Harper Collins Apologizes for ‘Editorial Mistake’ in Alleged MacArthur Plagiarism Controversy

By Julie Roys
John MacArthur Harper Collins Plagiarism
Harper Collins Christian Publishing has apologized for "editorial mistake" in alleged plagiarism controversy involving John MacArthur.

Harper Collins Christian Publishing has apologized to a former vice president at The Master’s University and Seminary (TMUS) for misattributing a chapter the VP wrote in a book on counseling to John MacArthur. Harper Collins says the the error was an “editorial mistake.”

The apology comes about a month after the former TMUS vice president—Dennis Swanson—accused MacArthur of plagiarism, which was first reported by The Roys Report. It comes 17 years after the mistake was initially made in MacArthur’s 2005 book, How to Counsel Biblically, which has been reprinted numerous times.

According to Swanson, How to Counsel Biblically, attributed a chapter—“Frequently Asked Questions About Biblical Counseling”—to John MacArthur and Wayne Mack as editors. Yet Swanson says he edited the chapter. And the identical chapter is attributed to him in a 1994 edition of the book.

“The imprint who published this book has done an investigation, and has concluded that the change made in the 2005 attribution of Chapter 19, from the 1995 (sic) original edition of the book, was in error,” wrote Casey Harrell, vice president of corporate communications at Harper Collins.

Harrell added:

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This was an editorial mistake to which we cannot trace its origin, though we have confirmed it was not done under the direction of the author. We have noted that there are other areas of the book that attribute you as the contributor and you are also listed in the index.  We can only conclude that this was an editorial mistake and are taking action to begin the corrections process for the eBook and print editions.  We apologize for this mistake and are thankful that this was pointed out to us.

The claim that MacArthur did not direct Swanson’s name to be removed appears to contradict statements made by Phil Johnson, executive director of MacArthur’s broadcast ministry Grace to You.

Two days after TRR published the article about Swanson’s allegations, Johnson tweeted, “I literally have no involvement with it, but I believe chapters were written as works for hire. Contributors were paid. Chapters belong to TMS (The Master’s Seminary) to do with as they wish.”

Johnson added, “In my judgment, TMS had good reason to expunge (Swanson’s) name from their projects.”

In response, Swanson tweeted that the book was never a TMS project. He added that Phil Johnson was thanked in the original edition of the counseling book for his editorial work, “So you must have done something.”

The Roys Report first reached out to Harper Collins on February 7 for comment about the controversy. A spokesman responded, “We take accusations of plagiarism seriously and we are looking into the matter.”

We followed up with an email on February 9 and Harrell responded, “Our comment remains the same.” We emailed Harrell again on February 15 and he responded, “We are still investigating the matter.”

Our last email to Harrell inquiring about the investigation was on February 21. Harrell did not respond to that email.

However, on March 9, Swanson emailed Harrell about the matter. The next day, Harrell emailed Swanson his explanation and apology.

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10 thoughts on “Harper Collins Apologizes for ‘Editorial Mistake’ in Alleged MacArthur Plagiarism Controversy”

  1. I’m grateful that Swanson was vindicated. The interactions with Phil Johnson seem about par for the course for him, e.g. “I have no firsthand knowledge but I can say for sure that John did no wrong because he is infallible.”

  2. So the tempest in a teapot, designed to throw shade on MacArthur, turns out to be nothing at all. MacArthur may not be the nicest guy (I’m not a fan), but he has done more to edify the church through his writing and preaching than most American church leaders. Maybe you should have waited a bit longer before printing the story.

    1. Seeing what happened here requires connecting the dots. The error happened in 2005. Swanson was employed at TMUS at the time and in good standing. He says he complained about being expunged from the chapter to other TMUS administrators in 2005. He was told to be quiet and just accept it.

      Then, Swanson complains publicly in 2022. Phil Johnson publicly defends TMUS for expunging Swanson’s name. There’s no mention of the change being unintentional; it was intentional and supposedly justified. And quite frankly, how does the name of the editor of a chapter mistakenly get changed?

      Then, when pushed repeatedly Harper Collins confirms Swanson should have been credited for the chapter for the past 17 years. It says Swanson’s name was expunged by an “editorial mistake” but doesn’t know the origin of the mistake. Yet despite, not knowing the origin, Harper is sure the mistake wasn’t done under direction of MacArthur. On its face, does not make sense.

      So, I wouldn’t call this a tempest in a teapot. I would say it’s another case of the facts concerning MacArthur not adding up, and quite possibly a publisher covering for its celebrity author.

      1. Ms Roys,

        Your last comment is an accusation unbecoming of an “investigative reporter.”
        Just the facts, ma’am, just the facts.

        By the way, my previous comment was not posted. Any reason why?

        1. Keith… There’s nothing unbecoming about a journalist in a comment thread connecting the dots. By its very nature, a “comment” is an opinion. If I had done this in my article, you might have a point, but I didn’t.

          As to your previous comment. I couldn’t find it in pending comments, so I don’t know what happened.

      2. How come Pat Robertson, woke pastors, Paula White, or any women leaders for that matter, etc. don’t seem to get your scrutinized investigations? I’m all for getting to the truth of a matter and reforming the church, but I’d like to know what the endgame of this “reformation” you want is, Julie. I listened to your program on Moody while it was on. I’m well aware of the inequity in the treatment of women in the church. I’m 73 and have seen the gamut. I’d also like to hear how you repented of YOUR sins and came to realize you needed the Savior.

        1. Maybe because Paula White, Pat Robertson, and woke pastors have 1.) Been addressed by numerous other outlets, or 2.) Have such glaring issues that no investigation is necessary.

      3. Did MacArthur cheat this man out of any royalties? Or was this chapter a work done for hire? I have signed hundreds of publisher contracts for my work, and each one makes clear whether I am to be paid on a royalty basis, or on a “work for hire” (sale of manuscript) basis. The contracts usually even contain clauses saying that the publisher can change the title, reprint it in various forms, etc. I’d like for this author to make his original contract public. If he was cheated out of income, he needs to be paid. If his feelings were hurt because he was not given proper credit, that’s another matter.

        1. According to Dennis, there was not contract or agreement; the change was made without his consent. And Dennis says when he complained, TMUS administrators said there was nothing they could do.

  3. Not to beat a dead horse, but it’s instructive to look back at some of the 28 comments made on the piece in the first link above. One might imagine how in the world Evangelicals expect unbelievers to follow in our footsteps after the One we worship as Lord of all.

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