Mark Driscoll and Problems of Citation

I don’t have much to say about the ruckus these last few weeks concerning the allegation of plagiarism by Mark Driscoll, an allegation that was made by Janet Mefferd, and then subsequently withdrawn by her. Not having much to say, I intend therefore to not say it. Initially I thought to say nothing whatever, but now I should actually say I do have something to offer about the ruckus, but not about the situation that caused the ruckus. I don’t know enough yet to say anything much about that.

Update: more on the whole deal can be found here.

1. I will say at the outset that I consider Mark Driscoll a friend, and I also have friends across the way from him who take a pretty dim view of all things Driscoll. Nothing I say here is intended to alter any of that, or adjust the general lay of the land. This has nothing to do with “tribes” or “sides,” so make sure you read clean through this entire post before drawing any conclusions about what you think I might be saying. My only relation to “sides” in this is that I have friends on both sides, and I intend to keep it that way. These are mostly observations that this situation made me think of — they are not necessarily allegations about the situation, although I will obviously be saying some things connected to it.

While I have friends in both directions, these thoughts are my own. I am not acting as anyone’s proxy, and I am not leaking inside information I got from anybody.

2. A point has been made that we have a culture that is dependent on evangelical celebrities, and that these shining figures at the top of our hierarchy need accountability. And so they do, but only because absolutely everybody up and down the entire hierarchy needs accountability. We are all sinners, and we all need it. Nobody should be above correction — but this must include those who deliver correction. And in my (quite extensive) experience with this kind of thing, those who make allegations usually operate with significantly more freedom than is enjoyed by evangelical “celebrities.” Prominent figures in the religious world are regularly toppled, usually due to their own sin and folly, but not always, and they are hardly permanent fixtures in our heavenly firmament. False accusers, on the other hand, are very rarely toppled. I think they all must have tenure, kind of like the English Department. So my first point is that everyone must be accountable for their words and actions — leaders and followers, rich and poor, celebrities and peons, high and low. Everybody.

3. From the foregoing, it might seem that I am leaning against what Carl Trueman wrote about all this, both at Reformation 21 and First Things. But I appreciated much of what he had to say. There was a lot of wisdom there, and I appreciated him saying it. So this point should be considered as a supplement to all that, and not an attempted counter to it.

There is absolutely nothing new about this problem. This problem is not uniquely “ours.” Bad men have always loved preeminence in the church (3 John 9), and people have always loved to bestow the wrong kind of preeminence on good men (1 Cor. 1:12). It is not possible to tell with a glance at a couple of overheated blogs which one it is, and we shouldn’t blame Apollos for his fanboys. Then there is another variation — when bad men attack the authority of Christ through His appointed representatives (2 Cor. 11:6-7).

Sometimes the critic of evangelical celebrity is a man of God, a wall of integrity, and he has had it up to here with the powder puff treatment of ecclesiastical bigwigs.

“Why does the CEO of Global Soup Kitchens, International drive a Lamborgini with solid gold hubcaps? Just asking . . .”

“Touch not the Lord’s anointed!”

But other times he is just mad because that should have been him up there. “Why don’t I get to be untouchable like that? And rich?”

Sometimes attacks on the establishment come from men who have dined on locusts and wild honey. Other times it comes from good men, but they do have to guard themselves carefully against any whiff of envy, the sin that smells like sulfur. And still other times the attacks come from people who are so envious that if you put them in direct sunlight you could see them quivering. It is not just men at the top who might not know what spirit they are of.

This means that our model for correction can be a kind of dogged and courageous journalism, but it must not be gotcha journalism.

“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (Gal. 6:1).

4. All that said, at an objective minimum, there is a gross citation problem in Driscoll’s book Trial, which needs to be acknowledged, owned and corrected. Looking at the two relevant sections, side by side, we know that there is a citation problem. What we don’t know is why or how it got there, about which more in a little bit. But regardless, however it got there, it needs to get out of there. The problem should be owned and corrected, in public, by the author and the publisher. The same goes for anything comparable.

The fact that Janet Mefford apologized and pulled everything down from her site doesn’t resolve the objective citation issues that remain unresolved (as distinct from the political issues). I am happy to take the assurances of those who say that they are working to resolve it, and to wait patiently while they do so, but I think those assurances do need to be made.

But what do you mean, we don’t know why or how it happened? Whose name is on the cover, man? That leads to my next point.

5. Facile comparisons between college term papers and published books need to quit being quite so facile. They may continue as legitimate comparisons, just not in facile-mode. When a college student finds some sparkling prose online, and plonks it down in the middle of his otherwise tepid paper, making the stolen portion flash like a strobe light at the instructor, everybody knows that this is simple intellectual theft, clumsily done. That kind of straight across plagiarism can happen with books also, and does, with depressing regularity.

