3 Suggestions To Avoid Sermonic Plagiarism

“Docent” [1] has become one of the focuses of the recent plagiarism scandal involving the new president of one of the largest evangelical conventions — the South Baptist Convention.

“Docent” is one of the organizations that provide preaching materials for pastors and the creation of sermonic content.

It has been rightly said . . . .

If you read the same books that others are reading,
you will think the same thoughts that others are thinking!

I might suggest that the same is true when it comes to using “sermonic/preaching services,” such as “Docent.”  This recent scandal has helped me to better understand why so many . . . .

  • sermons seem to reflect the same theological trends and fads [2]
  • preachers & teachers avoid certain theological truths
  • illustrations are retold [3] until they are worn and hackneyed
  • pastors repeat statistics that have no support in reality
  • preachers employ similar wording [4]

. . . . .

The reason is . . . .

They subscribe to these kinds of theologically inclined sermonic services!
They
all “read the same books.”

It should be pointed out that these services are theologically inclined, and that inclination is reflected in what is being said, taught, and preached (as well as seen & sung) across American churches.

. . . . .

Of course, preaching and sermonic preparation involve the use of other materials!  Commentaries are rudimentary to preaching and teaching.

I have at least three simple practical suggestions (outside of personal integrity) when it comes to preaching and the use of other preacher’s materials . . .

#1) A Course In Logic: A seminary education needs to include a course in “critical thinking.”  Too many read all kinds of theological and religious material with far too little discernment.  Too many pastors and ministry leaders lack the ability to critically evaluate what is being said, taught, or published.  [5]

#2) A Far Wider Read: Read the thinking of others and/or listen to the preaching of others, but read and listen to material from more than either contemporary writers, or from any other theological era.  The writers of the day reflect the fishbowl in which they and we all swim.   And, the church fathers, or the puritans, or . . . or . . .  were not right, biblical or accurate in all they taught or believed. [6]

#3) Work Harder & Then Smarter: Take the time it takes to make it your own!  The easy path is to “grab and run” with a good illustration, a headline statistic, or a great statement or sermonic thought.  Create some of your own unique material as you see what was done, and imitate it (not copy it.)

  • When you come across an illustration or story, do more reading and research so that you know more about that story than was originally stated.
  • Check out that statistic.  Statistics don’t lie, but liars use statistics.  Go back to the source and methodology used to arrive at the study’s conclusion.
  • Personally rework a statement (or often correct) to make it your own, or to ensure greater accuracy  — else give proper credit if used “wholesale.” [7]


  1. Links:
    https://capstonereport.com/2021/07/05/baptist-professor-accuses-former-sbc-president-j-d-greear-of-plagiarism/36499/
    https://reformationcharlotte.org/2021/07/05/jd-greear-admits-to-purchasing-sermon-material-to-make-himself-look-good/
  2. i.e. — One of the most recent and pervasive — Passive Sanctification

One of many links — https://headhearthand.org/blog/2015/10/21/five-attractions-of-passive-sanctification/

Another article:

“The current debate about sanctification (does holiness come through personal effort, or is the best approach to sanctification to “relax” and trust God more?) is hardly limited to this age. J. C. Ryle fought the same battles over 100 years ago. Here are his comments on the idea that we are sanctified in the same way we are justified:

“I ask whether it is wise to speak of faith as the one thing needful, and the only thing required, as many seem to do nowadays in handling the doctrine of sanctification. Is it wise to proclaim in so bald, naked, and unqualified a way as many do that the holiness of converted people is by faith only, and not at all by personal exertion? Is it according to the proportion of God’s Word? I doubt it.

