Friday, November 29, 2013
Thoughts prompted by the Mark Driscoll Plagiarism dust up.
Mark Driscoll is an influential "celebrity" pastor in the Seattle area. For some time he has been the rage among young evangelicals with his brash, blunt, confrontational style. He is generally Reformed in his view of salvation and a few other areas of theology, but on the whole, he walks to the beat of his own doctrinal drum. His popularity and sway is significant with hundreds (maybe thousands?) of churches and pastors trying in some way to emulate what he does. His "Acts 29" network is ostensibly made up of churches who take their missional cue from Mark Driscoll.
Driscoll is a gifted communicator and shows a good basic knowledge of theology and doctrine when teaching and preaching. Many people have benefited from his teaching and writing, I hear from those folks regularly. He has somehow put out a large number of books in a short time span, despite maintaining an intense speaking schedule.
Recently it seems he has at least become careless with his citations in some of his books as it seems he borrowed from other authors without giving proper credit. Perhaps he trusted a ghostwriter too much, but whatever the case, the evidence seems to prove plagiarism. See these sources for the case against Driscoll about plagiarism here, here, and here.
As a pastor, every week I read dozens of commentaries, sermons, and sections of books, in preparation for my weekly sermon. I have never knowingly plagiarized. I have a simple rule: if I use someone else's words to say something- even if it is an idea I had independently- I will let the listener/reader know who said it or thought it first. I am not an intellectual or a professional scholar, so I am not ashamed to cite other people when I use their words and thoughts to express an idea. My job is to make the Word of God understandable and applicable to the people of God. There are thousands of smarter pastors and theologians who have lived before me or presently active who I will draw upon to edify my people. I am a prideful, competitive person about a great many things- for which I depend on God for constant repentance- BUT, when it comes to giving credit to others for various profound theological, biblical, or doctrinal insights, I have no problem and can't understand why anyone plagiarizes. My people know my limitations, if I said something too profound, they'd know it didn't originate with me (ha ha). Admittedly however, I can imagine being lazy or just not remembering where I heard a certain thought or quote, and failing to give proper credit. Maybe this is what happened with Driscoll? I don't know. The story and facts surrounding are still coming out, so hopefully Driscoll explains himself well and apologizes if/where necessary. Pastors have to stay above reproach when it comes to the blogs, books, and sermons we write, but yes, we'll screw up from time to time.
Here's the thing with Mark Driscoll and his teaching/books. If you have time to read one of his books, I kindly suggest reading something else. I'm not suggesting he doesn't have good, edifying things to say, but I am certain there are better authors for you to consider. Driscoll seems accountable to no one doctrinally (or otherwise). He's kind of the bishop of his own diocese called Mars Hill and Acts 29. He holds to positions that are controversial and seem to lack biblical justification but seems answerable to no one in an official way. I wish Mark Driscoll would submit himself to a denominational authority or presbytery, but I'm not holding my breath. Even the Apostles had a system of accountability about what they taught (see Acts 15 rather than Acts 29).
If you have time to read a non-technical book like the ones Driscoll publishes, I suggest you pick up a Jerry Bridges book, any Bridges book, rather than a Driscoll one. Try reading a John Piper book or perhaps one by Kevin DeYoung. If you have time to read a Driscoll book, read a Keller book instead. I'm not endorsing every one of these authors blindly, I just know their respect for historical interpretation and ecclesiastical authority is better than Driscoll's, which is a big reason why their theology is more trustworthy too. We live in a day when anyone can publish anything and potentially reach a huge audience. I think this is a rather modern dynamic and it allows for authors who are largely unaccountable to peddle their thoughts. I am a minister in a denomination. I can't just write or say whatever novel thought enters my head and think I'll get away with it. I am accountable to other elders, at a couple levels. So, if you have time to read a Christian author, on a subject you hope will help your walk with Christ, pick a writer who is accountable for his/her teaching, not someone who seems to be so popular that no one will challenge them.
Seriously, if you haven't read J.I. Packer's Knowing God, Piper's Desiring God, Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, Bridges' Transforming Grace, Keller's Prodigal God, Lewis' Mere Christianity, do so right away. When you finish those, there are hundreds more to read before you pick up a Driscoll book...with all due respect, of course.