On Driscoll, it’s a straight red 19

Many others have been covering the Mark Driscoll plagiarism story well, though I have a few observations that come from my experience as a college professor where I sometimes deal with this, and where, unlike with Mr. Driscoll so far, people actually suffer consequences for what they do.

The paraphrasing of other people’s ideas and outlines is just as much plagiarism as word-for-word copying, so I agree with the people who are claiming those are indeed violations of others’ intellectual property. What caught my eye was the three-paragraph lift in his book on Peter.

It’s Not Only Plagiarism

The three paragraphs documented by Janet Mefferd are clearly plagiarism. The footnotes in Driscoll’s work also make it fabrication. At my school, we define fabrication as follows (emphasis added):

Fabrication is the intentional use of invented information or the falsification of research or other findings with the intent to deceive. Examples:

1. Citation of information not taken from the source indicated.

2. Listing sources in a bibliography not used in the academic exercise, unless directed by the instructor to list references consulted even if not cited.

3. Inventing data or source information for research or other academic exercise.

The in-text citations in the work Driscoll copied from

The in-text citations in the work Driscoll copied from

Not only did Driscoll copy the words, he manipulated the citations in the source material to make it appear as though he had done the research himself. By so doing, it shows that he understands the value of citations and research, but decided to deceive the reader into believing that he had done that work himself. Think about the effort it took to reformat those in-text citations and add them to his book as footnotes. Why not also footnote the original book? He did know how to use them.

The relocated and reformatted citations in Driscoll's book

The relocated and reformatted citations in Driscoll’s book

In soccer, a player can get a yellow card from a referee to warn for rough play or a bad tackle. Two yellows and the player is ejected from the game. A particularly egregious foul can be awarded a straight red. No warning. No doubts. Expelled.

With the manipulation of the footnotes, Driscoll has compounded his deception, and worked even harder to mask it. No yellow here. No warning. This is an easy call: Straight Red.

It’s Not Just an Ethical Problem

What Mr. Driscoll has done here is more than just hypocritical and dishonest. It’s illegal. He has violated the copyright of multiple authors who might be able to claim that his behavior has and will damage them commercially. If Driscoll gets the credit for teaching his pithy observations on relationships and forgiveness, he might deprive the ideas’ creators and copyright holders of book sales and other related rights like conference speaking. Considering the legal jeopardy that Driscoll may have exposed them to, it was a little surprising how quickly his publishers circled the wagons and directed their ire at Janet Mefferd, who had brought the problem to light. At least temporarily suspending the sales of the books while they negotiated rights settlements with the copyright holders might have been a prudent move.

Where Were the Editors?

In an age of bloggers and self publishers, the traditional media has reassured us that they add value to news and information by submitting it to a rigorous system of checkers. You can’t trust what you read from a single blogger or self-publisher, they tell us, because he or she has no editor. A traditional book publisher convinces us to pay more for their imprint because they have done the quality control for us. We assume that a book published by a reputable publisher has been vetted. So, where were the vetters for Driscoll’s books? Considering the risk to their business that comes from copyright violations entailed in plagiarism, they ought to have had a self-interested motive to carefully examine his work.

As I wrote about a few weeks ago, I was surprised at how many slap-your-forehead factual errors and apparent fabrications made it into Clayton King’s Dying to Live book. A moderately caffeinated copy editor should have caught and deleted two or three chapters from that book just by reading it to the end. I have to assume that nobody actually did.

If traditional publishers don’t aggressively defend the standards of the work they put out under their name, they ought not be surprised when readers abandon them and turn to independent voices and digital publishers. If there are no editors to improve a Driscoll or King book, why pay more for them?

Can He Survive a Routine Freshman Examination?

Driscoll’s publishers say they’re investigating the claims of plagiarism. Perhaps they are, but it’s a notoriously difficult task to identify material that has been lifted from other works. There’s one way the publishers could resolve this in an afternoon and prove to all of us that Driscoll is innocent: submit his work to the same scrutiny that college students all over the country have to withstand when they submit their assignments for grading.

By using online plagiarism-detection services like TurnItIn or SafeAssign, the publishers could feed an entire Driscoll manuscript into the service and get a report on the extent of copying with links to the original sources in a matter of hours.

My students aren’t afraid of it. Is Pastor Driscoll?

19 thoughts on “On Driscoll, it’s a straight red

  1. Bruce Gerencser Dec 3, 2013 12:08 am

    You are correct about Driscoll’s plagiarism. There is no way Driscoll can explain this away. I wrote a post earlier today pastors and plagiarism and I gave several examples of pastors who routinely plagiarized in their sermons. We visited one church where the pastor was preaching Rick Warren’s sermons word for word. While I am no longer a Christian, I do think pastors should do their own work and when they use the work of others they should say so. It is lazy and unethical not to do so. I am not a Driscoll fan, but I suspect there is a lot more of this that goes on than we know.

