Accusations of plagiarism surrounding Seattle megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll have raised troubling questions about the Christian publishing industry and the way celebrity pastors produce and market books.
First, the facts: On Nov. 21 Driscoll appeared on Janet Mefferd’s radio program to discuss his new book, A Call to Resurgence, published by Tyndale House Publishers. Mefferd maintains Driscoll’s representatives initiated the request for his appearance. As part of her preparation for the interview, Mefferd encountered several passages in Driscoll’s book that sounded familiar. A bit of research revealed the familiar passages were uncredited passages taken verbatim from a book written by Peter Jones, scholar in residence at Westminster Seminary California. Mefferd confronted Driscoll on the air in what quickly became an awkward and contentious interview on her program, which is syndicated by the Salem Radio Network (SRN), the nation’s largest Christian radio network.
After the interview, and in part as a response to criticism that she had unfairly confronted Driscoll about a “mistake” that did not rise to the level of intentional plagiarism, Mefferd put more examples of Driscoll’s uncredited use of other people’s material on her website. But on Dec. 4, Mefferd took the material down from her website and issued an on-air apology for the way she handled Driscoll’s interview, though she did not retract her accusations of plagiarism.
Since then, Mefferd has been publicly silent on the matter, but others have suggested she was pressured into making the apology. The day after Mefferd’s apology, Ingrid Schlueter, a part-time researcher for Mefferd who also helped book guests for the program, resigned in protest over the way Mefferd had been treated, posting her reasons online:
“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. 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.”
Salem denies putting pressure on Mefferd or being pressure by Tyndale House or any other Christian publisher. To clarify its relationship with Salem, Tyndale issued a statement, saying:
“There is a misperception about the term ‘media partnership’ when it comes to Salem and Tyndale. It simply means that Tyndale advertises on SRN. We have in the past and we expect to continue to do so. The quote from Aprel Mabson (Tyndale’s advertising and promotions coordinator) on the Salem site is nothing more than a testimonial about the positive relationship that Tyndale has had advertising on Salem shows.”
Tyndale also issued a statement defending its author, Driscoll:
“Tyndale House takes any accusation of plagiarism seriously and has therefore conducted a thorough in-house review of the original material and sources provided by the author. After this review we feel confident that the content in question has been properly cited in the printed book and conforms to market standards.”
Warren Throckmorton, a professor at Grove City College, has been following the Driscoll-Mefferd controversy. Throckmorton came to national attention in 2012 for exposing problems in the work of David Barton. He found the Tyndale statement disheartening.
“It is a shame that a Christian publisher would cite ‘market standards’ when there are biblical standards to go by,” Throckmorton said. “Christian publishers should aspire to more than mere industry standards.”
At least one Christian publisher said Driscoll’s books do not even rise to that low bar.
InterVarsity Press—publisher of the New Bible Commentary, edited by G.J. Wenham, J.A. Motyer, D.A. Carson, and R.T. France—released a statement saying “several paragraphs” of Driscoll’s book Trial: 8 Witnesses from 1 & 2 Peter “improperly” used the IVP commentary “without quotation or attribution.”
Tyndale did not publish Trial. Instead, it was published by Mars Hill Church, where Driscoll is the founding pastor. After InterVarsity issued its statement, Mars Hill pulled the book from its website and issued a statement, saying in part:
“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.”
Driscoll has refused repeated requests by WORLD for an interview. In fact, his silence has become an issue since Driscoll has made a habit in his pastoral career of seeking out controversy.