PODCAST: Pastors Plagiarizing, with a Case Study of Josh Howerton

by | Sep 8, 2022 | Podcasts | 31 comments

Pastors and Plagiarism: A Case Study of Josh Howerton

Should pastors be allowed to plagiarize in their sermons?

I’ll be frank: I think evangelicalism has a problem with celebrity, as we talked about on last week’s podcast. And I think plagiarism is part of that celebrity. It’s rampant among pastors and authors in evangelicalism, and it allows people to give a false sense of themselves to others to boost their status.

It needs to stop.

Today I want to walk you through a portion of a sermon by Josh Howerton, senior pastor at Lakepointe Church, a multi-campus megachurch in Rockwall, Texas. I was sent a clip from one of his sermons by a concerned listener after I started tweeting about Howerton supporting platforming Mark Driscoll, and not thinking that was a disqualification.

I listened to the clip, but then saw, on the bottom of the page, his sermon for March 27, which was about how Marriage is Hard. I decided to listen to it one morning as I got ready, since it fit with what we’re talking about during Marriage Misdiagnosis month. And when I got to the 11 or 12 minute mark, I was shocked. Because what he was saying I recognized from Andy Stanley’s book The New Rules of Love, Sex and Dating. (I talked about that book on the blog back in 2016, and there’s a phrase from it that I say all the time–“become the kind of person the kind of person you’re looking for is looking for.”

Sure enough, Josh used the material without ever attributing it to Stanley. So I backed up to the beginning of that section of the sermon and started running things through Google, and in one 8 minute block of the sermon I found material from four different people, none of whom were cited.

I’m going to walk you through this in today’s podcast today, and please listen especially to the first bit, where we give the examples, and then at least the last 10 minutes, when Rebecca explains why this matters. But the whole thing is important! And we’re so grateful that Scot McKnight, a professor of New Testament from Northern Seminary, joined us to give his viewpoint on the ethics of plagiarism for pastors.

This isn’t my usual fare, but as someone who has been plagiarized, it matters. The church should do better. We should not be pursuing celebrity and making ourselves look better than we actually are by stealing from others. I hope by raising awareness that this practice will stop, because I don’t think God is pleased with us.

So listen in–it’s a wild ride! And a super riveting one.

 

Or, as always, you can watch on YouTube:

Transcript

Sheila: Welcome to the Bare Marriage Podcast.  I’m Sheila Wray Gregoire from baremarriage.com.  

Rebecca: Yes.  No longer tolovehonorandvacuum.com.     

Sheila: Yes.  And I am joined by my daughter, Rebecca Lindenbach—  

Rebecca: Hi.

Sheila: – coauthor of The Great Sex Rescue and of our upcoming book, She Deserves Better and co-host of the podcast and, most of all, mother of my wonderful grandchildren.

Rebecca: Most of all.  Yes.  

Sheila: Yes.  Yes.  Absolutely.  And we have a bit of a different podcast today.  

Rebecca: Yes.  We do.   

Sheila: Because I know that normally we talk about healthy evidence-based, biblical advice for your marriage and sex life.  But today I actually want to talk about plagiarism from the pulpit.

Rebecca: Yeah.  And I mean it seems a little bit different, but I think this actually fits in our overall kind of groove of just calling the church to do better.

Sheila: To do better.  To do better.  And so I want to tell you a little bit of a story of how this happened and how I learned about this.  So a couple of weeks ago, I was involved in some conversations on Twitter about Josh Howerton.  So Josh Howerton is the senior pastor at Lakepointe Church, which is in Rockwall, Texas.  It’s got six different campuses.  I think there’s tens and tens of thousands of people who go every weekend, so it’s a very large mega church—Southern Baptist mega church.  And I was concerned because there is—this is a convoluted story that isn’t really part of this podcast.  I just wanted to let you know how this all started.  Andy Wood is the incoming pastor at Saddleback.  He’s replacing Rick Warren.  And there have been some pretty serious allegations of spiritual abuse against Andy Wood.  And as well, he platformed Mark Driscoll—

Rebecca: Yes.

Sheila: – and actually invited him to a leadership conference, said that he just loved Mark’s style when Mark was talking about how you need to get rid of accountability so you shouldn’t have an elder’s board.  You should just have other pastors making accountable—  

Rebecca: Which is, I will say, very sketchy from someone who has been alleged to have engaged in spiritual abuse.  

Sheila: Right.  And so we’re talking about a situation where—in mega churches, Mars Hill has fallen because of spiritual abuse.  Harvest Bible has fallen because of spiritual abuse.  I don’t want to see that happen to Saddleback, and I think there’s some very legitimate questions regarding Andy Wood.  But Josh Howerton was defending him and prayed over him.  And so I was engaging in this Twitter conversation.  I was quoted in a couple of articles about it.  And a woman emailed me about Josh and just said that she had gone to his church for quite awhile and then eventually left because she just felt that it was not the place for her.  I won’t go into the reasons.  But she sent me a sermon clip.  She said, “Please listen to this sermon.  This 30 seconds of this sermon.”  And I took a look at it.  And in that, Josh Howerton was basically saying if you resist what he’s saying you’re not resisting the pastor.  You’re resisting God—

Rebecca: Mm-hmm.       

Sheila: – because he is quoting from Scripture.  And so he was elevating his interpretation of Scripture—

Rebecca: To God.

Sheila: – to God.  Right.  So that’s all interesting.  Here’s why this whole thing got started.  On the page where that sermon was was a link to another sermon he had done in March called Marriage is Hard.  And this month on the blog in September, we have a marriage misdiagnosis month where we’re looking at how often the evangelical conversation about marriage misdiagnoses the actual problem.  And one of the things we’re talking about is this idea that marriage is hard.  And so I was just getting ready one morning, and I often listen to stuff online when I do that.  And I thought, “Well, I’ll just listen to this sermon to see if there’s something that I can use here for an illustration.”  And so I’m listening to the sermon.  And about 15 minutes in, I’m like, “Wait a minute.”

Rebecca: I’ve heard this before.  

Sheila: “I have heard this before.”  And he is talking to singles about how important it is not to find the right person but to become the right person.  And that is the thesis of Andy Stanley’s book, The New Rules of Love, Sex, and Dating.  I read that book when it first came out.  The publisher sent it to me.  I think it was like 2015, 2016, and I loved it.    

Rebecca: Yeah.  You talked about it on the blog a bunch.  

Sheila: Yeah.  I actually have a blog post from 2016.  And I’m actually going to let Andy Stanley explain what his book is about.  Okay.  The main thesis of his book, so I have a minute long—a bit more of a minute long clip where Andy says it better than me in a sermon that he gave.

Andy Stanley: On and on and on and on about this guy, “I had met at this party.  And he was incredible.  And his job.  And he was good looking.”  And she said—and she said—I was telling her that, “He was a Christian.  And that he was like—“Mom, mom, I mean he’s like your kind of Christian, Mom.  He’s the real deal Christian.  He doesn’t just talk it.  But he was talking about Jesus at this party, and I could tell his faith is real.”  And so was going on and on about this guy.  He was just incredible.  And she said her mom stopped ironing and set the iron on the ironing board and looked at her.  And she said, “Honey, the problem is a guy like that is not looking for a girl like you.”  And she said I literally fell to the floor and began to weep.  This was years ago.  And that was the defining turning moment in her life when she realized that’s right.  My whole approach to relationships has been, “I’m going to find someone.  It never crossed my mind I needed to become someone.  My whole approach—every message I’ve gotten from culture is if I can find the right person everything will become—everything will be all right.  It never dawned on me that I need to become the kind of person that the person I’m dreaming of, hoping for is actually looking for,” which brings us to this question for all of us.  Married, singles, students, graduates, whatever season of life you’re in.  Are you the person?  Are you the person the person you’re looking for is looking for?

Sheila: Okay.  So that is the thesis.  And you need to understand that that last question—

Rebecca: Yeah.  Are you the kind of person the person you’re looking for is looking for?

Sheila: That is his phrase.  It appears 23 times in his book.    

Rebecca: It’s on the back cover, isn’t it?

Sheila: It is on the back cover of his book.  It’s in every chapter of his book pretty much.  It’s always italicized.  This is his big thing.

Rebecca: And I’ve seen all over the Internet people being like, “You know, like Andy Stanley says.  Become the kind of person the kind of person you’re looking for is looking for.”

Sheila: Become the kind of person the kind of person you’re looking for is looking for.  So I’m getting ready.  And I hear Josh saying all of this.  And he never mentions Andy Stanley.  And so we’re going to just listen in to Josh’s part of the sermon.

Josh Howerton: If you believe the lie of the one when you’re single, here’s what it does.  It shifts your focus from becoming something, like the Bible encourages you to do, to finding something, which the Bible actually never, ever, ever, ever talks about.  Okay?  So here’s—if you believe the lie of the one, you’ll think your job is to find someone when the Bible says what you need to do is to become someone.  So if you open your Bible and you’re like, “Man, God, how do I find?  Where do I find her?  Where do I find him?   How do I find him?”  You’re not going to find any answers.  But if you open your Bible and you go, “Man, how do I become the right person,” every page answers your question.  The assumption of the Bible is if you become the right type of person you will attract the right type of person.  So here, let me just say it really quick.  You need to shift your focus from finding to becoming, if you’re single and wanting to find and attract a good spouse.  So let me just say it like this.  And this is a mouthful.  Become the person the person you’re looking for is looking for.  I know that’s tough.  Take a second.  Become the person the person you’re looking for is looking for.  You guys you remember—let me land a plane on this spot like this.

