Interview with

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Audio Transcript

*Editor’s Note: This episode refers to a Mark Driscoll interview summarized here, but not included in the audio file.

On November 21, radio host Janet Mefferd called out Mark Driscoll on air, on The Janet Mefferd Show, claiming he improperly cited ideas from Peter Jones — ideas Driscoll used and published in his newest book, A Call to Resurgence. On December 4, Mefferd backed off the accusations, apologized to Mark, and said she should not have done this on the air — but of course she did, and it went viral. On December 18, the publisher of Driscoll’s book concluded a three-week investigation into the matter and said, “Tyndale believes that Mark Driscoll did indeed adequately cite the work of Peter Jones.” The debacle was unfortunate, but it did stir up a healthy conversation online over the larger underlying questions about book writing, ghostwriting, and plagiarism.*

Pastor John, you addressed ghostwriting back in July (in Ask Pastor John episode 129). There, you very strongly opposed ghostwriting — and you continue to strongly oppose ghostwriting — in all of its forms. But you recently mentioned you have more to say on ghostwriting than what we covered in that episode. Please share with us your thinking here.

First of all, this is not about Mark Driscoll. Mark is a friend and he has dealt graciously with me over the years, and I want to do the same for him. I don’t know how Mark does his writing. I know his name has been in the center stage. That is not my point. I want to trust Mark to do what is right. My comments are about the much wider phenomenon, because this thing about ghostwriting goes back as far as publishing goes, and it is right across the board in secular and Christian publishing. And in my mind, it is a scandal. And I would like to encourage myself, because it relates to me. I don’t use any ghostwriters in my books, but I am tempted now and then to have somebody write a letter for me or something like that. So I am just going to preach to myself here and to all the others who care about this.

Money over Truth

I googled an issue on this yesterday, and the first thing that came up was a business called a premier publishing services firm. And the first promise they made goes like this — this is a direct quote — “Maximize your time. We have invested thousands of hours to find the best ghostwriters in the business.” In other words, “Come to us. We will get your book published, and you don’t even have to write it. Just sign it, and that is the way the world runs.” That is not the way of Christ. And I want to encourage us against that.

I had a seminary teacher who told us that he wrote books for famous evangelicals whose books did not give the slightest indication of his involvement. I could go right to the person and right to the leader — some of them are still living today — and make the connection there.

And so I asked, Where does this practice come from? And I will tell you where I think it comes from. It comes from the love of money over truth. Big names sell books. Ghostwriters don’t sell. So to sell books and make money, you conceal the real writer. Believe me, I mean, I hope everybody will see this. If books sold more copies by putting the name of the ghostwriter on the cover, it would be on the cover. Nobody doubts that. That is what it is about.

So here is my deepest problem with this. When Jesus saves us and puts his spirit in us, he writes the truth on our hearts. He inclines us to the way of truth. He makes us happy to be dependent people. He makes us eager to magnify him by exposing our dependence, not our independence, not our self-sufficiency, not our super giftedness. He makes us humble. He makes us eager to take less credit, to give more credit.

Boast in Your Weaknesses

So here is my question for everybody who is tempted in this direction. Why are so many big name authors asking this, “How much is legally and ethically legitimate to conceal about how I write?” instead of asking, “How many people can I thank in as many ways as possible for the part they played in this book?” Why aren’t they asking, “How can I increase my joy by giving the most credit possible to all the help I receive?” Why aren’t they asking, “How can I maximize the exposure of my dependence on God’s grace in the work of other people? How can I look as dependent as I really am?” Why aren’t they asking that? “How can I look more dependent instead of look more self-sufficient like I don’t need anybody?” Why aren’t we asking, “How can I boast in as many weaknesses as I have since Jesus said, ‘My power is made perfect in weakness?’” Paul didn’t conclude 2 Corinthians 12:9, “Therefore I will conceal my weaknesses. Therefore I will conceal all the dependence that I have on other people, and I will make it look like I do all my work.” Why would we even think such a thing?

What he said was, “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” If you were weak enough to need a ghostwriter, boast in it. Boast in it. Jesus gets credit for your weakness. Ghostwriting is the opposite of boasting in weakness. Weakness — weak dependence on others — doesn’t sell books. So ghostwriting is the love of money more than the magnifying of Christ through the exposure of our weakness. That is my take on what is going on here.

Jesus said true greatness is not being served but serving. People who publish books that they did not write, under their own name, are pretending to serve when, in fact, they are being served without giving any credit to the real person who is the servant — and that is the ghostwriter. It is just not true greatness. It is not greatness in the author — the so-called author. It is not greatness in the publisher. They should be ashamed of themselves. And it is not greatness in the ghostwriter who is willing to be used in this way and be paid for it.

So, I urge my brothers and sisters — and yes, sisters are involved in this and shame on them, too — to repent and, for Jesus’s sake, to turn away from this sub-Christian practice.

Yes. I love it when John Frame cites in a footnote of a thick theology book some paper he received from a classroom student.

Yes. Sweet.

Okay, here’s a follow-up. This ghostwriting discussion is pressing to the foreground questions about the legitimate place of research assistants. How do you think through this related issue?

Receiving Help and Giving Credit

I am all in favor of getting as much help as I can. I am a needy person. I read slowly, and so assistance seems to me to be a biblical thing. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’” (1 Corinthians 12:21). I need your assistance, Mr. Hand. So, getting assistance is of the very essence of being a needy person. But a needy person, a humble person who is loved by Christ, will want to honor the giftedness of his assistants, right? And so he will say what they did for him in whatever way he can. He will glory to say it. He won’t feel pressured to say it. That is one thing.

The second thing is, when assistants write up their research, some of them are not just giving you page numbers and quotes. They are weaving it all together with interpretation and language, and I think that should be called out in the text wherever we are using a stream of thought that we got from our assistants or his actual words, so that we are just lavish with our willingness and eagerness to give credit where credit is due. And, you know, if it gets to the point where the assistant has really produced most of this fresh thought, just put both of your names on the front of the book. I mean, it is just so right to put “John Piper with David Mathis” or something like that to acknowledge David, who has worked with me on several books that have come out of the Desiring God conferences that we were both a part of. So those are the three degrees I would think — three steps that you would follow — if you had an assistant working for you like that.