Why Mark Driscoll Probably Didn’t Plagiarize Peter Jones

fs17-plagiarism-cb0fbecThere’s a story going around about Mark Driscoll being accused of plagiarism in a couple of his books.  The evidence that he copied directly from Carson’s New Bible Commentary are pretty damning, since they’re word-for-word, but I’m going to do something utterly unprecedented here and defend him against the charge that he plagiarized from Peter Jones.

The similarities between their books are indeed striking.  I’ll reprint some highlights from Janet Mefferd’s evidence (all italics and grammatical oddities are in the originals).  Here, from Jones’ Pagan Lies, Gospel Truth: Can You Tell the Difference?

Monists believe the distinctions between Christianity and paganism are short-sighted, mean-spirited and intolerant.  Only a deep communion between all forms of spirituality–Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, witchcraft, nature worship, worship of the body as a self-healing, godlike organism–can bring the world together and promote a common spirituality for the good of all.

And from Driscoll’s A Call to Resurgence: Will Christianity Have a Funeral or a Future?

There is no distinction between religions.  One-ism usually results in a vague pagan spirituality.  As a result, a Christianity that makes distinctions (such as those listed above) is considered a fundamental threat to the entire worldview of one-ism.

More Jones:

On the monistic circle, all points are relative.  If you realize that your own evil is not really evil, you will know freedom. … Many people classified as sinful, (such as pro-abortionists and homosexuals) can find a guilt-free place in society.  The spiritual and mystical experience of monism frees you from a guilty conscience because your own evil is good. …

Measuring behavior against God’s objective standards is too constraining.  We will have a better chance at peace if we make up our own, less rigid standards.  As long as everyone is happy about an action, it can’t be wrong.

More Driscoll:

There is no distinction between good and evil.  All we have are perspectives, opinions, and culturally embedded subjective values.  There’s no such thing as timeless moral truths that apply to all peoples, times, and places.  We’re left with shifting situational ethics, building a moral house on sand.

One last bit of Jones:

Seeing such injustices as the mistreatment of women throughout the world, and violence done to homosexuals, monists propose two solutions:

  1. eliminate our definition of humans as male or female, which is really a way of maintaining old-fashioned patriarchy, and

  2. tolerate all sexual choices, emphasizing androgyny (being both male and female) as the ideal expression of of monistic spirituality.

And Driscoll:

There is no distinction between men and women.  One-ism replaces God-given gender with culturally created gender: transgenderism, bisexuality, homosexuality, and the like.

Have a look at Merrell’s original document (PDF) for some more pairings, such as creator/creation and man/animal.

At this point, if you’re not familiar with Driscoll and New Reformed thought, you’ve probably gotten distracted and are mostly wondering: Who are these monist/one-ist people?  They seem to have massively specific beliefs that don’t sound much like anyone’s real-life beliefs.  Now, if you happen to “worship of the body as a self-healing, godlike organism,” go for it, but you’re probably not part of a large, well-defined movement that also follows all the other beliefs that Jones and Driscoll list.  And you probably don’t call yourself a “monist.”

In fact, it’s questionable whether anyone identifies as a “monist.”  It’s a real term, but it comes from philosophy, and it’s rarely used outside academia.  Again, should you happen to call yourself a monist, more power to you, but on any list of words people use to describe their belief system, it’s got to fall pretty low.  And “one-ism” is, of course, a made-up Anglicization of “monism.”

So Jones and Driscoll have taken the same philosophical term and created very similar belief systems, both revolving around a fundamental denial of the differences between anything, to apply the term to.  They couldn’t have separately reached this conclusion through observation of the outside world, since few or no people both believe precisely what they say and call themselves “monists.”  So the natural conclusion would be that Driscoll got his ideas from Jones.

I think this natural conclusion fundamentally underestimates how insular the Reformed corner of evangelicalism can be.  The New Reformed movement rests on a narrative that their branch of dualistic Christianity stands opposed to a big, unified, amoral Other Belief System that just about everyone else subscribes to.  Over time, this narrative has become more detailed.  The Other Belief System has gained both a name and a long list of attributes specific enough to look authoritative, yet general enough to be creatively applicable to almost anyone (environmentalists, trans* people, Hindus, anyone who believes in evolution, etc).

So while the idea of a dominant cultural ideal that denies all differences might seem unusual to you, to Driscoll, Jones, et al, saying “monism teaches that man is God” is as pedestrian as saying “math teaches that 2+2=4.”  It’s not based on the real world, but it’s based on their idea of the real world, as filtered unconsciously through dozens of sermons, seminars, books, and private conversations with other members of the same echo chamber, who themselves got their ideas from all the same sources.

I don’t think Driscoll did consciously plagiarize from Jones.  He just wrote down what he really, honestly thinks the real world is like.  Jones did the same.  Given the nature of the ideas, it’s reasonably probable that they would choose to organize their thoughts similarly and express them in similar words.  Theirs is just a small world filled with small minds and an extremely limited number of ideas.

The real problem here isn’t that Driscoll might have copied from Jones.  The real problem is that he thinks he’s describing reality.

There are many things in this story to get distracted by, from “Jones needs his comma key privileges revoked” to “scanned pages from a print book pasted into a Word document are Mefferd’s idea of evidence?”

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Why Mark Driscoll Probably Didn’t Plagiarize Peter Jones

  1. Anonymous

    Driscoll and Jones had a conference together back in 2009. They are friends. It was clear they were exchanging ideas and they publicly both spoke on this monism stuff back then. While I was studying there in San Diego, I personally had a conversation with Dr. Peter Jones about how excited he was to work with Mark Driscoll and have this conference with him. The media is just blowing this out of proportion and misconstruing facts.

  2. Jim

    “it’s based on their idea of the real world”
    I agree. Certain flavors of Reformed theology regularly run aground on an over-reliance on German Idealist philosophy, aka, “world-viewism” — the view that presuppositions or circular systems of thought drive human history in a deterministic way. Empirical facts don’t matter as much working out one’s presuppositions to their illogical conclusion.

  3. John

    I’ve seen it. Driscoll copied word for word about 14 pages. On patheos you can look at images & read the page from each author. Unless Peter Jones copied Drscoll? Lol Driscoll copied Jones…word for word

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