Where have you been?


Posts have been slow here over the last year as our family has been weighing and working toward a relocation and a change in ministry direction.

In November, Anna was named as Associate Editor for InterVarsity Press. We knew we needed to move to Chicagoland and so we began to pray about the possibilities for my next job. IVP graciously allowed Anna a long transition time that included working remotely part-time before beginning on-site in April.

I pursued several opportunities and, in the end, God pleasantly surprised us in providing the opportunity to join the marketing team at InterVarsity Press.

Next week I will begin a new position as Academic Marketing Manager. In that capacity I will develop and execute marketing plans for the fifty-some titles IVP Academic publishes annually. I will also represent marketing on the Academic Publication Committee, the team that decides which proposals will be contracted and published. There are other fun elements as well: working on titles, attending academic conferences to represent IVP, and working with a really wonderful team of marketing managers and publicists who love God and love books.

The IVP statement of values communicates clearly why this is a wonderful place where Anna and I hope to spend a great deal of the rest of our lives:

Our identity is rooted in our affections for and allegiance to God, whom we seek to worship in spirit and in truth. According to our Faith Commitments and Doctrinal Basis, we wholeheartedly affirm the authority and teachings of the Bible as foundational for our lives and for our publishing decisions. We love the church, respect, and feed on its rich heritage, and desire to serve it with grace and truth. We seek to influence, engage, and shape the university world and our contemporary culture for the sake of Jesus Christ and his kingdom in the world. Aiming for thoughtful integration of the whole person and placing emphasis on the dignity of people and relationships, IVP practices beauty and stewardship in our work.



Five suggestions about plagiarism

Celebrity preacher Mark Driscoll is in the news again. Surprise! Jonathan Merritt of the Religious News Service reports that more instances of plagiarism are alleged against the popular preacher and writer.


The first allegations came to light during an interview conducted by Janet Mefferds. You can read coverage of the initial interview here or you can listen to the interview embedded below.

Here’s a summary of the allegation from Merrit’s account:

Syndicated Christian radio host Janet Mefferd accused Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll of plagiarism on her Nov. 21 broadcast. Mefferd claimed that Driscoll quoted extensively from the work of Dr. Peter Jones for at least 14 pages in his book, A Call to Resurgence, without direct or proper citation.

“In this book,” Driscoll responded, “I took [Jones’] big idea and worked it out through the cultural implications but I wasn’t working specifically from his text.”

Tyndale House, Driscoll’s publisher, is standing by him:

Tyndale House takes any accusation of plagiarism seriously and has therefore conducted a thorough in-house review of the original material and sources provided by the author. After this review we feel confident that the content in question has been properly cited in the printed book and conforms to market standards.

This story is likely not over. We’ll see what strange by-ways it takes in the coming weeks.

Plagiarism is a sticky business. Judging by the interactions I have with friends in higher education, the appropriation of someone else’s written work and intentionally passing it off as your own is quite common among college students. It has never been easier to lift text and insert it into you own document. I the quotes above were cut and pasted into wordpress. Simple. Ease, anonymity, and urgency create big incentives to take short cuts in research and to omit any or proper attribution. 

Where this gets interesting is in the case of oral documents like sermons. Good preachers do a lot of research in preparation for delivering a sermon. Giving attribution in a sermon can become cumbersome and turn a lively sermon into an AAR/SBL paper if it has too many phrases like “as Rowan Williams has noted,” or “to quote C. S. Lewis,” “Thomas Aquinas argued.” The same is true for a blog post, which is a more casual piece of writing than a published book.

How then can you avoid plagiarism in your writing, whether that content is received aurally or visually:

  1. Footnote. Footnote. Footnote. If you’re blogging do your best to link to the original source if you’re quoting it. If you can’t find it, say so. If you’re writing a paper or book chapter, make sure you footnote. My rule of thumb here is: if in doubt, footnote. In my academic writing, which I haven’t done much of lately, my rule of thumb was that the number of citations should be roughly twice to three times the number of pages (excluding introduction and conclusion) in the document.
  2. If you’re delivering a sermon and you directly quote someone, you must state that you’re doing so. For this reason, I suggest not having more than one to two direct quotes in a sermon. Use them sparingly because the value of the quote has to far exceed the cost of stating “Charles Williams states….”
  3. Always have down time between reading/research and writing. Some of you won’t struggle with this, but I find that if I read a chapter of a book or an article on a topic I’m researching, and then immediately try to incorporate that into my article I will disproportionately be influenced by that research. When you’re really concentrating on understanding the depths of another’s argument and even interacting with in a mental conversation or sparring match, I find it takes some time before I’m ready to integrate these new insights into my writing with the appropriate degree of differentiation.
  4. Don’t outsource research. Period. My advice is try to avoid outsourcing research, especially if you’re a pastor. If you’re a writer or academic then it’s more justifiable. Remember, if you outsource research then you’re also outsourcing your integrity and your reputation so be sure you trust your assistant and do your due diligence (i.e., double check).
  5. Remember, you only get one chance. Somehow I doubt that Driscoll will do what he’s told others to do and quite his ministry over this. However, his reputation has taken a hit and for a lot of people what he’s alleged to have done will be seen as one more reason to deride the Christian faith.

