Will Christian Publishers Stand Behind Mars Hill’s Sketchy Legacy?

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Update 12/30/31: NavPress just issued the following statement via e-mail. “We have chosen to respond to Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church directly and will keep the conversation private among both parties.”

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Mars Hill Church’s (MHC) current preaching series Malachi: Living for a Legacy focuses on what kind of a biblical legacy their members will leave behind after they depart into the heavenly skies. However, given recent evidence of plagiarism by their senior pastor Mark Driscoll, one could easily question what kind of a legacy this megachurch is imparting not only via their home base in Bellevue, WA but also throughout their global church plants and their online podcast network.

Now that the online buzz surrounding these revelations seems to have cooled off, the evidence doesn’t support the allegation that this was just a witch hunt conducted by those seeking to discredit a controversial “cussing pastor.” Rather, evangelical Christian radio host Janet Mefferd’s research unearthed examples where Driscoll used material from Peter Jones in his latest book A Call to Resurgence (Tyndale, November 2013) without crediting Jones. Later, she produced evidence that material from Driscoll’s study guide Trial: 8 Witnesses From 1 & 2 Peter (Mars Hill Church, 2009, out of print) contained material from the New Bible Commentary (InterVarsity Press, 1994) that was also used without proper citation. After Mefferd accused Driscoll of plagiarism during her interview with him on November 21, 2013, the documentation disappeared from her website though she remained unapologetic about the substance of her allegations.

Initially, MHC accused a “research assistant” with the Docent Group of sending unsourced research notes to Driscoll that made their way into the Trial book. Further analysis revealed that Driscoll was provided with research notes sourced according to industry standards which he appears to have ignored. Along those lines, Tyndale House Publishers doesn’t appear to have applied the rigorous fact checking that publishing houses typically employ, which would have caught the book’s errors as well.

In addition, the “research assistant” he accused of plagiarism was in fact former Mars Hill Church Pastor Justin Holcomb, whom Driscoll praised in March of 2012 for his leadership of Resurgence, the church’s publishing and teaching ministry. In a statement posted by Tyndale, Driscoll admits “mistakes were made,” though he failed to take responsibility for making false allegations against a former pastor.

John Piper may have called out his fellow megachurch pastor for taking credit for work penned by others but in its statement Tyndale didn’t waver in its support for Driscoll. “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.” It’s possible that Tyndale’s reluctance to risk losing an earner like Driscoll has something to do with the publisher’s recent deal with Resurgence Publishing where they will publish numerous titles under a new imprint called Resurgence Publishing (formerly Re: Lit).

A quick review of Driscoll’s other recent work reveals similar problems. In Who Do You Think You Are? (Thomas Nelson, January 2013), Driscoll used material from an IVP reference book and Dan B. Allender’s Wounded Heart (NavPress, 2008). IVP noted material from this bible commentary improperly appeared without quotation or attribution for the Trial book, and conveyed via email that their statement stands in this case as well. Driscoll also used material from Allender without citation in 2008’s Death by Love, which was published by Crossway.

Moving on to Driscoll’s highly publicized #1 New York Times bestseller Real Marriage, co-written with Driscoll’s wife Grace, one finds multiple instances of using Allender’s work without citation, including chapters supposedly written by Grace. And again, portions of Rid of My Disgrace (2011, Re:Lit), penned by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb, can be found in this book. (Chapter 7 of Real Marriage, contains unattributed passages from pages 16-17 and 27 of Rid of My Disgrace). In an ironic twist, the Resurgence store still sells this book even though Driscoll tried to blame Holcomb for the plagiarism found in the Trial book.

In an email exchange, Crossway stated, “We are in touch with Mars Hill and are conducting an internal review to ensure that our books published by Mark Driscoll have proper citation and documentation.” So far, NavPress, publisher of Wounded Heart, has not issued a response regarding Driscoll’s use of that book without proper citation, nor has Thomas Nelson commented about these latest allegations of plagiarism committed by its #1 New York Times bestselling author, and why it appears to have failed to fact check Driscoll’s books prior to publication.

Furthermore, MHC’s ongoing debates over trademarking its name and logos indicate that MHC leaders have no problem issuing “cease and desist” letters when they feel their material might be used without proper citation and credit. So they understand the principle of copyright protection—at least as it applies to their work. Emails to MHC asking for clarification have gone unanswered.

Over at the evangelical flagship site Christianity Today, Andy Crouch opined how the real problem here isn’t plagiarism but the fact that much of the work attributed to celebrity figures in the Christian world today is not their own. But the glaring fact remains that plagiarism is a very serious offense that in non-evangelical settings often results in loss of employment. Yes, in secular circles, author/speakers with star power like Fareed Zakaria can emerge from a plagiarism scandal with their gigs intact. However, even Zakaria was given a one month suspension from Time and CNN, while Mark appears to have emerged from this fracas with the full support of both MHC and his current publisher.

On the First Things blog, Carl Trueman recently wrote:

the health of the Christian subcultures in our society depends to an important extent upon the freedom of the Christian press; and that in turn depends upon having plenty of public voices and different groups presenting their different perspectives without the threat of being silenced by those with power and money. I need voices that criticize me and so does everyone else who operates in the public Christian sphere.

If Trueman is correct, this particular subculture appears to have a rather nasty flu.

bgthedoor@aol.com'

Becky Garrison contributes to a range of outlets including The Washington Post's On Faith section, The Guardian, Free Inquiry, The Humanist, Killing the Buddha, Believe Out Loud, and American Atheist. Her seven books include Roger Williams' Little Book of Virtues (2013), and Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church (Jossey-Bass, 2006).

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