The Sermon Begins in *Your* Study: Why ‘Apt to Teach’ Means More Than ‘Apt to Speak’

alexander-michl-g8PFVtzzkYA-unsplashFor Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord,
and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.
— Ezra 7:10 —

Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife,
sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, . . .
— 1 Timothy 3:2 —

Earlier this week, I sat in a room full of pastors talking about preaching, plagiarism, and what it means to be “apt to teach,” the qualification for elders in 1 Timothy 3:2. And I made the point that being “apt to teach” and “apt to speak” are not the same thing. And I made the point because it seems as though there is a great confusion about what it takes to be a pastor today.

Can someone be a pastor if they are a good communicator? Or should someone be a pastor because they are biblically qualified? And what do the biblical qualifications entail, anyways? 

In some circles, being a good communicator seems to be the sine qua non of the pastoral office. If someone can communicate well, then they have what it takes to be a preacher. Never mind their other weaknesses, if they can communicate in a way that really connects, then they are a great cornerstone to building a vibrant church. (Please compare Ephesians 2:20 and note the irony!)

By contrast, Scripture gives a different and more complete picture. For instance, when defending his apostolic ministry, Paul testifies to his weakness in preaching. Addressing the super-apostles, whose speaking may have exceeded his own, Paul says of his critics, “For they say [of Paul], ‘His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account’ (2 Cor. 10:10). Aware of his weakness(es), Paul defended his qualifications not by his charisma, but by his faithfulness to the truth and his suffering for that truth.

Today, such a perspective is under threat. For since the news broke concerning J.D. Greear and Ed Litton, I have heard much anecdotal testimony from various pastors that many large church leaders see themselves as communicators of the truth, more than shepherds of the flock or students of the Book. That’s my way of phrasing it, and it certainly doesn’t fit everyone. But with the popularity of groups like the Docent Research Group and Ministry Pass, as well as LifeWay’s large selection of manuscripts free for the taking, it seems that one reason why so little concern has been raised by Ed Litton’s use of J.D. Greear’s sermons is that pastors preaching the work of others is something of an evangelical cottage industry. (If I’m wrong, please show me).

For me, I’m not interested in doing the investigative reporting on this subject. I’ll leave that up to the Julie Roys and Warren Throckmorton’s of the evangelical world. What I am interested in is asking is this: Is it ever appropriate for a pastor to preach someone else’s sermon? Or, biblically speaking, is it a requisite qualification  to preach what one has learned from the personal study of his Word. Such a personal study of the Word,  where the minister of the Word encounters the God of the Word, is my personal conviction, and it was the conviction of all the pastors with whom I spoke this week.

But what does Scripture say? What does it mean to be “apt to teach”? And does teaching necessarily require the personal study of the Bible? Thankfully, Scripture is not silent about these questions, and by returning to the Pastoral Epistles we can find a solid answers to these questions.

Continue reading

On Plagiarism and Preachers: Why Plagiarizing Sermons is Popular, But Biblically Indefensible

nycholas-benaia-2wGjjX8Qb-g-unsplashIt seems, frankly, utterly unthinkable to me that authentic preaching would be the echo of another person’s encounter with God’s word rather than a trumpet blast of my own encounter with God’s word. Now to be sure, my sermon should be an echo. It should be an echo of the voice of God. But not an echo of an echo of the voice of God. So that is my conviction.
John Piper  —

When it comes to light that a pastor has been borrowing the work on another—what we might call plagiarism in the pulpit, sermon borrowing, retweeting, or any other euphemism for violating the seventh commandment—it is deeply troubling. But if that pastor has any influence on the life and ministry of other pastors, it is even worse, because it says to younger men, who are finding their way in the wilderness of pulpit ministry, that it is acceptable to use the work of others. 

To date, I can think of two pastors I knew personally who were fired for preaching someone else’s sermons. And I have heard many reports of the same. I can also think of many others whose ministries I have written off as unfaithful after learning that they were reheating the meals of others. And most recently, I have watched the unbelieving world make sport of God’s people because of plagiarism in the pulpit.

In recent days, it has come to light that the president of the SBC, Ed Litton, has been found retweeting sermon material from J.D. Greear. You can watch his expositions of Romans 1 and Romans 8, both of which demonstrate word-for-word dependence on Greear’s work. Both men have released statements explaining the matter (see here and here), but with 140+ sermons pulled from the Internet, more explanations are needed.

Without addressing the specifics of the Litton situation, I want to step back and ask the question: Is it wrong for a pastor to borrow material from another? What does it mean to plagiarize in the pulpit? Why is this such a common practice? And what does Scripture say?

