Ostoich ended up working with the Docent Group and ... ended up connected to Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill.
If you want to barrel on to the part that directly discusses Driscoll go to about 15:00 to 16:00 in the podcast interview.
Ostoich makes the observation that what the ghostwriter does, when compiling research and background materials on behalf of celebrity pastors, is to in a very real way take over or take from a pastor what should be a pastor's most closely guarded and sustained activity, study of the scriptures and continued learning from them. I might dare to suggest it's like farming out the various responsibilities of childrearing to domestic workers among more well-heeled writers. It would probably be a mistake to think of the ghostwriting enterprise as particularly unique to evangelicalism or celebrity pastors. Some of the rants I've seen at Jim West's blog suggest that within academia there are some professors who are as prolific as they are because there's a type of ghostwriting machine in academics, too. Compared to those two things, perhaps, the open work-for-hire dynamics of comics might not be so bad ... but I digress.
To be blunt, the reason this podcast is important is Ostoich's account of how he produced content that was taken as was and taught (there was research he said he did on a minor prophet and ... if we're going post-Docent group association minor prophets ...
See, that sounds like Ostoich was brought on to assist Mars Hill some time after Real Marriage was published and before the decline of Mars Hill ... so a minor prophet ... the most likely candidate for that might be the Malachi sermon series?
The copying word for word account is about 24:00 into the podcast interview. Technically, as Ostoich put it, there's nothing illegal going on there. Mark Driscoll, as Ostoich put it, purchased the right to use the content. So what in various industries would be known as "work for hire" would seem to describe what happened. But Ostoich described how " ... it became more and more apparent to me as I was writing that this was going to be the, the norm not the exception to the rule." (about 25:00 into the interview).
There's a grimly funny story Ostoich shares about 26:00 in where he heard from a friend who studied at Moody who ripped into a blog post Mark Driscoll published because of it's bad theological and textual argumentation and Ostoich said he didn't have the heart to tell the friend that Ostoich wrote that himself and that it was a ghostwritten piece. Ostoich described how during this period he was a third-year seminary student so perhaps he made some errors.
Bear with me, I'm listening to the podcast, like, right now. Sure enough! 27 minutes into the interview Ostoich describes how one of the last projects he worked on for Driscoll was dealing with the book of Malachi, which Ostoich describes as one of the most misused books of the Old Testament. So ... my guess above that Malachi was probably involved turned out to be ... moderately accurate.
At 28:00 to 28:30 Ostoich described how he compiled common misapplications and misuses of Malachi and at 28:30 Ostoich described that, "So he basically said `Oh, I LIKE how this is misused here. I'm just going to teach that."
At 32:00 Ostoich describes how one of his later projects was ghostwriting for Driscoll's book on Ephesians (that would be Who Do You Think You Are? if memory serves). About 32:59 he says that the book was assembled from the products of eight different writers.
At 34:25 or so Ostoich says he believes the list of authors who do NOT use ghostwriters and assembly line content or game the bestseller lists is probably shorter than the list of those celebrity Christian authors who do.
Listening to the podcast was a reminder to me of my old days on the Mars Hill Theology Response Team. Short version, a pastor and a deacon recruited me to serve in a ministry where people fielded questions on behalf of the Mars Hill elders. Many of those questions were directed to Mark Driscoll but were channeled via the Mars Hill Theology Response Team to deacons or volunteers. I was one of them. For a time I got the trickier questions and ... I won't get into those out of consideration for the privacy of people who asked questions. But after a year or two of volunteering I began to notice that I was getting trickier questions of a sort that weren't just questions about things previously discussed from the pulpit. The questions were also things that, I began to think, people could research of their own accord. Why was it important what Driscoll thought about the use of a particular Old Testament text for a particular homiletic point?
