This semester I've been slogging my way through The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard. Okay, I have a Ph.D., but I think that I got the wrong one because there's a whole lot in this book that I don't understand. This is frustrating because from all accounts this is a modern-day classic (oxymoron?), and I really like what little of the book I do understand. Willard has some great things to say, I just need some help in "getting" them.
This leads me to wonder why pastors do not more frequently base their sermons on the work of others. Presumably pastors know the best books about Christian faith & practice, and, with their theological training, pastors are in a better place to understand & explain the ideas of others. For example, I would love to hear a sermon series on the work of Dallas Willard, Scot McKnight, or any number of authors.
There seems to be a norm among pastors that all sermons have to be original in idea and expression. The problem is that this is very hard to do, so a lot of sermons aren't really that good. That's why the few pastors, such as Mark Driscoll and Ben Dubow, who excel at this form of expression have their sermons downloaded by so many people.
Let me come at this from a different angle. In two weeks I'll be teaching a course on criminology. If I had to present *only* my own ideas, the class would be equal parts useless and boring. Instead, I use the work of many scholars (with proper citation, of course) to help my students to understand how to think about crime. Yes, I give my own ideas and analyses (and probably more than I need), but the the core of my material is the work of others.
Pastors almost seem to feel guilty about using the ideas of others--as if somehow they are avoiding their pastoral responsibility.
To be clear, whenever we use others' ideas or words, we need to clearly indicate the source; otherwise it is plagiarism. (Okay, the title of this post isn't quite accurate, but it's catchy, no?). So, I'm advocating using others' ideas with full acknowledgement.
In short, I propose that many pastors would preach more effectively if they sometimes simply summarize and illustrate the ideas of others.
For additional essays on church life: http://www.brewright.com/church/essays.html