To start with, I am not first to tackle this subject. Albert Mohler has discussed it, so have D.A. Carson, John Piper, and Justin Taylor and Andy Naselli (who lists many others). Letting Carson speak for the bunch, he expresses the severity of the problem.

Taking over another sermon and preaching it as if it were yours is always and unequivocally wrong, and if you do it you should resign or be fired immediately. The wickedness is along at least three axes: (1) You are stealing. (2) You are deceiving the people to whom you are preaching. (3) Perhaps worst, you are not devoting yourself to the study of the Bible to the end that God’s truth captures you, molds you, makes you a man of God and equips you to speak for him.

Carson’s words are severe. And they are matched by the severity of others listed above. Yet, the consensus of these evangelical leaders does not mean there is consensus on the issue. For on the trusty Internet, you will find James Merritt’s permission for plagiarism, websites selling pre-packaged sermons, and encouragement for pastors to partake in the practice of using the work of others.  Thus, in what follows, we need to answer three questions.

  1. What is Plagiarism? And does it apply to borrowing the work of another when permission is received and attribution given?
  2. Why is Plagiarism so prevalent today? Who is championing it?
  3. Is Plagiarism Biblically Defensible? (My answer: No, it is not!)

Answering these three questions, we can define our terms and evaluate from Scripture the practice of retweeting sermons. Continue reading

We Don’t Like Theology, Do We? Three Reflections from the 2021 Southern Baptist Convention

2021 Nashville-1500 x 500-Final BWe destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.
— 2 Corinthians 10:5–6 —

It has been six years since I attended a Southern Baptist Convention, and seven since I wrote about it. But re-reading my reflections on the 2014 convention, I can only begin to describe the difference between those comparatively halcyon conventions and this one. While some reports may focus on the unifying leadership, the conventional conservatism, or the most diverse convention stage to date, as a pastor and theologian I find a host of reasons for concern. These concerns swirl around the refusal to engage theology for the sake of the gospel and the church. To be brief (and Baptist), let me make three points. Continue reading

‘Anyone, Anyone . . .’ Want to Learn Economics: Three Reasons Why Christians Should Study God’s Household Rules

27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’
— Luke 14:27–30 —

What comes to mind when you think of economics?

If it is only a stuffy college classroom, a contentious topic that resurfaces at election time, or anything like Ben Stein in Ferris Beuller’s Day Off (see above), then you are not getting your economics from the Bible. In Scripture, economics is a subject that informs the story of salvation from Genesis to Revelation. From the command to subdue and rule the world to the promise of Christ’s payment of our sin-debt, we find economic realities. And just as prominently, from the inability to build a tower in the land of Shinar (Genesis 11) to Jesus’s warning of the same (Luke 14), we find dangers associated with bad economics.

Put the other way, when economics is studied, it touches on issues that penetrate deep into the life of everyone made in God’s image. Personal finance, raising children, going to work, making decisions about the future, and paying (and evaluating) taxes are all economic in nature. To put it more broadly, economics is not only about supply and demand, monetary theories, or policies related to taxation. Rather, economics is a fundamental aspect of human activity and moral imagination. When Jesus said to “count the cost” of following him, he employed an economic way of thinking.

Thus, like every other area of life and knowledge, economics is something intrinsic to human nature. And in Scripture, God’s prophets and apostles speak about the world God has made and the resources that exist therein. Even more, Scripture tells us how God intends for us to use creation for his glory. And all of this is economics.

To borrow the language of Thomas Sowell, “Economics is the study of the use of scarce resources which have alternative uses” (Basic Economics, passim). Now Sowell does not approach economics through the lens of Scripture, but his definition recalls the vast-but-limited nature of our world. God has created a finite world, where productivity is possible, but also fragile. Thus, the world God has made teaches us our need to learn economic principles for good stewardship. 

How we steward our limited resources (e.g., our time, our energy, our money, our vocations, etc.) is a moral endeavor. And economics, when rightly conceived, is a way of looking at God’s world that calls us to use those resources well. Indeed, the father of economics, Adam Smith, was not an economist, but a moral philosopher. And when we rightly consider the subject, economics is a way of thinking about God’s world and our place in it that calls us to invest our lives in things eternal.