But there may be other factors. The production of a book involves numerous people who handle the words prior to publication, unlike a term paper. How could something bad get in? Well, think about research assistants, copy editors, copy editors who think they should have been the author, copy editors who think they should have been the fuehrer, content editors, politically correct content editors, and so on. Just a few weeks ago I had the experience of opening a book I wrote only to have my eyes light upon something that I could never have possibly written, and which some helpful editor (or gnome in the printing press) had inserted for me. It was quite embarrassing, but I didn’t do it, although this leads to the next point. I am nevertheless responsible for it. My name is on the cover.

6. A distinction needs to be made between what you are responsible for and what you are guilty of. For example, I agree completely with Kevin De Young’s recent comments about ghostwriting (last paragraph in his sixth point). I believe that ghostwriting is dishonest, and I couldn’t do it. This is not because it is necessarily dishonest to craft words for others to use (as a candidate’s speech writer does). Being a speechwriter is not an honesty problem because everybody knows about the speechwriter, and he puts it on his resume, and almost no one knows about the ghostwriter, especially if he is not named or acknowledged anywhere. And with ghostwriting, there is no ethical problem if the “name author” has the name of his sidekick on the cover with him. “Mark Snozzlegrass (with Chauncey Smith).” When that happens the ghostwriter is not really that ghostly.

You also have the problems created by research assistants. This is not bad like ghostwriting is, but it can cause problems every bit as big.

Now suppose a writer gets hosed by his ghostwriter, or by his “researcher”? Suppose the ghostwriter plagiarizes? This is a good pragmatic argument against using ghostwriters, but the person whose name is on the cover is not guilty of the plagiarism — although he would be responsible for it. Or suppose a researcher supplies a quote that is entirely out of context, and which reverses the original writer’s meaning, and the author he feeds it to uses it in that way? Or suppose the researcher turns in as a summary something that is actually close to a verbatim quote?

This is a good argument for only using researchers who are extremely honest, competent, and reliable, and with a system of cross checks in place. But with all said and done, the person whose name is on the cover of the book is responsible to put things completely right if a problem surfaces. He may not be guilty, but he is always responsible — as basic covenant theology teaches us.

So the production of a book is a complex process, and there is no trouble with holding the author responsible, so long as we understand something about the nature of that process. It is quite easy for me to envision a situation where an author is responsible for plagiarism, misquotation, or a screwed up citation, but not be guilty of it. It is always proper to hold the author responsible, but if in the heat of controversy people are demanding that he acknowledge his personal guilt, as though it did it himself on purpose, his refusal to do so might not evidence a lack of integrity, but rather the opposite. Keep that in mind as one of the possibilities.

7. Full disclosure on the previous point. I have used a hired researcher on just one of my books (The Case for Classical Christian Education). Her job was to hunt down relevant quotations in particular areas. She was really good, and I said what she did for me in the Acknowledgments. X “did extraordinary work in her research assistance.”

And ethical considerations aside, ghostwriting is out of the question for me. My writing style is, um, too identifiable, and cannot be persuaded to take off that red, rubber nose it always wears around.

8. I don’t think this ought to be the case, but ghostwriting is acceptable in Christian publishing in a way that plagiarism isn’t. They both ought to be equally unacceptable because they are just two different ways of being dishonest, but as long as ghostwriting is with us — and we have authors who have written more books than they have read — we will continue to have a distressing increase of this kind of tangle.

(Please note that I am not saying that this situation was in any way caused by ghostwriting. I am merely saying that ghostwriting is part of our general trouble in this area.)

By the way, that jibe up above about authors who have written more books than they have read is not original with me. I got it from somewhere, and blessed if I know where that was. Should I cite it? Must I footnote it? Now that I have acknowledged it, I am merely quoting an unnamed someone. But if I had just used it, without this paragraph, what would that have been?

9. Be aware that when a controversy like this blows, there will be a public demand for various important people to line up at the microphone and say something about it, right now. When this starts happening, it means we have moved from the issue itself to a political move based on the issue. I saw at least one reference to John Piper’s “damning silence” on the affair. Is it a damning silence if he is Africa or somewhere? Is it a damning silence if he wants to find out what happened before he says something?

As I believe I have noted before, Proverbs 18:17 is in danger of becoming my life verse. Often men don’t say something immediately because they are wise and they know enough to know that they don’t have all the facts. So beware of connecting the dots, and assuming a grand conspiracy. Sometimes men are silent because they don’t have the right to say anything. Where there is smoke, there is sometimes a smoke machine. And other times there is a fire. Maybe we should check it out (Prov. 18:17), and sometimes that takes time.

10. In all such matters, we need honesty straight up, prudence all the way down, and charity straight across. “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (Prov. 10:19, ESV).

11. As many of you know, on this very important subject, this is not my first rodeo. And I also know that this post of mine now will cause my adversaries to say that (of course) these plagialebrities are going to stick together. To be sure, that might be what is happening, but it might also be that I have some experience in these things that might prove illustrative to the wise.