Sheila: Awfully similar, don’t you think?

Rebecca: Quite similar.    

Sheila: Quite similar.  He even has the same thing on the screen that Andy did before.  So very similar and he never mentioned Andy Stanley.  So then I thought, “What if there’s more of this that’s plagiarized?”  I mean how—what is the chance that I would actually have read the book that he plagiarized from?  But it’s just that that’s one I happen to know.  So I thought, “What if he’s done this in the rest of his sermon?”  So I listened to the beginning.  I just went back to where this whole section started where he’s talking about finding a spouse.  And I realized—so this is about four minutes before what I played for you.  I realized that he frames this as the myth of the one.  Okay.  Now what you need to know is that Andy Stanley calls it the right person myth.  That is the first chapter in his book, The Right Person Myth. And in the sermon that I’ve just played for you, that clip, he talks about the right person myth as well.  But as I listened I couldn’t hear a lot of Andy Stanley.  A lot of similar thoughts but not exactly Andy Stanley.  But I wondered.  Huh, I wonder if there’s someone else.  And so let me play for you something that Josh Howerton also said.

Josh Howerton: The Bible does—it says the two shall become one.  It does not say the halves shall become whole.  And when two halves enter a marriage, they don’t make a whole.  They make hell.  

Sheila: So you hear that laughter there?  People are responding to that.  So he set this whole thing up as saying people are trying to find the person that is going to complete me.  And he talks about Jerry Maguire and Renee Zellweger saying, “You complete me.”  The whole thing, right?  And so I wonder.  Has someone else said this?  Are these truly his words?  And I Googled it, and it led me to this sermon by Steven Furtick.  And I need to say Steven Furtick also sets up what you’re about to hear with the story of Jerry Macguire and Rene Zellweger.  And then Steven Furtick says this.

Steven Furtick: Go be with his wife.  And it says that the two will become one.  Let me tell you what it doesn’t say.  It doesn’t say the halves will become whole.  But yet, we teach it.  And we treat it, and we expect it like the halves are going to become whole.  But I found out if you go into a marriage half the two halves are going to make hell.  Not whole.  

Rebecca: Oh my gosh.  So he literally took the dude’s joke.  Like that is almost word for word the whole thing.

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  Exactly.  And then I wondered, well, did he do it with anything else.  Here, again, is Josh Howerton.

Josh Howerton: And here’s what will always happen to you.  Whoever you idolize, you will eventually demonize.  That will happen to you.  

Rebecca: Okay.  If you idolize, you will demonize.  

Sheila: Right.  Here—are you ready—is Mark Driscoll.

Rebecca: Oh dear.

Mark Driscoll: Oftentimes, relationships trigger what I’ll call the law of idolize demonize.  America’s greatest theologian was Jonathan Edwards.  And he once said—I’m summarizing.  But if they idolize you, they’re going to demonize you.     

Sheila: Now I need to say too about Mark Driscoll.  That this is something which he has said repeatedly for years.  It’s kind of his thing.  There’s multiple graphics that say—  

Rebecca: Well, I mean he’s also quoting Jonathan Edwards.

Sheila: Yeah.  He is.  But he’s really made this thing.  He has a book where this is like his seventh law, the law of idolizing and demonizing.  There’s multiple graphics.  You could go back a decade where you have Mark Driscoll saying, “Whatever you idolize, you will eventually demonize.”  So in those exact words.  And so he, again, is taking Mark Driscoll.

Rebecca: Well, he’s taking Mark Driscoll quoting Jonathan Edwards.  So he’s taking from both of them.  And I do want to say that, on Bare Marriage, we really—just to be very clear as I do feel a need to clarify this.  We don’t endorse Jonathan Edwards as a theologian.

Sheila: No.  Just because he was a slave holder.

Rebecca: He was a slave holder.

Sheila: And Mark Driscoll was spiritual abusive.    

Rebecca: Yeah.  So we’re not saying that they are good guys.  We’re just saying that you still shouldn’t steal even from bad guys.

Sheila: Yes.  Exactly.  I don’t have a video for this one.  There was another pithy saying that he did use in this very few moments.  He said, “Marriage does not create new problems in your life.  It reveals the issues that were already there.”  That is something which Rick Warren has said repeatedly.  And there are multiple graphics.  So when you go back—and, again, I only look—this is just eight minutes of his sermon.

Rebecca: And you found like four different people that he plagiarized from.

Sheila: And he took Andy Stanley, Mark Driscoll, Rick Warren, and Steven Furtick.  And he took their outlines.  He took their words and, basically, every pithy thing that he said was from somebody else.  And I find that problematic.  Now he’s not the only one to plagiarize.    

Rebecca: No. 

Sheila: There’s been a lot of talk about this on Twitter lately.  There was a long Twitter about a sermon that Tim Keller plagiarized.  It looks like he plagiarized from a book several decades ago.  Then there’s Warren Throckmorton has written a lot about how Mark Driscoll plagiarized Tim Keller.  Aaron New, he’s a counselor.  He’s done some great work on how Tim Clinton has a lot of issues with plagiarism.  It’s been in the news about how Christine Caine plagiarized.  So it’s in books in the evangelical world.  But it’s also in sermons, and there’s a lot of problems with pastors stealing entire sermons.  And so I thought we could just talk about this on a broader level of does this matter.  Does this matter that a pastor is taking other people’s work and making it sound like they’re his own?

Rebecca: Yeah.  And obviously, this is a little bit outside of our wheelhouse.  And so we thought that we would talk to someone where it’s very much in their wheelhouse.  

Sheila: Yeah.  So I have invited Scot McKnight on the podcast, and we will go to our interview with him now.  Well, I am so happy to welcome back to the podcast Scot McKnight.  He is an author.  He writes amazing stuff.  He’s really active on social media, but he’s also a professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary and the author of an amazing book, along with his daughter, A Church Called Tov, as well as many other books.  But thank you, Scot, for being here.

Scot: Well, Sheila.  Good to be with you again.  And I’m looking forward to this conversation.

Sheila: Yeah.  So I sent you all of the details about what our listeners have just seen and heard.  And I would just love your take on it.  What do you think is happening here?

Scot: Well, it’s always difficult not to—to examine something like this without seeing the—let’s say the pastor’s pattern of behavior—the preacher’s pattern—the author’s—the blogger—I see this in different contexts because I’m a professor.  And we have very strict guidelines for plagiarism.  I mean very strict.  And I’m also a Gospel student—synoptic Gospels, so listen to this one—is that we study how much Matthew and Luke took from Mark at a purported source called Q.  And the rule in our world is if there are five identical words in a row it’s copying.  Now they didn’t have a plagiarism rules in that day although they did have ways of condemning people who did not use their sources properly.  So I pay attention to this conversation.  But I was stunned.  Let’s say 25 years ago—maybe 30 years ago—when I was attending a church, and the pastor of the church was accused of plagiarism.  And I did not know this.  I mean this was our church.  And I was told to read where he was getting sermons.  And he actually was using sermon sources, preexisting sermons that he would write out by hand in his own little kind of way, paper—these little pieces of paper that he took in the pulpit.  And he was first person illustrations from other people as his own.  And I remember saying to his wife, “That must have been an interesting experience,” and her look to me was the oddest sort of look.  And I thought, “Well, that was a different response.”  Well, then I’m told that he was doing this.  And he says to—and so I was the one asked to meet with him.  So we met at a local restaurant.  And he told me.  He says, “I was never taught that this wrong.”  And I said, “Yes.  You were because you went to our seminary, and that is taught.  You’re not to do.  If you are going to use someone else’s sermon, then you tell your congregation because the congregation is paying you to preach sermons.  Not paying you to preach someone else’s sermons.  And so the assumption of the people in a church is that the sermon is yours unless you tell us.”  And my experience with people who do this—I’ve talked about this, Sheila, on my blog numerous times.  And I almost always—and I quit doing it in some ways because I was always getting phone calls from pastors who were confessing their sins.  Here’s the thing.  They don’t say where they got their sermon—his is the pattern—because they’re embarrassed by what they’re doing.

Sheila: Yeah.      

Scot: So when this one pastor wasn’t embarrassed, he just was giving an excuse.  I didn’t know this was wrong.  I thought this was what everybody did.  Well, he knew that wasn’t true because I know where he went to seminary.  I know who his preaching teachers were.  So I would want to look at a pattern.  To me, what I saw and—I wasn’t—I didn’t listen to it all.  But what I saw was that line that you quote—you can quote like it’s something you wrote yourself.

Sheila: Well, yeah.  Become the kind of person the person you’re looking for is looking for.  Yes.  

Scot: That’s a pretty clever line.  I couldn’t say it.  I can’t—it doesn’t quite roll off my tongue.  But that is very clear that that was taken from Andy Stanley.  Okay.  And if the person does not cite where he or she got that line, that’s inappropriate because that’s a thematic line to a sermon that is clever beyond clever.  It’s like Tom Wright’s line.  “We don’t believe in life after death.  We believe in life after life after death.”  Okay.  That’s a very clever line.  If you use that, everybody knows you got that from Tom Wright.  

