Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Mark Driscoll, "Citation Errors," and Public Discourse

If you live in the world of social media at all, you are probably aware that about three weeks ago Mark Driscoll was accused of plagiarism. Andy Crouch has written an article in Christianity today called “The Real Problem with Mark Driscoll’s ‘Citation Errors’ (And It Isn’t Plagiarism).” Apparently, he feels the real problem is ghostwriting.

No, sorry. It’s plagiarism. At least, that’s one real problem. When a work is ghostwritten, a person agrees to write in the voice of another and allow his or her work to be used without attribution. Plagiarism is exactly the opposite. It is the use of another’s work without permission or attribution.

The other real problem, however, is that Driscoll is an outspoken cultural critic and teacher of a particular brand of morality that he styles as Christian. (See for example, this article in the New York Times, "Who Would Jesus Smack Down?".) This is why people are so angry. He points fingers. He acts as God’s ethical spokesperson, and the image of God he represents is particularly rigid. His rhetoric sounds mean-spirited at times. Many faithful Christians find Driscoll’s ideas, especially around gender roles, deeply troubling. This persona creates a large target in public discourse.

It’s one thing to teach Christian morality. It’s another to speak and act with such little charity. The furor around Driscoll’s “citation errors” may be a tempest in a teapot, but it is a tempest born of the unkindness of his rhetoric.  


  1. I've been fascinated by this story as it has made its way around the Internet (as well as the follow-ups to it). I think one of the most troubling things about Driscoll can be seen from the standpoint of the virtue perspective: namely, that it is not just about what one says, but also about how one says it. And it is not just about what one does, but about the motivations for why one does it.

    Now, I have a problem with a lot of that actual content of what Driscoll preachers---significant elements of his overall Reformed framework, as well as a lot of the specific tendencies of his biblical interpretation. (And I have listened to a lot of his preaching; I went through a phase when I was so fascinated that I downloaded his podcast regularly and listened to his sermons.) Even if I didn't have a problem with the content, though, I would hope that I would evaluate the character that seems to come through so clearly in the way he says what he says---his charity, generosity of spirit, peaceableness, etc.

    All that said, I agree with you and against Crouch. Plagiarism is a much bigger problem than ghostwriting.

  2. As I read back over my comments, I realized that I should have reviewed them before I hit 'enter.'

    When I wrote about the character that comes through in one's speaking or preaching and mentioned charity, generosity of spirit, etc., what I meant to suggest is that I don't tend to see a lot of that in Driscoll and the lack of it makes me call into question the substance of his message (apart from the particularities of that message, which as I said, I also have disagreements with).

    Such evaluations of character, of course, ought to apply equally to all of us. So my own teaching and preaching might draw criticism from students or church members who are subjected to my own interpretation of the gospel, or church history, or whatever, based on what they see in me and quite apart from a different (but also valid) evaluation of the content of what I am actually saying. Perhaps an ongoing reason for those of us who presume to teach the faith to repent and humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord.

  3. Great comments, Andrew. Thanks for weighing in on this. I think we all need to be careful about how we carry out our discourse. We're certainly in agreement that while what we say is important, how we say it is also important.