Mark Driscoll’s Plagiarism Witch Hunt

Mark Driscoll Plagiarism

Yes, I know it is Thanksgiving. So maybe I am feeling a little bit more generous than usual. But even I am not beyond offering some grace and compassion toward Mars Hill Pastor Mark Driscoll,  especially when I think he is being treated unfairly.

My wife, Amy, likened it to the president pardoning a symbolic turkey. Funny, I don’t see the parallel. Anyway…

Driscoll wrote a book called “A Call to Resurgence,”  in which he has been accused  of borrowing from, and even directly quoting, the written work of Dr. Peter Jones,  an adjunct professor at Westminster seminary in California.  Although Driscoll references Jones in the book, he does not always formally note and attribute ideas that, arguably could or should be credited to Jones.

Tyndale House Publishers, Driscoll’s publishing house, recently released a public statement that they have contacted Jones and are working directly with him and Driscoll to clarify any concerns and reach a mutually agreeable resolution.  But this came to the general public’s attention before this when radio talk show host Janet Mefferd had Driscoll on the air.

Related: God, Jesus, Pacifists, Pansies, & A Girl from Pakistan – Thoughts on Mark Driscoll’s Latest Article 

When she asked Pastor Driscoll about his apparent plagiarism, he responded that, although he borrowed “big ideas” from Jones, the writing was his own, and that he felt he properly credited Jones in the book.  When Mefferd  continued to press, Driscoll offered the following apology, according to a post from blogger Jonathan Merritt:

“If I made a mistake,” said Driscoll, “then I apologize to Dr. Jones, my friend…that was not my intent, for sure.”

Still, Mefferd stayed on the offensive.  Effectively, she accused Driscoll of stealing Jones’ intellectual property,  which Driscoll tried to deflect by suggesting, perhaps, she was having a “grumpy day.”  And yet, she kept him in her sights.

She went on to suggest that he might be sued for his actions and, with all the flair of a radio talk show pundit, suggested that he would, ultimately, have to answer for his actions.

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The grilling went on, and Driscoll demonstrated remarkable restraint, especially considering his past. Mefferd even went so far as to accuse Driscoll of hanging up on her in the middle of the interview, although it is apparent from the recording that, when she thinks he is gone, Driscoll responds with, “I’m still here.”

I am all for accountability and  for the protection of the intellectual property of my fellow authors. Driscoll may have screwed up, and he may even have done so knowingly. As far as I am concerned, that is a matter to be dealt with between him, Jones and their respective publishers and representatives.

Also by Christian: Five Traits of a False Prophet

My greater concern here is that it seems Ms. Mefferd  was mining for a juicy story and, when she did not get the dramatic response from Driscoll that she had hoped for, she pressed on in an attempt to create drama where there was none. Ultimately, she ended up wrongly accusing Driscoll of  talking during the interview and insulting her by hanging up, which he did not apparently do.

Chances are that Mark Driscoll and I will not be starting a bowling team together anytime soon. I probably won’t make it onto his Christmas card list, and that is just fine. I don’t care for much of what he stands for, how he treats women or the visceral anger he demonstrates on a regular basis toward those who disagree with him.

But he is a human being. He is an imperfect one at that, as we all are. And I would hope that, if he was in Mefferd’s position and I was in his,  he would offer some modicum of dignity and grace toward me, especially if I offered an apology for any offense I may have committed.

Stealing intellectual property is no small transgression, but neither is aggressively attempting to humiliate another person in the public eye in a desperate attempt to grab ratings to be the first to break a juicy new story.  Mark Driscoll deserves better.




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About the Author

Christian Piatt

Christian PiattChristian Piatt is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. He co-founded Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado with his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, in 2004.He is the creator and editor of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. Christian has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date. Visit www.christianpiatt.com, or find him on Twitter or Facebook.View all posts by Christian Piatt →

  • 22044

    Thanks, Christian.
    Happy Thanksgiving to you & yours. :)

  • bluecenterlight

    I have always had a hard time with Christians claiming intellectual property and profiting off of the things of God. If we have any insight into God and who He is , if we know anything at all it is because He has been gracious enough to share with us. It’s like Monsanto taking something God created putting a little twist on it then calling it theirs. If you can create an original plant from nothing then you get to call it yours, if you can create an original thought that brings light and hope through a brain that is completely lost and depraved then it is yours. Till then God gets the credit.

