World magazine breaks the story about conservative Christians who view David Barton of Wallbuilders as an embarrassment. The focus of the current controversy is Barton's new book on Jefferson. My friend Jay Richards doesn't mince words; he says this book and Barton's other books and videos are full of "embarrassing factual errors, suspiciously selective quotes, and highly misleading claims."
I'm not a scholar of Thomas Jefferson, but I am a scholar of John Locke. Barton has an article about Locke on his website, so I thought I'd weigh in with my opinion on whether it matches Jay's description of Barton's methods. It does, and then some.
I should note for the record that I'm not only a conservative (both theologically, as an evangelical, and politically, as a Republican) but one with a track record of defending Locke against claims that he was a deist or that his philosophy is antithetical to Christianity. As providence would have it, just over a week ago I published an article on how Locke's Reasonableness helped me come to faith in Jesus Christ.
Yet Barton's attempt to fit Locke into his larger historical narrative forces him into numerous distortions. Moreover, the article contains a number of incidental facutal errors that don't even advance his thesis, indicating that his inability to write reliable history stretches beyond ideological cheerleading and into outright incompetence.
1) Barton: "One of Locke's earliest writings was his 1660 'First Tract of Government' followed by his 1662 'Second Tract of Government.' Neither was published at that time, but they later appeared in 1689 as his famous Two Treatises of Government."
The Tracts and the Treatises are different works. Far more embarrassing for Barton, they actually defend opposite positions! In the Tracts, Locke offers a Hobbesian argument that state authority should trump individual claims to liberty, especially in religion. Needless to say, Locke had a total change of heart between the writing of the Tracts and the Treatises. The late 1660s seem to have been a period of rapid change in his thinking.
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