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Pastor Mark Driscoll Controversy: Plagiarism, Idolatry and the Christian Evangelical Complex

“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.” Galatians 6:1

Pastor Mark Driscoll is no stranger to controversy. Driscoll, who pastors Mars Hill Church in one of the country’s most secular cities, Seattle, would be controversial in his city simply for seeking to live out a biblically-based Christian life where Christians are definitively in the minority. But Driscoll has gained a national presence by successfully pursuing ministry tactics meant to appeal to youth (he now has over 440,000 Twitter followers), by making authoritative statements that often are clearly intended to be provacative and by thrusting himself into situations where he was sure to gain himself attention. Indeed, Driscoll often seems to be someone who is looking for a fight by preaching sermons he knows will rile up his adversaries, of which he has many. So many, in fact, that his home is surrounded by a protective wall and has a sophisticated security system which screens visitors before allowing them to enter through a gate. Recently, he enhanced his image as a trouble-maker when he showed up uninvited at Pastor John MacArthur’s anti-charismatic “Strange Fire” conference, leading to a public dust-up and MacArthur’s security team confiscating the books he was trying to distribute without permission.

Driscoll’s latest controversy, however, was not one he intentionally orchestrated. On a tour for his latest book on November 21st, “A Call to Resurgence” Driscoll was being interviewed by Christian radio host Janet Mefferd. Mefferd’s research in preparation for the interview lead her to discover passages in Driscoll’s book which were clearly lifted without credit from another book Mefferd had read. Mefferd confronted Driscoll about the apparent plagiarism, and as World Magazine reported, it “quickly became an awkward and contentious interview”. Further incidences of plagiarism by Driscoll were discovered by Mefferd after the interview was completed and were initially reported on her website.

Indications are Mefferd then came under pressure to remove the material critical of Driscoll from her website. This was done on December 4th and Mefferd also offered an apology for the way she handled the interview with Driscoll. Subsequently, Mefferd’s research assistant, Ingrid Schlueter, resigned in protest making the following courageous and compelling statement, “All I can share is that there is an evangelical celebrity machine that is more powerful than anyone realizes. You may not go up against the machine. That is all. Mark Driscoll clearly plagiarized and those who could have underscored the seriousness of it and demanded accountability did not. That is the reality of the evangelical industrial complex.”

Christianity Today editor Andy Crouch has written Driscoll’s plagiarism issue is likely not even the biggest problem in this situation. Instead, his position is the rise of the celebrity pastor raises the specter of idolatry, a far more dangerous sin. Here is a key portion of Crouch’s article:

Mark Driscoll is a human being, created in the image of God, with great gifts, real limits, and very likely a genuine calling to ministry. But “Pastor Mark Driscoll,” the author of “literally thousands of pages of content a year,” the purveyor of hundreds of hours of preaching, is in grave danger of becoming a false image. No human being could do what “Pastor Mark Driscoll” does–the celebrity is actually a complex creation of a whole community of people who sustain the illusion of an impossibly productive, knowledgeable, omnicompetent superhuman.

The real danger here is not plagiarism–it is idolatry.

All idolatry debases the image bearers who become caught up in its train. Idols promise superhuman results, and for a time they can seem to work. But in fact they destroy the true humanity of both those they temporarily elevate and those they anonymously exploit. Nothing good can come from the superhuman figure presented to the world as “Pastor Mark Driscoll”–not for the real human being named Mark Driscoll himself, and not for the image-bearers who may be neglected in his shadow.

Here is a link to the full article by Andy Crouch. Crouch’s warning regarding the issue of idolatry arising as megachurch pastors gain “stardom” should not be taken lightly. As we have seen repeatedly, these pastors often stumble into financial and other sins as a result of their exalted stature. Christians need to be careful not to be caught up in such idolatry, no matter how talented their pastor may be. For both their sake and the spiritual welfare of their all-too-human pastors, Christians need to keep their hearts fixed on Jesus.