Sheila: Right.

Scot: If you pretend in a sermon that you—I mean, in other words, if you give it in a sermon then people think you came up with it.  And they say, “That’s very clever.”  Well, you’re getting glory and credit and honor for something that is not years.  And that right there is inappropriate.  Now this person that you’re talking about had a Twitter thread in which, at some point, he asked the question, “What would you do with something you want to quote from a person but you don’t people to go read that person or go listen to him?”  Well, that’s an indication that you know what you’re doing, and you’re hiding from our congregation.  To me, Sheila, that is paternalistic and patronizing, and it doesn’t trust your congregation to be able to make its own judgments.  I find that reprehensible.

Sheila: Yeah.  Because that’s what he did.  So 11 days before this sermon, he tweeted that tweet out where he said—here.  Let me read the exact tweet.  “How do you clarify in a sermon that a statement or idea didn’t come from you when you got it from someone you don’t want to attribute by name because it would come off as an endorsement and you don’t want to point your people in their direction?”  And at this point, Andy Stanley had been in the news a couple of weeks earlier for saying something controversial.  I don’t even know what it was.  Doesn’t even matter what it was, but that was also in the news.  And then he followed that up with, “Would you use a generalized caveat, ‘This didn’t come from me, but I’ve heard it said,’ or, ‘I heard another Bible teacher explain it this way.’”  And he had a number of people answering, and they all said—they all suggested something I read the other day.  Or someone said when I was reading the other day.  Or I heard a guy say this once.  And it was all pastors responding this way.  I couldn’t believe it.  

Scot: Yeah.  Yeah.

Sheila: I tweeted it out, and I said, “That is plagiarism.  You name them no matter what.  Otherwise, it’s plagiarism.”  And people weren’t agreeing with me.  But what I find so interesting is what he settled on was, “Yes.  You just simply say that you heard it said.”  But he never even did that.

Scot: Yeah.  Yeah.

Sheila: He never even did that.  He just claimed it as his own.  

Scot: Well, sermons are not journal articles.  They’re not academic performances—publications where you’re expected to play the game of attributing your sources.  But there are—everybody knows that when the central idea or the main points of your sermon or an illustration that you know that in this point this is where I give credit to someone.  Here’s what’s happened.  People like this have audiences that have not been taught how pastors get their sermons and create them.  

Sheila: Mm-hmm.

Scot: And they assume that their pastor is just under Jesus and the Holy Spirit in the Trinitarian upper echelons.  And they don’t want to hurt their reputation.  They don’t want to hurt these people, so they live a lie.  They live a myth that they are that clever to come up with their own clever expressions every week.  The burden on a pastor is big and deep and heavy to come up with sermons all the time and to come up with good sermons all the time that compete with these mega church pastors, who really are—they have what—you can call it the gift of gab.  But they have extreme levels of clarity and creativeness, and they’re surrounded by people who can help them come up with even more creative.  And they’re competing with that.  All they have to do is say, “I’m not as good as Andy Stanley.  I’m not as good as Rick Warren.  I’m not as good as Adam Hamilton.  I’m not as good as whoever.  And I’m not as funny as Amy-Jill Levine.  So this expression comes from her.  Or this expression comes from them.”  You don’t have to attribute everything.  But if you mention in a sermon that I learned a lot that I’m using in this sermon from Amy-Jill Levine or I learned a lot in this sermon from—let’s say Darrell Bock or somebody else—people accept that.

Sheila: Yeah.  That would be fine if he had just started the whole thing with, “I read Andy Stanley’s The New Rules of Love, Sex, and Dating.  Really got a lot out of one of his chapters, and let me share some of that with you.”  I’d be fine with that.

Scot: That’s right.  That would be honest.  The other side is it’s dishonest, and it’s stealing.  I hear these people say this.  “Well, the Bible writers didn’t attribute sources.”  No.  They didn’t.  They didn’t live in our world either.  They also ate terrible food and didn’t wash and other things, and they didn’t pork either.  You can’t get by with that.  And then they say that everything is dependent upon someone.  Well, yes.  But that’s not how it works is that you’re using something particular from someone, and you’re making hay with it.  And I often say this.  You got paid for that sermon.  And if you’re stealing someone’s sermon—I mean the whole sermon—then you should give the money to them.  But if you are using the central theme of someone, cite it.  If you’re using their main points, cite it.  If it’s two words together that are a little bit clever but not all that clever, you don’t have to cite that.

Sheila: No.  But in the—I think it was only eight minutes of the sermon that I analyzed he had four pithy sayings.  And three of them I found sources for.  Or no.  He had five pithy sayings, and four of them I found sources for other than him.  And the other one, if I looked around, I probably could have.  He quotes Steven Furtick, Mark Driscoll, Rick Warren, and then Andy Stanley.  None of them were his.

Scot: Did he quote Andy Stanley?

Sheila: Well, no.  I mean he said their words, but he never cited it.  

Scot: He never—see.  Yeah.  That’s a bad pattern.  I saw someone the other day—something—someone passed this on to me that they clearly were using someone’s sermon or someone’s book or a chapter.  And they had quoted—they had pulled from the sermon a quotation from Plato and from Martin Luther.  But that’s all they quoted.  That’s all they cited.  The big thing that they got from someone else they didn’t cite.  

Sheila: Right.  

Scot: And I just think that’s—it’s dishonest.

Sheila: Now do seminaries teach that you need to cite in sermons?  Because I was really surprised at how many people were responding to him—pastors were responding to him saying it was perfectly fine not to cite. 

Scot: Okay.  They’re probably people doing the same thing.  All right.  I would say this.  I have never talked to a homiletics professor who didn’t—who did not say what I’ve just said to you.  If you take the whole sermon, you tell people.  If you take the main points from someone, you tell people.  If you take the main theme from someone, you tell people.

Sheila: Mm-hmm.

Scot: So they teach not to plagiarize sermons.  I’ve never talked to a homiletics professor who didn’t say that.  But here’s the thing.  Homiletics professors love to preach.  And they love to preach their own sermons because they think they’re good at it.  All right?  And that’s what preaching should be about is that desire to preach and the love to preach to your congregation words for you congregation.  It’s not about—and people expect that what you say to them is your words.  Not someone else’s.  And so when it’s not—and they’re not bothered when you say to them.  “I got this point from Tim Keller.”  They’re not bothered by that.

Sheila: I asked on Instagram.  I had a poll going on Instagram where I said, “If the preacher is preaching a sermon and he got most of it from a book, should he cite the book?”  Okay.  97% of people said yes.  He should cite the book.  And yet, last year Josh Howerton wrote a really long Twitter thread.  And I want to read it to you and get your reaction where he was arguing that you don’t need to.  You don’t need to.  And here’s the thread.  I’ll just read it, and then you can respond.  “Because pastors have a heart to help, almost every pastor tells other pastors to use anything from his sermons that will help them.  If my bullet fits in your gun, shoot it.  I’ve heard Adrian Rogers, J.D. Greer, Craig Groeschel, Chris Hodges, Bob Russell, Rick Warren, et cetera all say this.  I give away my notes almost every week mostly to church planters, who are leading churches by themselves without any staff help and don’t have 20 hours a week for sermon prep.  I’m happy to do this because a church sermon is not an academia dissertation or a book journalism publication.  We’re not preaching to make ourselves look good, sound smart, or sell something proprietary.  We’re preaching for life change and to grow the kingdom.  Pastors are teachers.  In school, 0% of people assume everything their teacher says is their teacher’s 100% original thought, and they didn’t get it from anywhere else.  In fact, teachers are given lesson plans and are told to use them as starting points of presentations.  Nobody here, as a teacher, finished teaching a lesson and say, ‘Step down immediately because you didn’t cite the lesson plan you got that from.’    Nobody here is a grammar teacher say, ‘I before E except after C,’ and says, ‘Fire him.  He didn’t attribute.’  No one sees a physics teacher do an experiment and calls for his dismissal because he didn’t mention where he first saw the object lesson.  Why?  When teachers teach, people assume they’re pulling from whatever research, information, sources that can best help students which is the goal.  Because there is nothing new under the sun and we’ve all been preaching the same Bible for 2,000 years, it is a given that pastors draw from one another illustrations, points, sayings, structure, et cetera, and whatever best helps the people they’re teaching.  But pastors are supposed to be getting their own word from God for their church.  Well, yes.  They are.  That happens through the research process, not apart from it.  Just like in commentaries, books, lectures, and articles, sometimes I’ll hear something in a sermon and think, “Yeah.  That’s a word for our church right now.  I think the Spirit wants me to deliver it, and I’ll use an illustration or a way of explaining a passage.”  That is a word in season that happened through research, not individual inspiration.  Not going to go here but if you really want to get salty, you know how didn’t always cite sources?  Bible writers.  Gospel writers and others borrow from the Old Testament sometimes citing, often just saying without citing because in preaching what really matters is that people are helped with the truth.  All that to say, in the words of Pastor James Merritt, if someone borrows liberally from one of my sermons and somebody gets saved because of it, I have an investment in it gladly.”  And then he posts an update, “Hilarious.  This thread has been up for five minutes, and I already have four DMs from pastors saying, ‘Thank you.  I don’t want to get yelled at, but I totally agree.’”