  2. Donna in Austin Dec 3, 2013 2:23 am

    Another well written article. I listened to the interview that Janet did with Driscoll and was amazed at the way he treated her. While I am no great fan of her work, she was asking some valid questions and instead of answering her, he attacked her. When I listen to Driscoll all I hear is anger, even more anger when dealing with women. Has Driscoll made any response to these allegations? Thanks again for your fine work.

  3. J Dec 3, 2013 3:10 pm

    I appreciate your input on the topic Dr. Duncan. I’m having a hard time stomaching, and honestly understanding the motive behind, many of the “critics” responses and call to repentance.

    What would you say is a necessary response for believers or pastors to this type of negligence (meaning Driscoll’s negligence)? Ask for repentance, encourage reconciliation and proper amendments/citations publicly? Beyond that, are there biblical mandates to believers and pastors to die on the hill of another pastors repentance? Much less one that we have no direct connection to? Is public repentance the only acceptable/necessary repentance in this case?

    Also, within that – do we discredit their ability to lead/teach/pastor until they repent?
    I think that’s where I’m getting tripped is, I see where ownership needs to be taken by Driscoll, but I’m not at the place where I feel the need to totally write him off as a solid biblical teacher. Maybe because I want to believe that there MIGHT be a scenario where he didn’t intentionally plagiarize. Or that he is seeking reconciliation and taking ownership, but just not in front of the entire internet. Or does that cause me fall into the “celebrity pastors can get away with anything” category? Am ignorant in believing there are bible believing/ God-fearing men who speak into his life, especially regarding this manner?

    In many circles Driscoll is written off because of his acceptance of TD Jakes. Do we then write off Matt Chandler or other faithful teachers the word since they are associated with Driscoll? Which maybe I’m a glass half-full guy, but there’s part of me that trusts Chandler enough to be on the phone with Driscoll in the midst of all this giving him biblical, gospel-centered advice. But again, I know neither personally so I’m speaking with assumption of their relationship, and their willingness to hear rebuke from brothers.

    In the end, I know that we all need to listen to teaching through the filter of scripture, regardless of the pastor needing to repent publicly or not – Just wondering your perspective on the pastor’s (local pastor, not in seattle) role.

  4. EBS Dec 3, 2013 9:53 pm

    Is it possible to digitally scan (or utilize an e-reader version) one or two of the Driscoll works in question and then submit them to TurnItIn or SafeAssign? I am very curious what the results would be.

  5. James Downing Dec 5, 2013 8:56 am

    Hmmm. All the stuff on Mrs. Mefford’s blog has been removed. I fear she’s being bullied.

  6. Margot Dec 5, 2013 3:47 pm

    “The blog at Janet Mefferd’s web site is now empty. Per her on-air apology today, Mrs. Mefferd has removed the PDF evidence of Mark Driscoll’s plagiarism from her website and social media.”


    Apology transcript….


  7. James Duncan Dec 6, 2013 3:16 pm

    This is the week of final exams for me, so I’ve been pretty busy with my paying job this week, though I have been following the Mefford apology, which I’ll comment on in a post tonight or tomorrow. Quick spoiler: it’s fine if she wants to apologize for her interview style, but she should not have removed her posts.

    J, regarding the propriety of pastoral criticism, that’s another topic that warrants its own post. I think there’s a connection between church government and public criticism that makes some of these leaders fair game for public criticism and correction.

  8. J Dec 6, 2013 3:50 pm

    James Duncan,

    I look forward to the post. I’m not so much against the public scrutiny or correction. However, the way some popular bloggers have demanded public repentance, via the avenue of mocking posts, remind me more of swarming vultures than brothers.

    After hearing Driscoll’s response to Mefford he admitted “I could have made a mistake, and if I did I will need to apologize and make it right” (from my memory, unfortunately). Is that not enough (for now)?

    Then as soon as the interview is over, the Christian vultures/brothers begin demanding public repentance… I hear the interview and think “oh, okay, it seems this might be new to Driscoll and they’ll look into it, and if it’s necessary – then we’ll see repairs being made.”

    I’m all for calling for public repentance when it’s necessary, but is there space for “mistake, and not sin”, and even still, if it is a mistake he said that he would make it right?

    I guess I’m at a loss for what watch-dog’s see their role as. And if their role is noble, they absolutely need to re-evaluate their execution of rebuke. And why those watch-dogs also feel the need to recruit other believers to do rebuking, and if those people don’t join them, they are automatically in the wrong. Like I’ve said to them – it’s eerily similar to being called a “critic” by the celeb pastors.

    probably too much of a rant… Again, I look forward to your post!