To keep things rather general and brief, I began to get a sense that people were asking questions of Driscoll in particular and Mars Hill elders generally that were being handed off by the team leadership to people who were not actually formally trained as pastors or exegetes. I registered my worries with the team leader of the time and he was okay with my deciding I was no longer comfortable being on the volunteer ministry. Not everyone was quite as reconciled to that but I managed to extricate myself from Mars Hill generally and from a specific ministry at Mars Hill in a way where I was on pretty good, friendly, mutually respectful terms with the leaders I shared my concerns with.
Which, I guess, as I'm thinking about this, is another way to say that there was a kind of para-ghostwriting culture in that Theology Response Team where individuals wrote for themselves but as designated writers on behalf of, basically, the Mars Hill brand. That was one of a lot of things I felt uncomfortable with as time went on. People were beginning to ask questions that were eventually fielded to me that were dealing with aspects of biblical literature no one at Mars Hill that I was aware of had taught on or maybe even studied for all I didn't know.
I know it's been a few years since the Mars Hill meltdown and Driscoll's resignation but I would go so far as to say that if you want to hear a perspective on what the ghostwriting scene in the Mars Hill orbit was like this is the first interview I know of where that topic has been broached. Perhaps, and only just perhaps, other people who participated in the ghostwriting culture of Mars Hill might feel open to speaking for the record. For now, as best I'm aware, this interview is it.
There's another reason an interview with a Docent contributor to the Mars Hill content library is significant. For those who remember a fateful interview Mark Driscoll had with Janet Mefferd, the blowback from that included her presenting evidence of what she described as plagiarism in the Trial study guide for the 1 & 2 Peter series. An initial Mars Hill public relations response as reported by Jonathan Merritt put it this way:
In Merritt's December 9, 2013 article it was mentioned that Mars Hill issued a statement mentioning that the Trial study guide was assembled by a team that included a research assistant.
I was able to establish from an old blog post by Jared C. Wilson who the Docent designated research assistant was Mark Driscoll was sent circa 2012.
Now the reason this seems significant is for those who saw the initial Mars Hill public relations reaction to the evidence provided by Mefferd that there was plagiarism in the Trial study guide, it looked as though the PR move was to invoke a diffusion of responsibility. Maybe citation errors happened but the blame was diffused to the entire team (which was not a particularly big team, actually).
The implication that the research assistant was somehow guilt was strong enough Docent publicly issued a rebuttal saying it was not possible that the research assistant was responsible for the errors.
Over at Pajama Pages , a case was made that based on document comparison what happened was not just plagiarism but fabrication.
... The three paragraphs documented by Janet Mefferd are clearly plagiarism. The footnotes in Driscoll’s work also make it fabrication. At my school, we define fabrication as follows (emphasis added):
Fabrication is the intentional use of invented information or the falsification of research or other findings with the intent to deceive. Examples:
1. Citation of information not taken from the source indicated.
2. Listing sources in a bibliography not used in the academic exercise, unless directed by the instructor to list references consulted even if not cited.
3. Inventing data or source information for research or other academic exercise.
Not only did Driscoll copy the words, he manipulated the citations in the source material to make it appear as though he had done the research himself. By so doing, it shows that he understands the value of citations and research, but decided to deceive the reader into believing that he had done that work himself. Think about the effort it took to reformat those in-text citations and add them to his book as footnotes. Why not also footnote the original book? He did know how to use them.
In soccer, a player can get a yellow card from a referee to warn for rough play or a bad tackle. Two yellows and the player is ejected from the game. A particularly egregious foul can be awarded a straight red. No warning. No doubts. Expelled.
With the manipulation of the footnotes, Driscoll has compounded his deception, and worked even harder to mask it. No yellow here. No warning. This is an easy call: Straight Red.
So for those who weren't keeping up with the plagiarism controversy at the time, the reason a writer from Docent group talking to someone on the record about his time at Mars Hill is significant is because a story that Mars Hill leadership (and by extension Mark Driscoll) took Docent writer provided materials and presented it as original material is significant is because, back in 2013 in the heat of the plagiarism controversy, one of the public relations gambits taken by Mars Hill looked to be saying that mistakes were made but that, well, it must have been the help. Docent refuted this at the time.
