Mark Driscoll’s “Citation Errors”: A Summary

Greg Strand – December 30, 2013 Leave a comment

Though this is old news by now, I thought it would be helpful to give a summary with a final statement. Often we hear about these matters initially, hear a few updates along the way, but seldom hear about how they end. Or if we do, we don’t say anything about it. This post is an attempt to do that.

This past November Pastor Mark Driscoll was interviewed by Janet Mefferd about his new book, A Call to Resurgence (Tyndale), which was arranged by Tyndale House Publishers. During this interview, Mefferd pointed out what appeared to be plagiarism in the book. Driscoll brushed it off during the interview, but later Mefferd added more to her charges including additional charges of plagiarism discovered in another book published a couple of years ago, Trial: 8 Witnesses From 1 & 2 Peter.

Christianity Today picked this up and gave updates as they became available: “Mark Driscoll Improperly Copied Paragraphs from Bible Commentary Plagiarism.”

Jonathan Merritt wrote about this discussion in the Religion News Service, and he also provided regular updates on the discussion.

Andy Crouch responded in an article for Christianity Today, “The Real Problem with Mark Driscoll’s ‘Citation Errors’, And it isn’t plagiarism,” which was one of the better treatments of this discussion. Crouch pointed out the problems of plagiarism, collaboration and what ought to be expected from Christians. He concludes,

Mark Driscoll is a human being, created in the image of God, with great gifts, real limits, and very likely a genuine calling to ministry. But “Pastor Mark Driscoll,” the author of “literally thousands of pages of content a year,” the purveyor of hundreds of hours of preaching, is in grave danger of becoming a false image. No human being could do what “Pastor Mark Driscoll” does—the celebrity is actually a complex creation of a whole community of people who sustain the illusion of an impossibly productive, knowledgeable, omnicompetent superhuman.

The real danger here is not plagiarism—it is idolatry.

All idolatry debases the image bearers who become caught up in its train. Idols promise superhuman results, and for a time they can seem to work. But in fact they destroy the true humanity of both those they temporarily elevate and those they anonymously exploit. Nothing good can come from the superhuman figure presented to the world as “Pastor Mark Driscoll”—not for the real human being named Mark Driscoll himself, and not for the image-bearers who may be neglected in his shadow.

Jared Wilson, who has been greatly helped in his Christian life by Driscoll, wrote a post of how disappointed he was with Driscoll and his silence in the wake of the accusations: “Re: Mark Driscoll.” This was written just days before Driscoll’s apology appeared in Tyndale’s update.

InterVarsity Press, whose New Bible Commentary was plagiarized in the writing of Driscoll’s commentary on 1 Peter, released the following statement, which indicates that it was not “a case of fair use”:

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.

Tyndale House also released a statement after they had looked into the charges of plagiarism which Christianity Today also summarized, “Tyndale Releases Results of Mark Driscoll Plagiarism Investigation” It includes both a statement from Driscoll and their own conclusion regarding the accusation of plagiarism regarding the book they published, A Call to Resurgence, they concluded it was “properly cited in the printed book and conforms to market standards.”

This is what Driscoll wrote, which was included in the Tyndale report:

In recent weeks, it was brought to my attention that our 2009 Trial study guide on 1&2 Peter contained passages from an existing work for which no proper citation to the original work was provided. The error was unintentional, but serious nonetheless. I take responsibility for all of this. In order to make things right, we’ve contacted the publisher of the works used in the study guide, offered an apology, and agreed to work with them to resolve any issues they had. Also, I personally contacted one of the editors of the work that was not rightly attributed. Thankfully, he and I have a longstanding relationship, which includes him teaching at Mars Hill and publishing a book with us through Resurgence. He’s a godly man who has been very gracious through all of this. I am deeply thankful for his acceptance of my apology, as I deeply grieve this mistake with a brother in Christ whom I appreciate very much.

Our Full Council of Elders and Board of Advisors and Accountability have all been thoroughly informed, as I am gladly under authority both internally at Mars Hill to a team of Elders, and to a formal leadership team from outside of Mars Hill.

We’ve removed the free PDF version of Trial from our website, and we are reviewing the rest of our self-published materials to ensure that no similar mistakes have been made elsewhere. We are also making changes to our content development process to avoid these mistakes in the future. In addition, we are working with all of our past publishers to review other books we have published. If other mistakes were made, we want to correct them as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, when we removed the Trial PDF from the Mars Hill website, we replaced it with a statement that claimed the book was never sold. That study guide was originally created for in-house small group use at Mars Hill so we gave it away at our church. We first believed we did not receive any revenue from this, but we later discovered that Trial was in fact previously sold on the Resurgence website and by Logos Software. To the best of our knowledge, total profits to Mars Hill from these sales are $236.35. We have corrected the previous statement on our website, and apologize for this error as well.

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.”

This is the final word from Tyndale:

To his credit, Mark Driscoll has moved quickly to make all necessary changes where mistakes were made in the study guide” said Ron Beers, Senior Vice President and Group Publisher for Tyndale. “Moreover, he has assured us that he has personally spoken with the primary editor of a commentary that was inadvertently used in the study guide without adequate citation, and all parties spoken to have told Pastor Driscoll that they are satisfied with the steps he has taken to correct the errors. 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.

I am encouraged to see acknowledgement of and repentance from this serious offense of plagiarism. It is a sin. With the availability and accessibility of sermons and writings online, either audio or written, it is easy to engage in the sin of plagiarism. That is not an excuse but an important call and reminder to give extra caution and care when speaking or writing.

For those pursuing credentialing in the EFCA we include in the “specifics of the paper” a statement about this: “Quotations from other scholars are to be avoided, or used minimally. Though you will consult, read and use sources, this is a paper expounding what you believe. Do not engage in plagiarism, either intentional or unintentional. It is a matter of integrity and truthfulness and speaks to your character. If discovered it will be addressed strongly and will affect your process of credentialing.”

How have you processed this?

How do you approach this matter in your speaking and writing?

Greg Strand

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Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

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