What do you think?



Could Rob Bell work for InterVarsity? [Updated]



  • Mark Galli’s article at CT (except for the mushy last paragraph).
  • Tim Keller, The Reason for God. “How Can a Loving God send people to hell?” (Chapter 5). Available here.

Celebrity pastor Rob Bell has caused an uproar in the evangelical world over the last week thanks to the release of his promo video for a new book, Love Wins. For an overview of the controversy check out this New York Times article.

The book isn’t due to be released until March 15, 2011. However, the New York Times describes Bell’s position:

In a book to be published this month, the pastor, Rob Bell, known for his provocative views and appeal among the young, describes as “misguided and toxic” the dogma that “a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better.”

Obviously this statement doesn’t tell us everything we need to know in order to evaluate Rob’s view. He might be espousing a view called annihilationism that holds that those who die outside of Christ are punished by non-being, they are burned up and ceased to exist. This is not a majority view in the evangelical world, but it is held by some well-known evangelical leaders such as John R. W. Stott.

Of course, Bell might also be espousing a form of Christian universalism that holds that Jesus’ atonement is for “the whole world.” And that, as such, it achieves what it set out to do: redeems the whole world. Those who die outside of the conscious faith of the Church still may die “in Christ” because he gave Himself for the whole world.

If there’s anything good that can come from a very public persona espousing a minority theological view, it is the opportunity for renewed discussion around the subject. In fact, it is a great opportunity for pastor-theologians (and all pastors are theologians before they are leaders or managers or whatever else) to teach clearly what the Scriptures teach on this important topic.

This controversy poses another question: could Rob Bell work for InterVarsity? A big part of my job is hiring staff to work with our graduate and faculty chapters in VIrginia and the Carolinas. Would I hire Rob Bell?

Based on the public record the answer would be no. Here’s why.

Here’s what the InterVarsity Doctrinal Basis states on the matter:

[We believe in…]

The victorious reign and future personal return of Jesus Christ,
who will judge all people with justice and mercy,
giving over the unrepentant to eternal condemnation
but receiving the redeemed into eternal life.

I will not hire staff who cannot embrace this statement of evangelical belief. As statements go, I think it covers the essentials of the doctrine without getting caught up into the specifics of the torment itself.

The Doctrinal Basis maintains the historical and orthodox understanding of eternal punishment, but puts it in the broader context of God’s being and mission. In other words, while it is an important doctrine it isn’t a doctrine with which we ought to lead in our preaching and teaching (most of the time). And yet, there is danger in ignoring it too.

To put it more succinctly, I would rather dwell on the beauty, the excellencies, and the glory of Christ Jesus and His Gospel than on unpacking the specific nature of the ways in which the unrepentant will suffer in the life to come. However, it is important to note that the Gospel message presupposes a discussion of eternal suffering. You cannot get away from it and to do so would be dangerous. Yet, as I wrote above, we should not make it a subject of repeated and protracted study.

It is also important that we dwell on and explore the benefits of Christ that we receive and enjoy in this life as well as the life to come. Eternal life begins now. On that point, Rob Bell is correct.

Publishing Trends: Is Less More? Updated

Michael Hyatt (President and CEO of Thomas Nelson) has posted some interesting thoughts on future publishing trends.

Interestingly, Hyatt notes that 23% of titles (at least at his company) drive 90% of the revenue. Stated differently, 77% of titles bring in only 10% of the revenue. Does this mean that there are too many books being published? Probably.

Hyatt writes that Thomas Nelson publishes, on average, 700 titles a year (two books a day) and that each of them takes (basically) the same amount of work to bring to publication. Why not reduce the total number? This could be done without impacting revenue significantly. Makes sense.

My only concern is what about important books that might have a marginal market? I’m planning on writing more about this at blog.followingchrist.org because it is a concern for many folks who will be at that conference (i.e., future academics and authors).

In an ideal world writing/publishing not only responds to, but affirmatively shapes, the market it serves. To my mind, simply giving readers what they want isn’t enough. Christian publishers have an obligation to give us what we need, even when we don’t want it. Doing this carelessly, however, is a good way to run a company into the ground. Doing this cautiously and conservatively (i.e., choosing one to two excellent titles a year) is a way of being a redeeming influence on the Christian market. And, God knows, we need it.