Scot: Yeah.  I read that.  I think that’s a—to me, this is largely a rationalization for a practice that he has accepted for himself.  And I think he’s covering a lot of ground with words that need some nuance.  Yes.  We do research.  But when the central idea—I research too.  But when I recognize that the central idea that I got right here, this point that came from Josephus that I was led to by Steve Mason, I quote Steve Mason, and I cite Steve Mason.  Okay?  Now there are times, of course, when let’s say, you don’t realize that—I mean nobody today in my world requires that if you found in Dale Allison’s commentary on James five references to 1 Clement and that now you’re going to use them when you’re explaining the passage—they don’t expect you to say, “Well, he,”—because these references to ancient texts just get circulated in commentaries like crazy.  Who knows who came up with these the first time?  But there are—when your central point, when the central expressions that are unique to an author, are reused, I think you have an obligation to tell your congregation that.  Now I think Josh Howerton has a bad practice here from what I can see.  I think it’s a bad habit.  I don’t think he’s taught this in seminaries.  But I think all he has to do is turn the corner by teaching his congregation how he does research and how he learns about the text.  And that if he gets a central idea from someone, he’s going to let them know.  If he’s going to get his main point—let’s say he’s got four points in his sermon.  That all four of them come from Rick Warren, then you tell people that.  All right?  I don’t care if Rick Warren does say, “You can use my sermons.”  That’s not what is taught in seminaries.  And I understand that pastors learn from other people all the time.  That’s what they do.  But when you’re quoting someone, when it—when you’re giving your—when your congregation is under the impression that this comes from you and it doesn’t, you let them know that.

Sheila: Yeah.  And I guess what I think too is I have a couple of really pithy sayings that we developed because we wrestled with material over and over again.  Like one of the ones that I say quite a lot is Jesus didn’t refuse to look at women.  Jesus chose to truly see women.  And that’s something that I have said over and over again.  But we got there because we wrestled with the material.  I see a man, who when he preaches, puts these pithy sayings in approximately every two minutes, and they’re not his.  And the thing about a pithy saying is that it does make you sound really clever.  

Scot: That’s right.  It does.  Yeah.

Sheila: And so when you fill your sermon with pithy sayings from Steven Furtick, from Mark Driscoll, from Rick Warren, and from Andy Stanley then you really are giving the impression that you are the clever one.    

Scot: Yes.  I agree.  Sheila, that’s exactly what I’m saying is that’s where—people are going to walk away saying, “My pastor is really clever.”  And it’s a false impression.  It is a false impression that we need to pay attention to.  I, at one time, was reading some really clever books.  And I would write out—well, two or three words.  Not a whole sentence but just a little expression.  And I would write them on a piece of paper, and I would try to practice using them.  And I would try to imitate them with different ways like adapting it.  And it was just things that I was learning.  And I use some of those now, and I have no idea where I got them.  But it’s very rare.  And in my sermons, I write out my sermons.  I have footnotes to myself or notes to myself where I got this.  And I usually use most of those in the sermon.  I tell the congregation where I got that, if it’s a good point that I don’t want them to think that’s all my idea.  

Sheila: Well, the funny thing is I’ve actually given a talk to singles about how to choose a mate.  And I have used that line.  Be the kind of person the kind of person you’re looking for is looking for, and I have held up Andy Stanley’s book.  And I’ve said, “This is a great book.”  It’s not hard.  It’s just not hard.

Scot: I agree with you.  I agree with you.  I think it’s about honesty.  It’s about integrity.  And it’s about realism for your congregation to take a realistic view of who you are when you’re preaching and how you come to these sermons.  That educates our church.  It’s patronizing to say, “I can’t quote this guy because I don’t want my congregation to read this guy.”  Well, then don’t quote him.

Sheila: I think the bigger question too is why would you not quote—okay.  Let’s put aside the question of Andy Stanley because he didn’t want to point people to Andy Stanley.  But why would you not quote Steven Furtick?  Why would you not say, “As Steven Furtick so amazing said, ‘It’s not two halves becoming a whole.  It’s,’—it’s whatever that was.  What is the reason not to quote him except that you want to elevate yourself and your own—you want to elevate yourself in the eyes of the congregation?  I can’t think of another reason not to do it.

Scot: What does it hurt to quote that person?  It’s truth.  It’s truth.

Sheila: So we need to ask ourselves that question.  Why are pastors so loathe to quote people?  Because I think that says a lot about where evangelicalism is right now.  

Scot: Yeah.  Yeah.  There’s a lot of pressure on them to perform on Sundays.  I accept that.

Sheila: I do think that our services are far too sermon centric.  And I do think that we’re expecting too much out of them.  But then you know what?  Just attribute it is not hard.  

Scot: That’s right.

Sheila: So thank you, Scot.  

Scot: Thank you, Sheila.

Sheila: I highly recommend your book that you wrote with your daughter, A Church Called Tov.  It’s just wonderful, and I will put a link to the podcast that Scot and Laura were on talking about that earlier too.  So go check out that book.  And any other books you want to plug?  Or anything you want to tell people about?   

Scot: Oh, that’s okay.  I got these little everyday Bible studies that I’m doing for Zondervan or Harper Christian Resources.  I have one on James and Galatians and just finished one on John that’s coming out.  Philippians and the Thessalonians.  So love for—book of Acts.  Love for people to start reading their Bible with these little study guides.

Sheila: Awesome.  I will put a link to those too.  Well, thank you, Scot, for your time.  We really appreciate it.  

Scot: Thank you.  Thank you. All right.  Bye-bye, Sheila.

Sheila: I think it’s great having a professor come in and say definitively this is not what pastors are taught to do.

Rebecca: Yeah.  Or at least not at his school.

Sheila: Yeah.  But they’re taught not to do this.  This is not ethical.  This isn’t right.

Rebecca: And it’s not even necessary.  

Sheila: I know.  This is what I can’t understand.  So I did an Instagram poll, and I asked what—if a pastor is using a book, should he cite the book?  Or should he or she cite the book?  And 97% of people said yeah.  The thing is it doesn’t matter in a—I was talking to Katie, who edits this podcast.  Your sister, my daughter.  My other daughter.  My lovely—yes.  I hate calling her my other daughter.  

Rebecca: My other daughter.  

Sheila: Yes.  I love you, Katie.  And we were talking about this subject as we were preparing for this podcast.  And she was telling me her pastor just completed a sermon series on a book that he read.  And he started it by saying, “Look.  I want to introduce you to people who are way smarter than I am.  And I read this book.  I got so much out of it.  I was so excited about it.  And I really want to share it with you.”  And he was so up front about it, and everyone loved the series.  And they were like, “Thank you for introducing me to that book.”  And it was just great.

Rebecca: Yeah.  Well, and also, frankly, that gives you a lot more respect for the pastor.  

Sheila: I know.

Rebecca: Because he’s just—I mean being well read is a good thing.  

Sheila: I know.  

Rebecca: If this is a guy who takes his job really seriously and is doing research and is doing the work to make sure that he’s up to date on the latest stuff and he’s looking for interesting things to help his congregation wrestle with difficult—that cannot backfire.

Sheila: No.  I think it’s great.  I remember once we were at family camp when you guys were much younger.  And they would take the kids off to play, and the adults would have devotions in the morning.  And the speaker that week—so he was giving five different talks.  The speaker actually was walking us through Henry Nouwen’s book, The Return of the Prodigal Son.  One of my favorite books.  And it was just an incredible week.  We all knew he was walking through the book.  He had extra copies of the book for us to buy if we wanted, but he just said, “This made such a profound impact on me, and I want to share it with you.”  And nobody minded.  Nobody said, “Well, you didn’t think of that yourself.”

Rebecca: You should have written your own book for this book study.  No.

Sheila: No.  Nobody minds.  And this is what I can’t quite understand is because he wrote that whole thread on why it’s okay to plagiarize.  But he never explained why you would want to.

Rebecca: That’s the thing because they can’t explain why they want to because it doesn’t look very good for them.

Sheila: I know.  And I truly don’t get it.  And even more than that in that tweet that he had right before this sermon where he said, “How do I quote someone without quoting them if I don’t want to send people there,” the conclusion was that he was going to just say, “Well, I read it somewhere once.”  But he didn’t even do that.

Rebecca: But also I’m going to be honest.  If you’re quoting someone who you don’t want to send people to, maybe don’t quote them.  If there’s a point—there’s some level where, for example, there’s often psychologists who have really great stuff on one thing.  But then they’re super weird on something else because they’re coming at it from a very 20 stories above the ground looking down, not thinking about how it affects the individual.  There’s lots that we deal with that and especially in parenting stuff where it’s like, “Hey, they have some really cool stuff on this.  But their take on this is a little not great for the average parent,” right?     

Sheila: Yeah.

Rebecca: That’s one thing.  But when you’re talking about spiritual development and you’re quoting other pastors and theologians and stuff, why would you be taking your theological teaching from someone who is spiritually abusive, who isn’t healthy, who isn’t—and if you’re finding that someone is very spiritually beneficial and really seems to understand the Gospel but you just don’t agree with them theologically on one thing, then, I mean, either question why you don’t agree with them on that thing or just say, “Yeah.  We disagree on infant baptism.”  Either it’s not an issue or is.  And if it is an issue, then why are you taking spiritual advice from them?  That’s what I’m saying.   

