Sunday, May 02, 2021

Bob Smietana's at The Roys Report on Jed Ostoich's time as a Docent Group research assistant to Mars Hill, revisiting how the initial MHC response to the 2013 plagiarism controversy was to shift blame to a research assistant

Bob Smietana has something at Julie Roys Report on how a pastor was caught having plagiarized Mark Driscoll sermons who, as longtime readers will know, had his own plagiarism scandal a few years back.

Smietana also has an article about ghostwriting that mentions Jed Ostoich.

Even longtime readers of Wenatchee the Hatchet might not recall that we looked at what the inadvertent ghostwriter for Mark Driscoll had to say back in 2019 about his time with the Docent Group.

Now the reason I mention all of this is because having even a single person go on record about doing Docent Group research on behalf of Mark Driscoll in the past is salient due to the fact that when the plagiarism controversy erupted in late 2013 with Janet Mefferd's on air conversation with Mark Driscoll, an early public response on the part of Mars Hill was to admit to citation mistakes but shift them to research assistant by implication. This was something that was covered back in December 2013 when the situation had just begun:

The Mars Hill statement was first discovered by Warren Throckmorton at “Patheos.” It is difficult to find, buried in the “Downloads” section of the “Trial” sermon series page. The statement only address charges that plagiarized material appeared in a booklet on I&II Peter published by Mars Hill Church. It admits “citation errors” but blames a research team for the errors, which are located in a chapter naming Driscoll as author:
In 2009, Pastor Mark preached through 1 & 2 Peter in a sermon series called Trial. To help our small groups, a team of people including a research assistant, put together a free study guide that was produced in-house and was never sold. About 5 years later it was brought to our attention that it contained some citation errors. We have discovered that during the editing process, content from other published sources were mistaken for research notes. These sentences were adapted instead of quoted directly. We are grateful this was brought to our attention, and we have removed that document from our website to correct the mistake. Additionally, we are examining all of our similar content as a precautionary measure.

Elsewhere on the Mars Hill web site, Driscoll’s research assistant is named as Justin Holcomb of Docent Research Group. “[Justin] has been humble enough to do a great deal of research for me, which, along with the work of my helpful friend and editing assistant Deacon Crystal Griffin, allows me to produce content at a pace I would never have thought possible…I am now sending out literally thousands of pages of content a year, as well as preaching and teaching hundreds of hours of content a year,” the site states. It is unclear whether Holcomb is the “research assistant” referenced in the statement.
In other words, Mars Hill leadership seemed to blame the research helpers rather than concede that any mistakes were Mark Driscoll's own.  When Driscoll used to say from the pulpit at Mars Hill that "headship means it's your responsibility even if it's not your fault" this was apparently not supposed to apply to Mark Driscoll himself when a plagiarism scandal erupted in late 2013.

Ostoich confirming that his work as a Docent Group researcher for Mars Hill Church ended up with him being a ghostwriter for Mark Driscoll, which is to say he said he wrote something himself that was published with Mark Driscoll's byline, helps to provide some context for why Mars Hill leadership reacted to the fateful Janet Mefferd interview by seemingly trying any option except admitting that Mark Driscoll made the citation mistakes.  It is perhaps an irony we should dwell on to consider the possibility that if Mark Driscoll and company hadn't been using research assistants as unwitting ghostwriters maybe the risk of the plagiarism controvery ever happening to begin with could have been reduced.  

The Pajama Pages blog is no longer active so we'll have to consult for the following observations about the 1 & 2 Peter Study Guide problems:

... 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.

Regular readers of this blog may recall I broached the topic of Mark and Grace Driscoll using Dan Allender's work without citation back on July 4, 2013 with respect to Real Marriage in its first editionWe revisited the issue in more detail that same year. A subsequent edition of Real Marriage has an acknowledgment of Dan Allender's work. One of the more annoying features of that era was seeing evangelical and conservative Protestants argue that Driscoll hadn't really plagiarized because how many new and original ideas are there.  A potential rejoinder to such a hand-waving approach to literary work and attribution could be put this way, how many evangelical and conservative scholars would be fine with rejecting Pauline authorship of Ephesians in favor of a pious ghostwriter?  Or that the post hoc attribution of titles to the Synoptic Gospels could mean that we should not presume upon apostolic authorship of those documents?  That's generally not how evangelicals and conservative Protestants like things to go in those conversations.  

I'm not here to defend or attack Pauline authorship of Ephesians and I trust my point has been made, and it is a point that Smietana's articles bring up more generally, should evangelicals be so comfortable with the proliferation of ghostwriting and plagiarism of sermons and books in Christian publishing?  

In the case of Mars Hill double standards regarding intellectual property and trademark were one of the variables that led to the demise of the corporate entity; it became clear through the 2011 trademark and logo incident as well as the 2013-2014 plagiarism controversy that Mars Hill leadership was eager to enforce its own copyright and intellectual property interests on the one hand while having been revealed in the wake of Janet Mefferd's interview and Warren Throckmorton's work (along with others) going through Mark Driscoll's published books that team Mars Hill seemed far less vigilant about respecting the intellectual property of others than they were about enforcing protection of their own materials.

That some Christians argue intellectual property shouldn't exist is also not exactly the point I'm discussing but that was, in fact, something that  came up from some quarters in the wake of Driscoll's plagiarism controversy.  

These are things that people who work at The Trinity Church should have an opportunity to learn about, whether they may even want to or not. 

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