbook on Science and Religion, p. 357). Given that there are a multitude of things competing for our attention, though, I recognize we all filter out quite a bit up front.

    As for Barton, I hate to sound dogmatic but there is really very little to debate about the merits of his scholarship. John Fea (a Christian, a historian, interesting fellow) did an in-depth analysis of Barton’s Daily Show appearance. You might start there:

    http://www.philipvickersfithian.com/2011/05/blogging-david-bartons-appearance-on.html

    Or check our Fea’s own book on the topic, “Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction.”

    Fea had his own qualms with The Anointed, incidentally.

    http://www.philipvickersfithian.com/2011/11/are-giberson-and-stephens-preaching-to.html

    For me, it isn’t a case of just better understanding Barton because he’s more nuanced. You point to his apparent success in debates, a format perhaps better suited for a showman than a historian, and that’s just the problem. The guy does a huge disservice to the historical profession in general. So, keeping in mind my Whitehead affirmation above, Barton may be a good read, but that won’t make him a good historian.

  15. I should add it’s probably frustrating for trained historians to see people get jazzed about lack-luster products. They spend their time and energy doing their best and sometimes feel a bit overlooked when guys like Barton walk on stage and perform. It’s hard enough to grab people’s attention on history (and I think historians can keep working on ways to grab the popular imagination). It’s frustrating to see easy, inaccurate ideas hog spotlights you think would be better directed elsewhere, and I think that has a lot to do with why these authors wrote this book.

  16. Thanks for the review, Blair (and for the shoutout in the fn). I still haven’t read this one, though I’ve been meaning to for some time. I’ll make sure Randall sees the review.

    “The David Barton one is a bit disingenuous, sincce he is widely considered an expert in early American history”

    Widely considered by whom, MattT? Certainly not professional historians.

    “I’ve seen/heard several debates with him and other historians where he slapped them left and right.”

    What historians? And where?

  17. Thanks, Christopher, I was hoping you’d pop in. (Also, Steve Fleming is mentioned in the acknowledgments of this book, do you know if he read a manuscript, or conferred with the authors, or?)

  18. Oh yeah, here’s an interesting project: compare and contrast the authors’ tone in the book with their interviews and columns in the NYT, NPr, etc. and you’ll notice a bit of a difference. They are much less reserved in the columns and interviews than in the book itself, it seems to me. This bears on the question of audience: these authors, based on their research for their own book, know very well what sort of dog whistles people are attuned to, and in the book they minimize them a little bit, but not much, which tells me they aren’t reaching out to Barton fans or Ken Ham followers at all, in fact their work will easily be dismissed by those types of folks, and the authors seem to know that. I’m thinking of how they concluded with some evolutionary psychology stuff, guaranteed to end the conversation with a lot of evangelical readers. But if they can reach that Paul Miller-type guy, then I think they’ll be very satisfied. The book itself has a popular tone cadence, the footnotes are pretty minimal and certainly non-intrusive, and the thrust of the final chapter is more magazine-article style than academic treatise, so they are in some ways aping the motions of some of the populist anti-intellectuals but for a different end in mind, perhaps. Just typing out loud here.

  19. I think “homorrhage” must be a neologism this guy is trying to use for the reasons he described. It has the root “homo” in it, which dude might seem to think means “gay” and the “rrhage” rhymes with “age” in most American accents. So, “homo-rrhage” rhymes with “gay marriage” and creates what he seems to think is an acceptable neologism to use to refer to gay marriage.

  20. Well, I’m dense, I missed the attempted pun/slur, thanks john f.

  21. Excellent review. I was reminded of the fifth fundamental of Ezra Taft Benson’s 14 fundamentals speech.

    “Fifth: The prophet is not required to have any particular earthly training or credentials to speak on any subject or act on any matter at any time.

