The Mark Driscoll controversy rages on. Now it’s about plagiarism. Interviewed on the Janet Mefferd Radio Show (21 November 2013), a show which claims to take a Christ-centred look at the events of the day, Mark Driscoll was accused of plagiarising the work of theologian Dr Peter Jones, author of Gospel Truth, Pagan Lies: Can You Tell the Difference? (2000), in Driscoll’s latest book A Call to Resurgence (2013). Almost a month after the radio interview (18 December 2013), Mark Driscoll conceded that he had made what he called ‘mistakes’. Driscoll wrote: “Mistakes were made that I am grieved by and apologize for. As a Bible teacher, I know that Jesus loves us and uses everything for good… I have been praying that he would help me learn through all of this to become more like him and more effective for him.”
Immediately after the radio interview with Janet Mefferd, the internet went viral with the story. There were comments supporting Driscoll’s ministry and comments against him. One Christian blogger was so disturbed by the accusation of plagiarism he suggested that Mark Driscoll was the victim of a witch hunt. Tyndale publishers told Christianity Today that the questioned material in A Call to Resurgence was “properly cited in the printed book and conforms to market standards.”
In the days following the radio interview, Mefferd published two further examples of plagiarism, where Driscoll had copied sections from a theology book, the New Bible Commentary, edited by Don Carson and published by IVP in 1994. The evidence was posted online and showed that whole paragraphs from the New Bible Commentary appeared in Driscoll’s book, entitled Trial: 8 Witness from 1 & 2 Peter.
Warren Throckmorton, a blogger that has recorded the every twist and turn of the ongoing drama, reported:
Quote from Warren’s blog: ‘To help compare one of the passages from Trial: 8 Witness from 1 & 2 Peter, I have reproduced the relevant section of New Bible Commentary on I Peter from Mefferd’s materials. Then I looked up the web copy of Trial on Driscoll’s website. The side by side comparison is below. The bold print highlights the words that have been changed or altered in some manner from the original.
Janet Mefferd apologises for her conduct
A few days after these events, the internet world was stunned when Mefferd publicly apologised to Driscoll for her conduct during the interview, and deleted from her website the evidence of plagiarism. She even removed the radio transcript of her interview. It seemed like an attempt to create the impression that the interview had never taken place. But the horse had already bolted, for some people had already made copies of the evidence, which was posted onto other websites. The reaction of some was that Mefferd had been got at by the Driscoll PR machine. The sudden resignation of Ingrid Schuelter, from the Janet Mefferd Show, added to the drama.
Schuelter posted her reasons: ‘I was a part-time, topic producer for Janet Mefferd until yesterday when I resigned over this situation. All I can share is that there is an evangelical celebrity machine that is more powerful than anyone realizes. You may not go up against the machine. That is all. Mark Driscoll clearly plagiarized and those who could have underscored the seriousness of it and demanded accountability did not. That is the reality of the evangelical industrial complex.’
Mars Hill’s attempts to defend Driscoll
In an attempt to defend Driscoll’s position the Mars Hill website published a post to say that the book Trial: 8 Witness from 1 & 2 Peter, in which Driscoll was accused of using plagiarised material was never sold, and so it was not really plagiarism. But Mars Hill had made a careless mistake, for the book in question was at the time being advertised for sale on the Mars Hill website. Having been made aware of their ‘mistake’, the website quickly removed the words, and was never sold from their post.
Mars Hill post: “In 2009, Pastor Mark preached through 1 & 2 Peter in a sermon series called Trial. To help our small groups, a team of people including a research assistant, put together a free study guide that was produced in-house and was never sold. [These words are now deleted] About 5 years later it was brought to our attention that it contained some citation errors. We have discovered that during the editing process, content from other published sources were mistaken for research notes. These sentences were adapted instead of quoted directly. We are grateful this was brought to our attention, and we have removed that document from our website to correct the mistake. Additionally, we are examining all of our similar content as a precautionary measure.”
Warren Throckmorton’s blog reports:
‘Mars Hill’s statement comes as publisher Intervarsity Press weighs in on the sections of their New Bible Commentary which appeared in the Mars Hill study guide without citation. According to IVP, material from the New Bible Commentary “improperly appeared without quotation or attribution” in Mark Driscoll’s book Trial: 8 Witnesses From 1 & 2 Peter. In a statement released to Christianity Today this morning, IVP said:
Several paragraphs from the New Bible Commentary edited by G. J. Wenham, J. A. Motyer, D. A. Carson and R. T. France published by InterVarsity Press appear in Mark Driscoll’s now out of print book Trial: 8 Witnesses From 1 & 2 Peter. These improperly appeared without quotation or attribution. With proper citation the material would have been a case of fair use. InterVarsity Press believes all writers should use great care as they do research and prepare texts for any use to make sure that proper acknowledgement is given to source material.
The above is a brief account of the story that is widely reported on the internet. The best accounts are by Warren Throckmorton and Jonathan Merritt.
On 18 December 2013, virtually a month after the allegations of plagiarism, Tyndale House Publishers issued a statement:
‘Pertaining to his Tyndale book, A Call to Resurgence, Tyndale believes that Mark Driscoll did indeed adequately cite the work of Peter Jones… In a separate issue unrelated to any Tyndale title, the radio host also made an allegation with regard to a study guide that was published in-house at Mars Hill. In this instance, Pastor Driscoll agrees that errors were made.’
The statement included a comment by Mark Driscoll: “Mistakes were made that I am grieved by and apologize for. As a Bible teacher, I know that Jesus loves us and uses everything for good. I know he cares very much that we do things in a way that reflects his glory. As a result, I have been praying that he would help me learn through all of this to become more like him and more effective for him.”
Ron Beers, Senior Vice President and Group Publisher for Tyndale commented: “To his credit, Mark Driscoll has moved quickly to make all necessary changes where mistakes were made in the study guide… Because of the biblical manner in which Pastor Driscoll has handled this situation, Tyndale strongly stands behind him and looks forward to publishing many additional books with him. Tyndale believes that Mark Driscoll has provided a significant call to Christians to unite together in translating the message of Jesus faithfully to a post-Christian culture, to proclaim clearly, loudly, and unashamedly the Good News of Jesus.”
More evidence of plagiarism
But matters only got worse for Driscoll, as it was now widely known that he was a serial plagiariser. In January 2014, Warren Throckmorton pointed out that a section of Real Marriage by Mark & Grace Driscoll seemed quite similar to a passage from Leland Ryken’s book Worldly Saints. The publisher, Harper Collins Christian, has now corrected the section in question by quoting and footnoting the section of Ryken’s book.
A matter of conduct
The evidence quoted above leaves little doubt that Mark Driscoll, the author of many ‘Christian’ books, is a serial plagiarizer. The significance of Driscoll’s plagiarism is that it reveals much about his character. It seems he is prepared to use other people’s intellectual work and writings, and pass them off as his own—plagiarism is dishonest. Scripture demands high standard from those who teach God’s Word. ‘Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness’ (James 3.1). By his conduct, Driscoll is dishonouring the Christian Faith. A true Christian is to be ‘blameless and harmless, the sons of God without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation’ (Philippians 2.15).
You can learn more about Mark Driscoll’s ministry in the book, The New Calvinists (2014), published by The Wakeman Trust and Belmont House Publishing. The book is available from belmonthousebooks.com/