David Fitch, Andy Crouch Weigh in on Mark Driscoll’s Plagiarism and Celebrity Leadership

In case you missed it, rock-star pastor Mark Driscoll was recently accused on air by a radio host of committing plagiarism in one of his books. She had the goods on him, too. You can Google the whole thing, and read the two passages, and Jonathan Merritt has chronicled the drama. It’s pretty obvious that Driscoll copped whole sections from a Bible commentary, changing only a few words here and there, without properly citing it. There’s been a lot of fallout, including the host being forced to recant, and the part-time assistant producer of the program being sacked. The whole affair is ugly.

Two things in particular that I recommend reading.

Crouch gives a little perspective on the plagiarism charge. This isn’t scholarly work. Pastors who writing popular books all steal from other folks. We’re not making this stuff up. We’re quilting ideas together to support the church. Half the time I don’t even remember where I was first exposed to the ideas about which I am speaking or writing – honestly. Nearly everyone would be willing to give Driscoll a break if he’d just say, “I totally blew it. My bad. Won’t happen again.” But he is not saying that.

Crouch notes that the bigger problem is that Driscoll took all of the credit for the writing that was clearly staffed out, at least in part, if not outright ghost-written. Driscoll recently boasted, “I am now sending out literally thousands of pages of content a year, as well as preaching and teaching hundreds of hours of content a year.” Bigger, better, higher, farther, faster… this is why I’m writing Shrink, by the way, (Zondervan 2014). Those things have nothing to do with the gospel, they have to do with being a celebrity, though. Which brings me to Fitch’s article.

Fitch digs deeper into the problem of the celebrity pastor. This is a stellar post. He writes,

“When a pastor is elevated into celebrity status, when he/she is removed from being among the people, actually knowing the people he/she ministers among, it inevitably distorts the church. The leadership itself becomes intertwined in power interests that are more broadly cultural. Such leadership can do little to lead the church forward into mission. It will at best hold the status quo, at worst cause division among followers of Christ into those who are for the celebrity and those who are against in order to gain more followers (or customers) faster. This is the way celebrity leadership works. Removed from the local workings of people’s lives on the ground, this kind of leadership becomes ideological. It leads in order to gather more people as fast as it can and then use that people for some ulterior purposes (fame, money, etc.) even when it appears (and probably intends) to serve the Kingdom. Celebrity leadership is poison for the church.”

Brilliant. If you have a moment, go over to Reclaiming the Mission and read the whole article. Bookmark the blog, while you are at it, because Fitch is an important thinker working for the church today.

I can’t help thinking that when you live by the sword, you die by the sword. Driscoll has spent so much of his time and energy rebuking others, the enormous plank in his own eye was bound to come out at some point. And because of his attitude, arrogance, and bullying actions, I think people have been waiting to pounce for a long time. I’ve had scores of conversations with Christian leaders where we talk about Driscoll and his antics. Nearly always we admit that we’re just waiting for the other shoe to drop. I’m guessing this is not the last of it either.

The call to reject celebrity leadership that Fitch is making is an important one. I’m in…

About Tim Suttle

Tim Suttle is a pastor, writer, and musician. He is the author of several books: Shrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church Growth Culture (Zondervan 2014), Public Jesus (The House Studio, 2012), and An Evangelical Social Gospel? (Cascade Books, 2011). Tim's work has been featured at The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Sojourners, and other magazines and journals. Tim is also the founder and front-man of the popular Christian band Satellite Soul, with whom he toured for nearly a decade. He has planted three successful churches over the past 13 years and is the Senior Pastor of Redemption Church in Olathe, Kan. Tim's blog, Paperback Theology, is hosted at Patheos.

  • http://prodigalthought.net/ Scott Lencke

    Fantastic quote by Fitch

  • dave

    “Nearly everyone would be willing to give Driscoll a break if he’d just say, ‘I totally blew it. My bad. Won’t happen again.’ But he is not saying that.”

    Thank you!!! I agree. That’s the problem I have with the Crouch article though; it says we should all just call it a mistake. But Driscoll hasn’t personally weighed in yet, so that’s unrealistic. His name is on the books, not some team, so it’s his responsibility to personally answer for the content. And the longer he waits, I think the worse it gets.

  • http://bobcornwall.com/ Robert Cornwall

    When Alvin Jackson was serving as pastor of National City Christian Church in DC, it was discovered that he had cribbed a large section of a sermon from Lew Smedes. He was forced to resign.

    The problem is, as you note, many celebrity pastors have writers who write not only their books, but their sermons. They are, in essence speech writers. Driscoll isn’t alone. Granted large church pastors have stresses small church pastors don’t have, but it they are essentially farming out books, that is problematic.


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