A number of years ago, we weathered a similar rumpus, and if you want to read about it further, you can get the Kindle version of Black & Tan for 99 cents, and get yourself up to speed. While I would be content if I never sold another copy of that book (provided there was no need to set the record straight), whenever there is a need for it, I am humblebrag gratified that readers fresh to these controversies of mine might discover that Eugene Genovese, one of America’s premier historians of the 19th century, blurbed that book for me, saying something like “this little book is the greatest thing ever,” or something like that. And a small thought, the size of a man’s fist, may begin to form in the back of their mind, and that thought is that perhaps Wilson is not a historical ninnyhammer. Maybe he is not a ravening racist orc. Anything is possible.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand. The small saga concerning plagiarism is told at the back of the book. If you want the short form, back in the nineties Steve Wilkins and I co-authored a small booklet called Southern Slavery As It Was, which I edited. I won’t go into how it happened, but the end result was that some passages from a book that should have been cited weren’t cited (Time on the Cross), and it was entirely and completely accidental. It was an embarrassing editorial screw-up, not plagiarism.

12. Now I know and understand that in public controversies it is not necessary to follow the Matthew 18 process. When Paul confronted Peter at Antioch, he did it on the fly. Public error can be publicly rebuked in real time, and we do need to stop being pansies about this kind of thing. If you stick your head through the hole in the canvas at the state fair of public opinion, even if it is in the booth called Christian Radio, you can’t be surprised when this kind of thing happens. People are going to throw things at your head, and you have to be ready for surprises.

At the same time, I really appreciated how the gentleman who caught our citation howler dealt with it. He contacted me first, but I mistakenly thought he was simply arguing a historical point with us, and so I referred him to Steve, since it was about his section of the book. But when that gentleman got back to me, more insistent this time, and it dawned on me what the actual problem was, my reaction was immediate and in the aaaaa!!! category. We pulled all the stock out of inventory that same day and put the book out of print instanter. When it came to solving citation problems, and doing the right thing about it, there never was a publisher more eager to do the right thing immediately than we were. If everything had stayed calm that way, what likely would have happened is that we would have at some later point released a corrected edition, with the mistakes in the first edition named and acknowledged, and all due apologies made. In a delayed and more round about way, that subsequent publication did eventually arrive in the form Black & Tan, but because of all the subsequent yelling it took longer.

So we did not get that chance at that time. Some months later, another and quite separate controversy erupted, led by homosexual activists and other miscreants. We were attacked for our commitment to the absolute authority of Scripture, and these intoleristas were promptly joined by, you guessed it, evangelical Christians in their efforts to take us out, evangelicals who had their own political game going. As Church Curmudgeon recently put it, “It only takes a snark to get a fire going . . . ”

The accusations of plagiarism were swept up into the fray, and demands came in for us to admit to doing something we hadn’t done at all. It was apparent by this point that the whole fracas was entirely political, and we fought back accordingly. We were willing to take full responsibility for the editorial blunder, and did so. But we were not willing to agree with our adversaries’ agenda for our blunder.

13. T.S. Eliot is often misquoted this way — “bad poets imitate; good poets steal.” There is much more to it, but that is part of what I am arguing for here. There is always much more to a lot of this stuff. Eliot actually said this:

“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different than that from which it is torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion. A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest.”

What he is saying about poets can be applied, mutatis mutandis, to other wordsmiths, teachers, writers, and pastors.

14. Pastors are in a related category. As I was talking to Ben Merkle about this situation, he pointed out how dependent John Calvin’s commentaries are on those of Martin Bucer. Calvin often had very little prep time for his lectures, and simply went over Bucer’s work, gathered highlights, and taught those points in his lucid manner to the people of Geneva. Notes were taken as he taught, and those notes were later published. Often his work is simply a summary digest of what Bucer wrote. Some might want to say that this was plagiarism — I am more inclined to say it was the work of a hard-working pastor who wanted to get the Word out.

When I go to preach, I am acutely aware of how dependent I am on my books, my software, and my conversations. Here is a quotation from the sermon outline I just posted Saturday.

“The name Joseph means God will increase, like the Puritan name Increase Mather. It is a name that denotes blessing and abundance. Joseph of the Old Testament sheds some light on Joseph, the husband of Mary. For example, both men shared a name, and both of their fathers shared the name of Jacob (Gen. 30:23-24; Matt. 1:16). Rachel named Joseph Increase because that is what she was looking for—and received in the birth of Benjamin. The one through whom all God’s promises would come to fruition and increase, Mary, was protected and cared for by a man named Increase. Both Josephs had prophetic dreams. Both Josephs were righteous men. Both were connected in some way to a sexual scandal involving false accusation. Both of them were a wonderful combination of integrity and compassion. Both went down into Egypt and were thereby means of saving their respective families. Both were used by God to provide for a starving world.”

I stumbled across the two Josephs connection when I was looking at Joseph in a genealogy and tried to identify which one it was by looking at the father, and then realized that their fathers had the same name too. I got the meaning of Joseph from my Logos Bible Software. And I meet weekly with our Greyfriar students the day after my sermon outline is done to go over it, and have them suggest ideas and interact with the text with me. We call it a Pesher group (which is Hebrew for interpretation), and they are a very good help to me. In that meeting, I said something like “I think there is a lot more to the two Josephs thing,” and they suggested the two visits to Egypt and the fact of sexual scandal.

