Following Mark Driscoll’s plagiarism, it’s time to ask serious questions about Tyndale House’s credibility


Tyndale House‘s defense of Mark Driscoll — following what can only be called plagiarism — suggests the publishing house is unprofessional at best and untrustworthy at worst.

I say this after 11 years of experience as a newspaper reporter and editor, and after 11 semesters of teaching college students about the necessity of citing sources and the serious offense of plagiarism.

But my credentials are minor compared to anyone’s common sense, as well as the facts of the situation and U.S. Copyright Law.

First, if you’re not familiar with revelations of Mark Driscoll’s plagiarism, read Jonathan Merritt here and here before you continue. Another update — and news of bizarre twists in this story — is available at Christianity Today‘s Gleanings blog.

I’m not the first to say “plagiarism” with conviction. Driscoll’s plagiarism cannot be doubted. Professor Collin Garbarino writes, “Some of the other evidence…is more damning. In a book on First and Second Peter published by Mars Hill Church, Driscoll lifts whole paragraphs almost word-for-word from the entry on First Peter in the New Bible Commentary, published by IVP in 1994. These passages are at the end of the previous link, and [Janet] Mefferd provides additional passages here. I’m a university professor. I have no tolerance for this kind of nonsense. I’ve failed students for less flagrant plagiarism. So, it’s my duty, as a member of my professing profession, to give Driscoll an ‘F.’”

Unfortunately, Mefferd’s website no longer holds the evidence that she had collected. She eventually apologized for her “behavior” (the link goes to a Christianity Today blog) when she challenged Driscoll about plagiarism on her radio show.

But Garbarino posted his comments before Mefferd took down the evidence. He saw the evidence, and he testified to it on the First Things blog.

And, fortunately for the truth, Jonathan Merritt captured some of Mefferd’s evidence on his blog, and apparently, Merritt is not influenced by the forces who caused Mefferd to take down what she had collected in the course of basic journalistic reporting.

[Update: A blog called Another Slice salvaged PDF versions of Mefferd's evidence. They're on Google Drive, so you'll have to sign in to your Google account for viewing. Click here to find the links at StandUpForTheTruth.com.] 

However, Tyndale House’s defense of Driscoll’s book is staggering. And baffling. And unacceptable. The defense, as noted on the Gleanings blog, reads:

“It has come to our attention that a radio talk show host has suggested that author Mark Driscoll has committed plagiarism in his recent Tyndale book, A Call to Resurgence. 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.”

“Market standards” are irrelevant. The phrase “market standards” means nothing when plagiarism and U.S. copyright laws are involved.

“Properly cited” is inaccurate considering Mefferd’s collected evidence and Garbarino’s assessment of it.

The law is relevant — and it should be relevant to Tyndale House.

(“In-house review”? That reminds me of how much I love the fine print on a product that tells me the producing company found its own product to be effective.)

Tyndale House did not take the charge of plagiarism seriously enough.

On this page, Plagiarism.org has a heading that reads, “BUT CAN WORDS AND IDEAS REALLY BE STOLEN?” Then the site provides an answer: “According to U.S. law, the answer is yes. The expression of original ideas is considered intellectual property and is protected by copyright laws, just like original inventions. Almost all forms of expression fall under copyright protection as long as they are recorded in some way (such as a book or a computer file).”

Based on Garbarino’s testimony, Driscoll and Tyndale House clearly violated U.S. copyright laws as described in the following excerpt of Copyright Basics:

“Section 106 of the 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to do and to authorize others to do the following:

“• reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords

“• prepare derivative works based upon the work”

Of course, direct copying is a huge problem, but are the execs at Tyndale House ignorant of the meaning of the word “derivative”? Or are they pretending not to know in a ridiculous attempt to protect their cash cow?

If Tyndale House and Driscoll had met the standards of copyright law, then why did Brad Greenberg, Intellectual Property Fellow at Columbia Law School, tell Jonathan Merritt the following?

“The passages that Mefferd has identified appear to be copied almost verbatim from the Carson New Bible Commentary. Merely changing a few words, such as ‘unschooled’ to ‘uneducated’, is likely not enough to skirt liability for copyright infringement,” Greenberg said. “The only relevant defense that I could see Driscoll having is independent creation–that is, he wrote this passage completely independent of the Carson text, and the striking similarity is mere coincidence. That, of course, is exceptionally unlikely because the Carson text was far from obscure and, in fact, was later cited by Driscoll.” (See more at: http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2013/11/27/mark-driscoll-silent-amid-mounting-allegations-of-plagiarism/#sthash.4RVWbexx.dpuf .)

Notice that the “later cited by Driscoll” does not place Driscoll within the law, at least not according to Greenberg’s interpretation of it.

A professional publisher ought to be aware of the basic ethical and editorial standards available at Plagiarism.org and the U.S. Copyright Law website. The explanations and definitions on that website are so basic, I can get my English 101 students, freshmen, to read them each semester. Yet Tyndale House defends itself and Driscoll with “market standards.” Whatever that means, it’s not relevant — and it certainly sets a low bar for ethics.

At least, as Merritt reports, Ingrid Schlueter puts integrity above profits and reputation.

Also see:

Who’s Talking about the Mark Driscoll Plagiarism Controversy?

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16 responses to “Following Mark Driscoll’s plagiarism, it’s time to ask serious questions about Tyndale House’s credibility

  1. Note, there are several mirrors of the evidence available elsewhere online, such as here. Good old Streisand Effect.

  2. But isn’t it better that Driscoll not have an original thought. If we believe in Sola Scripture then why do I care what he says since all I need is Scripture, and if I believe tradition and reason have a role in reading scripture then I should beware of novelty. Therefore Driscoll should be relevant only if he plagerizes. What your article highlights is the weakness of modern Christian writers of always trying to be original not necessarily orthodox and in which brashness and novelty is prized to the detriment of humility.

    • Charles, that’s a good point. I wonder if some brash and novel people are only concerned with reaching out to others who prize brashness and novelty, as if the real threat to the world are non-Christian brash and novel people. If only those brash and novel people could become Christianly brash and novel! (The rest of us know to stay away from all that is brash and novel.)

  3. Well said, Colin, and I completely agree with you. In cases like this, it is entirely appropriate for the bees to buzz around the perpetrator, and I am as baffled as anyone about Mefferd’s retreat. I expect there are more revelations to come, and I expect you’ll stay on it.

  4. I have seen a strange type of defense for plagiarism on my youtube page, where my taped recorded interview (2001) with Dr D James Keennedy about the plagiarism by Hank Hanegraaff of his Evangelism Explosion book is stored, seems a couple of people suggested as long as Hank wanted to win the lost to Christ it wasn’t theft.

    • Jay, that’s baffling. I mean, that’s just exasperating. I think some folks don’t realize the facts of copyright law, not to mention the ethical problem of plagiarism. Stunning.

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