Mega-church pastor Mark Driscoll just can’t seem to avoid controversy. He’s crass and brash, and he says outrageous things. He’s always making some Christian somewhere uncomfortable. This time, however, it’s not about the words that he’s said. It’s that he’s claimed the words that other people have said.
If I had come across the Call to Resurgence passage, I’d have been concerned about the lack of citation, but I might have just shrugged it off as ineptitude.
Some of the other evidence that Mefferd found is more damning. In a book on First and Second Peter published by Mars Hill Church, Driscoll lifts whole paragraphs almost word-for-word from the entry on First Peter in the New Bible Commentary, published by IVP in 1994. These passages are at the end of the previous link, and Mefferd provides additional passages here.
I’m a university professor. I have no tolerance for this kind of nonsense. I’ve failed students for less flagrant plagiarism. So, it’s my duty, as a member of my professing profession, to give Driscoll an “F.”
Mark Driscoll, you have failed.
I’ve dealt with a number of plagiarists, and it seems to me that plagiarism stems from two issues. I’ll let you decide which problem Driscoll suffers from, because there obviously is a problem. 1. Laziness. Writing is hard work, so some writers don’t want to do it right. Laziness also leads to procrastination. Getting behind schedule causes writers to cut corners and plagiarize. 2. Ignorance. I don’t mean ignorance of the conventions of proper citation. Everyone knows not to steal other people’s words. I mean ignorance of the topic. Sometimes people plagiarize because they are incompetent. They don’t know enough about their topic to ask interesting questions and provide interesting answers. Thus they must regurgitate what someone else has done. Becoming competent would take too much work (see reason one), and admitting incompetence would be embarrassing.
Unfortunately, this kind of thing is pretty common in Christian publishing. I remember when I was in seminary I came across a couple of paragraphs in a new commentary that had been lifted word-for-word from a very old commentary. I told my professor about it, and he shook his head sadly. He said, “I know that author. I can’t believe he did that.” We didn’t have blogs back then. It was much more difficult to “out” the plagiarists.
Of course, perhaps Driscoll isn’t a plagiarist. Maybe he employed a ghostwriter who is a plagiarist. It’d be convenient to have a scapegoat right now. But even if it was his ghostwriter, I’ll still fail him because we university professors don’t actually approve of ghostwriting. I know it’s typical in Christian publishing, but it’s still lying. Ghostwriting is lying, and plagiarism is stealing, and there seems to be a lot of it going around.
I’m sorry, Pastor Mark, but I don’t give extra credit. You’ll be stuck with the grade you’ve earned on this one.
(And because it’s always important to cite your sources, I give Jonathan Merritt the HT for this one.)
Mefferd struck again on Wednesday, providing two additional allegations of plagiarism— both taken word-for-word from Carson’s “New Bible Commentary“ and published in Driscoll’s book on 1&2 Peter. Carson has said that preachers who plagiarize are “stealing” and “deceiving.” Requests for a comment sent to the office of D.A. Carson were not immediately returned.
Regarding “A Call to Resurgence,” the book’s publisher, Tyndale House, released a statement last week defending Driscoll, expressing dissatisfaction with Mefferd’s “belligerent tone”, and vowing to investigate the matter. Today, they sent the following statement to RNS:
Tyndale House takes any accusation of plagiarism seriously and has therefore conducted a thorough in-house review of the original material and sources provided by the author. After this review we feel confident that the content in question has been properly cited in the printed book and conforms to market standards.
According to Brad Greenberg, Intellectual Property Fellow at Columbia Law School, the first allegation is far less serious than the newer ones insofar as the law is concerned. Copyright laws protect expression — the exact ordering of words — not the idea, Greenberg told me.
“The passages that Mefferd has identified appear to be copied almost verbatim from the Carson New Bible Commentary. Merely changing a few words, such as ‘unschooled’ to ‘uneducated’, is likely not enough to skirt liability for copyright infringement,” Greenberg said. “The only relevant defense that I could see Driscoll having is independent creation–that is, he wrote this passage completely independent of the Carson text, and the striking similarity is mere coincidence. That, of course, is exceptionally unlikely because the Carson text was far from obscure and, in fact, was later cited by Driscoll.”
Mefferd has provided side-by-side photocopied comparisons of the material on her website.
Mefferd told me it is disconcerting to her regardless of the legal implications: “I think word-for-word plagiarism is always very serious. Mark Driscoll plagiarized a man word-for-word providing more evidence that he hasn’t followed his own sermons and admonitions to not steal.”
Driscoll has been outspoken on the issue of stealing intellectual property. The FAQ section on the Mars Hill Church website warns against stealing Driscoll’s intellectual property, and he penned a November 23 article on lying that stated, “pastors are notorious for ‘borrowing’ material. All of us are guilty of deception to some degree. Its prevalence, however, does not change the fact that deception is a demonic, satanic issue.” In his book, “Vintage Church,” Driscoll argued that pastors who plagiarize should quit their jobs.
Mefferd says this has sweeping implications for Driscoll’s ministry because the Bible is “very clear that a pastor should be above reproach.” When asked if she believes Driscoll is now no longer above reproach and therefore unfit for the role of pastor, Mefferd replied, “That would be my opinion.”
Mars Hill Church Communications Manager Justin Dean, did not respond to emails, phone calls, and text messages. Driscoll has not acknowledged the matter on either his blog or social media accounts.
As to whether she has more allegations to make and more evidence to present in the coming days, Mefferd told me, “I think it is entirely likely that more will come to light.”