My job as a pastor is to feed the sheep, and I have to get fed from multiple sources in order to do that — dictionaries, commentaries, software, and so on. My job is not to do “original research” in the same way a Ph.D. candidate needs to. It would tedious to cite everything, not to mention counterproductive to the nature of a sermon. This does not mean that dishonesty is impossible in the pulpit (obviously), but it should mean that we take into account the different tasks as we evaluate what is going on. I make a point to cite anything that is verbatim, or which is quite striking and original, but we must remember that every sermon worth anything is resting on a digest of numerous unnamed sources. That’s how it works.

15. Here are a few more random examples from my life. One of my first books was one called Persuasions. In that book I have a character compare monogamy to buying a musical instrument and learning to play it, which is not like buying a record album and being stuck with listening to just one album over and over again. Years later I had a friend tell me he was disappointed that I had used C.S. Lewis’s analogy when he thought I was fully capable of coming up with my own. But I had no idea I was borrowing from Lewis. I am sure I got it from Lewis, and had used it in many witnessing conversations, and then when I wrote a book of witnessing encounters, in it went.

Other times I use something consciously. I conclude my weekly homily at the Lord’s Table with a phrase I got from John Bunyan — “come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.” Should I feel bad about not saying, every week, “as Bunyan once said . . .”? But I don’t feel bad.

Another time I titled a book My Life For Yours, a phrase I got from Thomas Howard’s book Splendor in the Ordinary, a book that also had the same conceit that my book did, that of working through all the rooms of a house. I explained all this in the preface, giving full credit where it was due, but which did not prevent an accusation from coming in that I was being a sneaky dickens, and how dare I steal from Howard? I don’t remember if the word dastardly was used, but I believe the sentiment was there.

16. And so there we have it. I don’t believe I have made any claims about what actually happened in the Driscoll situation — for I don’t know. But I do believe I have put forward enough possibilities to perhaps aid us all in calming down a bit, and letting this play out in an atmosphere that does not automatically make us think of high scandal.

Theology That Bites Back



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  • Caleb Ripple

    I really appreciate this. From someone who is trying to become a better preacher, thank you. 

  • Matt J.

    Using ghostwriters and unattributed research assistants is necromancy.
    Thanks for this piece – lots of good examples without jumping into the related fray.
    I think we as Christians should be above this sort of criticism and err on the side of over-citation.

  • Aaron

    Something that continues to be “un-addressed” here is Driscoll’s history with Dr. Peter Jones.  They did a conference(and book I believe?) on this very topic 2 or 3 years ago.  They spoke together, filmed videos together, etc. . Driscoll gave credit then. . and rearticulated many of Jones’ views for himself in those days.  Does he have to continue to give credit to someone he has a history of working with (and can be searched on google right now as to the details of that relationship?)  Driscoll was hardly trying to be secretive here, or to “steal” anything.  Dr. Jones mentored him in these very ideas.  He did cite them earlier in the book but did not cite a large portion later in the book.  Is this wrong, even by publishing standards?  Does “history with the originator” mean nothing?  Can Driscoll’s own sermons about Jones’ ideas (as Jones looked on) count for a reproduction?  Forgive me if I’m missing the whole thing here about that particular citation issue.  The DA Carson issue seems to be a research snafu, as he’s quoting a commentary.  Again, ask me if Mark Driscoll is trying to steal things from DA Carson ( a friend who spoke at his church).   

  • J

    Hey Doug, You might not remember me asking but a post or two ago I asked about your Bunyan quote at the end. Just in case you thought I might be being snarky I wanted to let you know it was just curiosity that made me ask because I had recently downloaded the book and started reading it when I made the connection. It was not intended to be some smirking attitude that thinks you should say “as Bunyan said”. Not sure it even matters to you but it bothered me that it might have come across that way so I wanted to say something. Have a good one and thanks for your wisdom on this issue.

  • Douglas Wilson

    J, no, and thanks. I didn’t take it that way at all. A reasonable question.

  • John W

    I appreciate the insights given here. It is the most thoughtful piece I have read on this so far.  The only thing I was always certain of in this case was that Janet Mefferd should have handled her original intervention differently. This she has now acknowledged.
    Best for the rest of us to shut up now and see what transpires 

  • Mike Bull

    Man, these gnats are so much work to strain out.

  • Ted

    As I heard one preacher advise, “Milk a lot of cows, but churn your own butter.”

  • Andrew W

    Why pull the book rather than just publish an errata noting the missing citation?  I’m assuming this is a few missing references, not “Oh, yeah, we didn’t notice chapter 3 was a verbatim copy of someone else’s work”. :)

  • Jeff Moss

    In addition to all of the above, it’s important to remember that some golden phrases have a very long history. “My life for yours” may have come from a book by Thomas Howard, but it’s also a favorite phrase of Ignatius of Antioch at the end of the first century A.D. …and who knows how many more links there might be in the chain between Ignatius and Howard? And Ignatius himself was probably paraphrasing some things the Apostle Paul said. This is not plagiarism, but a way of honoring one’s fathers by giving their words a fresh voice.