  9. James Dec 6, 2013 4:44 pm


    I’m glad to hear you at least take plagiarism seriously. Though I do have to wonder how seriously people take plagiarism anymore. Having just graduated from a nearby (“Christian”) college, I know of several incidents of plagiarism where the professors decided against prosecuting. It saddened me to hear that, especially as the reasons were political.

    I hope you can continue to be a light at your school.

  10. Paula Dec 6, 2013 4:53 pm

    What seems so obvious to us is obviously no big deal to the rest of evangelicalism. When they are excusing away the criminally negligent behavior of C J Mahaney and other pastors under him, and pastors who build 16,000 square foot mansions, using church funds to buy books in bulk to boost sales, etc… (and then maybe even giving them away and saying they were confiscated…ya know….)…

    Well, plagiarism seems pretty minor compared to those abuses, so… it’s no wonder no one is paying attention.

    I’ve been saying for years it’s a good old boys’ network. It really is. And you will see someone rail against it this month but next month they will be swallowed up by it and enabling it. It’s getting to the point where you can pretty much trust no one. Especially nobody who makes their living at Christianity. The money and popularity always seems to end up compromising them eventually.

    I’m not talking about the small town pastors, except to the extent that they become enamored by what passes as the face of evangelicalism. It’s the same phenomenon where women feel they must measure up to that ridiculous beauty standard that society says is so important. It’s all fun house mirrors frankly.

    Voddie Baucham had a great sermon from Revelation recently about the whore Babylon, drunk with the blood of the saints, riding on the scarlet beast. Well, he made a decent point about this representing this world system. She will either seduce you with her whoring charms or you will be forced to comply or eaten by the beast on which she rides. Very sadly, much of evangelicalism has already fallen prey and they have become part of the problem.

    “Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated.” — the Borg

  11. Paula Dec 6, 2013 4:56 pm

    Eduardo, she was not a producer.

  12. Paula Dec 6, 2013 4:59 pm

    “All the stuff on Mrs. Mefford’s blog has been removed. I fear she’s being bullied.”

    I fear so as well. Chris Rosebrough had an excellent analysis on Dec 5th Fighting For The Faith, entitled “It was no boating accident!” e.g. this was a shark attack. (a reference to a line from Jaws)

    I encourage you all to take the time to listen to it, though it is long. He also analyzed Driscoll’s weird and awkward appearance on (Mormon) Glenn Beck’s TV show wherein he didn’t do anything to disagree with Beck’s conveyance that we are all Christians. Though as Chris observed, he did minorly disagree with him that Gandhi wasn’t anything like Jesus. O.o

    The big tough guy looked like a deer in the headlights. Maybe he still has the flu.

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  14. John Carpenter Dec 9, 2013 12:54 pm

    The conclusion of the matter is this:

    1. Ms. Mefferd has retracted her accusations and apologized to Mark Driscoll. So should Collin Garbarino and “First Things”.

    2. The alleged plagiarism of Dr. Jones is not correct. The publisher of Driscoll’s book reviewed the allegations and concluded that Driscoll’s use of Jones’ ideas and crediting to him was to publishing standards.

    3. The alleged plagiarism of two brief paragraphs from a commentary of 1 Peter is more substantial. However, the publication in which it apparently occurred is little more than an internal study guide. Churches commonly produce material for their Sunday School or small groups and likely, inadvertent failures to proper cite sources is also common. The mistake should be corrected but until evidence is forth-coming that it was intentional plagiarism, to treat this as though it is a great moral failure is absurd.

    4. The real substantial issues here are the worldly scandal-mongering that many Christians relish, including some Christian media organizations, the cynical and reflexively scornful attitudes toward Christian leaders, etc.

  15. James Downing Dec 9, 2013 7:42 pm


    By “internal study guide”, do you mean “one that has been on sale online for years for $9.95”?

    P.S. – Intervarsity Press…the people who own the material Driscoll used, disagree with you:

    P.P.S – The REAL substantial issue here is that some people are afraid of the truth. Why do you think that is?

  16. Rollin Dec 9, 2013 11:17 pm

    It was just a matter of time before the Driscoll acolyte, Mr. Carpenter, showed up on this thread to defend the object of his adulation. What took you so long, John?

  17. Stan Dec 17, 2013 6:23 pm

    Interesting — “crickets” from “John Carpenter” who claims elsewhere (Patheos comments I believe) that he has no interest in Driscoll particularly just the public charges of Christians against Pastors.

    But he trots out the “talking points” like a political operative in comment sections all over the web… and then when they are refuted (see Downing above) never owns up.

    So, the answer is “John Carpenter” is not interested in the truth of the matter here as it relates to Driscoll.

  18. Rebecca Lynn Dec 22, 2013 1:43 am

    Lets not forget the quickly to be taken down article the Post allowed him to write. He could’nt control himself well enough for that one to last, his abuse of their own moderator and abuse of others got that pulled might quick. I think it will be quiet for awhile while he reinvents himself, and gets a new screen name.

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