Wednesday, March 29, 2006

PLAGIARISM: Neo-Pharisaism for Preachers

... in your local bookstore soon.

This post is in response to a rather lively discussion between The CRIB and Oversight of Souls. The latter is a blog of
Dr. Ray Van Neste, Associate Professor of Christian Studies at Union University, a dear brother, who was kind enough to allow me to jump all over him for a post I feel is neo-pharisaic in its flavor and aroma but not necessarily in intent.

Right up front it is important to note one thing: Dr. Van Neste's principal complaint is the lifting of another pastor's sermon en toto and preaching it virtually word-for-word, something he sees encouraged in the linked article below; whereas my position is that it is poor stewardship not
to use all freely available resources for the reaching of the lost and the teaching of His sheep.

Readers, your necessary background links to this post may be found in the following -
To avoid the confusion of having an apples and oranges discussion, definitions for this post may be found at the end.

Remember, this post stands on this biblical principle: "Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another." (Proverbs 27:17) My purpose in using this Scripture is to remind all of us this is a discussion not a court trial. (all bible quotations in this post are taken by permission from the NASB).

The subject of plagiarism in the pulpit is critically important:
first, for its potential to influence the next generation of young pastors, as well as not a few current preachers;
second, for the obvious dangers of having sin in our pulpits;
, for the danger of a creeping and insidious form of Pharisaism in pastoral teaching and,
last but not least, the danger of offending God, thus bringing reproach upon the office of pastor-teacher (Ephesians 4:11).
Discovering a pew-brother has committed an error in the faith and confronting him is adequately covered, I believe, in Matthew 18:15-17. On the other hand, for pulpit-brothers, Paul's harsh condemnation of Peter's heresy in Galatians 2 provides an excellent example of leader to leader confrontation. I believe that is what Dr. Van Neste was attempting to do here.

Paul also has some things to say concerning the subject of criticism among believers in Romans 14 ...
Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
Romans 14:1-4
Comparing Dr. Van Neste's first post with his second, one can see immediately he moderated his rancor at Steve Sjogren and his article; absent in the second are the many pejorative terms used in the first. That's a good sign.

What's very ironic is what's found in the first paragraph of Dr. Van Neste's first post; the good Doctor of Philosophy quotes Ezra 9:3, but fails to give attribution for the copywrited version he quotes from. Isn't that plagiarism? :)

The problem I have with the doctor's posts is multiple: the way the posts are written they leave the reader thinking that
only the most arduous work is acceptable sermon preparation; that all preachers are under obligation to do this level of sermon preparation; and that it is the "hard work" of the preacher that feeds sheep, grows churches, and saves souls.

It's good to consult Paul regarding what is allowable in the faith ...
All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.
1 Corinthians 10:23
I learned long ago not to stretch the fabric of this verse, but when taken in the light of Jesus' own words it is informative ...
So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.
John 8:36
Sjogren's mind set seems to be with using the sermons of others as boilerplate. He mentions the phrase "borrow creatively." Speaking of Rick Warren, he comments ...
The one guy who is the most borrowed from in the United States is, no doubt, Rick Warren. Warren's famous line is "If my bullet fits your gun, then shoot it!"
Here we have one pastor saying you're not plagiarizing my material, it's free, use it! And the other does and he's called a plagiarist. I don't think so!

Speaking for himself Sjogren says ...
God gave me the idea to begin with. I don't grasp it - I give it away freely.
This is consistent with my views (here and here).

I believe Sjogren has good intentions even if they burden our understanding of the ethical. And his explanation that everyone who is anyone is plagiarizing is without merit. Stewardship as a justification works for me; and the Scripture is relatively loose fitting in this area.