Sheila: Yeah.  And in fact, if you’re worried about pointing them to someone that you think could be harmful in a broader sense, then taking that opportunity to tell your congregation, “Hey, I really like what they say about A.  We do need to be careful what they say about B,” that actually helps your congregation.

Rebecca: It actually teaches discernment.  Like, “Hey, this guy has got some great stuff on forgiveness.  I actually really don’t like what he says about marriage, so I wouldn’t advise going out and reading his stuff.  But this quote from him is fantastic, and I think perfectly exemplifies this point.”  That’s perfectly fine.  You’re actually then modeling to your congregation how to have discernment and how to stand up against false teachings.

Sheila: Yep.  So there’s absolutely no problem with quoting people in that sense.  I don’t have a clue what he has against Andy Stanley.

Rebecca: I understand what he has with Mark Driscoll.

Sheila: Yeah.  But I don’t know what he has about—against Rick Warren or Steven Furtick either.  I don’t know why he wouldn’t quote these people unless there’s something else going on.  That’s what I actually wonder if it’s happening because let’s just think about church, for a minute.  Okay.  Now I agree that asking pastors to come up with a unique 40-minute sermon every week is a lot, and that’s why I really—both of us are in churches now that don’t do that.  That have a different model of service.  And I really—I’m finding that so much better because I never really liked sitting through 40-minute sermons anyway.

Rebecca: Well, I mean you’re a public speaker.  Both of us have done public speaking work.  We know how hard it is to come up with a talk. 

Sheila: Yeah.  And so I do really, really feel for pastors here.  But a pastor like the one at Katie’s church, okay?  Yes.  He has to come up with a sermon, but he is so focused—and I really like this pastor.  So just to shout out for this pastor.  He is so focused on building community.  That is his big thing.  It’s a medium sized church in a small town, and it’s really growing with young families.  And he’s just trying to focus on building community for people that really need it.    

Rebecca: Meeting needs of real people in the pews.  Yeah.    

Sheila: And he has to do everything, right?  It’s a small church.  They don’t have another pastor on staff.

Rebecca: Yeah.  They don’t have the budget for a communications pastor and a—  

Sheila: Outreach pastor.  

Rebecca: And an administrative pastor.

Sheila: Yeah.  No.  He does everything.  Okay.  And that’s not to say there aren’t amazing volunteers.  Yeah.  I’m sure they have a (inaudible).

Rebecca: Quite frankly, everyone knows what we’re talking about, right?  

Sheila: Yes.  Yes.  But then there are churches where there’s multiple pastoral staff, and it tends to be in those churches that the head pastor who does the teaching doesn’t have a lot of other responsibilities.  They vision cast for the church, right?  They’re the head of the church, the leader of the church.  They’re going to all the planning meetings and the vision meetings, et cetera.  But their main role is teaching.  And their main role is coming up with a sermon.  And people flock to their church because they give such great sermons.  They’re often really charismatic.  They can deliver a sermon really well.  And so this is why people flock.  If your main role is to teach and you’re plagiarizing everybody else, I think that’s a problem.

Rebecca: Oh, it’s completely a problem.  It’s completely a problem especially because what you’re doing is you’re advertising a false product.  

Sheila: Mm-hmm.

Rebecca: Right?  So what we hear all the time especially from small pastors who reach out to us who are saying I’m trying to do the good work but, in essence, the oxygen is being sucked out by these mega churches, right?  So your church of maybe 250 people—you don’t have the budget for a huge youth group, a huge children’s program.  You don’t have the volunteer base.  But down the road, there’s a mega church of 7,000 people, who does have all of that.  And they’ve got this great preaching.  And what happens if all the great preaching is actually being stolen from other people?  So now you have this small pastor—this small church pastor, who is just trying to do what they’re supposed to do.  And there’s a larger corporation that’s using unethical business practices to choke them out.  And we’re seeing this in other areas of business too because let’s be honest.  Mega churches are corporations.  They are not churches in the same way.

Sheila: Mm-hmm.

Rebecca: Okay.  For instance, take a small—say you’re somebody who really is into ethical fashion.  And you want to make ethical, locally created clothes, right?  To make sure you’re not exploiting anyone.  You’re giving a living wage.  All this different stuff.  But then you have big box stores or these huge retailers that will exploit workers in other countries, even children and child labor, to be able to offer clothing that’s completely unethically made at a fraction of the price so the people who are shopping—I mean it’s not even really a choice.  It’s just so much cheaper.

Sheila: And we know people need cheap stuff.

Rebecca: Oh yeah.

Sheila: And we’re not trying to say that you shouldn’t be able to get cheap stuff.  It’s just when the cheap stuff comes it sucks all the oxygen.

Rebecca: This is the problem is then there’s no way for the ethical people to do their job.  And that’s what really bothers me in the church is we should not be stealing sermons if, literally, what you’re advertising yourself as is being a good preacher.

Sheila: Yeah.  And again, because—here’s what it comes down to.  If you were to listen to that nine minutes, eight minutes, whatever it was of Josh Howerton’s sermon and probably the rest of it, every pithy thing that he said was from somebody else.

Rebecca: Mm-hmm.  Yeah.  All of the filler stuff was him.  

Sheila: But basically, every pithy—now I have a couple of pithy things that I say.  And those things came because I wrestled with them.  One of the phrases we say a lot is Jesus didn’t refuse to look at women.  

Rebecca: Yeah.  He really saw women.

Sheila: Jesus chose to truly see women.  And that’s because we had worked so hard at trying to crystallize our message.  We had wrestled with this.  We had written the manuscript.  We had thought about it.  We had talked it through.  We had gone on walks.  And then we were finally able to crystallize it into something that really explains it.  Your dad has one.  The objectification of women and male sexuality are not one and the same thing.  And that’s something that he says a lot.  And that’s only because we’ve wrestled with them.  So when you have pithy sayings, the thing that you’re communicating to people is I have wrestled with this.  I have really thought about this.  I have grappled with this for so long that I was able to crystallize this into something because that’s not easy to do.     

Rebecca: No.  As I always said when I was in university, I found 20-page papers way easier than 5-page papers on research topics because the 20-page paper you don’t have to cut anything, right?  A 5-page paper you have to really understand what you’re talking about because you have to know what’s important enough to make the cut.  It actually is way harder.  

Sheila: Right.  So if a pastor is filling his sermon with these pithy things that he did not say that someone else said he is giving the congregation the impression that I am very, very smart and insightful.

Rebecca: And this is what freaks me out because, to me, this is just so similar to cult tactics.  And I know that’s a strong word, but bear with me.  Okay?  So one of the founding principles of a cult is that you have a charismatic leader who is the harbinger of truth, right?  So you have someone who is the one we all look to.  There’s a prophet, or it’s someone who is a god.  Or someone who is sent from God, who speaks for God.  That kind of thing.  And the whole cult kind of hinges on this idea that this person has wisdom that others lack.  

Sheila: Right.

Rebecca: There is no one who knows more.  Everything is filtered through this charismatic leader.  And so when I see pastors unwilling to give their citations to show where they learn things it throws up red flags for me that this is someone who wants to be a charismatic leader.  Now I am not saying that they actively want to start a cult.  That’s not what I’m saying.  What I’m saying is that we already do know that when people are in power the natural drive that we have is to get more power and to not lose it.  And this is, frankly, why a lot of spiritual abuse ends up taking place is because we don’t recognize the red flags of when we switch from being a church to going towards more cult like thinking.  And this idea of a charismatic leader is one of them that I think we need to look for a lot more.  When you have a leader who is not willing to give credit or who just is lazy in doing that or who purposely chooses these things that’ll make them look really smart even if it didn’t come from them, that sounds, to me, like someone who wants to be seen as the harbinger of truth, who wants to take credibility without earning it, who wants to be seen as authoritative, who wants people to look at him and say, “Wow.  That’s so smart.  I never would have thought of that.”  He knows so much.  He’s so wise.  Someone who wants to have that air of superiority, frankly, and that is a cult leader tactic.  It’s not a good pastor.

Sheila: No.

Rebecca: And so what I really suggest for people like Josh is to make sure that being in these big mega church situations, you’re going to have to actively fight to stay humble.

Sheila: And that’s actually a point that Katelyn Beaty makes in her book, Celebrities for Jesus.  We had Katelyn on the podcast last week talking about this, and I will put a link to that podcast.  But that if you are in a position where you have a lot of fame—and she says fame is not bad, okay?  People have fame.  You need to fight against having celebrity.

Rebecca: Yeah.  And that’s exactly it.  When we’re in this crisis time in evangelicalism where spiritual abuse is rampant because we have not put checks and balances in for those in the highest level of authority such as people like Josh, who run these mega churches, this is what happens where you have someone who accidentally—because I do genuinely believe that—myself.  This is my personal opinion.  Personal opinion is that I think that Josh genuinely is just trying to be a good position.  I think he’s trying to give his congregation what they want.  He’s trying to do the best by them.  I think the problem is though he’s not recognizing the dangers of fame, the dangers of power, and the dangers of the platform he has.  And he’s not humbling himself and making sure that he is acting in a way that is 100% clear on his conscience and that is completely honest and transparent and—yeah.  We’re just once again another person who has power, who is using that to his advantage instead of choosing to humble himself as Christ did and being that example for his congregation.  Instead you get the fame.

