Friday, March 24, 2006

Pastoral Plagiarism, Part 2

The previous post has caused some stir, and I am glad because I think this is an important issue to consider. I am also glad because no doubt many will read the Sjogren article as it is on Rick Warren’s site, and I hope there will be people ready to hold accountable those who fall under the sway of Sjogren’s argument.

To further the discussion let me point out also a post from about a year ago by Justin Taylor and an article by Justin Taylor and Matt Perman. Many of you will no doubt already be aware of these documents but I did not know of them until Justin posted about them this week.

Finally, one reader commented on the previous post, linking two of his own posts arguing a different view on the subject. Here are J. A. Gillmartin’s arguments- post 1, post 2. I encourage you to read his arguments and join the conversation. Here is my response to him

J. A. Gillmartin,
Thanks for interacting. I did read your two posts. I encourage other readers here to do the same and join the conversation. I do think we disagree, and I would want to challenge you to consider your logic.
You seem to take issue with accusations that people are indeed preaching sermons verbatim. That is directly encouraged in the article I referenced. To say that simply preaching the results of another man’s efforts is the same as using reference tools (you mentioned lexicons I think) is incorrect. Most people understand and expect that for preaching (as well as any other research, speeches or papers) one will consult the work of others, preferably those who have demonstrated wisdom and godliness. However, learning from others is significantly different from parroting them. The goal is to study the Word with helps from others and absorb the truths yourself. Then when you proclaim it, you are no doubt influenced by others, but what comes out has been assimilated into your own mind and soul. You are not seeking to emulate another’s passion for a certain point but are speaking from your own affected soul. (The comment in the previous post which quotes Lloyd-Jones is especially good here).

As I prepare to preach from 1 Peter this week I have first wrestled with the Greek text on my own without consulting other expositions. After making some preliminary observations I plan to read commentaries by Schreiner, Grudem and Marshall (among others) and to listen to a sermon by Don Carson. I want to learn from these men who are wiser than me. But I will not preach their message. I will then prepare a message for my people, applying the text as best as I understand it to their lives as best as I understand them. And, no, I am not full time at my church so I know about the crunch of time.

You also take the example of third world pastors to prove a point but the example does not hold. Certainly there are people in especially difficult situations. I would not encourage them to simply parrot sermons either (and I don’t think you do), but the issue at hand in these articles is not harried 3rd world pastors. These are American pastors. Let’s not confuse the issues. It is true that the pastorate is demanding. But herein lies much of the problem. In the American church we have confused ourselves on what the pastor is to do. We need to relieve pastors of some things they think they must do (not least the drive to ‘keep up’ with the latest church growth theories, and the need to be ‘creative’), and encourage them to devote themselves to the apostolic priorities of the Word and prayer (Acts 6). Note what Paul exhorts Timothy to pay special attention to. In 1 Timothy 4:6-16 the focus is on Timothy’s teaching and his lifestyle (esp. v16). In 4:13 Paul esp. highlights the public reading and exposition of Scripture. In 2 Timothy the whole focus is perseverance in right doctrine and holy living. 4:1-8 is the climax of the entire letter. 4:1 sets up a very solemn charge. The content of this solemn charge (v2) is a call to preach.

I agree wholeheartedly that pastors tend to be run ragged. The answer is not to skimp on time in the Word. The answer is to cut back on institutional machinery that is not part of the calling so that we might devote ourselves to the task God has given. I previously posted on this approach, in the form of an exhortation to churches on how to help their pastors fulfill their tasks. I would be interested in your thoughts on this.


Anonymous said...

