WORLD Magazine reports that Thomas Nelson decided to pull David Barton's book on the Founding Fathers.
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." (See "The David Barton controversy," Aug. 8.)
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."
Why am I not surprised that a conservative pastor with just a B.A. degree wrote a book with questionable historical accuracy? Because conservative evangelicals, and many of their pastors, believe this: since pastors are competent, and may have expertise, at preaching and teaching the Bible they have the skill, expertise, and competence to authoritatively speak on any issue.
Thomas Sowell describes this phenomenon when speaking about the arrogance of intellectuals and why they are often so wrong:
How have intellectuals managed to be so wrong, so often? By thinking that because they are knowledgeable -- or even expert -- within some narrow band out of the vast spectrum of human concerns, that makes them wise guides to the masses and to the rulers of the nation. But the ignorance of Ph.D.s is still ignorance and high-IQ groupthink is still groupthink, which is the antithesis of real thinking.
Thomas Sowell wrote a book, Intellectuals and Society, to expand on this idea. With Bartonism I'm beginning to wonder if we need a book titled, "Pastors and Society" or "Religious Leaders and Society." Conservative Protestants, even in the Reformed circles with its teaching on vocation and calling, seem too eager to blindly rely on pastors to teach about issues and in areas about which they have no training, expertise, nor competence. Why does this happen?
Is it conservative Protestant anti-intellectualism that encourages people to read about American history written by pastors as opposed to actual historians? For example, why would readers consider Barton credible to write about American history in the first place? Why would readers assume that a pastor (like Doug Wilson, for example) would be credible to write about the history of the South in books that are self-published books? As a counter example, when Peter Lillback was a pastor writing about George Washington he was writing as someone with a Ph.D. in historical theology.
There are Christian scholars, trained and credentialed, in history, mathematics, economics, sociology, psychology, education, the arts, business, literature, the sciences, medicine, philosophy, political science, agriculture, and so on. Why, then, are pastors expected to teach and reflect on these disciplines instead of those whom God has equipped? I'm not sure what the answer is but conservative Protestantism would be better served by taking advantage of the gifts, talents, and resources of the rest of God's people--that is, the ones He has positioned to be experts in their callings and vocations. Maybe more pastors simply need to be encouraged to "stay in their lane."
In the end, Sowell's reminder still holds for winsome pastors who are smart, teach right doctrine, can properly articulate the gospel, and are beloved within a particular tribe: "ignorance of Ph.D.s is still ignorance and high-IQ groupthink is still groupthink, which is the antithesis of real thinking."
What do you think contributes to the phenomena where pastors are encouraged to speak authoritatively about things which they have no training or expertise and the phenomena where conservative Protestants (even Calvinists) find this acceptable?