Sheila: Yeah.  And again I think what he is—we argued in his Twitter thread was that it doesn’t matter when you’re plagiarizing in a sermon.  You can’t possibly plagiarize in a sermon because it’s not about the income, right?  And he says—and I just want to, again, read you this one tweet.  “But that’s lying.  They’re passing off your information as if it’s their own.  And to this, I say LOL and haha.”  Which is just—I find this very problematic that he would write such a long thread defending this practice when his whole job is to teach.

Rebecca: Spiritual teacher.

Sheila: Yeah.  His whole job at church is not to do the counseling.  It’s not to run the youth group.  It’s just to give the message.  And if the message that he’s given is largely taken bits and pieces from all these other people, that is a problem.  It doesn’t mean you can’t do it but just tell others so that you’re not showing a false sense of who you are.  And that’s what worries me is that he’s projecting a false sense of who he is in order to elevate himself and his reputation and make other people think that he is so smart.

Rebecca: But here’s what bothers me on a more just spiritual, existential level, okay?  Here’s what I see.  And I’m going to read you a section that’s not going to sound like it has anything to do with this at first.  And I am going to explain myself.  Ready?   

Sheila: All right.

Rebecca: This is from 1 Samuel chapter 2 starting from verse 12.  “Eli’s sons,”—and Eli was priest.

Sheila: Yeah.  He was the high priest at the time.

Rebecca: He was the high priest at the time.  “Eli’s sons were scoundrels; they had no regard for the Lord Now it was the practice of the priests that, whenever any of the people offered a sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come with a three-pronged fork in his hand while the meat was being boiled  and would plunge the fork into the pan or kettle or caldron or pot. Whatever the fork brought up the priest would take for himself. This is how they treated all the Israelites who came to Shiloh.  But even before the fat was burned, the priest’s servant would come and say to the person who was sacrificing, ‘Give the priest some meat to roast; he won’t accept boiled meat from you, but only raw.’  If the person said to him, ‘Let the fat be burned first, and then take whatever you want,’ the servant would answer, ‘No, hand it over now; if you don’t, I’ll take it by force.   This sin of the young men was very great in the Lord’s sight, for they were treating the Lord’s offering with contempt.”  Okay.

Sheila: Mm-hmm.

Rebecca: So what was happening was they had this idea.  The priests had to eat.

Sheila: Yeah.  And they got their food from offerings, but there was this very specific thing that they could eat.

Rebecca: It was a ceremonial thing to make sure the priests weren’t simply taking the best stuff, right?  They would just—sometimes they might get the drumstick, right?  But sometimes they wouldn’t.  It would just kind of—you just stick the fork in.  You get what you get.  And you’re grateful unto the Lord.  That’s what they—that’s what they were supposed to do.  And then these guys were saying, “Well, we can game the system,” right?  “We can make sure that we get the best.  We get the first fruits.  We get whatever we want because no one can stop us,” in essence.  They used their power as spiritual leaders and their status within the priesthood to be able to boss around everyone else and take what they wanted.

Sheila: And so people would come to make their sacrifices to God, and they would—

Rebecca: And they would take the best for themselves.  And that is treating the Lord’s offering with contempt.  Here’s my problem.  Okay.  And I want to first of all say this and say what I’m not saying.  Okay.  When you look at the average income of pastors in the U.S., the average income is a pretty decent income.  It genuinely is.  But that’s the average.  That is the mode.  That doesn’t mean that the most pastors are paid a pretty decent living average—living wage average.  A lot of pastors are barely scraping by.  And then there’s a lot of pastors at mega churches that are making more than enough.  There’s a lot of pastors who are living on practically minimum wage, okay?  And then there’s a lot of pastors who have $5,000 watches.  And when you are a pastor like Josh Howerton— 

Sheila: We don’t know what kind of watch he wears, right?  We’re not making a commentary on that.  

Rebecca: When you are at a church who is getting so much money from people, so much money—I have looked pictures of the campuses of the churches, the Lakepointe churches, so much money.  And you use your salary that you are given from people who are giving money to God—your salary is coming from people giving money to God, and your salary is to do one thing.  And you lie about it.  Whatever you want to call it, whatever you want to use to rationalize away the fact that you won’t cite your sources because it makes you look smarter, because it makes you look like you have all these pithy statements.  When you are using God’s money to fund your dishonesty, that is being the sons of Eli.  You are taking God’s offering and treating it with contempt.  When you are doing a job paid for, again, by money given to God and you do so with less integrity than what is expected of 18 year olds in secular universities where they don’t argue with it—they’re like, “Heck, yeah.  I wouldn’t want to steal.  I wouldn’t want to plagiarize.  Of course, I need to cite my references.”  When the thing that would simply fix all of this is something that would just humble you a tiny bit in front of your congregation.  Just make you seem a little bit less like you have all the answers.  Just make it seem like maybe you do actually really also learn from people and maybe you aren’t the smartest room in the room.  When that’s the only thing getting in the way of you and honesty and you choose not to do it, I don’t see how you are any different than Eli’s sons.  There are pastors out there who feel the burden of working under—because of God’s money.  There are pastors out there who feel that responsibility greatly.  There are pastors who are living lives where they are dedicated to caring, feeding, nurturing the sheep, where they are doing everything so their conscience can be clear.  And yeah.  They make mistakes.  And yeah.  The screw up sometimes.  And yeah.  They don’t get it all right.  And yeah.  We all have theological blind spots and all that stuff.  But there are people who feel the weight of it.  And then there’s this where they have millions of dollars going into their churches.  They have their throne.  It literally looks like a throne, by the way.  When you watch the videos, he literally is on a pedestal.  They have their throne.  They have their kingdom.  They have their power.  And they say, “I will take it if you don’t give it to me,” because that’s what they do.  That’s what they do.

Sheila: Yeah.  And then they laugh about it.  “To that, I say LOL and haha.”  That’s the level that they take it seriously.  So I didn’t listen—I didn’t look through the rest of Josh Howerton’s sermon.  If you go to his church, I would just challenge you to take the pithy sayings that he said last week and just put them through Google.

Rebecca: Everyone has their phones in the middle of the sermon.  Just Google.

Sheila: Yeah.  Just Google it.  And maybe you’re not at Josh Howerton’s church, but you’re at someone else’s church.  And you’re just curious.  Just take the pithy sayings that your pastor is saying and put them through Google and find out—yeah.  You know what?  This is actually being plagiarized because we need to expect more.  If the church is redefining integrity so that it doesn’t actually mean integrity, if we’re redefining lying so that—

Rebecca: If lying means one thing for you and one thing for me, then—and if integrity means one thing for you and one thing for me—

Sheila: We’ve lost the plot. 

Rebecca: We’ve lost the plot.

Sheila: And we need to get back to it because this is one of the reasons that the evangelical church is really sick right now is that we have a problem with power.  We have a problem with celebrity.

Rebecca: And we need to start taking this seriously.  We need to stop treating the offerings of God with contempt.

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  Amen.  So a little bit of a different podcast.  Not our usual stuff.  But I think this is a big problem in the church, and I just encourage everybody to take a look at it in your own church.  And I hope that your pastor does things the way Katie’s pastor does because that is the way to honor God.  And that is the way to build up a church where it’s based on community and being part of the community rather than being above.  And that’s really important for our shepherds.

Rebecca: We don’t need charismatic leaders.  We don’t need charismatic leaders.

Sheila: No.  

Rebecca: We don’t need harbingers of truth.  We have Jesus.  We just need people.  

Sheila: We have Jesus.  We need people to love.

Rebecca: Community.

Sheila: And community.  Okay.  So that was it.  I will put the links to all of this again in the podcast notes, so you can see everything for yourself and judge for yourself.  And I will also put the links to other threads of people who are plagiarizing.  I’m not—I’m very unlikely to do anything else about this.  So if you find that your pastor has plagiarized—

Rebecca: Please don’t send it to us, frankly.  

Sheila: Unless it’s someone really, really huge that we call out, but do something about it.  Put it on social media.  I can’t do anything else.

Rebecca: If it’s your pastor, you have the connections.  Talk to him.

Sheila: But do something with it.  Raise it with your church and just ask, “Is this really the level of integrity that we want?”  So thank you for joining us on the bare marriage podcast.  Next week we will start our marriage misdiagnosis series where we will take a look at is the way that we talk about marriage in the evangelical church actually making it harder than it needs to be.  And are we diagnosing the wrong problem.  So I’m excited about that.  That’s been happening on the blog.  So go check out the blog posts at baremarriage.com.  And join us next week as we dive into that.  Thanks.

Rebecca: Bye.

Sheila: Bye-bye.

Timeline of the Podcast

1:00 How this all started
4:20 Josh Howerton seems to plagiarize Andy Stanley
9:20 Josh Howerton seems to plagiarize Steven Furtick
10:46 Josh Howerton seems to plagiarize Mark Driscoll
12:20 Josh Howerton seems to plagiarize Rick Warren
13:35 Scot McKnight joins to discuss plagiarism
37:30 Citing isn’t a big deal
38:40 What if a pastor doesn’t want to draw attention to someone?
41:05 The bigger problems
52:00 Don’t treat God’s offering with contempt

All the supporting links for this podcast!

