U.S. News

06.30.14

Megachurch Star Mark Driscoll’s Publishing Downfall

After defending the controversial Seattle pastor from charges of plagiarism, his publisher put his next book and further titles in his imprint on hold.

Editor's Note: After this story was published, Tyndale House issued a statement contradicting what they had previously told The Daily Beast. The publisher affirmed their relationship with Mark Driscoll and said they plan to reprint his book, A Call to Resurgence, as sales demand. For further updates on the story, click here.

After defending Seattle megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll against charges of plagiarism last year, Christian publisher Tyndale House has placed Driscoll’s next book on hold and revealed that it will not reprint his previous title. In a stunning reversal of earlier plans, Tyndale has only one other book scheduled through their partnership with Driscoll’s “Resurgence” imprint.

Tyndale House confirmed to The Daily Beast that it does not plan to reprint Driscoll’s 2013 book, A Call to Resurgence, and have put his forthcoming book, The Problem with Christianity, on hold. Once slated to be released this fall, The Problem with Christianity now has no publication date scheduled.

The news seems to represent Tyndale’s reckoning with a series of controversies around Driscoll’s work, most notably allegations last year that he used another author’s ideas extensively without adequate citation. After an investigation, the publisher stood behind Driscoll—at least in public.

Driscoll is one of the founders of Mars Hill Church, a Seattle-based megachurch that boasts 12,000 in average Sunday attendance at 15 locations in five states in the Pacific Northwest. Driscoll’s sermons are heard by millions of evangelicals online, and the Mars Hill podcast is ranked regularly in the top 10 in the iTunes Religion and Spirituality category in the U.S. and several other countries. According to the Mars Hill website, Driscoll was ranked one of the top 25 most influential preachers over the past 25 years by Preaching magazine.

Driscoll’s success has in part been fueled by controversy; his appeal among some evangelicals stems from his brash persona and hyper-masculine presentation of Christianity. He has amassed an enormous back catalog of inflammatory comments on matters ranging from women to the “demonic” movie Avatar.

Until recently, Driscoll had “New York Times bestselling author” on his resume. In January 2012, Real Marriage, a book on marriage and sex he co-authored with his wife, went to No. 1 on the NYT Advice bestseller list. But a few months later, the evangelical magazine World revealed that Mars Hill had hired a firm called Result Source to game the numbers. The contract with Mars Hill called for the church to pay Result Source a $25,000 fee to arrange purchase of at least 11,000 books valued at around $210,000 from a variety of online sources using multiple payment methods. After World revealed the scheme, Mars Hill Church and Driscoll initially defended the arrangement, calling it a “marketing investment.” Amid social media outrage, Driscoll eventually declared the contract was wrong and retracted his bestseller status.

Prior to the bestseller list revelations, Driscoll’s star was rising. He used the success of Real Marriage as leverage to negotiate a lucrative multi-book deal with Tyndale House, which is the home of his Resurgence publishing imprint. According to a Mars Hill internal communication provided to me, an eight-hour meeting in March 2013 crafted a two-year publication plan which called for My Problem with Christianity to be released in February 2014. According to the The Resurgence website, that plan called for the publication of five to seven books per year.

After well over a year, only two books have been published, and a third, by author Elyse Fitzpatrick, is planned for September. After Fitzpatrick’s book, no others are scheduled to be published under the Resurgence imprint.  

Despite Tyndale’s apparent support for Driscoll, the controversies seem to have taken a toll.

The first book from that partnership, Driscoll’s A Call To Resurgence, became embroiled in controversy before it was published. In mid-October 2013, a week before the book was to be released, Driscoll showed up unannounced at megachurch pastor John MacArthur’s “Strange Fire” conference. The controversial conference was critical of charismatic Christians and Driscoll, accompanied by several of his Mars Hill board members, arrived with copies of A Call to Resurgence to give awayChurch security asked Driscoll to leave with his books. Although Driscoll then gave the books to church security as a gift, he tweeted to his nearly half-million followers that the books were “confiscated” by security. A video of the encounter clearly showed that no such thing had happened.

Then, in November 2013, soon after A Call to Resurgence was published, Driscoll was accused of plagiarism in four of his books by Christian radio talk show host Janet Mefferd. During an appearance on her program, Mefferd accused Driscoll of using Peter Jones’ work without proper citation in at least 14 pages of A Call to Resurgence. Although Mefferd later apologized for the method of her accusations, she did not retract the substance of the claims. Later, I reported citation errors of various kinds in seven of Driscoll’s books. Since then, publishers of those books have quietly corrected most of the errors in subsequent online versions of the books.

For their part, Tyndale House defended Driscoll’s citation of Peter Jones’ work in A Call to Resurgence, saying, “Tyndale believes that Mark Driscoll did indeed adequately cite the work of Peter Jones.” That assessment did not sit well with one plagiarism expert, Neil Holdway, treasurer of the American Copy Editors Society, who concluded that Driscoll had not adequately indicated the extent to which he had borrowed Jones’s work. “The controversy could have been avoided so easily with more, well-placed, what I would consider proper attribution,” Holdway said.

But despite Tyndale’s apparent support for Driscoll, the controversies seem to have taken a toll. Todd Starowitz, Tyndale’s senior public relations manager, said that Driscoll’s next book, The Problem With Christianity, does not have a planned release date. The book was to be released in September but is now officially unscheduled and has been removed from the Tyndale website. And when asked about reprinting A Call to Resurgence, Starowitz said, “We did not print a paperback version. I don’t expect that we will reprint the hardcover.”

In addition to putting Driscoll’s books on hold, Tyndale does not plan to print further titles under the Resurgence imprint. “To my knowledge we do not have any additional Resurgence titles that have release dates scheduled at this time,” Starowitz said. Mars Hill did not respond to requests for comment.