On The Allegations Of Plagiarism Against Mark Driscoll (UPDATED)

As first reported by Religion News Service, Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll was accused of plagiarism by Janet Mefferd during a November 21 interview with Driscoll about his new book A Call to Resurgence. Originally, the charges related to the new book and material from the work of Peter Jones. Then several days later Mefferd produced more material from another Driscoll book which added to her claims.

Since then, professor Colin Garbarino weighed in at First Things by flunking Driscoll on grounds of plagiarism. For his part, Driscoll has yet to respond to the newest claims. Some have come to his defense. Fellow Patheos blogger, Christian Piatt, likened the response of critics to a “witch hunt” and says Driscoll “deserves better.”

My interest in this has nothing to do with the people involved. In my recollection, I have never heard Driscoll speak and haven’t, until now, read anything he has written. Mefferd has favorably interviewed some people I have criticized on this blog and so my opinions here are not influenced by any desire to defend her against Driscoll’s advocates. When I heard about the claims, I became curious and wanted to check them out for myself.

After looking into it, I think Mr. Driscoll has some explaining to do. Mefferd put together two pdf files of material which I examined. The material which triggered the original allegations is, to me, less convincing than the material she then located. In the case of Peter Jones and Driscoll’s new book, I believe Driscoll should have cited Jones more than he did. He should have made it clearer that his use of terms was derived from Jones as the source. However, the second wave of claims raise more direct concerns of using material, word-for-word, without citation. You can see Mefferd’s evidence here (A Call to Resurgence and one section of Trial) and here (another section from Trial).

To help compare one of the passages from Trial: 8 Witness from 1 & 2 Peter, I have reproduced the relevant section of New Bible Commentary on I Peter from Mefferd’s materials. Then I looked up the web copy of Trial on Driscoll’s website. The side by side comparison is below. The bold print highlights the words that have been changed or altered in some manner from the original.

This is clearly a problem. While I might not immediately fail a student who turned in such work, I would have a conference to determine what happened. I can imagine how a student might inadvertently leave out the source or reference. Some beginning students don’t know that quotes are to be set off in some manner to signal that the material is being lifted directly from the source. I like to measure twice and cut once, so I would check out the situation. However, in academic work, this is a serious problem and should be treated as such.

Given his many books, it seems unlikely that Driscoll is unaware of the rules regarding citations so the burden is on him to offer an explanation for how this passage (and others – see Mefferd’s sources) from the New Bible Commentary appears in his book without citation. It seems clear that he or someone interacted with the material since a few words have been changed. Perhaps he used a ghostwriter or research assistant and simply left that person’s work in the book as his own. Even if this is true, he is still responsible for the work and appropriate acknowledgement and repairs should be made.

After reviewing the material, I don’t think the concerns being raised can be accurately represented as a witch hunt. Efforts to characterize those who raise inconvenient facts as engaging in a smear campaign or witch hunt are misplaced and unhelpful (I have some experience with this). At the same time, if Driscoll addresses the legitimate concerns and questions properly, then the situation can probably be repaired in a manner that honors his Christian faith.

UPDATE: Mefferd says she has more evidence of plagiarism which she will disclose on her program this afternoon. They are now on her blog. The first claim relates to copying the terms “good girl,” “tough girl,” and “party girl” without citation in his book Real Marriage from Dan Allender’s book The Wounded Heart. Driscoll also uses these terms with similar descriptions in his book Death by LoveThe second concern relates to Driscoll’s book Who Do You Think You Are? in comparison to a blog post by Ron Edmondson on forgiveness. These instances are not as blatant as the material first published in the New Bible Commentary, but they do raise important questions about the lack of citation. In the Death by Love book, Driscoll cites unnamed “experts” as the source but does not name Allender. He should have.

It is certainly possible that Driscoll heard the Allender terms at a workshop or from a friend and did not know who used them first. The issue may be sloppiness.  However, in my view, these new concerns are not frivolous and should be taken seriously.

See also:

More allegations of plagiarism surface against Mark Driscoll (Religion News Service)

 

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