Top Ten Posts in 2015

The ten top posts during 2015 are as follows with the most popular first:
1. Open Letter to Gateway Church Pastor Robert Morris from a Former Member of Mars Hill Church – This was posted on November 2, 2014 but remained popular throughout 2015. Driscoll recently joined Jimmy Evans as a director to form The Trinity Church in Phoenix.
2. Former Chief Financial Officer at Turning Point Claims David Jeremiah Used Questionable Methods to Secure a Spot on Best Seller Lists – This story about David Jeremiah’s questionable tactics from a former insider was a scoop but not one which stuck to Jeremiah like  a similar scandal did to Mark Driscoll.
3. Hillsong’s Brian Houston Interviewed Mark and Grace Driscoll After All (VIDEO) (AUDIO) – First, he said he would interview Driscoll, then he said he wouldn’t, then Brian Houston aired an interview with Mark and Grace Driscoll. It was great theatre but didn’t draw good reviews from former Mars Hill leavers.
4. A major study of child abuse and homosexuality revisited – This post from 2009 is one of the most popular articles in the history of the blog. In it, I demonstrate a key mistake in a journal article often used to link homosexuality and child abuse.
5. Southern Baptists Say Enough to Perry Noble and NewSpring Church – I am surprised that this post got so much attention.
6. Gospel for Asia Faces Allegations of Misconduct; GFA Board Investigation Found No Wrongdoing – The GFA story received the most attention from me this year.
7. Pastor of Willow Creek Presbyterian Says Church Reaction to Hiring Tullian Tchividjian is “Overwhelmingly Positive” – I briefly covered Tullian Tchividjian’s comeback as a development minister at a PCA church in FL.
8. A Few Thoughts on The Village Church Controversy – Village Church’s leadership apologized for their response to a young woman who sought a divorce from her husband who had admitted having child porn.
9. Hillsong Founder Brian Houston Issues Statement On Mark Driscoll at the Hillsong 2015 Conference – Mark Driscoll’s return to the spotlight garnered much reader attention.
10. Gospel for Asia’s K.P. Yohannan and the Ring Kissing Ritual – While the financial scandals were of interest to readers, this article ranked higher than the money problems.
To fully capture activity on the blog, one should consider the Gospel for Asia scandals (Patheos considered my coverage as a part of one of their top ten Evangelical stories of 2015).
It has been a good year and I thank my readers and those who support the blog with their comments and regular visits.

Ten Years of Blogging: My Early Posts About David Barton's Historical Claims

I started fact checking David Barton’s historical claims in April of 2011. I had been writing about Bryan Fischer’s odd claim (seemed odd to me) that the First Amendment only covered Christians.  Examining Fischer’s claims, I found that Barton was a big influence on Fischer.
My first post on Barton related to the Jefferson Bible (see also this follow up post). Others on Jefferson followed which eventually formed the basis for Getting Jefferson Right, my book with Michael Coulter.
For all posts fact checking David Barton’s historical claims, click here.

Robert Morris Scrubs Reference to His Doctorate of Literature

Earlier this month, I pointed out that Robert Morris referred to his honorary degree from his own university (The King’s University) as a “doctorate of literature.” This sounds like a real earned doctorate but in his case it is not. Morris has not completed any college degree and has acknowledged using ghostwriters to write his books.
Since that post, Gateway Church’s website has been scrubbed of references to the “doctorate of literature.” For instance, here is the previous church bio, before the post:
RobertMorriswdoctorate
If you go to Morris’ church bio now, you will see that the reference to the doctorate is missing.
Robertmorriswodoctorate
It has disappeared from the Facebook page as well. It does still appear on this Amazon author’s bio as well as a smattering of places around the web. It does not appear on the Gateway website. There has been no comment from Morris or Thomas Nelson just crickets and scrubbing like it was never there.
 
 

A Year Ago World Magazine Broke the Mark Driscoll New York Times Best-Seller List Story; Will Hillsong Host His Comeback?

Seems like yesterday that ResultSource and Mars Hill Church’s book selling scheme came into the public consciousness. However, it was a year ago today that Warren Smith’s article was posted. The next day, I posted the contract signed by Mars Hill Church executive pastor Sutton Turner and ResultSource CEO Kevin Small that spelled out the arrangements which if followed would lead to a spot on the New York Times best-seller list.
While it took several months for Mars Hill Church to unravel, that March 5, 2014 revelation seemed to alert even friends that something might be seriously wrong at the megachurch. The disclosure ignited an ongoing conversation about the ethics of buying a spot on best-seller lists. Later, it became known that Les and Leslie Parrott, and David Jeremiah also used similar schemes to elevate their books to the best seller lists. However, they have not experienced the same level of criticism and attention as has Driscoll.
In the aftermath of the Mars Hill debacle, at least one publisher (Crossway) took a vocal stand against deception in book marketing, but it is not clear that the revelations about buying a NYT’s best seller has led to significant changes. Christian media (with two exceptions) have not been aggressive in reporting on Christian authors who have manipulated the best seller lists. The largest Christian publishers (HarperCollins Christian and Tyndale House) and have refused to answer questions on the subject.
Since he resigned in October 2014, Driscoll has kept a relatively low profile. He may return to the limelight in June and July as a speaker for the Hillsong conferences in Sydney and Europe. Hillsong still has Driscoll listed as “the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle and one of the most popular preachers in the world today.” I recently wrote and tweeted Hillsong to ask about the description and speaking engagement. No answer as yet. 