  • Tom

    This is the kind of ‘love your enemies’ Red Letter approach that has been missing from this site for a long time.
    Glad to see it starting to emerge. :-) More of this please.

  • OrdinaryCitizen

    Just when I was tempted to call this blog Red Christians, ya go n do something like this!? Congrats.

  • http://covenantoflove.net/ Derek Ouellette

    Good article Christian. I share your distaste for what Driscoll appears to stand for. But I also believe in standing up for someone who was wronged, even if that someone is Driscoll.

    On a note related to the two who commented before me (ordinary citizen and tom), I agree with them regarding the perceived spirit of the articles written here on Red Letters Christians. But this was a mild spirit, a right spirit, a via media. Thanks.

  • Matthew Haller

    Thanks for your opinion here Christian, I totally agree. I was feeling this exact same way when reading through Jonathan Merritt’s coverage of the incident. In my opinion, Mefford should have addressed her allegations of plagiarism with Driscoll and Jones privately, instead of making a public spectacle of it. Driscoll was clearly was willing to make the situation right. I have my own opinions about Driscoll. But, likely every human being, he deserves the benefit of the doubt prior to getting an accusation lobbed at him publicly, without him apparently even being aware that it was coming. This whole incident hurt Mefford’s credibility, and made Driscoll look like a victim.

  • Vince

    I think we may need to rethink this post in light of recent evidence. Mefford has clearly shown that Driscoll plagiarized other sources in 4 of his books. The most egregious is about three paragraphs in his book 8 witnesses that are word for word from the New Bible Commentary. The way Mefford handled it may have been wrong but I think the evidence is there that Driscoll did plagiarize others in his books. We can offer grace to Driscoll if he repents and admits what he did, but any pastor caught doing this should lose his position as a pastor. It would end the career of anyone in the secular world if they were caught doing this. Chris Rosebrough makes a good point in that it is not Mefford but Driscoll’s actions that cause unbelievers to blaspheme Gods name (Ro. 2:21-24).

    • http://thenonessentials.blogspot.com/ Sean Chandler

      “8 Witnesses” is hardly an actual book. It’s study resource they made available to their church for free and on their website. There’s no gain for Driscoll or Mars Hill by deliberately plagiarizing in study guide. Likewise, IN THE INTERVIEW WITH MEFFORD, before she went on the war path he gave credit to Peter Jones. He’s clearly not trying to take credit for other people’s work for personal gain. This is very obviously sloppy citations and footnotes. Worthy of criticism? Sure. Worthy of all of this non-sense? No.

      • Vince

        Personal gain has nothing to do with plagerism. It is taking someone elses work and passing it off as one’s own. The study guide was being sold on the Mars Hill website until recently. My concern is that Mark Driscoll has never had to explain himself in this. Where has he talked about this in a meaningful way and explained why these were not properly cited? His church blamed an unnamed researcher which could be true but Mark himself needs to explain this. Mark Driscoll has a history of attacking critics instead of engaging them. I would rather be in the pile behind Driscolls bus than in it.

        • http://thenonessentials.blogspot.com/ Sean Chandler

          I would be truly shocked if they were SELLING the study on their website. Their church gives everything away and they always have.

          If you look at the body of work Driscoll puts out every year, clearly he has a team of people working with him. And I’m having a really hard time how finding two paragraphs in a churches in-house study guide going along with a sermon series isn’t a plagiarism witch hunt.

          OF COURSE if someone puts out enough content you will find examples of PLAGIARISM…also known as bad footnoting in this instance.

          I see a big difference between taking credit for someones work for personal gain and taking credit for someone else’s work because I got sloppy with footnotes. One is laziness and can be easily fixed. One is attempting to steal someones intellectual property. This is obviously sloppy footnoting that is being treated like intentional theft of intellectual property.

          • Warren Throckmorton

            Sean – Mars Hill did indeed sell the book, first in bulk quantities via their website and then through Logos Research Systems. As the spotlight came to their claim that the book was never sold, they removed all indications that it was ever sold from the web.