    Sometimes there are those who feel their earthly knowledge on a certain subject is superior to the heavenly knowledge which God gives to His prophet on the same subject. They feel the prophet must have the same earthly credentials or training which they have had before they will accept anything the prophet has to say that might contradict their earthly schooling. How much earthly schooling did Joseph Smith have? Yet he gave revelations on all kinds of subjects. We haven’t yet had a prophet who earned a doctorate in any subject, but as someone said, “A prophet may not have his Ph.D. but he certainly has his LDS.” We encourage earthly knowledge in many areas, but remember, if there is ever a conflict between earthly knowledge and the words of the prophet, you stand with the prophet, and you’ll be blessed and time will vindicate you.”

  22. Sophie, thanks for the response. I think then-Elder Benson’s address certainly embodies the sort of anti-intellectual strain of LDS thought. I’m currently working on a project analyzing Mormon perspectives of non-Mormon intellectuals, religious leaders, scholars, scientists, etc. Briefly, I’m exploring a certain tension within Mormonism’s approach to Truth, such as its skepticism toward the wisdom of world due to a “great apostasy” versus its impulse to seek further light and knowledge both spiritual and temporal as part of an ongoing “restoration.”

    The tension is found in Joseph Smith himself, with his statements about creeds all being abominable versus his revelations that Mormons must seek learning and his conferring with non-Mormon figures like Joshua Seixas. There are a lot of interesting streams of thought that lend into this tension, and I’m specifically looking at the ways which Mormon leaders have made use of non-Mormon voices in their sermons and writings. (Think C.S. Lewis in General Conference, for example.) Benson definitely falls onto the “apostasy” side of the divide, although even he found ways to appropriate the views of certain non-Mormon writers.

  23. Nice review, BHodges, and a reminder that the Evangelical community is not the monolithic evil empire of disinformation with pretensions to Borg-like dominance that some of us imagine, even as we are not a monolithic evil cult with pretensions to Borg-like dominance that some of them imagine. Sounds like a good read.

  24. Criminies. The rate at which blog threads (and any thread, such as Mormon Dialogue board things) grows in just a couple of hours reminds me of why I don’t post often. Multiple people, multiple angles, and not enough time to give anyone the time their questions deserve.

    The argument about Barton versus other historians reminds me of the classic ancient near eastern history tiff between I believe it was William Dever of BAR and Mark Smith (The Early History of God, among other books). I could be off about it being Smith, but I know Dever was part of it. It was an amusing episode of responses back and forth in a journal wherein they attacked each other, vilified each other, called each other names and insulted their mothers (really), their education, their competence, etc. The amusing thing is that both have quoted the other before and after the event because both did good research useful in areas, but both greatly disagreed on key conclusions.

    Barton reminds me of Dever. Dever is more charismatic than most biblical scholars, but he is also more sensational and comes to wonky conclusions at times. It’s not so much his research, it’s thoroughness, etc. It’s that he has the ability to come to a conclusion that to him (and many others) is a perfectly legitimate conclusion but is far removed from what most in his field would agree with. It doesn’t make Dever a hack, and occasionally in these larger disparities, the other side eventually moves towards him. Vindication on a couple of items then becomes the basis for Dever followers to accept more of what he says less critically, while his wonky conclusions on other items is enough for others to treat anything he produces as ignorant and wasteful. But if Dever was ignored completely, several key findings in biblical archeology and history would not have occurred or would have been far delayed. This is my view of Barton. As a researcher, he is very thorough in finding primary sources, and it helps he has the funds and network to acquire some unique items of relevance from certain people (ie, evangelicals) that have been passed down in families for generations and now are revealed for the first time. However, he still comes to wonky conclusions, and his opponents take them and make them even wonkier. But not reviewing what he has written is a good way to ensure that some new historical documents he gained first access to is never seen. I personally love the amount of primary sources he uses (I do not, however own any of his books, only copied useful source quotes from libraries). I use Bart Ehrman in much the same way. A large amount of Greek and New Testament scholars have a major beef with Ehrman’s interpretation of certain things. But no one denies he is a powerhouse of access to original Greek biblical documents, he is the source of many translations, etc. And I do own several of his books (because it ties in to my ancient history college education).

