Thursday, September 13, 2007

That darned Phil Johnson

I just said, and meant, that pastors need to listen to other pastors. To refuse to do so is (probably, if unintentionally) arrogant and short-sighted, and ultimately to the profit of neither ourselves nor our hearers.

However, there is at least one drawback.

M'man Phil Johnson's sermon on Psalm 17 is a nice and recent example of the drawback.

"What's wrong with the sermon?" you ask.

Nothing. Not one thing. In fact, it's a fine sermon: good exposition, personal, challenging, hearable, memorable. I found it personally helpful and encouraging, and I needed both. (In fact, I've had opportunity to make personal application.)

"So what," you ask, patience waning, "is wrong with the sermon?"

What's wrong with it is it's so good that I doubt I can preach it without seeing Phil's outline! His outline is good, memorable, and arises from the text. Now, unless I forget it, if I ever go to preach that psalm, I'll think of Phil's outline.

I hope by now you see, as you suspected, that the title is a joke. But it can be a real issue. Let me 'splain.

I am not thinking of those pastors who don't know what to preach, and just rip off others' sermons. I have no respect for such. For such, I have four words: give me your pulpit. If you don't have anything to say in spite of having opportunity, I have tons of Bible yet to study and preach from, and little opportunity. So we can solve each other's problems. Give me your pulpit.

However, it can be a problem when a really fine sermon so impresses you that it's hard to see the text afresh, with the perspective God meant you to have.

I was very conscious of this once, when I was preaching a two-parter on Deuteronomy 6:4ff. I loved the passage and had studied and thought about it for years. Nevertheless, I was really having a problem getting a handle on it, as to how to turn it into a sermon.

In my studying, I saw that Spurgeon had preached on it. Now, you all know I love Spurgeon, and have for years. But for that very reason, I didn't dare read his sermon. I was afraid it would so powerfully impress me, that I'd preach Spurgeon's sermon, in effect — I'd see the text through Spurgeon-eyes.

(For whatever it's worth, I think that is the only time I've gone this way. And in case you're interested, you can find and hear the results here and here. When I did read Spurgeon, he went a whole different way, and probably would not have messed me up.)

Now this isn't a tragedy by any means. When I do find an outline compelling, I just credit the source in my sermon, and go on. In a recent sermon, I found another preacher's outline very useful, but I took it in a very different direction. I credited him when I did so.

And so if I do come to preach Psalm 17, do my studying, and Phil's outline still seems the best, I'll use it.

And I'll credit that darned Phil Johnson.

With a smile.


philness said...

And meanwhile when a lay person requests your outline from a particular sermon that was encouraging, moving and thought provoking, you ignore them as beneath you. I'll let you ponder that for a while and see if your mind comes to you.

Phil Johnson said...


If I'm the one you are talking about who ignored you, I apologize, and I assure you: it's not because you're "beneath" me. It's because I have constant deadlines hanging over me, and I therefore only get to answer about 30 percent of my e-mail daily, so I tend to do the ones that are truly urgent first. And the rest, sadly, sometimes go unanswered.

I depend on people who really want favors from me to ask me at least twice.

I also have a policy on handing out my notes: Because I print my notes on the computer and don't need to keep the printouts, I'll almost always give away the copy I just preached from to the first person who asks. Beyond that, you're on your own. If you want one of my outlines, listen to the message again and write it down. My outlines are never very complex.

If someone insists I have a duty to provide electronic hard copies of my notes, my answer is that they need to pay dearly for the privilege if they expect to get things from me on demand.

On the other hand, if you wait long enough, just about every salient thought I have ever had will eventually end up on my blog. Be patient.

Phil Johnson said...


Dan, thanks for your kind words in this post. I prolly stole that outline from Warren Wiersbe anyway.

philness said...


It was not you. It was Dan one time on a sermon I really enjoyed that he posted the link to on one of his Pyro posts. I believe Sewing followed suit behind me requesting a copy of his outline also.

After reading my comment above it sounds rather more harsh than I intended. Seems I have a hard time expressing ribbing type comments. I'll try harder in the future.

But Phil, for the record I have gotten an email response or two from you in the past that was much needed by my part (one in particular concerning molinism I do remember) which was very timely on your part, and I thank you very much.

And Dan, I can actually go back and write that outline for myself as Phil mentioned above.

Peace all,


LeeC said...

Jack Hughes always says "we are just thieves stealing from other thieves" in regards to this stuff.