Mark Driscoll has done a great deal of good in advancing the Kingdom of God. He has also done some really weird stuff that is at best neutral in terms of its effect on the advance of the Kingdom, and in some cases, outright detrimental. At times I have defended some of Mark Driscoll's theological views, and at other times I have called him out for his bizarre, un-biblical views on women. There is within me respect for Mark Driscoll's ministry as well as some concerns. I am neither on his bandwagon of supporters nor in the camp of his enemies. I've read his newest book A Call to Resurgence and agree wholeheartedly with the premise: Christians should labor for the glory of God and not merely the good of their tribe. According to Driscoll, evangelicals have broken into different tribes of thought on secondary issues and wind up fighting each other rather than evangelizing the world. I agree with him. However, I am about to show why Mark Driscoll has done damage to the Kingdom of God with his book A Call to Resurgence by lifting the original thought of a man named Dr. Peter Jones and passing off Dr. Jones' ideas as his own.
In the pastoral realm, preachers often use other preacher's illustrations and outlines in their teaching ministry without giving proper credit. However, in the scholarly realm--and particularly in the for-profit book publishing industry--taking other people's ideas and publishing them as your own is called plagiarism. Plagiarism is defined as "the wrongful appropriation and purloining for publication of another author's language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions and representing them as one's own original work." Plagiarism is not a crime (i.e. a felony or a misdemeanor), but it is considered in the scholarly world and the publishing industry a serious ethical breach of conduct. Plagiarism gets professionals fired.
Mark Driscoll is a pastor. He is not a scholar. It could be that he made a "mistake" by not realizing the seriousness of selling a book where he appropriated the thoughts and ideas of another author as his own. It could be that Mark truly didn't know how to give proper credit to Dr. Jones in his book's footnotes, endnotes, and bibliography. Regardless, it cannot be said Mark Driscoll did not know that his book A Call to Resurgence appropriated Dr. Peter Jones "language, thoughts, ideas and expressions" as his own. Mark Driscoll knows Dr. Jones coined the language, phrases, and thoughts he used as he wrote about "neo-paganism," "one-ism and two-ism," and other key issues in fourteen pages of his new book. This past Thursday (November 21, 2013) Mark Driscoll was called out for lifting Dr. Jones work and passing it off as his own by a Christian radio host. Many fans of Mark Driscoll became upset that someone dared accused him of plagiarism. However, if Christians don't call out other Christians for such a practice, what's the alternative? Do we leave it to the 'pagan' world to confront us for our lack of ethics. When the 'pagans' begin teaching us Christians a thing or two about honesty and morality, then we really are living in an upside-down world. For this reason, any Christian who believes Mark Driscoll has plagiarized another author and has the guts to call him out should be commended, not castigated.
I first heard about the Driscoll plagiarism controversy when I read Jonathan Merritt's article about Janet Mefferd and her radio interview with Mark Driscoll. Janet asked Mark about his new book and why he did not properly credit Dr. Jones in the book's endnotes. I listened to the interview three times. On the third time, my wife joined with me in listening. I asked Rachelle her opinion on the matter. Rachelle is obtaining her doctorate from Vanderbilt University and is in the process of writing her doctoral thesis. "I would be kicked out of Vanderbilt if I used someone else's thought, words, or expressions as my own without giving the other author proper credit. Surely Mark Driscoll didn't do what Janet is saying he did?" I do not personally know Janet Mefferd. She has interviewed me a couple of times on her radio show. In my experience, Janet prepares thoroughly for her interviews and gives due diligence to her preparation. I have also found her to be fair, direct, and intelligent. I responded to my wife's question by making the following observations:
(1). Janet Mefferd would never be as bold and direct about an allegation of plagiarism unless she was quite confident plagiarism existed in Driscoll's book A Call to Resurgence.
(2). Having identified herself as a friend of Dr. Peter Jones and a participant in his California TruthXChange, Janet Mefferd must have been in contact with Dr. Jones prior to the interview.
(3). Mark Driscoll acknowledges that "I might have made a mistake" (8.30) but then he says, "there is a difference between making a mistake and committing a sin" (13:13). It seems he is saying that his mistake in not crediting Dr. Jones was not intentional. Mark seems to be unaware that careless plagiarism is as serious as careful plagiarism in the scholarly world.
(4). Mark Driscoll states "most of my information from Dr. Jones comes from around the dinner table. I should have taken notes so I could have had better footnotes." As a pastor who has had dinner with a number of people, and an author who has interviewed dozens of people for hours at a time, I find Mark's dinner table assertion strange. Speaking from my own experience, if you talk about a specific subject with a renowned author at a dinner table, you are going to take notes. It would be interesting to know how many times Dr. Jones had dinner with Mark Driscoll and when the last time Dr. Jones spoke to Mark Driscoll. It seems far more logical that the amount of material in Driscoll's book that comes from Jones' ideas (14 pages) has been lifted from Jones' two books, One or Two and The God of Sex and not from the dinner table.
(5). One of the tell-tale signs that Janet Mefferd was very close to the truth in challenging Mark with lifting Dr. Jones' ideas, words, and thought and passing it off as his own is the manner in which Mark comes after Janet Mefferd. From the 10:30 mark of the interview until the end, Mark Driscoll makes Janet Mefferd the issue. It reminds me of the old saying, "In dysfunctional systems, the problem is never the problem, but rather the person who reveals the problem becomes the problem."
