18 January 2010

That Looks Really Easy; Why don't You Tell Me how to Do It?

by Phil Johnson



     get this kind of question all the time, so I figured if I blogged an answer, I could just post a link instead of writing a whole new answer every time this comes up:

Dear Phil,

I've heard that you turn transcripts of John MacArthur's sermons into book manuscripts. Can you summarize what is involved in the process and give me a few pointers on how to do it? I've never done anything like that, but it doesn't sound difficult, and I want to help my pastor in my spare time. His sermons are a real blessing to our congregation, very meaty. But he doesn't have anything in print yet and doesn't have time to write. I figure I can get his transcripts ready for printing in book form, and he can just keep preaching. Is there a book or course somewhere that explains how to do this? Or can you just outline what's involved for me? I'm a fast learner and I'm pretty sure I'll be able to do this, especially since he has already basically done all the creative work and compiled the content already. I figure the hardest part is transcribing the message accurately. Am I right?

I don't want to take a lot of your time, but if you could just spend 5 minutes and give me your best pointers, I would appreciate it. So would my pastor, I'm sure.


Thanks for your message. I don't think there's any way to explain in an e-mail message all that is involved in turning sermon transcripts into published prose. It's like playing the piano or being any other kind of artist: while you can teach almost anyone the bare-bones basics, a very large part of the skill set necessary for doing it superbly or professionally is inborn talent, not something that's teachable (or even explainable). All the best editors I know didn't go to school or take a course to learn what they know; they just have a natural gift for the work, and they intuitively know what to do. Even so, all of them would tell you it is grueling work, not for the fainthearted.

Furthermore, most pastors' sermons shouldn't be turned into print form. Sermons lose something important in the process, and even the greatest preaching in the world doesn't easily translate into great writing. (And unless you are already a superbly gifted writer, no matter how great the original material is, you'll never be able to translate it into writing in a way that equals its original greatness.) Preaching is very different from writing, and unless the sermon itself is very fertile with important thoughts and profound insights, it's probably not going to make a viable book anyway. Tell the average Christian publisher that you want to make a book out of a sermon series, and unless you are a preacher with worldwide fame and a following of untold thousands, the publisher isn't likely to be interested anyway, no matter how much the people in that pastor's flock appreciated the sermon series. Sermon series made into books don't generally do very well. There are exceptions, but few.

And even if you're working with some of the greatest sermons ever preached (something I have the wonderful privilege of doing) the labor involved in turning transcripts into prose for publication is quite literally a full-time job—;and not a job I would recommend to anyone who can't devote everything to the task. Far more creative energy and ability is required than you could possibly imagine. It is literally harder and more time-consuming to translate someone else's sermons into written prose than it would be to write your own material from scratch. If you're dealing with John MacArthur's sermons, his material will certainly be better than if you wrote your own, but it's still no less work.

Moreover, if I were the world's greatest editor looking for freelance work, I would not propose to edit any preacher's material for publication unless some publisher is already demanding specific works from that preacher. If there's no up-front assurance that what you do will be published, I don't think it's a wise stewardship of your time and energies to do the massive amount of necessary work.

I'm sorry if that sounds discouraging, but I want to be totally candid with you. In short, my advice is this: I gather from what you say that you have no background or training for the work you are describing—and if that's true, my best advice is to look for a ministry that gives you an opportunity to do something you already know how to do well. But even if you are a highly skilled and experienced editor, you shouldn't do what you are proposing at all unless you have the opportunity to work on a project that has already been embraced and committed to by a legitimate publisher. There are many more profitable ways to invest your gifts and energies—and still be a support and encouragement to your pastor.

NOTE: I was called to task in the comment thread (below) for the sound-and-feel of my reply to this inquirer. On re-reading it, I do understand the critics' complaint. But let me explain. See this comment for a brief follow-up from me.


Phil's signature


87 comments:

CR said...

PJ: Furthermore, most pastors' sermons shouldn't be turned into print form. Sermons lose something important in the process, and even the greatest preaching in the world doesn't easily translate into great writing.

Charles Spurgeon sermons were turned into print and you publish portions of them weekly on your blog don't you??

Phil Johnson said...

The operative word is most.

SandMan said...

Gotta love it when someone identifies your profession as an easy, fun, little hobby that they are sure they would be good at with little or no effort.

Coram Deo said...

I always thought Phil farmed out most of his actual work to trained circus monkeys so he could spend more time blogging and trying on hats.

It's really difficult and time consuming to find a good hat.

In Christ,
CD

Reformed and Renewed said...

Yes Phil. I think you nailed it this time. editng is not easy and writing even less. Maybe your questioner should post his pastors sermons to a blog. That also works. (helps me revise my pastors sermons anyway.) Just in case I missed anything.and blogs are free1 if the blog has a following so maybe a book will have....

