Darryl Hart Weighs-In on the Thomas Kidd-Jonathan Merritt Debate

Liberty U

In case you haven’t heard, Baylor University historian Thomas Kidd and journalist Jonathan Merritt had a debate.  Read all about it here.  And now Darryl Hart has commented on it.

As is usually the case, Darryl manages to throw everyone under the bus in one way or another, but the crux of his piece is a criticism of Merritt.  Here is a taste:

Where does this leave us? More people read Jonathan Merritt than Tommie Kidd and more editors and journalists read Merritt than Kidd, and this despite the fact that Kidd is one of the most productive evangelical historians who writes for first rate university and trade presses. What impresses Americans, despite our high rates of college education, is a presence in the media (from podcasts and cable news to Twitter). And yet, if Jonathan Merritt hadn’t had a father who went to seminary to study with professors who read some of Kidd’s book, and if Merritt himself had not gone to a college that only hires and grants tenure to professors with Kidd’s kind of accomplishments, he wouldn’t have a job as a writer.

At some point, journalists might want to pay it backward a little to the teachers who educated them (even indirectly).

Read the entire post at Hart’s Patheos blog.   The only real issue I have with the excerpt above is this line: “if Merritt himself had not gone to a college that only hires and grants tenure to professors with Kidd’s kind of accomplishments…”  Actually, Merritt is a 2004 graduate of Liberty University.  As far as I know Liberty does not have any historians of Kidd’s caliber (it is primarily a teaching university and most faculty don’t publish books with Yale, Princeton, Oxford, and Basic) and the college does not grant tenure.

3 thoughts on “Darryl Hart Weighs-In on the Thomas Kidd-Jonathan Merritt Debate

  1. Hart takes a bizzare tack when saying that Americans are “impressed” by journalists instead of scholars, whereas I think the fair reading of the nature of reality is that Americans, and, well, all people ( side note: this is an odd place to insert a casual implicit critique of specifically American culture), simply have more *access* to journalists than scholars. Need it be actually argued that one of the primary existential points of journalistic communication is that it reach a wide enough audience to support one’s own salary requirements, something almost never required of scholars?


  2. Hi James: I’m sorry you feel that way. Please don’t read too much into this.

    You are correct that I am not a fan of Liberty University or Jerry Falwell Jr., but I am a fan of many of its professors, including Sam Smith and Karen Swallow Prior. I am also a fan of the resources that Liberty University has available if it wants to build a first-rate research university.
    If Liberty had a system of tenure, invested millions into research (instead of buildings and towers). did not have a toxic and tyrannical administration, and did not have Jerry Falwell Jr. as president, I might even consider teaching their myself. While there may have been a subtle jab in my remarks, they were meant in response to Darryl Hart’s post. Liberty does not have a historian of Kidd’s caliber. This does not mean that they don’t have a good teaching history department. But Kidd works for a real research university where he gets the opportunity to write and research and he is paid to do it. Moreover, he can do all of this with a certain degree of academic freedom because he has tenure. Liberty does not offer these things and thus will never attract the top scholars in humanities-based fields. So when Hart said that Merritt’s undergraduate institution had professors with tenure who produce high-quality scholarship, I pointed out that this was actually not true. That’s it. I wish you well as you finish your M.A. at Liberty. I agree with you, there are “top notch teachers” in the Liberty history department.


  3. Dr. Fea,

    I am hesitant to even comment on this post because I agree with what you are saying and have a lot of respect for you. I understand you are not a fan of Liberty University. In light of Fallwell Jr.’s unapologetic support of President Trump I can understand how this casts the University in a poor light. But using this article to take a swipe at Liberty University and especially the history department seems petty. I am completing my M.A. in History there and the history faculty are top notch teachers. Merritt’s website (http://jonathanmerritt.com/meet-jonathan/) states he has an M.Div. from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Master of Theology from Emory University. It stands to reason that his misguided ideas are much more likely to have originated in those places than at Liberty University.


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