My wife wisely challenged me not to draw a judgment without doing research on my own. Of course, she was right. So I bought Dr. Jones' book One or Two and Mark Driscoll's book A Call to Resurgence. I already had Jones' The God of Sex. I read the Jones' books and Driscoll's book and was stunned. The similarities in the wording and the concepts of "one-ism" and "two-ism" were bizarre. The wording, the thought patterns, and the concepts in Jones' book and Driscoll's book were so similar, one would think the same author wrote them. In the fourteen pages Janet points out in the interview, Mark Driscoll barely acknowledges Jones, and nowhere credits him for his original ideas. For example, Driscoll uses the phrase "sex is the pagan sacrament of one-ism" - something you will not read in your everyday preacher's journal - and Mark Driscoll never gives credit to Dr. Jones for the phrase which Dr. Jones uses in The God of Sex, based on his own original research and writing on paganism. Driscoll's use of that phrase without proper credit would be deemed plagiarism among all reputable scholars and publishers. Period.
Princeton University posts on-line examples of plagiarism in their Academic Integrity website. One neither has to be a scholar or a publisher to know that Mark Driscoll has indeed "made a mistake." I imagine three things are going to happen:
(1). At some point, Dr. Jones will be asked his opinion. Being a man of integrity and character, but also not wanting to cause controversy, Dr. Jones will express his belief that Mark Driscoll did not intentionally plagiarize, but indeed, he did feel that his thoughts and concepts were not properly credited.
(2). Tyndale will issue an apology, taking responsibility for not catching the mistake in the editing process and absolve Mark Driscoll of responsibility (and indeed, a great deal of fault should lie at the doorstep of Tyndale since they are familiar with the scholarly process). Tyndale will promise that in future editions a correction will be made.
(3). The Christian world will do exactly what Mark Driscoll writes against in his book and "take sides" by clinging to a camp that either belongs to Mark Driscoll or one that belongs to Janet Mefferd, rather than seeing the Kingdom as bigger than both camps. Ironically, the plagiarism in Mark Driscoll's newest book will wind up illustrating the theme of his book! God must have a sense of humor.
Pastor Mark Driscoll might not be clear about the scholarly way to give credit. However, what Pastor Mark Driscoll should know how to do is to treat someone who calls him out on his error. This is where he failed and this is what is disappointing. From the 10:30 point of the interview to the end, Mark makes Janet Mefferd the issue. I realize that Mark's friends believe Janet Mefferd was wrong in pressing the plagiarism point and have picked up Mark's offense and made Janet the issue. I even read a strange tweet from Justin Taylor that calls for authors to boycott Janet Mefferd's radio program. Tribalism might be a great subject to write about, but it seems far more difficult to practice.
I would like to close with why I believe those in Mark Driscoll's camp should thank Janet Mefferd for her interview with Mark Driscoll and the way she pressed Mark about taking Dr. Jones' thoughts and passing them off as his own. Janet Mefferd has actually advanced the name of Christ and the Kingdom of God. Beginning at the 13:13 minutes mark of the interview, Mark Driscoll says the following:
"But see, what I think you (Janet) are missing is there is a difference between making a mistake and committing a sin and if I made a mistake I want to make it right. But really, if you boil it down, you are going to take the entire interview and find what you are critical of and the nail you are going to hammer so that your audience can see you hammer Mark Driscoll today. Mark Driscoll loves Jesus. Mark Driscoll loves you. Mark Driscoll is in one of the least churched cities in America preaching Jesus for seventeen years trying to see people get saved, and I was hoping we could help others talk about how their kids are going gay, their kids are walking away from church, the church is not doing very well, things are not trending in our direction, and people are concerned about how we can help them, how can we equip them, how can we love them, how can we serve them. I would rather talk about Jesus than Mark Driscoll."
Mark, I would suggest that you wind up talking more about Jesus Christ and less about yourself when you acknowledge that you did not properly credit Dr. Peter Jones in your newest book, seek forgiveness, and correct the error. In addition, it would be wise to apologize to Janet Mefferd for treating her in the radio interview as if she was the problem. In reality, she was just pointing out the problem. Jesus said, "By this will all know you are my disciples when you love one another" (John 13:35). You can say you love Janet in the interview, but a pagan listening to it would laugh.
Pagans would laugh at your message and remain in their paganism because they just listened to you justify your "mistake" (plagiarism) and then castigate the person who calls you on it. They would say to themselves, "That Mark Driscoll is no different from us. He points his finger at us and says we are in "sin," but when someone calls him out for doing something that even we see as wrong, he won't own up to it!"
Mark, you have an opportunity to show the pagan world that we really are different. Jesus Christ came to save sinners, not the righteous, and the "pagan" world doesn't really care to hear about our Good News when we excuse our evangelical sins but condemn their pagan sins. We are all guilty. The Good News is that God loves the guilty, not the self-righteous. Show them how to own up to sin, receive forgiveness, and move on in life.
Only then will the pagans sit up and take notice. They will know we speak of Jesus Christ without forked tongue.