I must say though, after a close reading of his article, two elements stuck out like a sore thumb to me:
first, his anecdotal illustration of Dr. Cho has some credibility problems (see later)
second, his hyperbolic exaggeration when he says ...
After listening to tens of thousands of messages over the last 30-plus years as a leader, I have come to the conclusion that there are probably only a handful of truly unique communicators in a given generation.
Some quick math puts the question to this statement. Thirty years times 365 days per year comes to 10,950 days; assuming "tens of thousands" must be more than one thousand, let's assume it's 20 thousand, which, when divided by 10,950 days, comes out to 1.85 sermons per day ... it only gets worse if you use bigger numbers. I don't know the purpose served here, but it is not helpful.

Sjogren's thesis appears to be this: "When does [using another's work] get to the point of plagiarism?

Distinctives are something we Baptists know a lot about. My question is similar to Sjorgren's: at what point does the material offered by another, gratis, and without need for attribution, become plagiarism in the minds of those who see things as Dr. Van Este does? Do they ever? I don't think so!

The etymology for the verb "to plagiarize" traces to a Latin word (plagiarius) implying the sense of "to kidnap." It also carries a whiff of "piracy." Material, such as that found on The SHEEP'S CRIB (here, here, and here), when taken by a visitor could not in any way be considered plagiarized.

UPDATE: Except, prehaps, in the failure of the user to give attribution and thus implying the material is his own. That is, in fact, plagiaristic.

What's happening here is the masses have camped on a word, now in general use, and have applied it to a new genus of an old problem without consideration for its relationships: that is, not by kidnapping (illegal) but rather by adoption (legal). I see it as similar to the government buying my home on the open market versus confiscating it under


Besides, we are all quite literally all of the family of God; the familial relationship has some influence upon on brother using the words of another brother without attribution.

We can argue all day about whether this is right or not; but it is a dangerous thing to argue from silence and the bible is silent on plagiarism, especially as related to pastor to pastor relationships and the word of God.

In one place Van Neste laments Sjogren's use of Dr. Paul Cho "pastor of supposedly the largest church in the world in Korea." His complaint, I take it, is that Cho apparently endorses plagiarism ... something I don't support and which I couldn't categorically say Sjogren did either.

Yet in another place, Van Neste approvingly cites Dr.
Adrian Rogers, the late-great Southern Baptist preacher, who evidently opposed the use of non-original sermons material. This bothers me. Why is it ethical for the critic to cite his source but unethical for the one he criticizes to cite his?

With regard to Pastor Cho's quoted comment
: I have difficulty believing it as presented in Sjogren's article. Take for instance this part - "I preach word-for-word messages from either Billy Graham or W.A. Criswell from Dallas First Baptist Church." Dr. Cho preaches long sermons, I know Graham and Criswell would like to but don't. So tell me, how does Dr. Cho preach their half-hour sermons word-for-word?

Also, Dr. Cho preaches in Korean, I doubt his people would understand a word-for-word reload of either Graham or Criswell in English; someone, somewhere labors over those messages and Dr. Cho brings them with a lot of extemporaneous spice and marinade.

In one place, Van Neste says we should all suffer "the hard work of study" but then in another says we should all "simply give [them] God's word." I realize this probably didn't come out like he wanted it, but young minds read the garbage we write. I suggest we all do "the hard work" of editing too.

This too seems inconsistent ...
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.
Why do you grant preachers their lexicons, commentaries, dictionaries, and word studies but deny them their bound volumes of Spurgeon's or R. G. Lee's sermons? How do you distinguish the one from the other?

And here is something that also troubles me ...
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.
What will you do if your blood, sweat, and tears message ends up just like Carson's? Will you throw it out because God has led you both to the same conclusion, only he was there first?

I abhor works-oriented ministries and their lists of dos and don'ts, along with their steps to reaching ministry heights. They abound today: "Forty Nights of Heartache - learn contrition the easy way"; "7-Weeks of Litergy - feel the pain of mainliners"; "Ten Steps of the Ladder to Godly Success - wealth without guilt." I feel they're an abomination to the freedom the Good News offers those living in darkness.