More of the Story Behind the Demise of David Barton's The Jefferson Lies

On his Wallbuilders show last Friday, David Barton belittled the number of Facebook followers Getting Jefferson Right has. I replied:

At the end of the broadcast, the gang makes light of the number of Facebook likes the Getting Jefferson Right page has. How about another comparison with the now pulled from print The Jefferson Lies? How about comparing the number of favorable reviews from actual historians each book has?
I know our book has several quality reviews posted on our book website, but I am not aware of any for The Jefferson Lies. Looking for one, I went to Barton’s book website for The Jefferson Lies. On the front page, there is a link that appears to be a review page but it goes nowhere but back to the home page. I know of several critical reviews for The Jefferson Lies but no positive ones from historians.
In my search, I clicked through to Barton’s effort to answer his critics. The following paragraph caught my eye:

In August 2012, several media outlets reported that Jay Richards, a philosopher and theologian with the Discovery Institute who was also a public endorser of Throckmorton’s book, had asked “10 conservative Christian professors to assess my work.” It was reported that their responses were “negative.” However, some of the ten listed by him had flatly refused to participate in his quest but yet were still listed as providing “negative” responses against me. And in direct conversations I had with Richards after he coordinated these attacks, he openly confessed to me that he knew very little about history. Only four of the ten scholars contacted by Richards actually provided any critiques of my work: Glenn Moots, Glenn Sunshine, Greg Forester, and Gregg Frazer. Of these four, only Frazer specializes in religion and the American founding, but his critique did not even address The Jefferson Lies, and it is not clear that he even bothered to read it. Instead, he watched and criticized a twenty year old video entitled America’s Godly Heritage.

I asked Jay Richards if the claims in this paragraph are accurate. Richards said that he recalled about six written responses from historians with others saying they didn’t have time to do a written review. In other words, they provided reactions but not all were written. None were favorable to The Jefferson Lies. Some who lacked time later commented publicly about Barton’s vision of Jefferson. In an August 2012 World article by Thomas Kidd, Daniel Dreisbach, Kevin Gutzman and James Stoner all disputed Barton’s characterization of Jefferson as being orthodox before 1813. In the paragraph above, Barton minimized the critical reaction to The Jefferson Lies.
Richards agreed that Gregg Frazer’s written submission was about America’s Godly Heritage (I published Frazer’s devastating critique here) but reminded me that Frazer also critiqued an aspect of The Jefferson Lies in World. It also should be noted that America’s Godly Heritage is still for sale on Wallbuilders’ website so Barton’s qualification that the DVD is twenty years old is irrelevant.
Then Richards added something that I don’t think has been reported before. He said:

The entire context is missing from the statement: I contacted a diverse group of scholars with related expertise and clear conservative credentials to ask them their opinion of Barton’s work and The Jefferson Lies in particular. I also asked for written evaluations if possible. The purpose was to compile these and give them to Glenn Beck so he could evaluate them for himself. In the meantime, Thomas Nelson got word of genuine controversy over the book, conducted their own evaluation and pulled the book. This happened before the World article ever came out, and so was not in response to negative media criticism.

Fewer than ten written evaluations from the scholars does not mean the other scholars refused to critique Barton. They did offer Richards feedback and, as noted above, some of them were interviewed by Thomas Kidd for World. Barton’s answer to critics omits this context. Furthermore, Glenn Beck had this feedback and chose to disregard it. He continues to do so, as do other religious right leaders who know about the false historical claims but continue to tout Barton as a respected historian.
Another little known detail about the incident is that Thomas Nelson had pulled the book from publication before World reported on the story. I have learned that the book had been pulled from the publisher’s website at least several days before it was reported in World.
Barton also claims in his response to critics that Simon & Schuster picked up The Jefferson Lies. To date, that publisher has not issued another edition.
From the vantage point of the present, it seems more remarkable than ever that Thomas Nelson pulled The Jefferson Lies from print. Over the last year and a half, we have witnessed publishers stick with authors who have plagiarized material and books with dubious content.  For instance, Tyndale House stuck with Kevin Malarkey’s The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven long after the publisher was aware that there were credibility problems with the story. The publisher only pulled the book when the boy who was the subject of the book publicly recanted his story. The Jefferson Lies publisher, Thomas Nelson (now part of HarperCollins Christian), is sticking with similar book  Heaven Is for Real and quietly fixed multiple plagiarism problems in Mark Driscoll’s Real Marriage. Even in this publishing environment, Thomas Nelson pulled a best selling book because of their investigation of the facts.
Barton appears to want to change the subject in his reaction to critics by invoking the sale of Thomas Nelson to Rupert Murdoch’s HarperCollins publishing company:

Clearly, Thomas Nelson’s public statements about the reason for pulling the book are incongruous with the above facts, so was there perhaps some other reason behind their announcement? Quite possibly, for only two weeks prior to suddenly dropping The Jefferson Lies, Thomas Nelson had been taken over in an acquisition by Rupert Murdoch and HarperCollins Publishers.