Now it's worth revisiting that Intervarsity Press publicly stated that the material in the study guide was not properly cited and that if it had been this would have been acceptable under Fair Use.
In light of Warren Throckmorton moving from Patheos to another site it's worth including links from the November through December 2013 period relevant to the Trial study guide and what Mars Hill public relations responses involved.
So it seems important that a story that has been shared this year about the way in which Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll presented the material compiled and written by a Docent Group writer as if Driscoll wrote it. It helps to establish some additional background for what was going on in Mars Hill during the 2013 period. If Driscoll was, in fact, willing to pass off the work of Docent Group authors as his own research and writing then the initial Mars Hill PR response of implicitly diffusing responsibility for the documented plagiarism onto the research team comes off as even more cowardly, specious, and craven. Had the authors been credited properly to begin with, rather than having their work treated in some kind of anonymous work-for-hire way, and had the citation documentation that at least one writer quoted above noted was in the original, unredacted research document, the plagiarism issue might have been avoided ... in exactly one case of a book with Mark Driscoll's name on it.
What made it a plagiarism controversy overall, however, was that it began to turn out Mark Driscoll had a lot more than just a few simple citation errors in just one of his books.
Back in late 2013 the Mars Hill public relations response to the plagiarism scandal seemed shifty and evasive to me, speaking just as a matter of personal opinion and conviction. It appeared as though at first blush blaming research assistance for a plagiarism controversy that was about what was published under Mark Driscoll's name was, well, cowardly and dishonest. I had already made a point of departing from Mars Hill by the time the plagiarism scandal emerged but by the time it had emerged I had already made known my concerns about the lack of credit given by Mark and Grace Driscoll to Dan Allender's work on July 4, 2013.
I had also made a point of an ISBN to ISBN comparison of books a month or so before Mefferd's fateful interview with Driscoll.
All of this is simply review for anyone who was regularly reading Wenatchee The Hatchet in December 2013 or so but since the blog has shifted to other topics far less connected to the former Mars Hill a word of clarification seems in order.
A practical question that doesn't come up so much in the interview is whether there was a non-disclosure aspect that may have been involved. Mars Hill was, for a short while, a bit known for having non-disclosure contracts of some kind. Whether or not Ostoich has been or was or is bound by some kind of non-disclosure agreement would seem moot in the case of Mars Hill since it dissolved as a corporation years ago, but whether or not there were any Docent restrictions is impossible for me to assess.
Since Mark Driscoll's approach has been to prefer to go along as if Mars Hill either didn't exist at all or need never be mentioned by name it's tough to imagine that even this recent podcast interview might prompt him to have much to say in any direct fashion.
Just to be clear, as with so many things related to a post Mars Hill Mark Driscoll, there's not so much of a news peg element to things.
September 8, 2017
May 31, 2018
So it's old news but it's old news of interest because, as outlined above from the 2013 coverage, one of the Mars Hill public relations moves in the wake of Janet Mefferd publishing evidence of plagiarism in Mark Driscoll's work in the form of the Trial study guide was to bring up a team, including a research assistant. It looked like what was going on was that Driscoll and company were using research help that was being passed off under Mark Driscoll's name until a plagiarism controversy erupted and then, all of a sudden, it was time to mention the research team, as if by implication of some sort maybe it was them and not Mark Driscoll whose name(s) were stuck in the thick of a plagiarism controversy.
This all makes it seem that much harder to take a man like Mark Driscoll seriously if he shows up at a conference called something like Act Like Men.
It may help to provide even more context to the Docent writer's inadvertent ghostwriting for Mark Driscoll experience by setting it against the late 2011 trademark and logo cease-and-desist situation.
... The issue of the Cease and Desist Letter seemed to strike a raw nerve in the broader body of Christ. I will say more about that in a moment. But first, I want to confirm that three staff members from Mars Hill Seattle called and asked forgiveness for any stress and confusion that was caused by the letter we received from the Stokes & Lawrence law firm [perhaps referring to this Stokes & Lawrence firm]. That meant a great deal to me and the other pastors involved (Jason Yarbrough of Mars Hill Church in Fairfield and James Seiler of Mars Hill Church in Galt).
