Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 309

in which I provide my views on sermon originality

On Fridays I share articles/resources about broad cultural, societal and theological issues. Be sure to see the explanation and disclaimers at the bottom. I welcome your suggestions. If you read something fascinating please pass it my way.

TIL that the number 309 is is the smallest number whose 5th power contains every digit at least once. 3095=2,817,036,000,549. I’m really stunned that someone figured that out.

Things Glen Found Interesting

  1. ‘Sermongate’ Prompts a Quandary: Should Pastors Borrow Words From One Another? (Ruth Graham, New York Times): “In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin wrote of his admiration of a young Presbyterian preacher much respected for his preaching, which was apparently delivered extemporaneously. When a doctrinal dispute erupted in the congregation, however, an adversary recognized that a passage delivered by the preacher had been lifted from an uncredited source. Franklin stuck by the plagiarist. ‘I rather approved his giving us good sermons composed by others,’ he wrote, ‘than bad ones of his own manufacture.’ ”
    • The appropriate principles seem so obvious to me:
    • Never present someone else’s personal stories as though they happened to you. It’s hard to call that anything other than lying.
    • If you gain an insight from someone else, why would you deprive your hearers of that good insight? USE IT. Credit it in the way that seems most appropriate, but a sermon is not a written resource people are going to cite nor one that people are going to track down your references on. I don’t even think plagiarism is the right term in this conversation: there’s no standard way to cite other sermons nor should there be. People who get a bee in their bonnet about this seem so odd to me.
    • In fact, you should always assume that the messages I deliver have been enriched by insights from others. I love God’s Word and I love my students too much to just give them my own limited observations. My own practice: I copy and paste the text into a Word document. Then I begin typing my insights and constructing a rough outline. Then I consult scholarly and sermonic resources and revise my outline/notes when I realize I’ve misunderstood something or that I missed an important point. Typically that means I read two or three commentaries and will sometimes skim one or two sermons from preachers I respect. If someone’s phrasing is so good I adopt it, I usually add, “I heard a pastor say” or “an academic commentary really helped me out on this point” and sometimes will even give the precise source. But not always. Sometimes citing something verbally breaks up the flow too much. Sometimes after an especially fact-laden message I will send out an email roundup of the most important sources (that tends to happen after apologetic sermons when I’m appealing to extrascriptural facts).
    • It gets complicated with insights I gleaned years ago and have preached multiple times since. Sometimes I don’t even remember that it wasn’t original to me (whether clever phrasing or an entire sermon outline). That’s how learning works! I’m not trying to deceive anyone, but I am 100% confident that I word some things a certain way because someone else worded it that way to me and I thought, “that’s perfect” and now that I’ve said it 70 times I just know that’s how I think about the subject.
    • If you ever want to know if something I said is original to me, just ask. If I quoted someone else (and remember that I have), I’ll be thrilled to point you to a resource that helped me!
  2. What Makes a Cult a Cult? (Zoë Heller, New Yorker): “The good news is that rational objections to flaws in cult doctrine or to hypocrisies on the part of a cult leader do have a powerful impact if and when they occur to the cult members themselves. The analytical mind may be quietened by cult-think, but it is rarely deadened altogether. Especially if cult life is proving unpleasant, the capacity for critical thought can reassert itself.” The focus here is on way-out-there cults. Interesting nonetheless, even given the author’s blind spots (I think it would have been a stronger article if she had mentioned a few secular beliefs as parallels).
  3. Our Unequal Polygamous Past (Conn Carroll, Institute for Family Studies): “This brief history of human sexual relations shows us three things: 1) we are hardwired to form monogamous pair bonds; 2) the privileged among us will always try to monopolize more mates; and 3) we can check the privilege of the powerful by enforcing monogamous cultural norms.”
  4. Wokeness:
    • As a Gay Child in a Christian Cult, I Was Taught to Hate Myself. Then I Joined the Church of Social Justice—and Nothing Changed (Ben Appel, Quillette): “For years, I feared homophobic right-wing evangelicals. But these days, I’m equally wary of the progressive activists who push a distinctly homophobic agenda that denies the biological reality of sex—and who claim that what we are attracted to isn’t male or female bodies per se, but rather male or female gender identities. This outlook effectively imagines away the existence of homosexuality, which, in the real world, is of course rooted in physical attraction based on biological attributes.”
    • If you hate the culture wars, blame liberals (Kevin Drum, personal blog): “It is not conservatives who have turned American politics into a culture war battle. It is liberals. And this shouldn’t come as a surprise since progressives have been bragging publicly about pushing the Democratic Party leftward since at least 2004. Now, I’m personally happy about most of this. But that doesn’t blind me to the fact that “personally happy” means nothing in politics. What matters is what the median voter feels, and Democrats have been moving further and further away from the median voter for years:” Interesting and very different from the message I usually hear, which blames polarization on conservatives who are said to have moved much more to the right than liberals have moved to the left.
    • Culture Wars are Long Wars (Tanner Greer, personal blog): “Cultural insurgents win few converts in their own cohort. They can, however, build up a system of ideas and institutions which will preserve and refine the ideals they hope their community will adopt in the future. The real target of these ideas are not their contemporaries, but their contemporaries’ children and grandchildren. Culture wars are fought for the hearts of the unborn. Future generations will be open to values the current generation rejects outright. This will not be apparent at first. Beneath the official comings and goings of the cohorts above, a new consensus forms in in the cohorts below. Ideas will fester among the young, but their impact will be hidden by the inability and inexperience of youth. But the youth do not stay young. Eventually a transition point arrives.” Emphasis in original.
    • What Happened To You? (Andrew Sullivan, Substack): “[We have witnessed a] sudden, rapid, stunning shift in the belief system of the American elites. It has sent the whole society into a profound cultural dislocation. It is, in essence, an ongoing moral panic against the specter of ‘white supremacy,’ which is now bizarrely regarded as an accurate description of the largest, freest, most successful multiracial democracy in human history.”
    • The West’s cultural revolution is over (Ed West, UnHerd): “Life of Brian couldn’t be made 20 years earlier, and neither could it be made now; its satire of Jesus, a prophet of Islam, would risk upsetting Muslim sensibilities, which it’s fair to say people have become slightly wary of doing. At the very least it would need to cut out the scene pointing fun at a man who, absurdly to the filmmakers and audiences, identifies as a woman; absurd in 1979, as it had been in 1879 and 1779 and in every year before that, but a sacred idea in 2021. It’s sacred in the sense that its believers have captured the moral citadel where the most powerful ideas are protected by taboo, achieved either by emotional argument or intimidation (and both can be effective). This is not some dark new age of cancel culture, however, it’s just a return to normality.”
  5. Pandemic-related
    • Why Didn’t COVID-19 Kill the Constitution? (Jacob Sullum. Reason): “COVID-19 did not kill the Constitution. But the crisis made it vividly clear that we cannot count on politicians or bureaucrats to worry about limits on their authority, especially when they believe they are doing what is necessary to protect the public from a deadly danger. The task of enforcing those limits falls to judges who are willing to stick their necks out.”
    • What Are the Limits to Governmental Authority over the Church? (Ben Edwards, Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary): “Christians/churches must submit to every government regulation unless it would mean disobeying God (i.e., cause them to sin) or the government is seeking to regulate something outside its sphere of authority.”
  6. On China
    • China Won’t Bury Us, Either (Bret Stephens, New York Times): “Garry Kasparov has a pithy way of summing up the past 18 months of tribulation. ‘China gave us the virus,’ the chess and human-rights champion told me over a recent breakfast. ‘And the free world gave us the vaccines.’ ”
    • Why a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would be a catastrophe for China and the world (Jon Stokes, personal blog): “The world’s largest, most valuable tech companies are dependent either directly or indirectly on the steady output of TSMC’s fabs. If those fabs went offline or became unavailable in the west because they were controlled by PRC, it would immediately devastate the global economy. An unknowable number of large companies just wouldn’t be able to refill their inventories for an indeterminately long time.” This is about computer chips and how a Chinese invasion of Taiwan will be disastrous for that market (which touches on so many others) no matter how the invasion plays out. Very thoughtful.
  7. Scripps Spelling Bee 2021: Zaila Avant-garde Wins (Maggie Astor and Maria Cramer, New York Times): “Zaila, who just finished eighth grade in her hometown, Harvey, La., showed a prowess for spelling at 10, when her father, who had been watching finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee on ESPN, asked her how to spell the winning word: marocain. Zaila spelled it perfectly. Then he asked her to spell the winning words going back to 1999. She spelled nearly all of them correctly and was able to tell him the books where she had seen them.” Read the whole thing — this kid is amazing at more than spelling! The interface is weird — you’ll have to click “Read more” just before the timeline.