Recently I got a series of addresses by John Piper which included his bios on Calvin and Luther he gave at Beeson Divinity in November. What stood out to me was how Luther beat importunately on Paul to understand the righteousness of God. He was converted in this experience,yet he never left off this same studying of the Word with intensity and for great periods of time. Piper contrasted this feature of Luther with pastors today who become lazy and slack off. When I was through listening to the Piper lectures on these men I was left with the conviction that being a true servant of God's Word is incredibly toilsome,exhausting,and really excruciating for those who do it faithfully. I believe this is why Paul had to tell Timothy to preach in season and out. I do fear that the great reason so few pastors pay this price is they have no grace in their heart in the first place. That is just an opinion,but if so then what an almighty judgement against the house of God by our Lord who alone gives us pastors after His own heart. I for one will attempt to obey Paul when he said "pray for us" and lift all you preachers up to Christ our Lord.

Tim Ellsworth said...


Thanks for these posts. This practice of pastors stealing their sermons from others is disgraceful and ultimately shows how lazy these pastors are.

As a writer, I can't imagine someone copying my stuff verbatim and me having Sjogren's "it's no big deal" attitude. It is a big deal. It's dishonest, it's stealing and it's sinful. And yet Sjogren is glorifying it. How sad.

J.Hartig said...

I'm reminded reading this post of Eugene Peterson's phrase from his book The Contemplative Pastor. There he speaks of the un-busy pastor and suggests that a "busy pastor" is an oxymoron. Pastors are busy, he suggests, because they accept or invent responsibilities not inherent to their call. They must be un-busy so that they may wrestle with Scripture and bring it home to their congregation publicly and privately. Richard Baxter would charge, we have taken a churches exceeding in numbers our ability to oversee.
The deep, contemplative study you advocate cannot be accomplished in the crush of modern busy-ness. When we take short cuts with the truth, we imperil ourselves and our flock. We will answer before the Lord of Hosts, the Great Shepherd to whom we must give account.
May God give us the heart to "study to show ourselves approved..." and have mercy for our slovenly handling of His word.

Ray Van Neste said...

Amen to all three of you. As james says the wrestling with the word is what forms us into not merely 'speakers' but men of God. And Jason, Peterson's chapter you mentioned has shaped my thinking here significantly- and hopefully my practice! And great point with Baxter's quote. I rarely see people take that one seriously. We have shaped the ministry according to our ideas and are shocked when it no longer fits God's mandates.

Jamie Wootten said...

After reading Sjogren's article I am simply speechless.....

Although I guess I could cut and paste someone else's response and let that be my comment!

Brett said...

Right on, Ray!

Anonymous said...

Quick! Everyone copy Sjogren's article word-for-word, change to byline to your own name, and publish it on your sites. ;-)

murray said...

Nothing new? Reminds me of secondery school in Scotland and we studied an essay from the Spectator magazine that ran from 1711-1712 In it the landowner Sir Roger De Coverley bought a book of sermons to be read by the preacher.
See on the net Days with Sir Roger De Coverley and click on to Sir Roger's family.
Baxter said about his pastoral work "it will furnish you with useful matter for your sermons, to talk an hour with an ignorant or obstinate sinner, as much as an hours study wiil do, for you will learn what you have to insist on and what objections of theirs to repel". Surely no preacher can use all the material from his study and must use what he uses in proportion to the peoples needs.

John Gillmartin said...

Ray -

As I said elsewhere I need the weekend to respond to your latest post.

I appeal to you, and your readers, to avoid the kneejerk response to this critical issue. I'm asking the Lord to give all of us wisdom in our dialogue.

Though I would never preach another's sermon word-for-word, nor recommend anyone else to do so, I see nothing wrong with using someone else's message as boilerplate.

The comment section, as you realized, is not the best or most appropriate forum for this subject. So I've decided to prepare my response as a post at The SHEEP'S CRIB on Monday or Tuesday.


murray said...

What about using the same sermon at different times and in different places? I believe Spurgeon and Lloyd-Jones did it.

broadstone said...

I am wondering if, perhaps, all preachers started writing their own sermons, would we end up with fewer preachers.

Is this such a bad thing? Isn't it possible that there are many, many men in pulpits who have no business there? Thus, if conscientious congregations and elders put their men to task, they may be appalled at the inability in their midst. This is not a light issue.