  • Kamilla

    A couple of responses:
    1) Driscoll’s current situation has two aggravating circumstances. First, when alleged plagiarism is documented in 2-3 books, including sections in a book his wife wrote, it begins to look like a pattern. Second, Mars Hill Church has a strict, well-publicized policy for how to respond when Driscoll is the one being plagiarized. Given both of those circumstances, it might have been a good idea to put out an initial statement acknowledging the charges/concerns. 
    In fact, it now looks like the response is being buried on something like a subpage of a subpage of the MHC website with the blame being placed on a research assistant. Perhaps it’s time for Mr. Driscoll to acquaint himself with Harry Truman. Either that or a little Washington scandal known as Watergate. 
    2) scandal of one sort or another seems to erupt around this guy with more regularity than that geyser in Yellowstone. I hope some of his friends understand we are looooong past the “he’s young, he’ll mature” excuse stage. the guy who claims to have his own personal Holy Ghost Peep Show and thinks he’s smarter than St. Athanasius really ought to be man enough to take the heat for this and fix it without a lengthy review process. 

  • Brent

    Doug, are you the Church Curmudgeon on Twitter? I’ve always suspected it, but Google cannot confirm. 

  • Doug

    Sometimes the “As Bunyan said …” gets tiresome. Like an undergraduate trying to prove he did his homework. A good stylist is aware of this–“when to hold ’em, when to fold ’em.”
    But I’m sure you know this, Mr. W. I had a high-school student who–for extra credit–wrote her own version of “Persuasions” loosely based on your concept. I didn’t think she needed to attribute your work as inspiration, as there are so many influences on our work. 
    To quote J.R.R. Tolkein: “The ways in which a story-germ uses the soil of experience are extremely complex, and attempts to define the process are at best guesses from evidence that is inadequate and ambiguous.” Another comment at the First Things blog notes that “Nobody called Nietzche a plagiarizer for calling Spinoza a spider” as another contemporary had.
    Thanks much for this post. Sometimes it seems that the politics are so vicious because the stakes are so small.

  • Valerie (Kyriosity)

    No, he’s not. Church Curmudgeon is the creation of David Regier. If you sift through CC’s tweets, you will find him outing himself on occasion.

  • Greg Harvey

    I’m no fan of Jesse Jackson at all but he did tell a humorous story some years ago on TV, maybe CSPAN, and he was saying something like this, to the best of my memory:
    “It is the long-held standard for preachers and speakers that the first time you quote someone you say ‘So-and-so wisely said…’ and the second time you quote it you say, “A wise man once said….’ and the third time you quote it you say, “I’ve always believed that…’.  That’s how you make these quotes your own.”

  • Frank Turk

    Doug – You could have walked a gossamer thread between Scilla and Charybdis with the footwork in this post.  You really think it’s this complicated?  Or that Piper, for example, owes us as much explanation for the state of economics in Africa as he does for this fellow he has trotted out as his friend and a partner in ministry?

  • Douglas Wilson

    Frank — you know me. Gossamer thread walking is what I do best!

    But my point about Piper was simply that conclusions ought not to be drawn about someone’s silence when there may be good reasons they are not ready to comment.

  • bethyada

    Kamilla, I’ll give you 1. But controversy and scandal are hardly a discriminators of questionable behaviour. People always complain that the righteous are not morning their dirge and dancing to their flute.

  • juan

    Post a comment

  • bethyada

    While plagiarism should be avoided, it seems to be a particular modern “sin”. To write something and claim it is yours, well not particularly honest. But to write stuff and not attribute it…? Moses almost certainly based Genesis on ancient tablets. The Chronicler certainly made use of kings. Biblical writers are as likely to mention the books they DON’T quote, “As for the rest of the works of King X, are they not recorded in the Annals of…?”  //  One of the things that moderns’ discussion and legal rulings confuse is the nature of ideas. Intellectual property is not property. If I take your apple you no longer have it, but if take your idea you still do (to misquote Shaw). I am not even certain that copyright and patents are a good idea, but as long as we have them we need to see issues of copying, not quoting, and plagiarism as infractions of honesty, ie lying; and not theft.

  • Kamilla

    The problem with Driscoll is the semi-constant scandal after stunt after scandal routine. You don’t see Pastor Wilson crashing a CBMW conference to pass out copies of “Fidelity”, right? I don’t think John Piper has ever suggested the good folks at Bethlehem check out a pornographic website for sex techniques. And just about every academic and semi-academic book I’ve read has the author credit his researchers but owning any mistakes that make it into print. 
    It’s not simply he fact of scandal, it’s the number of scandals, what kind of scandals and how he responds. 

  • DanielBlowes

    When one is as willfully provocative as Mark Driscoll (Bob Marley T-Shirts, screaming etc) then it is not surprising that some will jump at the chance to put the boot in.