Johnny Dialectic said...

It's obvious, too, that Phil provides research and content for Dr. MacArthur. For that reason I think Phil's name should appear on the covers (even if in smaller type!)

stratagem said...

Good advice. I can't imagine reading a book of sermons, not that there aren't a few wonks out there who would (and the operative word there is "few"). So why would anyone publish them?

DJP said...

Gotta love it when someone identifies your profession as an easy, fun, little hobby that they are sure they would be good at with little or no effort.

Mark of a real master, in just about everything except drumming: he makes the impossible look easy. Watch a Clapton solo and you'll think (if you don't play guitar), "Oh, psh, look at that. He's just messing around. I could do that!"

Stephen said...

The author of the e-mail never suggested that this sounded easy. It's a very nice e-mail, and quite a tribute to whomever he would have chosen to ask it.

The e-mail could have been answered with the few pointers he asked for, rather than the usual 80-grit answers that some of us have come to expect, and are sorry to see, here on Pyromaniacs.

The answer could have went something like this:

"Dear friend, I appreciate your heart for your pastor and your church. Assuming your pastor is supporting you in this work, I would suggest these five things, which are the starting points in perhaps hundreds or thousands of iterations required in an important undertaking as you propose:

1. Make an outline of the sermon from the recorded matter.
2. Transcribe the sermon.
3. Compare the outline, the transcription, and your pastor's notes for items he may have skipped.
4. Discuss the sermon point-by-point, line-by-line with your pastor, and record that discussion.
5. Begin at the begining of his transcription, and start a rough draft of the written form using all the information gleaned thus far.

I think that approach would have been far more edifying. All the other balther could have been left to its own natural course: things like whether a publisher wants it, or whatever.

DJP said...

We all know Phil's experience and qualifications, which back up his answer.

Perhaps you could give us yours? Or would that mess up your whole "Sniping is easier when you're anonymous" thing?

SandMan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SandMan said...

And maybe it's because I just finished my 2nd cup of coffee, but I only just got the irony of the title. That's funny, Phil!

SandMan said...

At the risk of overstaying my welcome here, I've had a question for a while now and would genuinely appreciate it if the Pyro's would weigh in. Dan corresponded with me privately on this subject months ago, but I think it might be helpful to others. It never seemed appropriate before now to ask, but since you are on the subject (roughly) of "how to_____," here goes.

How do you guys know so much? I assume it must be partly because of the circles you run in, but is there anything else? In other words, when something like the Manhattan Doctrine comes out, you guys are on it. If a good, or bad, book comes out- you know about it and have a response/review at the ready. I appreciate this blog for that reason and many others, but how could I find out about these things on my own?

Would you guys mind providing a short list of "must read sources?" ...trusted websites, important periodicals, etc?... and perhaps why you think they are worth it?

If I have strayed to far off of the path, please feel free to delete this. If now is not a good time, would you consider a series?

Thank you for your patience with me.

stratagem said...

I think a lot of Stephen's points would have been valid, had the inquirer not brought the specter of publishing into the mix. In other words, had the inquirer simply wanted to transcribe the pastor's sermons for the church body, I suspect (but don't know for sure) that Phil's answer might have been much more tactical (such as the hypothetical response suggested by Stephen).
But in fairness to Phil, the inquirer DID bring up the pipe-dream of publishing the sermons, and so Phil needed to set his naivete on that matter straight, as a favor to help him not waste his time on such a pursuit. Was the realism of Phil's answer crushing? Perhaps, but when someone has an unrealistic expectation, it is going to be crushed one way or the other. Better that it be crushed early-on, rather than after a huge investment has been made. That's the way I see the issue.

David Rudd said...

Sandman,

It might look really easy, but it's not. and no, they won't tell you how they do it because you aren't capable.

;)

DJP said...

Right. Not likely smirky, smarmy sniping. Any idiot can do that.

David Rudd said...

well said, dan.
sometimes, it's more efficacious to use the currency of the realm, isn't it?

Stephen said...

Wow.

"Raised the specter of publishing"?!

"Stroke his ego"?!

Good grief! "Publishing" does not necessarily mean "Moody Press". Re-read the note, people. It's just a simple request from someone (perhaps young) who obviously respects Phil for his experience.

SandMan, there is no ego to be stroked in the e-mail Phil posted. It's just a nice note.

A response to Dan, in accordance with rule #3, since the responses to me by Dan and Frank are always ad hominem:

I have a BS in English, a BA in Communications, an MDiv, a ThM, and a ThD. Do you also want to know what institutions they are from, too, just to make sure? What do you have for credentials, Dan? A blogging relationship with Phil? Some special access to the peeps near the top of Mount Exposition where osmosis makes you a credible authority on all things you post here?

