Plagiarism, Preaching and Pastoral Influences

All the talk and controversy about plagiarism has made me somewhat uncomfortable. When I listened to the infamous interview between radio host Janet Mefford and pastor/author Mark Driscoll, I was haunted by a phrase. I don’t know if it is an exact quote or not, but it went like this, “You are stealing his ideas.”

I am a pastor. My whole life and ministry is about regurgitating someone else’s ideas.

I believe it was Charles Hodge who said that he never had an original thought or idea. We read, listen, talk, think, integrate, pray and listen. This is what we do.

In one very real sense, pastors don’t know what is original and what is not. Even our sermon outlines have a family tree.

After a recent sermon, someone asked me a question about where I got something that I said in the sermon. I told them that as far as I know the sentence was mine, but the idea, the concept, that’s John Owen. And John Owen got it from the Apostle Paul. This could happen every week as the preacher’s influence comes out in his preaching.

It’s impossible to escape.

It’s not just me. In one bizarre period of about 10 days last year, I heard a popular pastor say something profound. A few days later, I was reading a book by Tim Keller and found the same idea. Then I was in a sermon by Jonathan Edwards and it was there. Shortly thereafter, my mind was drawn to a passage of Paul’s writing and it was there.

That thought was handed down the spiritual family line like broad shoulders and big ears. You can’t stop it.

Along these lines, Dr. Martyn-Lloyd Jones recounts a story about Charles Spurgeon.

Lloyd-Jones describes the case of a young man, a student in Spurgeon’s college, whose preaching was drawing praises from some, but a criticism from others that he “was repeatedly preaching a sermon of Mr. Spurgeon’s.” When this was brought to the attention of the school principal, it was decided to take the young man to Spurgeon himself. After considerable questioning, Spurgeon became somewhat impatient.

Lloyd-Jones describes the conversation between CHS and the student.

Spurgeon asks: ‘Well, are you saying, then, that it is your sermon?’

‘Oh, no, sir,’ said the young man.

‘Well, then whose sermon is it?’

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Erik Raymond
Erik is a pastor at Emmaus Bible Church (EmmausBibleChurch.org), a church plant south of Omaha. Converse with Erik on Twitter at @erikraymond.