Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Wash., who recently appeared on TheBlaze TV to discuss contemporary cultural issues, has been embroiled in controversy for the past three weeks over plagiarism charges surrounding his latest book, “A Call to Resurgence: Will Christianity Have a Funeral or a Future?”
But while many critics are still discussing the allegations, a review by Tyndale House, Driscoll’s Christian publisher, recently concluded that “the work was within industry standards and was not plagiarism.”
The debate began Nov. 21 when radio host Janet Mefferd confronted Driscoll during an awkward and contentious radio interview, accusing him of using author and Westminster Seminary California professor Dr. Peter R. Jones’ content in 14 pages of “A Call to Resurgence” without properly citing or footnoting it, Charisma News reported.
Before the debate over citations broke out during the radio exchange, Driscoll actually credited Jones for doing a lot of work on new paganism; that mention is what Mefferd used to transition into her charge that Driscoll inadequately footnoted the academic.
“When I came across this section on the new paganism, I was a little interested to note that you didn’t quote him and you didn’t footnote him,” she said. “You have a footnote after the first sentence when you mention two-ism and one-ism and it says, ‘See for example truthXchange and Peter Jones’ book ‘One or Two,’ but you go on for several pages and you never footnote him.”
She also brought up another section in the book in which Driscoll used Jones’ ideas, but failed to footnote him, later calling it “unethical” and claiming he “could be sued under copyright law.”
Driscoll responded by noting that he is a good friend of Jones’ and that he has learned a great deal from the academic while discussing cultural and theological subjects over meals. Many of these concepts were thus potentially derived from these conversations and included in “A Call to Resurgence.”
“In this book, I took [Jones’] big idea and worked it out through the cultural implications, but I wasn’t working specifically from his text, but I think Peter would tell you … we’re good friends,” Driscoll explained.
But Mefferd continued to push the issue, saying Driscoll should correct the purported plagiarism. The preacher responded by calling the radio host’s on-air behavior “accusatory and unkind.”
Driscoll did say that it was possible he made a citation mistake and he apologized if that was the case, though he could not recall on the spot which citations in the book Mefferd was bringing up.
Boiling down the entire debate, it seems Driscoll did offer a footnote, however additional content that follows in the book does not include citations attributing it to Jones. So the issue isn’t whether Driscoll gave credit, as we know that at least one example is attributed to Jones, but whether he failed to provide additional footnotes for ideas that were derived from Jones’ work.
Listen to the interview below:
Here’s where the situation gets a bit tricky. On Dec. 4 — days after the original interview went viral — Mefferd reversed course and publicly apologized for her on-air behavior.
“I now realize the interview should not have occurred at all,” she said. “I should have contacted Tyndale House directly to alert them to the plagiarism issue. And I never should have brought it to the attention of listeners publicly.”
She then offered an apology to both Driscoll and her listeners.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t anticipate that the story would go viral online the way it did and creating such dissension with the Christian community was never my aim,” Mefferd said. “And so in an effort to right things as best as I can, I have now removed all of the materials related to the interview off my website, and also off my social media.”
Some critics have claimed that an advertisement agreement between Tyndale and Salem Radio Networks, where Mefferd’s show is aired, might have led to pressure and a subsequent apology, though there is currently no definitive evidence that this is the case.
The reversal is intriguing, but so is the response from Driscoll’s publisher Tyndale House.
Spokesman Todd Starowitz told Religion News Service’s Jonathan Merritt that the company was taken aback by the way Mefferd conducted herself during the interview.
“A number of people at Tyndale reviewed the tape and were stunned, not only by the accusations, but by the belligerent tone of Ms. Mefferd’s questioning,” Starowitz said in a statement, noting that the company is looking at the section of the book that was called into question.
He added, “When Ms. Mefferd asked Pastor Driscoll her first question to accuse him of plagiarism, she did not invoke Peter Jones’s name. The first person that Pastor Driscoll credited in his response was Mr. Jones. Pastor Driscoll also credits Mr. Jones in the section that Janet refers to in Mark’s book, ‘A Call to Resurgence.’”
In an email to TheBlaze on Tuesday evening, Starowitz said Tyndale’s review determined that Driscoll did not commit plagiarism.
“Tyndale did a comprehensive review of Pastor Driscoll’s book at the time that the allegations were made,” he said. “Those who completed the review were comfortable that the work was within industry standards and was not plagiarism.”
Further review of the book by the publisher is not expected to take place.
An assistant for Jones, Joshua Gielow, told TheBlaze the professor whose work Driscoll is alleged to have used was unavailable to speak on the subject.
Previously, Gielow issued a statement to Religion News Service saying, “At this time, Dr. Jones … will not be making public statements, but we do pray for reconciliation among all parties involved. This same statement was shared with TheBlaze.
To further complicate the situation, Ingrid Schlueter, one of Mefferd’s assistant producers, reportedly resigned following the Driscoll interview. In the comments section of a blog, a woman claiming to be Schlueter said that she had recently quit her job with Mefferd’s show on principle.
“I was a part-time, topic producer for Janet Mefferd until … I resigned over this situation,” she wrote. “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.”
The comment continued, “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.”
Mefferd confirmed a part-time producer’s departure on Twitter, though she did not name the individual who left her staff.
While Tyndale has defended Driscoll, another allegation of plagiarism has emerged — and it’s based on a different book, “Trial: 8 Witnesses From 1 & 2 Peter,” one of Driscoll’s study guides. Christian publisher InterVarsity Press has charged that some of its content was improperly used in the document.
The publisher told Christianity Today that several paragraphs from its “New Bible Commentary,” which was edited by G. J. Wenham, J. A. Motyer, D. A. Carson and R. T. France, appear in “Trial” without proper citation. Had there been a proper citation, the company said that Driscoll’s use of the paragraphs would have qualified as 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 company added.
Mars Hill Church has responded to this latter claim, as Grove City Professor Warren Throckmorton noted on Monday, attributing it to an internal error.
The study guide associated with a sermon series, which was also called “Trial,” was removed from the “downloads” section of the church’s website, with Mars Hill adding the following statement with the now defunct link:
“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. 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.”
This statement does not address the controversy surrounding “A Call to Resurgence.”
Here’s a side by side comparison of a portion of the InterVarsity Press text and Mars Hill’s booklet that was created by Throckmorton:
With all of this going on, Driscoll’s team has been silent. TheBlaze’s repeated emails for comment have not been returned and there has been no official statement from the church addressing the “A Call to Resurgence” plagiarism controversy.
Driscoll discussed the book in detail in an interview with TheBlaze back in November.
Featured image via Mark Driscoll’s Twitter account (@PastorMark)