It is hard to know what Barton is implying here. Murdoch is a conservative who founded Fox News, a network which has been generally friendly to Barton’s brand. Given other books HarperCollins Christian offers and has preserved (e.g., Driscoll’s book), it is hard to make a case that the change of ownership had an any effect on the decision to pull the book.
 
 
 

HarperCollins Christian Published Kevin Malarkey's Second Book

Today, HarperCollins Christian Publishers released a marketing email for their heaven tourism book, Heaven Is for Real, in the face of the failure of Tyndale House’s book The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven. In short, HCC is standing behind the Colton and Todd Burpo’s story.
As it turns out, another one of HCC’s authors is Kevin Malarkey, the author of the now discredited The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven.
Marlarkey’s second book (with agent Matt Jacobson), titled Beautiful Defeat, is available now on the HCC website.
Alex Malarkey’s retraction undermined the credibility of the entire enterprise involving Kevin Malarkey and Matt Jacobson and so I wonder if the collapse of The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven presents any problems for HCC.
 

The Great Confrontation of 2012: David Barton and the Evangelical Historians

In August 2012, Thomas Nelson (now part of Harper Collins Christian) pulled David Barton‘s book The Jefferson Lies from publication. This rare move by Thomas Nelson took place in the midst of efforts by several people to confront Barton with his errors. While I cannot tell the whole story (in part because I don’t know it and in part because the main players are not willing to discuss it completely), I can provide a little more insight into the situation. The door was opened to this by a footnote on David Barton’s website and other vague references to a series of meetings that took place in 2012. The footnote is on the page where Barton claims to explain false quotes from his first book. Barton says this:

Although many people, including several respected academics, have told David that they admire his honesty and transparency, others have attempted to use this practice against him. For instance, in a recent critique of David’s work, Professor Gregg Frazer of The Master’s College writes:

“Having been confronted over the use of false quotes, Barton was forced to acknowledge their illegitimacy in some way on his website. There, he describes them as “unconfirmed” – as if there is some doubt about their legitimacy. In a computer age with search capabilities, we know that these quotes are false – the fact that they are listed as “unconfirmed” reflects a stubborn attempt to hold onto them and to suggest to followers that they might be true. That is made worse by the fact that under these “unconfirmed” quotes are paragraphs maintaining that the bogus quote is something that the person might have said.” 2

What an interesting reward for trying to be honest and transparent.

Barton’s claim to be “honest and transparent” requires much more attention, but for the purpose of this post, let me move on to Barton’s description of the source of Gregg Frazer’s words. In the footnote, Barton explains the source of Frazer’s quote:

From a hostile written review of David Barton and WallBuilders written by Gregg Frazer at the request of Jay Richards. That written critique was subsequently passed on to David Barton on August 13, 2012, by the Rev. James Robison, to whom Jay Richards had distributed it. 

After Jay Richards read my book with Michael Coulter, Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third Presidenthe asked ten Christian historians to read both The Jefferson Lies, and then our book. Richards wanted to get expert opinions on the facts in each book. He also asked Gregg Frazer to review Barton’s DVD, America’s Godly Heritage (which is still for sale on Barton’s website).
With Frazer’s permission, the complete review of America’s Godly Heritage is now available here.
As is clear from an examination of the paper, Frazer did not look at each one of the quotes in Barton’s first book. He specifically examined the DVD series America’s Godly Heritage. Even though the DVD is still for sale, Frazer found faulty quotes in it.
As Barton says in his footnote, this paper was presented to Barton by James Robison surrounding the time when his book was pulled by Thomas Nelson (August 2012). Robison is an apostolic elder at Gateway Church and host of the television show Life Today. As this footnote reveals, Robison was in on the confrontation as was Richards and the Christian historians. While I don’t know specifics, some met with Barton at his ranch where he rejected their advice and counsel. Furthermore, Barton met with at least one leader at the Family Research Council in August 2o12. In that meeting, Barton’s errors were confronted with promises from Barton to provide corrected material. However, nothing happened on Barton’s end until the Family Research Council was confronted by numerous Christian historians in the Spring of 2013.
Despite numerous clear factual errors, FRC continues to have Barton involved in their presentations to pastors. As Politico documented in 2013 (Sen. Ted Cruz defends Barton in this article), Barton has been accepted back into the good graces of the political arm of the Christian right (e.g., this apologetics conference).
The awareness of Barton’s systematic distortion of the nation’s founding is well known at the highest levels of the Christian political right and yet many such groups continue to promote Barton as an exemplary historian.  Because the Christian right is aware of the problems but continues to feature Barton as an historian, the “great confrontation of 2012” has turned into the “great cover-up of the present.”
More to come: Gregg Frazer’s review of America’s Godly Heritage is a devastating critique of this popular DVD program. It has been read by high level decision makers on the Christian right and ignored. I urge readers to read it and pass it around. I intend to give it more attention by focusing on various highlights in upcoming posts.