Rather than summarizing what we said in the podcast (seriously, you’ve got to just listen!), I’ve got a lot of rabbit trails you can follow and supporting documents for all of this. 

But first, an important announcement:

Josh Howerton and Lakepointe Church have removed the March 27 sermon from their channels without explanation

When we recorded this podcast two weeks ago, the March 27 sermon was on their YouTube channel, their church’s media page, and their Apple podcast.

When we went to link it this week, it had disappeared.

A few people know I’ve been working on this, and perhaps word got back to them? We’ve also left breadcrumbs in the last few podcasts and on Twitter that this would be coming. 

I did take some screen recordings already (which you will see and hear in the podcast), but you will not be able to find the sermon online right now. It is the only one from 2022 that we could see that is missing.

If Lakepointe removed it because they are repentant for what Josh did, and if they issue a statement to that effect, I will be happy to read it on a podcast. I love seeing people change, and if this is an honest heart change, I want to let others know.

I hope that is what this signifies, but I am afraid that it is simply image management. We shall see!

Josh Howerton setting the stage for plagiarism

Josh has put out several twitter threads defending pastors plagiarizing, saying it isn’t a big deal and it isn’t wrong.

Here’s the first very long one, from last  year:

And here’s a tweet he put out just two weeks before the sermon in question, that I actually saw at the time and wrote about on the blog:

Plus, Josh’s father wrote an article last year about how it’s not possible really for pastors to plagiarize, and it’s all good if they use each other’s stuff and other people’s stuff without attribution, because it’s all about the Lord.

My history with Josh Howerton

You may remember that I wrote an article for Baptist News on how Josh Howerton misrepresented research in a huge viral twitter thread. We talked about this on a podcast about the misuse of research.

More recently, I’ve been involved in a Twitter discussion concerning the incoming pastor at Saddleback, Andy Wood. I’m concerned because there are allegations of spiritual abuse; former employees are under NDAs and can’t talk about what they went through; and he platformed Mark Driscoll last year and praised Driscoll’s leadership style. Howerton was excusing Wood and praising him.

Several articles about this:

Okay, now that the stage is set, let’s move on to the plagiarism.

The material that Howerton seems to have plagiarized

Mark Driscoll Idolize Demonize

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Other problems with Plagiarism in Evangelicalism

With thanks to Scot McKnight for helping us on this podcast!

 My Closing Thoughts

There is absolutely no need to plagiarize. People do not mind if pastors cite other people’s books, or say they got the main points from someone’s book. To me, the only reason to plagiarize is if you want to make yourself sound smarter than you actually are. It’s image management. And it has no place in the kingdom of God. This is a huge issue with celebrity, and I hope that it will stop, because people speak up and say, “that’s not okay, and if you do that, you will lose me.”

I’ve barely scratched the surface here. I only looked at 8 minutes of one of his sermons. There are so many other pastors doing this same thing. But there are also so many pastors who DON’T do this, and they’re the ones who are being hurt here. Let’s just demand more integrity from those who claim to be spiritual shepherds.

And, please, if you’re able, support us on Patreon! We’re starting some new projects, including a database of healthy books/problematic books, and we rely on funding to hire staff. Plus Joanna has finished running some amazing stats and we’re getting our first peer reviewed paper to collaborators this week! Our patrons enjoy unfiltered podcasts, an amazing Facebook group, and more!

 

Pastors Plagiarism by Josh Howerton

What do you think? How big a problem is plagiarism? Would you think less of a pastor if he cited a book? Would you think MORE of a pastor who did? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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31 Comments

  1. Nessie

    Will listen later when time allows but read through the post.

    At a previous church, I felt led to start a women’s ministry, and woke up one night with a mission statement in my brain. I presented it to the lead pastor (now, after speaking with a therapist, I know he is a narcissist) soon after and was told we were not a “ministry based” church (???) but small groups based, and I was not allowed to start a women’s ministry. He did ask for my mission statement and, being younger than him, naive, and having had “obey your leaders” drilled in to me, I gave him a copy.

    Months later, website was revamped. And guess who’s words were featured with only minor shifts/changes? No credit, and being used as a new direction for the church as a whole. Sadly, the points included about helping others act it out did not get followed up with by the pastor or his staff, which was kind of the point of that mission statement. Of course any concerns I had was met with: Those are God’s words, and you need to examine your heart and your selfish pridefulness if you have a problem with His words being used for the greater good of the church.

    Ironically, the year that pastor reached a certain age, a ministry began for that age group specifically starting at his age, lol.

    Reply
  2. CMT

    Leaving aside the whole plagiarism thing (haven’t listened yet), it is SUPER annoying when people start a conversation with, “well, I’ll probably get canceled for saying this but…” Then anyone who disagrees with their opinion can be characterized as trying to “cancel” them, whatever they actually say. If you don’t want to see people push back, maybe just don’t tweet controversial things??

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Great point!

      Reply
  3. ME

    This is a timely topic for me because I need advice. Our church is going through a study of I Peter that the members have been told was written by the pastor. Most of it was. He’s doing a sermon series to go along with the study he wrote. The problem is that he asked for my input and then included many of my questions and verbiage that I wrote in email exchanges with him. They are unmistakably my comments, ideas, and questions in print in the study. I have the emails. I’m reserving judgment until he preaches on the portion I gave input on. But what if he never mentions that I actually wrote parts of it? I end up in the unfortunate position of coming across as a petty woman in complementarian spaces if I bring it up bc women are expected to give away labor for free and prop up male leadership. But if my input is never mentioned, this creates a massive trust issue…and I think it should. Advice?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, wow. That’s so rough! I agree, I wouldn’t be able to trust the pastor after that if he did that too. I would speak up and just say, “I’m disappointed that you chose to give the congregation the impression that you thought of all of this yourself, rather than giving credit where credit is due.” And then see how he reacts. This can tell you whether you can stay long term at a church where the pastor is so unethical.

      Reply
    • Becky Castle Miller

      If he uses your material, he must give you credit for it. This is another thing that Scot McKnight is ethical about – I have written a lot of study questions for his works and given input on some of his manuscripts, and he ALWAYS gives me credit. I appreciate that so much.

      Reply
    • CMT

      Oh that is so disappointing.

      “women are expected to give away labor for free and prop up male leadership” ugh. Kind of like,
      “it’s not possible really for pastors to plagiarize, and it’s all good if they use each other’s stuff and other people’s stuff without attribution, because it’s all about the Lord.”

      I want to look people in the eye and say “so, you’re telling me it honors Christ MORE for you to tacitly take credit for other people’s work and ideas, than for you to acknowledge the individual contributions of the members of His Body? Explain that to me, Pastor!”

      Ofc a frontal attack probably wouldn’t help your situation, but the logic really, really deserves to be called out!

      Reply
  4. Codec

    I don’t get it. I have seen stuff at the church I go to where people do quote the stuff. It is informative. I have seen the sermons quote everyone from C.S Lewis to Carl Jung to Friedrich Nietzsche. By doing so we can glean wisdom and all wisdom even if it comes from someone like Nietzsche is still wisdom.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I know! I love it when pastors quote people. It tells me the pastor reads, and then I can also think about associations between other streams of thought.

      Reply
    • Jane Eyre

      Exactly! I like hearing part of something, because it inspires me to read the whole thing.

      Reply
  5. Jo R

    Exodus 20:15: Do not steal.

    Romans 13:7: Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor.

    Leviticus 25:17: You are not to cheat one another, but fear your God, for I am the Lord your God.

    1 Corinthians 6:8: Instead, you yourselves do wrong and cheat—and you do this to brothers and sisters!

    Colossians 3:9: Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old self with its practices.

    Acts 5:3: “Ananias,” Peter asked, “why has Satan filled your heart to lie…?”

    Those seem pretty unambiguous.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I think Exodus 22:5 applies too: ““If anyone grazes their livestock in a field or vineyard and lets them stray and they graze in someone else’s field, the offender must make restitution from the best of their own field or vineyard.”

      Reply
  6. Scary Ary

    “Plus, Josh’s father wrote an article last year about how…it’s all good if they use each other’s stuff and other people’s stuff without attribution, because it’s all about the Lord.“

    I’m sorry?? The immaturity at not just refusing to give credit BUT THEN appealing to a higher authority by saying it’s about God (meaning: so don’t call me out, or you’re questioning God)…it’s not just manipulative, it’s shockingly juvenile. This kind of behavior wouldn’t last in any other academic setting…I’m a little surprised at how angry this is actually making me 😂

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s what gets me too. I wonder if they have any idea how honest research institutes function? This wouldn’t just be laughed out the door–you’d be the object of great derision and disdain.

      Again, it goes along with how Howerton didn’t seem to understand research, and misrepresented findings because perhaps he had just not been trained in this, and didn’t realize how much he didn’t know.

      Reply
      • Scary Ary

        I think that’s probably true, but that’s a little concerning in its own way. Why aren’t we holding pastors to the same standards of academic rigor as other professions? I think I remember you writing a post about something similar to this a few months back, right? Ensuring that Christians use research correctly in our teachings? (I only found your blog recently and been binge-reading everything!)