  25. “I was reminded of the fifth fundamental of Ezra Taft Benson’s 14 fundamentals speech.”

    This is, unfortunately, one of the conference talks (recently reiterated in another Conference talk about a year ago) that I have issues with certain parts of. Some of those points fly in the face of multiple prophetic statements and scripture, and others are worded in such a way that the anti-intellectuals in the church have used it to attack certain people (including me) in the church.

    For instance, “if there is ever a conflict between earthly knowledge and the words of the prophet, you stand with the prophet, and you’ll be blessed and time will vindicate you.” I disagree with this. In behavioral items, sure, I can accept that. But Brigham Young once said “leave science to the scientists”, among other things, and during the debate about evolution, the age of the earth etc regarding then Elder Joseph Fielding Smith’s published views, the same sentiment was reiterated. When the manuals at church veer into historical items that are based on old research, I bring in modern knowledge. When it makes outright mistakes, (such as the nature of Baal in the bible dictionary), I correct it in class if it is of significance. Sometimes I am in conflict with the words of the prophets. But not, as far as I am aware, the revealed words of the prophet.

  26. I think the main problem for people who wish to call Barton a good historian is the ease with which anyone can tie his blatant omissions and misrepresentations directly to his particular and open political agenda. Of course, not everything he says is completely inaccurate, by no means. It’s more economical in the short run to just dismiss him outright because, after all, he’s running an industry and not doing academic scholarship, that is, participating in the wider academic community which has its own schools of thought, areas of focus, biases of emphasis, and methods of source use, etc. He’s simply not a reliable source on the nuances of the american past, and I would only recommend his works as themselves being primary documents, not good secondary overviews of primary documents. Above, Christopher asked if you have an example of a debate where Barton defeats a historian. Do you have any particular examples?

  27. “Above, Christopher asked if you have an example of a debate where Barton defeats a historian. Do you have any particular examples?”

    Sorry Christopher, I didn’t catch that request.

    In short, no. I heard two played on radio, and one video clip I saw on a news website. The last one was about a year or year and a half ago. I am not that great at finding things like that via Google, and most radio shows make you pay to search anything over a week old. One of them I know for sure was played on the local afternoon show in Salt Lake on AM 550 (I believe at that time it was the Rod Arquette show). Another I know was in front of a convention where a college history professor confronted him and lasted about 4-5 minutes. That’s about all I can remember unfortunately. Not exactly a lot, but in my brief attempts at searching for them, I couldn’t find any account of him even speaking with another US history historian, not even one to mock Barton.

  28. I actually agree with President Benson, in principle. If, indeed, God grants scientific information to the prophet, then he has something to say that would be valuable. If, on the other hand, the President of the Church speaks on his own knowledge, then no, it shouldn’t overrule other information. And in my experience and research in the scriptures, God rarely, if ever, grants scientific knowledge directly to humans; it’s not part of the program.

  29. I’d like to add a final thought about Barton, this from an NPR story which refers to an episode of Barton’s radio program talking about politics and the Bible. We get a nice glimpse of the amazingly problematic way that Barton uses texts.

    Recently, on his radio program WallBuilders, David Barton and a guest discussed Jesus’ parable of the vineyard owner. In it, the owner pays the worker he hires at the end of the day the same wage as he pays the one who begins work in the morning. Many theologians have long interpreted this as God’s grace being available right up to the last minute, but Barton sees the parable as a bar to collective bargaining.

    “Where were unions in all this? The contract is between an employer and an employee. It’s not between a group,” Barton said. “He went out and hired individually the guys he wanted to work.”

    His blatant and apparently un-self-aware wresting of this parable requires no further comment!

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