Less Serious Things Which Also Interested/Amused Glen

Things Glen Found Interesting A While Ago

Every week I’ll highlight an older link still worth your consideration. This week we have The Preacher And Politics: Seven Thoughts (Kevin DeYoung, Gospel Coalition): “I have plenty of opinions and convictions. But that’s not what I want my ministry to be about. That’s not to say I don’t comment on abortion or gay marriage or racism or other issues about the which the Bible speaks clearly. And yet, I’m always mindful that I can’t separate Blogger Kevin or Twitter Kevin or Professor Kevin from Pastor Kevin. As such, my comments reflect on my church, whether I intend them to or not. That means I keep more political convictions to myself than I otherwise would.” First shared in volume 150.

Why Do You Send This Email?

In the time of King David, the tribe of Issachar produced shrewd warriors “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chron 12:32). In a similar way, we need to become wise people whose faith interacts with the world. I pray this email gives you greater insight, so that you may continue the tradition of Issachar.


Chi Alpha is not a partisan organization. To paraphrase another minister: we are not about the donkey’s agenda and we are not about the elephant’s agenda — we are about the Lamb’s agenda. Having said that, I read widely (in part because I believe we should aspire to pass the ideological Turing test and in part because I do not believe I can fairly say “I agree” or “I disagree” until I can say “I understand”) and may at times share articles that have a strong partisan bias simply because I find the article stimulating. The upshot: you should not assume I agree with everything an author says in an article I mention, much less things the author has said in other articles (although if I strongly disagree with something in the article I’ll usually mention it). And to the extent you can discern my opinions, please understand that they are my own and not necessarily those of Chi Alpha or any other organization I may be perceived to represent. Also, remember that I’m not reporting news — I’m giving you a selection of things I found interesting. There’s a lot happening in the world that’s not making an appearance here because I haven’t found stimulating articles written about it. If this was forwarded to you and you want to receive future emails, sign up here. You can also view the archives.

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