I doubt many textbooks on economics speak like that, but they should. And starting this Sunday, our church will consider what Scripture says about economics in a new Sunday School series. In this post, I want to offer three reasons for studying economics. These reasons are explicitly biblical, but for that reason, Christians should not perceive economics as the “dismal science” (a pejorative label often assigned to economics). Instead, Christians who want to renew their minds with God’s Word should consider how God teaches us to think economically about the world, God’s salvation, and good works. Continue reading

One Assembly: A Biblical View of Gathering

worms eye view of spiral stained glass decors through the roof

This Sunday our church is making plans to go outside to hold one service in our parking lot. Last year, from May until November, we took up this practice in order to meet under Covid guidelines. Along the way, a strange (read: providential) thing happened: We saw in practice what we held to be true in theory, namely that the single gathering of God’s church is God’s good design for his local church.

Since our church entered its building in 2005, we have had two Sunday services. But over the last year, we have grown dissatisfied with this practice. We believe Scripture calls the church to assemble as one body, and we are now planning (in the present) and praying (for the future) for ways to assemble as one.

On our church blog, I explain some of the history that resulted in multiple services, but for this post, I want to consider a biblical argument for gathering as one assembly. In particular, I want to offer three reasons for a local church to hold one service, not multiple services, on the Lord’s Day—one from the Old Testament, one from the New Testament, and one from our contemporary non-application of Scripture. These three arguments do not exhaust the subject, but they do give us a place to begin thinking about how our decisions about assembling the church are not inconsequential. Just the opposite, how we gather says something about what we believe about God and his purposes in the world. To that end, let’s consider three reasons for gathering as one.

Continue reading

Obeying God and Obeying God’s Servants: Five Truths from 1 Peter 2:13–17 (pt. 2)

IMG_9704

In obedience to God, we gather and sing and testify to the risen Lord.

Yesterday, I began a two-part series on 1 Peter 2:13–17. I am trying to answer the question, What does submitting to governing authorities looks like? Especially, what does submitting to governing authorities look like when they are ruling in ways that oppose God and God’s Word? Previously, I have tackled this subject in Romans 13 (see herehere, and here),, but now I am considering the text of 1 Peter 2.

Yesterday, I began by parsing out the fact that submitting to governors means putting God first and obeying earthly rulers as an application of obeying God. Conversely, we do not define doing good as obedience to our governors (full stop). Rather, we are called to consider what the good is from the unchanging and ever-authoritative Word of God. Then, in obedience to God, we promote the good by obeying good laws. And lest it go unsaid, the goodness of the law is decided by God’s standards, not my personal preferences. I am not advocating a hedonistic approach to ethics: “Just do what feels good.” No, we must obey laws that pinch our desires. That being said, to do the good we will at times need to resist tyrants when they enforce laws, rules, and regulations that directly defy the commands of Scripture or lead us to violate our conscience in following God.

That’s where this argument started yesterday. We must put God first. Today, I will flesh out the idea of God’s preeminence by looking in more detail at 1 Peter 2:13–17. In his letter to the elect exiles of Asia Minor, Peter has much to say about obeying the emperor and governors. And when we read his words in the context of his whole letter, and apply them to our own situations, we will gain much wisdom for walking well with the Lord. To that end, let’s look at five truths about obeying God and obeying God’s servants. Continue reading

Obeying God and Obeying God’s Servants: Five Truths from 1 Peter 2:13–17 (pt. 1)

83554468-gracelife_4406-w

Photo Credit: Greg Southam / Postmedia in The Edmonton Journal

Ever since writing on the harm of endless masking, teaching on the limits of Romans 13 (see here, here, and here), and considering how Levitical instructions about quarantine laws might help us think wisely about social distancing and sheltering at home, I’ve received numerous emails expressing deep sorrow for the ways churches have responded to Covid-19. With any such email, I always want to affirm the authority of the local church and her elders, as well as admitting the challenges faced by every church and my inability to speak to the inner workings of another church’s decisions. The problems our church faces are the not the problems that your church faces, and vice versa. Still, across the board, it does seem that one abiding problem that divides many evangelicals is how they understand passages that instruct obedience to governing authorities.

Most recently, a brother asked if our church had preached on 1 Peter 2:13–17. To date, we have not, but going through 1 Peter right now, we will—this weekend, in fact. Thus, leading up to that message, I want to consider again how that passage teaches us to think about the Christian’s obligation to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s (see Mark 12:17), or as Peter puts it, to submit to every governing authority (v. 13) and to honor the emperor (v. 17).

Notably, Peter’s instructions are set in a context quite different than Christians in North America, and his words arise from an historical letter, the context of which we must remember in order to get the sense of his instructions regarding the state. So before making five points from the text, let me make a couple preliminary remarks.

