Mark Driscoll, pastor of Seattle’s Mars Hill Church, who dealt with past claims of plagiarism, has made headlines once again, this time over his 2012 book Real Marriage, coauthored with his wife Grace (HarperCollins Christian Publishing/Thomas Nelson).
According to an online story posted March 5 and a follow-up story on Christianitytoday.com, Mars Hill contracted with ResultSource Inc. (RSI) to create a campaign to get Real Marriage onto the New York Times bestseller list. Mars Hill, not the publisher, reportedly paid $210,000 in the deal, which the L.A. Times reported on March 6 as an example of how authors can game bestsellers lists.
The book appeared at #1 on the Times Advice, How-To list for Jan. 22, 2012. It did not appear on the list at all for the week before or the week after. It also did not appear on any Publishers Weekly bestseller lists.
In the wake of these stories, Driscoll posted a lengthy letter to the Mars Hill congregation on its online network called The City. While the letter was supposed to be viewed only by network members, it was almost immediately posted elsewhere on the Internet, including on Reddit on March 15. In the letter Driscoll wrote that his “angry-young-prophet days are over, to be replaced by a helpful, Bible-teaching spiritual father.” He also referred to the Real Marriage controversy.
“My understanding of the ResultSource marketing strategy was to maximize book sales, so that we could reach more people with the message and help grow our church. In retrospect, I no longer see it that way. Instead, I now see it as manipulating a book sales reporting system, which is wrong. I am sorry that I used this strategy, and will never use it again.”
A “Note from our Board of Advisors and Accountability” posted on the church’s website addresses the controversy: “While not uncommon or illegal, this unwise strategy is not one we had used before or since, and not one we will use again. The true cost of this endeavor was much less that what has been reported.”
Driscoll said in his letter that he has asked Harper Collins Christian Publishing to not use “#1 New York Times bestseller” in promoting the book, “and I am working to remove this from past publications as well.”
Casey Francis Harrell, director of corporate communications for HCCP, said the publisher is working with Driscoll’s agent to confirm any changes to upcoming printings of his books. The company has no future projects planned with Driscoll, she said.
In an earlier statement to Christianity Today, HCCP said about the hiring of RSI, “It was not our decision, nor were we party to the agreement.” They declined to comment further to PW.
Driscoll was in the news in late 2013 when he was accused of plagiarism for his book, A Call to Resurgence (Tyndale House, 2013). Tyndale investigated the claim that Driscoll had taken ideas credited to Peter Jones, director of truthXchange and adjunct professor at Westminster Seminary. The publishing house believes Driscoll adequately cited the work.
In a statement to PW, Tyndale House said, “In light of Mark Driscoll’s letter to his congregation, we’ll let that letter speak for itself at this time.”