  • Gervase Markham

    <blockquote>”All that said, at an objective minimum, there is a gross citation problem in Driscoll’s book Trial, which needs to be acknowledged, owned and corrected.”</blockquote>
    This seems to be a fundamental assumption here, and I’d like to question it. Why is uncited use of the writing of another person wrong? The author of Chronicles cribbed entire chapters from the author of Kings. The gospel authors cribbed from one another in some way that theologians love to have arguments about – they even invent documents of which we have no extant copies so they can assert more cribbing! But they all agree there was lots of cribbing, and all uncredited. The only footnotes in the New Testament are those put there by translators.
    Unless those authors sinned in the production of their works, then lack of citation is _not_a_sin_. One might say it’s impolite in our culture, but the reactions to it seem to be rather stronger than if someone had just farted in a lift.
    This is a serious point. Are we implying something is sin that the Bible says is not?

  • Gervase Markham

    Oh, for goodness sake. Where did you find this comment editing widget? :-) And no Preview button. Try again:

    “All that said, at an objective minimum, there is a gross citation problem in Driscoll’s book Trial, which needs to be acknowledged, owned and corrected.”

    This seems to be a fundamental assumption here, and I’d like to question it. Why is uncited use of the writing of another person wrong? The author of Chronicles cribbed entire chapters from the author of Kings. The gospel authors cribbed from one another in some way that theologians love to have arguments about – they even invent documents of which we have no extant copies so they can assert more cribbing! But they all agree there was lots of cribbing, and all uncredited.
    The only footnotes in the New Testament are those put there by translators. Unless those authors sinned in the production of their works, then lack of citation is _not_a_sin_. One might say it’s impolite in our culture, but the reactions to it seem to be rather stronger than if someone had just farted in a lift. This is a serious point. Are we implying something is sin that the Bible says is not?

  • Gervase Markham

    Doug: can you please share the trick you use to get, you know, actual paragraphs into the blog comments you write, to separate particular thoughts? I can see you doing it just above – spill the beans :-)

  • Jane Dunsworth

    Gervase, I believe the answer is that paragraph functionality works for those with admin privileges, and for the rest of us, “They’re working on it.”

  • Mark B. Hanson

    I guess those of us without admin privileges are not expected to need more than a paragraph.

  • Dan Phillips

    Yeah, Frank. After all, remember what Piper said about Driscoll and ER2, and about Driscoll and his super-porno-vision, after he’d had a chance to think long and hard and pastorally about it.

  • Ian

    I do not make my living as a writer so perhaps I am way off here, but I find it a little dishearteneing that this is an issue at all with Christians. If you are a teacher and your goal is to exalt Christ in your writing why in the world would you care if another Christian used your words with the same goal in mind? Is it really that important that the brother give you “credit”? Aren’t you working toward the same goal? Or is the goal to sell books? 

  • Jane Dunsworth

    Ian, I don’t think the problem is seen so much as source-ward, as citer-ward. No, you shouldn’t care if someone used your words without credit if Christ is preached. But does that mean that we shouldn’t care if one who uses the words passes off another’s ideas as his own, receiving credit that’s not fairly his? I don’t much care what someone does with  my words assuming the words themselves are not actually used unethically — i.e. distorting my point or representing them as supporting the opposite of how I originally used them (which has happened to me online on more than one occasion.) But if I desire to have integrity, I should care if I’m making it appear that an eloquence that is not mine, actually is mine. And if someone makes such a habit of it that he becomes notorious for it, then it raises issues about his character. As Doug points out, sorting out when things rise to that level is somewhat knotty, but that doesn’t mean that there’s point at which they do._______________________________________________________________________________________________
    As an analogy, if someone takes my cloak, I should give him my coat also, without reviling and counting it joy that I have suffered loss for the sake of Christ. Does that mean that someone else shouldn’t note that the other guy’s a thief, and call him to account for it?

  • Ian

    Jane, fair points. I agree that if an author’s goal in using another author’s words is to make themselves seem more eloquant then they are, that is a problem.  I’m not sure that citation is an adequate solution to that problem though. I’m also not sure that the accusations being leveled at Driscoll have to do with his motives for not citing his work. If someone percieves that Driscoll is seeking to puff himself up instead of Christ than call him on that, not his lack of citation. Nevertheless even if one blatantly steals words to make themeselves look good I would rejoice that the gospel is going out. I still question whether the rules of acedamia should be the standard rules adopted by teachers of the gospel. We are not a bunch of individuals striving for market share. We are the body of Christ and when the blood flows from the heart to the hand we don’t think of the hand as a theif. That was my attempt to sound more eloquant than I am. :)

  • Ian

    I’m not sure which will offend writers more, my sentiments in my last post or the spelling errors.

  • Ian

    Jane, I think your coat analogy is good. I think what I am suggesting would be more akin to a teacher’s words being like a box of coats with a sign on it saying “free coats”. So if another person takes one we don’t think of them as a thief. To be sure some will use the coats for nobel purpses and some for ignoble and the latter should be called on it. But the issue is not in the taking of the coat.

