Sunday, June 26, 2011

Barton Responds to Pinto

Chris Pinto is a conservative evangelical who disbelieves in David Barton's Christian Nation historical mythology. Conservative evangelicals (Barton, Pinto, et al.) tend to believe Sola Scriptura unquestionably teaches orthodox Trinitarian doctrine and they fairly strictly interpret the term "Christian" accordingly.

So it shouldn't surprise given the unitarianism in which many "key Founders" and their intellectual influences believed, orthodox Christians, especially of the evangelical bent, would doubt America's "Christian heritage" once they discovered the facts David Barton doesn't give them.

David Barton attempts to respond to Pinto in this article. Barton admits there that he usually ignores his critics; but, what Barton doesn't note, he may have a thing for Pinto given Worldview Weekend used to promote Barton's work, but now promotes Pinto's.

At issue is whether, in this letter, John Adams is mocking or praising the Christian concept of the "Holy Spirit." I am convinced by Chris Rodda's analysis that Adams didn't mean what Barton thinks he does. Granted John Adams' context can be difficult to understand.

I'm not going to dissect Barton's latest response, just offer some observations. Yes, John Adams 1. was a devoutly religious "Protestant"; 2. disbelieved in the doctrine of divine right of kings; and 3. was quite suspicious of, indeed downright bigoted towards Roman Catholicism. Barton more or less raises these points to try to put Adams' letter in context.

1-3 are areas that Barton and J. Adams have in common (though Barton is not bigoted towards Roman Catholics, rather just disagrees with them). (And I don't think "biblical Christianity" sees the doctrine of divine right of Kings as a "heresy" as Barton claims; at least it's no more heretical than the notion that the Bible teaches the concept of a "republic." No. A Kingdom might not be the government the Bible demands; but a "Kingdom" is clearly a more biblically discussed and endorsed form of government than a "republic." The Bible speaks of a "Kingdom" not a "republic" of Heaven.) This is done to mislead Barton's Christian reader into thinking J. Adams believed in the same kind of "Christianity" that they do. And of course such a "Christianity" would not mock the Holy Spirit, the 3rd Person in the Trinity.

Barton as I read this article doesn't squarely address Chris Pinto's claims, but rather tries to overwhelm the reader with logically fallacious irrelevancies. First he tries to poison the well by grouping Pinto with "liberals and atheists." And then Barton engages in a long discussion of five strawmen that he accuses Pinto of making: "Modernism, Minimalism, and Deconstructionism (the other two of the five are Poststructuralism and Academic Collectivism...)."

Let me solidify my case for the notion that Barton's article confuses and deceives his evangelical Christian readers into thinking J. Adams was a "Christian" according to their standards:

Chris Pinto, in his analysis of Adams letter, has managed to ignore more than a millennia of church and world history in his unreasonable attempt to brand John Adams a heretic and blasphemer of the Holy Spirit. And adding insult to his malpractice injury, he also ignored more than thirty volumes of Adams’ published writings, containing hundreds of positive letters and repeated favorable references to religion and Christianity. Thus, Pinto’s claim about Adams’ irreligion is directly refuted not only by the context of the letter itself but also by the powerful evidence of the lifelong proven faith and character of John Adams.

But, whatever we conclude of the letter in question, John Adams was a heretic and a blasphemer according to Barton's professed creed. Barton then cites "scores of other quotes by John Adams," to "contrast them with the anti-religious image that Pinto wrongly attempts to draw of Adams." (Bold mine.) Well yes, let's look at some of Adams' other "quotes" to see how wrong Pinto's assessment of John Adams' faith is:

"If I understand the Doctrine, it is, that if God the first second or third or all three together are united with or in a Man, the whole Animal becomes a God and his Mother is the Mother of God.

"It grieves me: it shocks me to write in this stile upon a subject the most adorable that any finite Intelligence can contemplate or embrace: but if ever Mankind are to be superior to the Brutes, sacerdotal Impostures must be exposed."

-- John Adams to Francis van der Kemp, October 23, 1816.

"The Trinity was carried in a general council by one vote against a quaternity; the Virgin Mary lost an equality with the Father, Son, and Spirit only by a single suffrage."

-- John Adams to Benjamin Rush, June 12, 1812.


"An incarnate God!!! An eternal, self-existent, omnipresent omniscient Author of this stupendous Universe, suffering on a Cross!!! My Soul starts with horror, at the Idea, and it has stupified the Christian World. It has been the Source of almost all of the Corruptions of Christianity."

