“Normal rules do not apply to celebrities in the same way as they do to others.”
– Carl Trueman
In a post reflecting on the negative impact that the culture of celebrity is having on the evangelical church, Carl Trueman raised the question: Who dares to ask well-known leaders hard questions anymore?
Christian radio host, Janet Mefferd, dared to do so in her recent interview with Mark Driscoll. The interview, which had been set up at the request of Mark Driscoll’s public relations team, is causing more than a few ripples of controversy.
Pointing to evidence both in video and in print, she asked the well-known author and pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle how certain incidences could be anything other than matters of lying and plagiarism. Mefferd’s question about lying had to do with a tweet that Driscoll sent at a conference he visited. The tweet contradicted video footage of an exchange between Driscoll and the head of security for the conference. (See below.) The question about plagiarism arose when Janet told Mark that as she prepared for the interview she read his latest book A Call to Resurgence.
Plagiarizing Peter Jones?
In Driscoll's book, she noted 14 pages of ideas and concepts developed by Dr. Peter Jones, a friend of Mefferd’s with whose work she is intimately acquainted. During the interview, Mefferd wondered aloud how 14 pages without proper citation could be a mere oversight on the part of Driscoll. Mark fired back with accusations that Janet was being rude and unkind. The publisher, Tyndale, has since issued the following statement (via Jonathan Merritt, Religion News Service) regarding the allegations:
Tyndale House Publishers was provided a recording of the show by representatives of Pastor Driscoll. A number of people at Tyndale reviewed the tape and were stunned, not only by the accusations, but by the belligerent tone of Ms. Mefferd’s questioning. When Ms. Mefferd asked Pastor Driscoll her first question to accuse him of plagiarism, she did not invoke Peter Jones’s name. The first person that Pastor Driscoll credited in his response was Mr. Jones. Pastor Driscoll also credits Mr. Jones in the section that Janet refers to in Mark’s book, A Call to Resurgence.
Tyndale has taken immediate steps as in the process of reviewing the section of Pastor Driscoll’s book that has been called into question. Pastor Driscoll has also reached out to Mr. Jones and we expect to be able to release some information on his reaction to the interview very soon.
Lying at John MacArthur’s Strange Fire Conference?
According to Mark Driscoll, he was simply giving away his books at John MacArthur’s Strange Fire Conference because he happened to be in the general area at the same time. The conference organizers came to Mark and explained that other book distributors on the campus had to go through proper channels weeks in advance to take part in the event. Mark had not done this. Instead, he had self-authorized his visit to the campus of Grace Community Church where thousands of conference attendees were gathered. The conference organizers exercised their prerogative to view Mark’s visit as an unwelcome distraction, and Mark’s books would need to go back to his car.
This video clip shows that the head of security for Grace Community Church was getting ready to take his books back to Mark’s car. But then Mark insisted, “I’d like to give them as a gift to Grace.”
As Mark departed the campus, he tweeted “Security confiscated my books.” #strangefire
Star Power vs. the Power of God’s Word
According to Carl Trueman, the real issue appears to be star power vs. the power of basic New Testament ethics. He laments:
“The fan base and those with a vested interest in Driscoll's reputation rally around their hero while excoriating Janet Mefferd. In so doing, they ironically demonstrate why shows such as Janet Mefferd's can be so very important: if the conservative evangelical world continues to be increasingly dominated by one or two huge media-style organizations, the conversation will be corralled and controlled, the hard questions will not be asked, and the leaders of such organizations and those over whom they choose to extend their patronage will not be held to account.”
What do you think? By asking hard questions, are journalists exercising a kind of unwarranted authority over pastors and Christian authors? Was Janet Mefferd’s interview out of line? Are some Christians above the authority of basic New Testament ethics?
Alex Crain is the editor of Christianity.com.
Publication date: November 26, 2013