This issue is one of the reasons, among many others, that I decided to leave the little church I was pastoring at in order to go to seminary. I realized that after barely making it through a year of preaching Hebrews, I would soon be at my wits end and most likely end up being a clone of one of the more gifted "Pastor Johns". I want to learn to do what they do, not PRETEND to be who they are. I still listen to them, I still gain from them but I do not want to be them. Nor would I want some aspiring pastor ever to begin "word-for-wording" me!

Ultimately, and this is where I disagree especially with Sjogren and Gillmartin, it is not about how busy or tired the preacher is. It is not about him, it is about service and honor to Christ and His church. One could argue that whatever sermon is "lifted" is beneficial to the flock of God. Fine, that is likely so, but it is the first preacher and not the second who is actually shepherding that flock.

Which brings us around once again to the question, would this reveal then that there are those in pulpits today who are in fact not "apt to teach?"

Those who are called to shepherd should actually shepherd and feed the flock of God from their own rich supply in God's word. Of course we will read and listen from other sermons. The point is that they bring meat to our own souls and thus strengthen us to do the task we are called to do.

Bruno W said...

Let me set aside the sad reality of pastors setting aside study in God's Word for sermon preparation.

Just how about some citation? Ok, if you're going to take another man's sermon and take the main idea, the outline, the structure, etc., just cite the man! Say, "Much of what I'm going to be sharing with you this Sunday morning I heard from so-n-so." At least give credit.

I would like to ask those who practice this type of sermon prep/delivery, "Do you cite your source? If not, how come?" The reluctance and unwillingness to credit the author of the sermon you're giving demonstrates a major character problem.


Anonymous said...

I have read the posts on this blog and have reflected much on this topic: It reminds me of the Wizard of Oz who works behind the scenes creating something that is not. When I think of the 'mega church' movement and all the 'seeker sensitive' activities of Church growth on the outside, what we're really seeing here are the inner workings of a group filled with sloth and worldly persuits. It would be good if many of those in this movement to be like the Wizard of Oz: have a sense of shame for their pseudo Christianity.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Ray. Here are a couple of links to articles on this topic that I think are helpful:
here (the comments are also thought-provoking) and here (typically thorough)

John Gillmartin said...

As Steinbeck said, "The greatest laid plans of mice and men oft times go astray." Sounds more like Shakespear doesn't it?

At anyrate, my response is up at The CRIB. I apologize to you and your readers for the length. I had intended to put up two parts but decided instead not to break it apart.

I hope you will not be offended by my criticisms and that you will respond.


Anonymous said...

Rick Warren, the most copied pastor in America (they say, I don't know for sure), says his sermons are free to use. Great. But, if you are going to preach Rick's seeker-friendly message, then it seems that the end of the sermon should sound something like this, "This is actually a message created by Rick Warren on such and such date." At least give the man credit for his hard work. To do otherwise and have the congregation believe that it is your sermon would be a half hour long prevarication. Maybe I am being "pharisiaical", to quote Mr. Gillmartin. But it seems that the Pharisees problem is that the Word that they so wholly followed (I believe that they turned the Word of God into God the Word.) did not in the least bit affect the heart of stone that they had within them. That is what Jesus meant when he said of them:

"The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. "They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger."
(Mat 23:2-4 NASB)

The Pharisees were the object of Our Lord's most intense criticism. To label someone as Pharisaical is the diet version of this very heavy charge. It has none of the calories as simply saying "Pharisee" but the name is still implied.

Pastors should wrestle with the Word of God so it affects thier heart and effects a sermon from the Word. Just reading a sermon that is the fruit of someone else's labor and inserting cute little stories and the latest Christian jokes does not make the sermon creative. I'll close with a passage from Deuteronomy.

'But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.' "You may say in your heart, 'How will we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?' "When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.
(Deu 18:20-22 NASB)

May all the glory go to the One Seeker, who's name is Yahweh!