        Reply
  7. scoophindi

    thanks for giving a good knowledge about church. i go to everyday where people do quote the stuff. By doing so we can glean wisdom and all wisdom even if it comes from someone like

    Reply
  8. Laura

    “become the kind of person the kind of person you’re looking for is looking for.”

    I have heard something along these lines long before Andy Stanley wrote his book in which this quote was mentioned. I don’t think he stole this from anyone else. I have heard things similar to this phrase. Years ago, I read a book by Kate McVeigh called Single and Loving It. I believe it was first published in 2003. She said something very insightful along these lines that I’ve heard from various pastors and bloggers, “Be the kind of person you want to attract.” She gave an example of a single woman who was over 300 pounds and heavily in debt and wanted to marry a wealthy bodybuilder. I’ve heard others say similar things, but I cannot say if that’s plagiarism. That’s more like paraphrasing, but I don’t know who would be the first person to say that we need to be the kind of person we want to marry. Since Josh Howerton was quoting Stanley’s words verbatim, that is definitely plagiarism.

    As a graduate student, I have had to listen to hour-long lectures about plagiarism during the first week of class because it is still a problem in the academic world and the consequences are failing the class, expulsion from school, and there have been cases where a degree was revoked years after that plagiarism was discovered. At my university, there is no statute of limitations when it comes to plagiarism. Why can’t the church take that approach to some extent? I’m all about grace and forgiveness, but when it gets abused this becomes cheap or greasy grace.

    Rick Warren’s quote on marriage is also something I’ve heard from local pastors and marriage counselors. They may not use the exact words, but would this be considered common knowledge? Like we don’t have to make a citation that George Washington was the first US President. That is common knowledge.

    Reply
    • M

      The idea of being the person you want to attract was definitely prevalent in the 90’s where I live.

      Sheila commented on universal ideas vs sayings below. (I don’t always follow up on a post if someone doesn’t directly comment on my comment.) When common knowledge is used, I always appreciate wording like “you’ve heard the saying/phrase/idea”. In Matthew 5 Jesus used wording like that with 6 things he expanded on from the Old Testament.

      I’d love to hear more about how common knowledge is suggested to be handled. If someone is looking towards publishing in the future, are there ways your institution recommends tracking your intake of ideas? Taking in 1000s of words a day in a field, many of the ideas are similar. I’m not sure I’d be able to trace back where I first heard something, but certainly don’t want to plagiarize. :/ I guess that’s where humility comes in. Find wise counsel along the way, do the best I can, and admit mistakes freely.

      Reply
  9. Jane Eyre

    “become the kind of person the kind of person you’re looking for is looking for.”

    I’ve said that for years, and it was my mantra in my 20s. However, the problem is that this particular person had ten solid minutes of other people’s ideas.

    Reply
  10. Susan

    i get it about using other’s materials without proper acknowledgement but how far back does this go?

    where did those people get their ideas from and i am sure they probably cited from who…but where did those people get their ideas from ?

    for commonly held doctrines does a preacher say i got this from st augustine —whose writings have been the biggest influence on commenting and explaining about christianity which is probably why the church is so entrenched in patriarchy because of what st. augustine wrote who was influenced by the writings of patriarchal philosophers of his time and place.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      It’s also a matter of the way you say something. Phrases and pithy sayings are actually pretty hard to come up with. While an idea might be universal, when someone figures out how to say it well, you cite them.

      Reply
  11. Karen Jean Mathson

    Frankly, I think that if a pastor sites a subject it would show his ability to rightly divide the Word of Truth! That he has taken the time to study, instead of talking the words of another pastor. Everything should be sited!

    Reply
  12. Becky

    Also…here is another thing really bothering me. I saw a Tweet in the thread saying they understanding consulting commentaries in sermon prep. And it made me realize: Howerton quotes other pastors of other big churches…but is he quoting any actual Bible scholars? What commentaries did he read in preparing this sermon? He is not a Bible scholar himself. He should not be preaching without consulting scholarship.

    Not studying good scholarship on the Bible (and not having a proper seminary education) leads to misrepresenting what the passages are saying. Howerton talks about the Bible having a lot to say about becoming good spouses. Really? No, it doesn’t. That isn’t the point of the Bible. It’s not a marriage manual. It talks about being righteous people, being transformed by the Spirit, following Jesus, developing good character, etc. But that isn’t with the goal of becoming a good spouse. It’s with the goal of being made more like Jesus — being a good spouse might be a nice side effect for some people, but that isn’t the point. I wish he would preach the Bible and not give pop culture talks.

    (And that’s not even mentioning that three of the people he plagiarizes from here are credibly accused of abuse, cultivating power-over cultures, or propping up destructive leaders – yikes, what does that say about him if these are the people he wants to quote from?)

    Reply
    • Becky

      I just…this blows my mind. Even *after* I finished seminary, I did not dare to preach on a passage before I had read 3-4 commentaries on it to understand what might be going on in the text, what the interpretive issues are, what the cultural background is, etc. Only after I understood what the text might have been saying from its original author(s) to its original audience(s) would I even attempt to discern what God might be saying to my church today from this text. (An idea I got in various forms from both Craig Keener and John Walton)

      Reply
  13. Barnabas

    Comment *https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=wUH5wq7zfxk

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=VKm69EPwOTE

    watch these side by side. then, for more fun, check out Church of the Highlands core values next to Lakepointe’s core values. Even the core values are copied by the “leadership” of Lakepointe.

    Reply
  14. John

    It seems that you ladies are venturing beyond marriage helps and into confronting the church on bigger issues. Kudos to you, as I understanding that you have already begun to take some heat for these things, and I admire your tenacity to stand firm and stay your course.

    That said, and I mean every word of praise to you and your team, you and Rebecca would do well to rethink the idea that Jonathan Edwards isn’t worth endorsing and that he wasn’t a good man simply because he owned slaves. Saying that a true titan of the Christian faith like Jonathan Edwards is not a good man simply because a corrupt man like Mark Driscoll quotes him, and because he owned slaves at a time when it was unfortunately legal and many Christians also did so is simply not sound. God used Edwards to bring about the Great Awakening in the North America, and he was, it would seem, a sober and humble man.

    Please reconsider evaluating great people of faith by a modern “woke” measuring stick. Perfection is not a standard by which any sinner can be measured, but when you’re speaking of a man whose fidelity to God’s Word and the teaching of it was used by God himself to bring about a great movement of faith, I would think it best to tread lightly. Don’t deny your readers and listeners who are unfamiliar with Edward’s story and teachings the chance to hear God speak mightily through him by dismissing him over what are now bygones secondary to what God has brought about since his time and with his teachings.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      John, first, thank you for your kind words! I do appreciate it.

      As for Edwards, the thing is that he had plenty of contemporaries, including the Wesleys, telling him how abominable slavery was. It wasn’t like there wasn’t opposition to slavery.

      And while he may have had excellent sayings on God, I don’t think anything he said is incredibly unique. We can find other theologians to quote. We don’t need to quote Edwards, when we know how harmful it is to people whose ancestry is descended from slavery, or others who have been hurt. I don’t think that’s “woke”. I think that’s loving your neighbor. I know if someone who had been a serial rapist had also written great things, I, as a woman, would feel that if you quoted that serial rapist, you were saying that what he did to women who were just like me didn’t really matter.

      Slavery was a heinous sin, and Christians at the time were speaking up about it. There are so very many people we can quote and learn from. I think it’s important that we do recognize how much holding up slaveholders as examples of the pinnacle of Christianity comes across to those who have been hurt by racism, as well as those who are watching the church to see what we value.

      Reply
  15. Christine

    I would love to know what model of service the churches that you are going to now have. I have always wondered what other way congregations can do services, and no one has given me an answer that doesn’t involve the main focus on a long sermon. Would you mind sharing that?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Sure! I’m going to an Anglican church right now, and the focus is on communion and reading Scripture. So there are four Scripture passages read every week, and then there’s a 10 minute sermon or reflection on one of the passages in particular. The sermon is ALWAYS about going deeper into one of the passages for the week, so it’s really Scripture focused. Even last week when the Queen died, the minister mentioned her death obviously, but the focus was still on the story of the 99 and the 1. He managed to weave her into there, but the focus was really Scripture and its application for our lives.

      Then a lot of time is spent in communion and prayer. So the service is still almost the same length as the evangelical churches we’ve always gone to, but the emphasis is far more on Scripture and prayer.

      Rebecca goes to a church where the focus is on community, not the pastor. So the pastor talks for about 10 minutes, and then they break up into small groups and discuss what the pastor has brought up, and then they come back together again for worship!

      Reply
  16. Ms. Jaqueline

    I get the whole point about plagiarism…never a good thing. But I did a deep dive into Andy Stanley’s teachings a few years ago (full disclosure: I disagree with much of what he teaches), and I just wanted to point something out. Stanley actually has an online library for pastors where he sells complete sermons and sermon series for them to use as they wish. At least this was the case 4-5 years ago. It IS possible for pastors to use his work legally without having to cite him.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, it may be legal. But again, there are two issues here: getting permission from the pastor, but also passing off to your congregation as if these were your own thoughts, thus presenting a false image of yourself. I think the latter is even more important.

      Reply

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