The Twittersphere lit up this past week with the revelation that Mark Driscoll's new book includes passages that bear a striking resemblance (though not quite word-for-word equivalence) to material from the book that is cited as their source. Further digging found a Bible study guide published by Driscoll's church in 2009 that did lift an entire passage, word-for-word, from an InterVarsity Press commentary on 1 and 2 Peter. The ensuing controversy has revolved largely around one of the last truly scandalous words in the English language: plagiarism.
I believe this scandal is largely misplaced.
To be sure, there is something troubling here, which I'll get to in a moment. But the fact that popularizers like Driscoll borrow material in books like A Call to Resurgence, without documenting the source of every turn of phrase in painstaking detail? Without excusing the carelessness, that's about as shocking (shocking!) as Captain Renault's discovery, in the movie Casablanca, that there was gambling going on at Rick's Café Américain.
As for the unattributed copying in the church's Bible study guide, by "Pastor Mark Driscoll": this was, without a doubt, improper use. But rather than tar it with the explosive word plagiarism, with that word's connotations of intent to reap rewards by presenting others' work as one's own, why not simply call it a mistake?
A mistake that needed correcting, to be sure. But plagiarism? Let's give the research assistant who was at the time writing under the name "Pastor Mark Driscoll" a break. Given the volume of writing that "Pastor Mark Driscoll" needs to be seen as doing, such mistakes are bound to happen. ...1
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