            The issue appears to me more related to ghostwriting and improperly applying Driscoll’s name to research he did not do.

        • http://thenonessentials.blogspot.com/ Sean Chandler

          I will correct myself a bit. I just re-check their website, and it does appear they’re selling the study guides as hard copies. I made my previous statement based on the study guides previously on their website which were free and PDF format.

  • alan

    Are we suggesting that since Ms Medford approached the very apparent plagerism of Mark in “the wrong way” we should just forget about it cause he said “IF I did anything wrong I am sorry” ? Really? IF??? Maybe someone will lift 14 pages from Marks work, sell it and make money and then Mark will just forgive and forget. I am sure he will not invoke his multi page legal warning on HIS INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY!!!??? The apparent worship of Mark continues…. wait for his worshippers to come to his aid right here in 2…1…..

    • http://thenonessentials.blogspot.com/ Sean Chandler

      Being that he gave Peter Jones credit in the interview itself before she went on the war path, it doesn’t seem Driscoll is actually trying to take credit for Jone’s work. it seems pretty clear this is a case of bad citation and footnoting rather than intentional plagiarism.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    We have a similar problem in Catholicism with the Vatican publishing office. May I offer a counterpoint from Peter Kreft’s excellent theological drama “Socrates Meets Jesus”?

    Two men, revealing the same truth, need not be plagiarizing the other, it is possible that both may just be plagiarizing God, who is Truth.

    I dislike the use of capitalistic copyright with respect to theological works. Evangelization requires the spread of ideas, not the profit of the few.

  • Jim

    Thanks Christian. Can you now move on to writing about Mark Driscoll?

    You have so much more to offer.

  • Journalist

    This is a very odd article. If Mark Driscoll has engaged in plagiarism, it is right and proper that a journalist should put those allegations to him in an interview. Driscoll has made a name for himself by adopting some very strident public positions on a host of issues — and, yes, he’s spoken out against plagiarism. In fact, he’s argued that any pastor found guilt of plagiarism should resign. Now, it would appear, his own actions leave him open to accusations of deception and hypocrisy. I think that should be exposed by an journalist, Christian or otherwise, who is doing their job properly. What’s happening now is that the evangelical celebrity world is closing ranks around Driscoll. The original interview is no longer official; the radio host has been “got at”. The evangelical celebrity world is about developing fame-based ministries which bring in a lot of money. Big name evangelical writers, like Driscoll, earn hundreds of thousands of dollars each year from book sales, tours, marketing and merchandising. Driscoll is a powerful and influential voice in that world. We see the measure of his influence in the attempts now to shut down this public conversation about deception and hypocrisy. We also see evidence of a dame-limitation response from those who have much to lose if he falls from grace. The whole thing stinks.

    • http://thenonessentials.blogspot.com/ Sean Chandler

      Being that she claimed to be confronting him on biblical grounds, I’m having a hard time seeing how this follows the way Jesus taught believers to confront one another when they are in sin.

  • http://thenonessentials.blogspot.com/ Sean Chandler

    Well stated.

  • Warren Throckmorton

    Christian – Generally I agree with the spirit of your article, but I don’t think you apply your points evenly. For instance, you assume Mefferd’s motives were wrong and involved grabbing a juicy story. Her statements about the matter imply otherwise but you have cast her in a fairly negative light. To me it appears that you do to Mefferd what you lament others are doing to Driscoll.

    As this story has unfolded, it appears that Rev. Driscoll has appropriated work of a research assistant and called it his own. As such, because of some mistakes in the movement from research assistant’s footnoted quotes to Driscoll’s undocumented use of those quotes, there have been allegations of plagiarism. As it turns out, any plagiarism may have been the result of sloppy work. This can be corrected if acknowledged. Driscoll has yet to acknowledge these things even as his church has offered a partial explanation by casting doubt, unfairly in my view, on the researchers work. The matter has gone from the misuse of sources and citations to the issue of ghostwriting and full disclosure.

    To me, it is a disservice to Christian journalists to imply that asking hard questions and pursuing accuracy is a witch hunt. You might be referring to the crowd of people who look for any reason to harm Driscoll, but I don’t think it can be established that Mefferd was one of those people, nor are others who are simply testing claims for their accuracy and trustworthiness.

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