That faith in Christ is the root of all holiness; that the first step towards a holy life is to believe on Christ; that until we believe we have not a jot of holiness; that union with Christ by faith is the secret of both beginning to be holy and continuing holy; that the life that we live in the flesh, we must live by faith in the Son of God; that faith purifies the heart; that faith is the victory which overcomes the world; that by faith the elders obtained a good report—all these are truths which no well instructed Christian will ever think of denying. But surely the Scriptures teach us that in following holiness the true Christian needs personal exertion and work as well as faith. The very same apostle who says in one place, “the life that I live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God,’ says in another place, “I Fight,” “I run,” “I keep under my body”; and in other places, “let us cleanse ourselves,” “Let us labour,” “Let us lay aside every weight.”

Moreover, the Scriptures nowhere teach us that faith sanctifies us in the same sense and in the same manner that faith justifies us! Justifying faith is a grace that “worketh not,’ but simply trusts, rests, and leans on Christ (Rom 4:5). Sanctifying faith is a grace of which the very life is action: it worketh by love,” and, like a mainspring, moves the whole inward man” (Gal 5:6)…

Without controversy, in the matter of our justification before God, faith in Christ is the one thing needful. All that simply believe are justified. Righteousness is imputed “to him that worketh not but believeth” (Rom 4:5). It is thoroughly scriptural and right to say, “Faith alone justifies.” But it is not equally scriptural and right to say, “Faith alone sanctifies.” The saying requires very large qualification. Let one fact suffice. We are frequently told that a man is “justified by faith without the deeds of the law” by St. Paul. But not once are we told that we are “sanctified by faith without the deeds of the law.”

Later, Ryle added this, which again seems so timely:

I must deprecate, and I do it in love, the use of uncouth and newfangled terms and phrases in teaching sanctification. I plead that a movement in favour of holiness cannot be advanced by new-coined phraseology, or by disproportioned and one-sided statements, or by overstraining and isolating particular texts, or by exalting one truth at the expense of another…and squeezing out of them meanings which the Holy Ghost never put in them… The cause of true sanctification is not helped, but hindered, by such weapons as these. A movement in aid of holiness which produces strife and dispute among God’s children is somewhat suspicious.”

. . . . .

Men like John Piper confuse the issue further by playing with the word “passively” — “You Can’t Passively Kill Sin.”  The title of the article makes it sound like he agrees, but he doesn’t!

Rather, it is a highly nuanced article that clouds and confuses the issues even further.   His “Calvinism” is part of what contributes to this twisting of sanctification.

. . . . .

3.It is shocking painful to hear Ed Litton (new president of the SBC) repeat an illustration told by J. D. Greear, as if Litton himself experienced what Greear had stated.

4. Here are but a few examples . . . .

  • “Let me unpack this for you.”
  • “Are you tracking me?”
  • “Good morning, church.”
  • “Bookends”
  • “_____ is a heretic!”
  • “Let’s stand for the reading of the Word.”
  • “May the Lord add His blessing to the reading of His Word.”
  • et al.

5. I, like you, are sometimes shocked by the lack of logic or critical thinking by ministries and local church leaders — “Really, you read that or heard that, and you believe that / or repeated it?”

  • Sometimes, it is a theological ideology that short-circuits logic.  It may sound biblically unsound, twisted, counter-intuitive, or even crazy — but it fits one’s ideology.
  • Sometimes, what is said by this-or-that person is just accepted and repeated because — well, so-in-so said it – even if it goes against many passages of Scripture.
  • At other times, it is easy to just believe and repeat, than to take the time to realize how unbiblical and/or illogical it is.

6. While those church fathers and historical documents which were closer to the 1st century ought to be a starting point for thought since they were closer in time, and some of the issues of the Christian faith have been hammered out historically, that does not preclude thinking and rethinking some of their positions.  You would be surprised by some of the teachings of the early church fathers and churches.

7. There are many sermonic statements that can be and should be reworked in light of what you know and what you believe the Scriptures teach!  The original statement has the potential of kicking off — generating– other similar or different useful creative statements.  Often, that rework comes from the passage because the passage actually teaches something different — slightly different, significantly different, or vastly different.  The original statement doesn’t catch the fullness of the statement that you heard or read.

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