Four Notes About the Context of 1 Peter

First, Peter addresses emperors and various governors. Obviously, we do not have emperors, but elected officials. So we must make applications accordingly, including the fact that in a democratic republic the people play a role in governance.

Second, we currently do not have the threat of persecution like the early church did, but neither do we possess the freedoms that we once did to exercise our faith without concern. James Coates’ arrest, the ongoing intimidation tactics of Canada’s health officials (see photo above), the meddling of governors instructing churches how to order their worship, and the need for the Supreme Court to weigh in on churches gathering (see here and here) remind us that religious liberty is on shaky ground.

Third, the command to submit to authorities comes in a letter where the supreme authority of Christ is repeated throughout (see esp., 1 Pet. 4:11; 5:11). Christ’s authority relativizes the commands that Peter gives. Peter doesn’t discount obedience to the state, but his letter does orient the church to Christ’s greater authority. The details of this (re)orientation will be outlined below.

Fourth and last, the persecution of the church in 1 Peter assumes a conflict between church and state. In other words, when the Gentiles slander the church, it will include the Gentiles who lord it over the church and exercise authority in ways that contradict the laws of God. For this reason, it is impossible to read 1 Peter 2:13–17 and draw the unqualified application that doing good is doing whatever the governing authorities say. Rather, as we will see, doing good starts with God. And all obedience to earthly governors must be in keeping with our heavenly citizenship and eternal king. To that end, let’s consider five truths from 1 Peter 2:13–17. Today I will focus on 1 Peter 2:13 and the first and most important truth—Putting God First. Tomorrow I will fill in the details from 1 Peter 2:14–17. Until, let’s consider the main overarching truth. Continue reading

Getting Redemption Right and Understanding the Logic of Christ’s Cross

black cross on top of mountain

Recently, I have been watching, reading, and discussing the ways that the cross of Christ has being wrongly preached, taught, and explained in churches today. In particular the penal substitutionary nature of the cross, where Christ pays the penalty for sinners who have broken God’s law and deserve his righteous and eternal condemnation, has been redefined by scholars like N.T. Wright, popular teachers like Tim Mackie (and The Bible Project), and misrepresented by pastors who have adopted their teaching and succumbed to the God-is-love-and-not-wrath narrative. And this does not even include the opponents of Christianity (e.g., Tony Jones, Bart Campolo, Richard Rorty, and others in the following video) who have simply denied the historic meaning of the cross of Christ.

Often, false teaching about the cross affirms truths that Scripture teaches. For instance, the cross does defeat the powers and principalities (Col. 2:13–15); it does display the love of God (John 3:16); it does liberate mankind from the idols and ideas of this world (1 Pet. 1:18–19). Sadly, the error comes not in what is affirmed, but what is denied—namely, that the cross propitiates the wrath of God. At its heart, Scripture teaches that a holy God cannot turn a blind eye to human sin. Therefore, mankind stands condemned in Adam and ready to receive God’s righteous judgment. This is bad news. But it is biblical and it is the ground from which the good news of Christ’s death must spring.

In the Bible, we discover that God’s gospel declares that he has satisfied his own holy standards by substituting his own Son in the place of the people who he has chosen to redeem. Sadly, many teachers deny or distort this penal substitutionary view of the cross. Some caricature God’s wrath as divine child abuse poured out on Jesus, as if Jesus is not God himself; others make the problem of humanity some form of human, political, or demonic evil; and others simply deny the holiness of God, declaring that God has absolute freedom to do whatever he wants, including letting sinners go free—no wrath needed. Space does not permit a full response here to these errant views (but see this three-part response).

Instead, I want to offer a biblical definition of redemption and Christ as the redeemer.  Again, the problem with any view that denies Christ’s penal substitution stems from a dismissal or distorted view of Scripture. Yet, when we take Scripture on its own terms, we find a holy God who has made a single way of salvation in Christ’s death and resurrection. Explaining that redemption, Leon Morris, in The Atonement: Its Meaning and Significance, has helpful spelled out the nature of humanity’s need and the effect of Christ’s death. Writing about Christ the Redeemer, he says Continue reading

Live Not By Feelings: Three Ways to Love and Live the Moral Life (1 Peter 1:13–19)

image001To feel good or to be good. That is the question. And in Sunday’s sermon, I considered the difference between the moral life that God commands (and grants by the power of his grace) and the therapeutic life that our world gives us (with no lasting grace).

