The Sectarian Review on “David Barton and the End of History”

We’re coming up on the end of the season 2 of The Pietist Schoolman Podcast, with only one or two more episodes remaining after tomorrow’s discussion of education. But if you’d like to find something new to listen to after we go on hiatus, you need not look further than the many other excellent podcasts on the Christian Humanist Radio Network.

From The Christian Feminist Podcast to the new City of Man series on politics, the hosts of all these shows take seriously the founders’ original commitment to think seriously as Christians about “philosophy, theology, literature, and other things that humans do well.”

But also to think about how humans do some of these same things poorly. Which brings us to the newest episode of Danny Anderson’s Sectarian Review, on the subject of “David Barton and the End of History.”

I suspect that most readers of this blog already know a bit about Barton, who likes to present himself as “America’s Historian” — both in the sense of his undeniably, if troublingly, wide popularity and his commitment to presenting a certain interpretation of U.S. history rooted in a certain vision of America. If you need to get caught up, you can read a lot of posts about Barton from John Fea, or just listen to the helpful introduction provided by Danny’s guest this week, Jay Eldred, who first stumbled across Barton’s work in his role as a social studies teacher at a private Christian school.

Jay points out that Barton’s appropriation of the past is troubling to historians of all backgrounds, given his use of sources and his seeming disinterest in basic concepts of historical thinking like context, complexity, and change over time. But Danny and Jay spend much of the wide-ranging episode reflecting on what Barton’s work has to say about evangelicalism in America: e.g., how his message is disseminated within the complicated networks of that movement, the evangelical embrace of nationalism and “religious freedom,” and how Barton’s version of history represents yet another of what Danny calls the “alternative universes” of evangelicalism.

Episode 9 of Sectarian ReviewHaving written before about the question of “who owns history,” I found especially interesting Jay’s suggestion that Barton — by presenting himself as an alternative to credentialed historians like, well, me — taps into the evangelical inheritance of the priesthood of all believers: “It is possible to become a good historian without formal training. There are many good amateur historians out there. But it’s almost as if Barton makes it a point of pride to reject any sort of historical training.”

The second half of the episode title suggests another double-meaning. First, Barton’s approach undermines history, which is a disciplined way of thinking about and making meaning of the past, one that historians of all backgrounds and beliefs seek to do with integrity. But second, Barton also prompts us to think anew about the end (telos) of that discipline, as something that Christians, like other humans, should strive to “do well.”

That’s certainly something I find myself talking about more and more with my students, and ruminating about here at this blog. In fact, when asked to share what’s distinctive about how and why Christians engage in the practice of history, Jay did me the huge honor of encouraging listeners to hit pause and read my recent attempt to sum up (via a prayer I wrote) the basics of what it is that Christian historians do.

You can find the Barton episode and subscribe to Sectarian Review at iTunes or on Feedburner.

And remember to stop back here tomorrow for the newest episode of our own contribution to the CH Radio Network!

One thought on “The Sectarian Review on “David Barton and the End of History”

  1. I am both deeply honored and greatly humbled by your kind synopsis.

    I can think of no greater compliment than to hear that an idea or comment caused one to think.

    Continue your own great work with Pietist Schoolman; your episodes continue to challenge me about what it means to live a deliberate Christian life.

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