Plagiarism Is Not The Only Kind Of Fake Preaching

As the Southern Baptist Convention has been rocked with controversy over plagiarism, it’s easy to think that the extent of the problem is merely repeating someone else’s words. There is another aspect to plagiarism that often gets overlooked: Pulpiteering.

Philip Doddridge in his work “On the Delivery of Sermons” provides an extensive warning against theatrical preaching and its destructive consequences in the life of the church. Theatrical preaching occurs when a preacher attempts to “transport into the views, the feelings, and the circumstances of the person represented.” Theatrical preaching is the practice of acting what one is saying. It’s extremely detrimental to the spiritual life of the church.

Many a pastor has fallen into the trap of becoming an artificial reproducer of another man’s ministry. As the pastor surveys the broad spectrum of our American church landscape, he witnesses certain pastors who have received great attention in their ministries. These “successes” function as a sort of landmark that many pastors desire to achieve. If it’s worked over there, why wouldn’t it work over here?

When this sinful desire is left unchecked, the pastor can easily compromise by attempting to reproduce in himself the ministry of the man who has most inspired him—how it feels, sounds, and functions. The pauses are attention getting, the hand gestures are mesmerizing, and the use of vocal expressions are dramatic and overtly expressive. The imitation has been remarkably accomplished by the pastor. Read more»

Chris Gordon | “Doddridge on Fake Preaching” | Abounding Grace Radio| July 2, 2021

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4 comments

  1. I found this interesting. In over 40 years of pew warming, I don’t know that I have ever witnessed pulpiteering. I guess that’s a good thing. But I do wonder at the SBC plagerism issue and a service called Docent which apparently is a sermon writing, and research service that pastors use to ‘help’ their sermon prep. I had never heard of this before, but it is reported that some of those in the current plagiarism controversy used this company. What is the right way of thinking about using helpers for sermon prep? Using canned sermons directly or to markup and make your own? It seems cheesey to me. But if you take the notion of preaching as the puritans did, and as I do, that the pastor is declaring the Word of God to me, then plagiarism as well as sermon helpers are also wrong, but for different reasons. Thoughts?

    • Here is an intro to the world of “services.”

      At my school we teach our students to do their own work, the study the Scriptures in the original languages, to consult appropriate resources as part of their sermon prep, not to plagiarize (and to give credit somehow when they are quoting others). Plagiarism isn’t that difficult to avoid. If one wants to use a sermon by Keller, a minister should simply say, “I love this sermon by Keller. I can’t do any better on this passage and I’m going to read it instead.” If he does this frequently the session might want to look for a man who is able to do his own work but reading a sermon is better than stealing a sermon.

      A faithful preacher should consult others after he does his own work. The Reformed have never been biblicists–where the preacher is alone in the closet with the Scriptures pretending that no one else has ever worked on this passage. He is foolish to neglect the riches of the past as he works through a passage. When he borrows, he gives credit somehow, “As one of our fathers has said” (or some such).

    • Suppose the TE works two jobs and doesn’t have time for as much sermon prep. What should a bi-vocational preacher do?

    • Bryce, I live in the Missouri Ozarks. Almost all of the local ministers, regardless of denomination, work full-time jobs or are retired men.

      I see firefighters writing sermons in the firehouses. For decades, the head of our city’s water department was writing sermons late at night after dealing with water and sewer problems all day, including late-night emergencies. I see teachers writing sermons and school superintendents writing sermons. Same for sheriff’s deputies and a whole lot of small business owners.

      If they can find the time — and they do — there’s no reason to plagiarize.

      Those who know my own background know I pastored three small churches while working at Christian Renewal. I was sometimes writing sermons on planes flying back from classis meetings and often making mental notes for sermons while driving back from classis meetings. I know that tentmaking while working for a Christian organization is not the same but I know more than a bit about what these pastors in secular work go through. At least I never had to worry about multiple fire calls or sewer line breaks disrupting sermon preparation during the time I had carved out for that!

      Tentmaking is hard but it’s no excuse for plagiarism.

      I couple of times I had no choice but to use an old sermon from years earlier that most in the congregation I was pastoring had never heard, and when I did that, I fully disclosed it at the beginning of the service. I think it happened a total of two, maybe three times in my life.

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