Jesus, in Matthew 23, warns us not to seek positions of leadership for that's what the Pharisees did, they loved to tell others what they should and should not do, yet they themselves were too busy leading and living it up to bother with such things ... and Jesus caught them at it.

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
At first I thought Dr. Van Neste had fallen into this trap, but then he put up a post which clearly demonstrates he abhors pharisaism as much as I do. So at this point I believe he has inadvertantly stepped in it and just needs a good shoe cleaning.

Spurgeon and Moody wrote sermons out on scrap paper minutes before they entered the pulpit; how could they do so under this paradigm?

I believe the answer is right there before us ...

... a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ.
1 Corinthians 2:14-16
I believe any authentic man of God could be asked to preach on the spur of the moment and do so! How is it that we can do that without all of this sermon preparation that we read about?

Are the sheep getting a feed so pulverized by the preacher's mastigation that it's lost its falvor and savor? Would we be better off just getting up there and preaching from our hearts the word of God? Is that why there's revival in the Chinese home churches and the African villiage churches but not here in the most Christian land on the face of the earth?


Let me quote Dr. Van Neste; refering to Jeremiah ...
Even with differences in context, I think this is clear. Our people do not need a performance. They need to gather with their brothers and sisters to hear their own overseer, who knows and loves them, and to hear the overflow of his heart resulting from his own wrestling with the text that week. We are not to be talking heads with fine points, but messengers who, having set in the counsel of God, can come with His Word.
I wholly agree with the doctor with regard to plagiarism being unlawful; especially if the taking is without the author's expressed permission or patently contrary to his wishes.

I also agree with the following ...
... 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).
I also agree that whereever attribution is available it should be given but given in such a way as to avoid interupting the flow of the Spirit's movement.


Van Neste wrote the following in response to my posts ...
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.
Where is the Holy Spirit in this ... is He a part of the sermon prep you recommend to others? How would we know this?

Dr. Van Neste
You asked me not to confuse the issue by mentioning third-world pastors. He said You say it does not "hold" to bring them into the discussion; he said you say our discussion is about American pastors. So does he you mean to say that there's one set of rules for American pastors and another set for non-American? Are we bifurcating the Body here?

The goal is to study the Word with helps from others and absorb the truths yourself.
Where is this written? Who set this goal? How soes one did you come to this conclusion?
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.
Where is that written? I mean where is this biblically; without exegesis? I am to imitate Christ and Paul, as he imitated Christ, and the witnesses that have gone on before me! That I know! So why can't I "imulate another's passion for a certain point" if they are righteous individuals?

Where is it written
that men who've been called of God are limited in the materials they may consult for grist for their weekly messages? Where is it written that they must labor over the original languages, exegeting every morsel of nutrition?

Me thinks this is "the wisdom of men" (
James 3:14-17); dark and dangerous to teach as doctrine.

Clearly the unwritten words
in Van Neste's your posts reveal an underlying theme of superiority and arrogance; they you imply that only those who fit his your round hole are acceptable, the others are hopelessly doomed to trying to get into a square hole. I don't think so!

Show me one biblical text that supports this burden being
you are placing placed on the backs of God's preachers!
As Paul says in Romans 9:1,
"my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit" that his your take on pulpit-plagiarism is exaggerated and neo-pharisaic.

My prayer is that Dr. Van Neste will respond in his blog; I feel there is still some disparity in our points that can be resolved and clarified.

  • boilerplate - a standard formulation, uniformly found in certain types of legal documents or news stories [WordNet] ; something flexible enough to allow severe modification without sacrificing its form [The CRIB]
  • neo-pharisaism - same as the below but in a "new or recent" form.
  • plagiarism - the act of plagiarizing; taking someone's words or ideas as if they were your own [WordNet]
  • pharisaism - Rigid observance of external forms of religion without genuine piety; hypocrisy in religion. [Noah Webster's 1828 Dictionary of American English]; Hypocritical observance of the letter of religious or moral law without regard for the spirit; sanctimoniousness. [The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition]

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