Both Chris Pledger and Dave Bruskas were clear and sincere that the proper step should have been to call us first. We accepted their apology and would like the Mars Hill Seattle congregation to know that your leaders took this step (We are assuming on behalf of pastor Mark Driscoll). They assured us they would not seek any type of legal action, even though they did apply for and were awarded a federal trademark in August of this year for both the name and the logo design. Mars Hill Seattle also posted on their blog late Saturday night a message of clarity and grace. It was greatly appreciated.
I was speaking Friday, Oct. 21, in Boston when I finally received a very congenial voicemail from Chris Pledger. By now the social media networks were buzzing with some knowledge about this cease and desist letter. There was zero antagonism in his voice or the message he left. That afternoon we had a conference call between myself, Chris Pledger and Justin Holcomb. Both of them were great and shared they were very sorry for sending a legal letter first.
They communicated that their intent now was simply to remove confusion and to ask if we could alter the logo that they had been using since 1996. I shared our story, including how our design by Scott Taylor in 2005 was totally innocent, and that when our church was planted in 2005 we had no knowledge that a Mars Hill Church in Seattle existed.
I agreed to start the process of a logo redesign since they now owned the trademark. They assured me that even though the letter from Stokes & Lawrence called for a name change, that was off the table. On Saturday, I received a voicemail from Dave Bruskas reiterating the same information and again reaffirming that the letter should not have been sent as a means of first contact. ...
And for people who forgot about it there's also this.
Sadly, in addition to giving things away, we’ve also had things taken. We’ve had churches cut and paste our logo, take our website code and copy it completely, had ministry leaders cut and paste documents of ours, put their name on them to then post online as if it were their content, and even seen other pastors fired for preaching our sermons verbatim. We're not the only church called Mars Hill, and occasionally there arises confusion between us and other churches that share the "Mars Hill" name, particularly as we now have our churches in four states. This was the case recently when one of our members called us to find out if we had planted Mars Hill churches in the Sacramento, California area. We had not, but when we went to these churches’ websites, it was obvious to us how people could be confused. Each of these three connected churches in the Sacramento region—planted in 2006, 2007, and 2010—bore the "Mars Hill" name and their logo was substantially similar to the logo we've used since 1996. When cases like this arise in the business world, it's customary for a law office to send a notice asking the other organization to adjust their branding to differentiate it. This is commonly referred to as a cease and desist letter. On September 27, 2011, our legal counsel sent such a letter to these three Mars Hill churches requesting that they change their logo and name. In hindsight, we realize now that the way we went about raising our concerns, while acceptable in the business world, is not the way we should deal with fellow Christians. On Friday we spoke with the pastor of Mars Hill in Sacramento to apologize for the way we went about this. We had a very productive conversation and look forward to continuing that conversation in the days and weeks ahead. We made a mistake in not calling these churches prior to sending the letter. We should have picked up the phone before sending any other communication. Unfortunately, rather than hearing from the church in Sacramento, we began hearing that the matter was instead being speculated on by a blogger who did not verify any facts with us and, as a result, provided an inaccurate version of what transpired. This blog post from us is intended to alleviate any confusion. As a clarification, we have not sued any churches and have no plans to sue any churches. We have not sent any similar letters to any other "Mars Hill" churches, and we are not planning on asking any church with "Mars Hill" in their name to change their name.
It seems pretty ironic, then, that Mars Hill itself had a culture in which writers working on behalf of an organization like Docent could submit research writing that was passed off, according to at least one account, as the work of Mark Driscoll. If this has been, indeed, the case, then there was a galactic sized double standard at play for Mark Driscoll if he had work passed off as his that he didn't write while Mars Hill had publicly expressed regret that their stuff was being copied without credit. That sort of hypocrisy seems ... pretty bad.