-- John Adams to John Quincy Adams, March 28, 1816.

There John Adams -- a unitarian his entire adult life -- bitterly mocks the Trinity and the Incarnation. This is the "proven faith" of John Adams. How does Barton deal with this for his readers? He doesn't. He's deceptive.


jimmiraybob said...

RE: "David Barton attempts to respond to Pinto in this article."

The link goes to the Wall Builder's copy of the Adam's letter. Should it have directed to another site?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Barton gets the better of Pinto: Pinto indeed claims that Adams is mocking the very idea of The Holy Spirit.

The letter doesn't say that.

Jon, I wish you would have examined the actual controversy with Pinto instead of detouring into another attack ["deceptive"] on Barton for eliding the unitarianism question, which is your own cause and concern, not his.

Pinky said...

"The Trinity was carried in a general council by one vote against a quaternity; the Virgin Mary lost an equality with the Father, Son, and Spirit only by a single suffrage."

-- John Adams to Benjamin Rush, June 12, 1812.

Can we get some more on this intriguing bit?

Jonathan Rowe said...

JRB: Thanks. Fixed the link.

Brad Hart said...

Good stuff, Jon. Thanks.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Good question, Pinky. I tried to look it up and see that Jon has used that quote literally 100 times on the internet, with no explanation of what it means. I found nothing so far that what Adams said is true.

Not saying it's not true, but Adams was a dilettante in theology and not a serious scholar.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Heh. I did quite the job spreading that one around (thanks to James H. Hutson).

Jim Allison has the entire letter. Quite an amusing read. I think Adams might have been a little tipsy when writing it.

jimmiraybob said...


Here's some commentary that includes correspondence that I haven't seen mentioned before regarding the context of Adam's letter to Rush.

This may be old news to those who have studied the matter more closely than I have but has helped me get a fuller understanding of Adams' and Rush's exchange.

jimmiraybob said...

One problem with Barton’s use of the Reverend Wise’s periodization scheme is that according to it, Period 1 (first three centuries following Jesus) is a time of pure Christianity where, to quote Barton, “Jesus’ followers throughout that time largely did just what He had taught them to do.” But this period was anything but a homogeneous time with regard to the development of the Trinity doctrine (with the first apparent conception of the Trinity made by Tertullian in the early 3rd century – please correct me if I’m wrong). It wasn’t until the fourth century (ca. 325 and Constantine’s rule) that the doctrine of the Trinity gained the upper hand as orthodox doctrine. But, according to Barton’s use of wise’s work this was during Period 2 where the “The State took control of the Church” and was in Wise’s words “…a time of ‘the secularization of the Church and the deprivation of Christianity’…”

This juxtaposition seems to advocate that the orthodox Trinity doctrine was developed during and as a consequence of secular/state bastardization of church doctrine (not to mention the next 14 centuries of Period 2) and itself seems to be a refutation of a resultant orthodox/Nicean trinitarian authority (post 325 CE).

Somehow I doubt that this is the intent of either Barton or Wise. But I’m not sure. Is Barton saying that the Christianity (actually Christianities since there was no single, unifying authoritarian doctrine) of the first three centuries is the purest and deserving of the authority of “the” true Church (very tricky maneuvering)? And as for reference to Adams, wouldn’t this corroborate his contempt of these corruptions by both the orthodox Church and state and his mocking of the orthodox trinitarian doctrine? This seems as heretical as a Unitarian doctrine. Was Wise a pre-Nicean trinitarian (Tertulian? Athanasius doctrine)? How different was the pre- and post-Nicean trinitarian doctrine(s) and if Adams was mocking the latter would that also encompass the former when he refers to “…this is all artifice and cunning…” and “…the poor weak ignorant dupe, human nature.”

In light of Adam’s later profession to Jefferson, giving some insight into his most personal beliefs, I think that he’s just mocking the whole trinitarian concept,

“Had you and I been forty days with Moses on Mount Sinai, and been admitted to behold the divine Shekinah, and there told that one was three and three one, we might not have had courage to deny it, but we could not have believed it.” – Adams to Jefferson, September 14, 1813

Anonymous said...

Chris Pinto is correct (I come from a family of
theologians, and although they don't like to say
it, they believe Pinto nailed it).