As countless cultural commentators have observed, there has been in our culture “the triumph of the therapeutic” (see Philip Rieff’s book by that title). And unfortunately, this way of thinking and living has shaped the church for the last two generations, a point David Wells makes in his book Losing Our Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision. More recently, Carl Trueman has chronicled how this addiction self-oriented, inner-directed, immanent (not transcendent), feelings-obsessed way of living has consumed our world. And while understanding its origins takes time, seeing its effects does not. It’s everywhere.

And in Sunday’s sermon, I showed how 1 Peter 1:13–19 calls the followers of Christ to live by a different moral calculus and to throw off the idle and idolatrous ways of our fathers. In our case, that means rejecting a way of life controlled by our feelings.

Bought by the blood of Christ, Christians are to be holy as their Heavenly Father is holy. And this means rejecting a therapeutic worldview and the gospel of grievance that comes with it. And in its place we must learn afresh how to walk as children of God, clothed in his holiness, set apart for his glory, and satisfied with grace.

That’s what Sunday’s sermon sought argue from Peter’s first letter. You can watch that message here, or listen to it here. On these issues, a few other resources may be helpful. You can find them below.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

The Whole Truth: Why One-Sided Truths Are the Most Effective Way to Introduce Error

Since its inception, the church has been a community created by truth (Eph. 1:13; Col. 1:5) and engaged with confronting error. Both proactively and reactively, the church and its heralds of Scripture have been called to preach the truth of God’s Word and reject falsehood (see e.g., Titus 1:9). Yet, in every generation this calling has been compromised through half truths masquerading as whole truths which become untruths, as the late J. I. Packer once put it.

For this reason, Christians, and especially pastors, must be vigilant to defend the truth from half truths. On this point, A.A. Hodge insisted that the challenge of this duty stemmed from the many-sided nature of truth. Because we are one-sided people, who are both limited in our thinking, twisted in our desires, and easily deceived by our Enemy, we struggle to handle the many-sided nature of truth. Thus, we fall into error. 

Though he wrote nearly 150 years ago, his observation is worth considering, with the added reflection on ways that one-sided truths lead us into error. Here are his words, which come from the opening pages of his book, The Atonement. Below I will offer four ways that one-sided truths can derail us and lead us into temptation and error.

The human mind was formed for truth, and so constituted that only truth can exert permanent influence upon it. But the truth revealed in the Scriptures is so many-sided in its aspects, and so vast in its relations, and our habits of thought, because of sin, are so one-sided and narrow, that as a general fact, the mind of any Church in any single age fails to take in practically and sharply more than one side of a truth at a time, while other aspects and relations are either denied or neglected. A habit of unduly exalting any subordinate view of the truth at the expense of that which is more important, or of overlooking, on the other hand, some secondary aspect of it altogether, is certain after a time to lead to a reactionary tendency, in which that which has been too much exalted shall be brought low, and that which has been abased shall be exalted. This principle is abundantly illustrated throughout the entire history of theological speculation as in the ever-repeated oscillations between extremes of Sabellianism and Tritheism as to the Trinity, of Eutychianism [Jesus was fully divine, but not fully human] and Nestorianism [Jesus was two persons (one divine, one human) not one person with two natures] to the Person of Christ, and in the history of speculations on the doctrine of Redemption.

Every prominent heresy as to the nature of the Atonement, as the reader will find carefully acknowledged and defined in the following work, embraces and emphasizes on its positive side an important truth. The power, and hence the danger, of the heresy resides in that fact. But on the other hand, it is a heresy, and hence an evil to be resisted unto death, because it either puts a subordinate principle into the place of that which is central and fundamental, or because it puts one side of the truth for the whole, denying or ignoring all besides the fractional truth presented. It is plainly the policy as well as the duty of the defenders of the whole truth, not only to acknowledge the truth held on the side of their opponents, but to vindicate the rights of the perfect system as a whole, by demonstrating the true position and relation of the partial truth admitted in the larger system of truth denied. By these means we double the defences of orthodoxy, by bringing into contribution all that is true, and therefore all that is of force, in the apologies of error. (A. A Hodge, The Atonement, 17–18).

Acknowledging Hodge’s warning, what can we do to guard against one-sided (half-)truths? The singular answer is to continue to press into the truth of God and the whole counsel of God’s Word. At the same time, we should recognize common paths to error. And that is what I want to offer here—namely, four ways we might be led to affirm one-side of the truth without holding fast to the other sides of truth. As a result, we misshape the truth by ignoring or denying other aspects of truth, which makes the truth we hold persuasive but also pernicious. Only truth in full flower is, what Francis Schaeffer called, true truth. And true truth is what we must always pursue. To that end let us beware of the following habits of thought. Continue reading