  • Gianni

    Jane, try this: when you want a new paragraph, press Enter.
                                                                                                                                                                     Begin writing this new paragraph normally, but after the first few letters or words, stop typing, and place the cursor back at the beginning of the line you are writing.
                                                                                                                                                                  Now start hitting “space” like crazy, pushing the text to the right. Keep hitting “space” until you reach the right edge of the box and your text has completely moved to a new line. Now keep on writing whatever you wanted to write (this is what I hope you’ll keep doing in any case, paragraphs or no paragraphs).
                                                                                                                                                                  Don’t tell Wilson about it.
                                                                                                                                                                  (At least this used to work: let’s see. I hope he has not tightened the system to fix this loophole yet.)

  • Arwen B

    I’m pretty sure that the unattributed quoting would not be a problem in a speech or lecture or sermon – something done for free or something in which the remuneration is not directly tied to the content of the presentation.


    The problem comes in when the unattributed quoting is in writing and the quoter (i.e. plagiarizer) expects to make money from that writing – using someone else’s work to make money without giving then credit and/or a cut of the profits.

  • Rob Smith

    This is a good article, thanks for some decent common sense in all of this furor.
    I am curious tho… you wrote the following:
    Sometimes attacks on the establishment come from men who have dined on locusts and wild honey. Other times it comes from good men, but they do have to guard themselves carefully against any whiff of envy, the sin that smells like sulfur. And still other times the attacks come from people who are so envious that if you put them in direct sunlight you could see them quivering. It is not just men at the top who might not know what spirit they are of.
    Is this comment here because of Pastor Bettger’s comments he made last week after leaving Mars Hill Church?
    If so it is a cheap shot. Bettger says what a lot of ex MH pastors should be saying. He has voiced concerns that are worth exploring.
    If not, what on earth are you trying to say? Help me here.

  • Valerie (Kyriosity)
  • Douglas Wilson

    Rob, no — the locusts and wild honey was a reference to John the Baptist. I was totally unaware of Bettger’s comments until your link.

  • Rob Smith

    Thanks for the clarification. I restate… thanks for some decent common sense..

  • Gianni

    Valerie, considering the topic of this article, before someone sues me I must hasten to say that somehow I must have missed that series of tests by Katecho. Thanks for linking his research, but it’s honestly the first time I see it. 
                                                                                                                                                                          I do admit my general dependence on other Katecho investigations in this fascinating subject. However, my position was reached independently through my own tests, and my procedure is slightly different from the instructions Katecho provides in the posts you are linking, since for instance he talks of non-breaking spaces, whereas I talk of normal, ordinary spaces.

  • Ben Bowman

    Anyone know how to change your icon?

  • Ben Bowman

    Oh, never mind. 

  • St. Lee

    In reference to Gervase’s comment above:
    “The gospel authors cribbed from one another in some way that theologians love to have arguments about”
                                                                                                                                                                      Looks to me like we have differing views of the author of scripture.  That comment suggests a strictly human author.  I like to think of the Bible as God’s word.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with him “cribbing” from himself.
                                                                                                                                                                       But, to those others who think it should be acceptable to use someone else’s words as their own, consider this.  What if I copied and pasted Pastor Wilson’s blog onto my blog every day with my name on it in place of his.  After all, it would be for God’s glory, right?  So you would find that an acceptable practice and not even raise an eyebrow? I would suggest that I would be guilty of the theft of the respect that rightly should be given to Pastor Wilson, even though ultimately all glory goes to God. 

  • bethyada

    Kamilla, I vacillated about whether or not to include a disclaimer in my comment. It was to be general and not justifying (or condemning) Driscoll. My point was simply that scandal is not necessarily a good marker of problems. People may be surrounded by scandal because they are scandalous, or because they are righteous and are attacked by the accusers, and all the positions in between. Jesus was thought to be scandalous, hanging out with sinners, tax-collectors, and prostitutes. Peter was scandalous eating with Gentiles (so scandalous that pressure led him to inappropriately stop the practice). Paul was scandalous in his preaching the gospel that nearly had him killed several times.    //    Like Doug said, where there is smoke there may be a smoke machine.

  • Katie Botkin

    I read “Eugene Genovese, one of America’s premier historians of the 19th century” as a claim that Genovese was a premier historian IN the 19th century. I can only assume you meant that he is a historian OF the 19th century, since he has written on slavery from Marxist as well as conservative perspectives after being born in 1930.

  • Katie Botkin

    Sorry, OF should have been ON. No way to edit comments apparently.

  • Valerie (Kyriosity)

    Y’know what’s a really fun thing about quoting Doug, though? Certain people who would at least scowl if not outright disagree with a quote attributed to Doug will heartily concur it you don’t. I recommend trying this parlor trick sometime with your anti-Doug friends. Obviously it won’t work with out-and-out heathens, but it’s grand fun with, for instance, some of the crankier elements of the anti-FV crowd!

  • Kamilla

    Yeah, I get that Beth. But in this case, I’m just not buying it. There’s simply too much evidence From the source. 

