David Barton won't debate but sometimes folks involved in the "Christian America" movement engage in dialog. What follows is my latest email to an unnamed Christian Americanist, involved in the movement. I don't need to reproduce the series. I think you can get the gist of what we've discussed from the context of my email:
Here's a problem I have with your response: You are engaging in what's known as the genetic fallacy/poisoning the well. You intimate that if I am not "Christian" I can't properly view the American Founding & religion. Not being a Christian may send me to Hell, but it detracts nothing from the facts I uncover or arguments I make on this issue. But even accepting your logical fallacy, many Christians whose orthodox and evangelical bona fides are beyond reproach, view the American Founding the way I do (or vice versa). Indeed, they, not [David] Barton, are the cutting edge scholars on Christianity and the American Founding. These include men like Mark Noll, Gary Scott Smith, Gregg Frazer and many others. Of them, I've gotten to know Dr. Frazer and believe me, you don't have to warn me about Hellfire because he has on our American Creation threads.
In addition to him, whose work we feature regularly at AC (he's been invited as a frontpage blogger but declined) Rev. Brian Tubbs (a front page poster) is an evangelical minister and, Dr. John Fea, our regular reader and friend, is an evangelical and historian at Messiah College.
Gregg Frazer (who, as I've told you, is John MacArthur's key historian/political scientists on these issues at his church and college) would, as a fellow evangelical WARN YOU about corrupting the purity of the Bible's message by incorporating non-Christian, Americanist theology into the pulpit! You are the one, from the perspective of evangelical biblical Christianity, bringing down the Bible's message with impurity.
I don't know who the Deist big three or four are. The Deists, as I recognize them, are Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen and Elihu Palmer. And though they did important work, in part because of their outspoken Deism, they were not "key Founders." The key Founders are the first 4 Presidents, Ben Franklin and a few others. And although, if your religion is true, as mere men, they had no real power to TOUCH God's Word, they indeed ATTEMPTED to turn Christianity into a generic moralizing creed and succeeded in establishing THEIR man made creed -- which was neither Deism nor orthodox Christianity -- as the political-theological foundation of America.
The problem with trying to get a hold of the beliefs of the 200 or so FFs, taken as a collective, all we have are minimalistic connections to Christian churches for virtually all of them. On the surface both Jefferson and Patrick Henry were Anglicans/Episcopalians. The other supposed "Deist" (which he was not) Franklin likewise has a minimalistic connection to Presbyterianism and Episcopalianism. We need carefully examine their writings. And unfortunately there are question marks with most of them. That's why we focus carefully on the writings of the first and second tier Founders [the first 4 Presidents, Ben Franklin, Hamilton, G. Morris, Wilson, Sherman, Mason, Witherspoon, Jay, Henry.] But we also welcome religious explications from more forgotten Founders as well. Ultimately they were a mixed bag and Barton's formulation that 4 or 5 were deists, the rest "Christians" is false.
Re Henry (and yes I know he "smelt a rat" at the Constitutional Convention) what I said about him is fact: Though an orthodox Christian, his "give me liberty or give me death" line was taken, not from the Bible or a "Christian" source, but from Addison's Cato.
On Witherspoon, terming his writings in Lectures On Moral Philosophy, "Catholic" is probably the most charitable "Christian" reading you can given them. His "Lectures" are important because THAT and not Calvinism is what he taught his Princeton political students like James Madison. Witherspoon PURPOSEFULLY ignores the Bible in Lectures and the entire work is a defense of arguing metaphysical truths from reason/rationalism, not the Bible. It's Scottish Enlightenment 101. But my conservative Roman Catholic friends tell me Scottish Enlightement looks a lot like Aristotelian-Thomism.
Now, Witherspoon's Lectures are available online for free [hyperlink not in my original email]. Do you want me to direct you to them?