  • Valerie (Kyriosity)

    “…if you don’t attribute it,” I meant to say, of course.

  • Josh R

    FWIW,  I have seen accusations on the net that passages in Driscoll’s “Porn Again Christian” are reworded passages out of Doug Wilson’s “Fidelity”.

    I tend to think that Driscoll has an outstanding memory, and he tends to teach what his teachers taught, perhaps remembering a little too well.  


  • Charlie Long

    Valerie, I have totally had the same experience quoting Doug.  I rarely attribute stuff directly to Doug by name (being sensitive to my audience), often instead saying something like “as one pastor said,” or something like that.  What I find is that, almost entirely without exception, if I repeat to Christians something Doug has said, people eat it straight out of the can with a spoon (which, actually, is another Doug-ism).  Folks love it to death.  It goes down like it’s chocolate coated or something.  

    Sometimes I almost feel kinda funny about it, like I’m selling Amway or something (“Surprise!  What you’ve just spent the last hour listening to has actually been Doug Wilson!”); but I figure, hey — it’s good soul food.  

  • bcmd

    I really appreciated your thoughts, Doug. Very helpful. Here is another helpful article, from Christianity Today, of all places:

  • bcmd

    By the way, John Piper also spotlighted the above article on Twitter. For those of you who are waiting for him to make some kind of response to the issue.

  • Arwen B

     Sometimes I almost feel kinda funny about it, like I’m selling Amway or something (“Surprise!  What you’ve just spent the last hour listening to has actually been Doug Wilson!”); but I figure, hey — it’s good soul food. 

    “We’ve replaced their regular theology with quotes from Doug Wilson – let’s see if they notice…”?

  • Charlie Long

    Arwen, no, not quotes, but ideas. Exegetical approaches. Sometimes, very handy illustrations, or convenient organizational techniques. Look — I don’t have a single original thought in mt head. 

  • Gervase Markham

    Looks to me like we have differing views of the author of scripture.  That comment suggests a strictly human author.  I like to think of the Bible as God’s word.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with him “cribbing” from himself.

    I hope we don’t have a different view; I believe in the dual authorship of Scripture – one can say accurately that it was written by God, and also that it was written by men. This is in contrast to the Islamic view of the Quran, where they say that Mohammed had no influence whatsoever on the text.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Luke writes cultured Greek; Mark much less so. Such things are a reflection of the human author that God used to construct his divine word.
                                                                                                                                                                                                            If you think that cribbing from other bits of Scripture is God quoting himself, then what about where Paul quotes (without attribution) other poets? There are fewer examples of this than of Scripture cribbing from Scripture, but they are also all unattributed. A citation error on Paul’s part? Or God’s? Or is it, in fact, that lack of citation is not a sin?
                                                                                                                                                                                                   In reference to another comment: the “steal my coat” analogy doesn’t work because if I take your coat, you don’t have a coat. If I take your ideas, the world is a better place. (Assuming they wrere good ones, which I would assume you think they are!)

  • Gervase Markham

    Oops. The missing word is “Luke”.

  • Kip’ Chelashaw

    Hello Pastor Doug,
    I’d love it if you address Gerv’s question above. Maybe in a separate post or on “Ask Doug?” Many thanks.

  • Ben Thorp

    Of the 3 accusations that I have seen from Mefford (referencing The Call to Resurgence, Trial and a piece on repentance from another book that I forget the name), I think there are 3 different things happening, that should probably be treated differently. In reverse order:
    1. The piece from the other book (was it the Ephesians book?) which talks about what repentance isn’t are claimed to be copied from a blog post. But actually Driscoll preached on them before they hit the book, and before they hit the blog post. This is an inaccurate accusation, and should (and has) been rescinded.
    2. The book “The Trial” is not really a proper book at all. It was a free (although it did end up being a paid resource within the Logos machine) resource for Mars Hill that was made available worldwide. The mistake should be rectified, but I would be sad if having to go through a rigorous commerical-level editing process meant that Mars Hill stopped releasing resources like this for free. 
    3. The original accusation about The Call to Resurgence is the most serious one, and it should be rectified. However, judging by what I’ve seen, it’s much harder to call it out as pure copying from one book to another – it seems to me more like insufficient citation. I’m sure Tyndale and Peter Jones will sort it out amicably, and I don’t think there was any intent to deceive. My impression of Driscoll is that he has a fantastically high-retention memory, and I suspect a chunk of what was in the book was based on having spent time with Peter Jones, and having preached on One-ism and Two-ism many times in the past, rather than sitting down and copying text from the book. 
    I do find it interesting that Driscoll (despite the impression that many people have) often sits back and lets the flack come his way, justified or not. 

  • Tim

    Point 6 is where I think the real issue is. It’s not about guilt but taking responsibility. unfortunately, sometimes celebrity pastors act less pastoral and more like celebrities when asked about possible errors. I am hoping Mr. Driscoll will speak to this, rather than have us left with statements from his employees and publisher. I keep hoping Mr. Driscoll can learn to be more pastor and less celebrity