Like Phil, I also have been in Christian radio broadcasting for 30 years. I have edited over 250 books since 1980 while doing my regular jobs of pastoring and teaching. What's your claim to fame, Dan? Why should we hang on your every word, and offer you our kudos that everything you write is magically accurate and edifying?

Tom Chantry said...

It is literally harder and more time-consuming to translate someone else's sermons into written prose than it would be to write your own material from scratch.

I once preached a message in a previous church which one of the elders thought would be useful to have in written form to hand out to new folks. He asked me if I could transcribe and edit it for that purpose. I agreed, but five hours into trying I shook my head and said, "This is ridiculous." I deleted what I had done and decided instead to write an article on the same topic making the same points. I was done in an hour.

SandMan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stephen said...

SandMan - Your deleted comment and Dan's comment both made an appeal to establish credentials. It was not a matter of me desiring to explain my own "importance". In fact, I have tried to maintain a general anonymity so as to let my statements speak for themselves. None of my statements are disrespectful or ad hominem, as they always are from Dan and Frank.

. . .

It occurs to me that the reason I am in the work I am in is because of my late uncle. Many, many years ago I used to ask those kinds of questions of him, and he would answer them. I had to learn on my own, and through the experiences of hard work that Phil lays out - but those weren't my uncle's exhortations. My uncle did not see the need to nursemaid me through the minutiae of the industry.

The example of my uncle fits well with Phil and his new grandson. Suppose, someday, his grandson is standing at the elbow of grandpa Phil (as I did with my uncle in his study) and he asks grandpa the same questions I asked my uncle, or that the e-mailer asked Phil: "How do you know what to do? How do you do that?"

Would the answer be the same in that case? I doubt it.

stratagem said...

I doubt it, too. Proving only that an adult email inquirer does not rate the same level of mentoring that one's juvenile grandson does!

Stephen said...

"Proving"? Hardly.

How do you know it's an adult? How do you know it's not a well-meaning teenager?

I was still asking questions of my uncle long after I had graduated college. People who desire wisdom always appeal to experience no matter their age, and wise men always dispense it.

Phil Johnson said...

Stephen: "The author of the e-mail never suggested that this sounded easy."

Really? "I figure the hardest part is transcribing the message accurately"?

But seriously: If you can actually give a helpful answer to a question like this "in just 5 minutes of your time," it's a shame you're anonymous. I'd sure like to send some people your way.

JAEng said...

Dear LeBron James,

I’ve seen that you transform the basketball court when you play. Can you summarize what is involved in the process of being a basketball player, and give me some advice on how to do it? I have never played basketball, but I am in the band. I would like to become a great basketball player like yourself, could you explain to me how I can do this? I am athletic, and figure the hardest part is having an arena to play in? (Since I live near the staples center this is no problem). Am I right?

I don’t want to take a lot of your time, but if you could just spend 5 minutes and give me your best pointers, I would appreciate it. So would a lot of fans, I’m sure.

Sincerely,
Timmy(7 years old)
=======================
Dear Timothy:
Thanks for your message. I don’t think there’s any way to explain in an e-mail message all that is involved in putting the ball in the basket with slam jamingness. It is like being a quarterback or being any other kind of athlete: you can teach anyone the bare-bones basics, but most of the skill set necessary for doing it superbly is inborn talent, not something that is coachable. All of the best ballers I know didn’t practice, they just are great.

Furthermore, most kids should never dream of playing professional sports. Your body loses something important in the process, and even the best athletes in the world would not be a good basketball player.

And even if you have some of the best basketball skills ever (something I have the wonderful privilege of having – in fact most agree I am the best ever…) the labor involved in turning a flabby body like yours into a great player like me is quite literally a full time job-;and not a job I would recommend to anyone who can’t devote their lives to the task.

I am sorry if that sounds discouraging, but I want to be totally candid with you. In short, my advice is this: Make it through school, get a job working in a cubicle and get rid of all your dreams. Even if you are a highly skilled player you shouldn’t do what you are proposing to do unless you have a signed contract from an NBA team. There are many more profitable ways to invest your gifts – such as buying season tickets to watch me play.

Sincerely,
Mr. L. R. James

Phil Johnson said...

Stephen: "Suppose, someday, his grandson . . . ask[s] Phil: "How do you know what to do? How do you do that?" Would the answer be the same in that case? I doubt it."

Before I answer that: In your hypothetical, is he seriously interested in being mentored, or is he asking me to explain what he needs to know in an e-mail that takes "5 minutes of your time"?

Sled Dog said...

"it's a shame you're anonymous. I'd sure like to send some people your way."

Huh?

David Rudd said...

i once had an important ministry-related question. i emailed a well-known pastor of a very large church with my question. i didn't ask for a "five-minute" answer, but , knowing his busy schedule and the importance of his wor, i did ask him only to respond if he had time.

he emailed me back asking for my phone number. the next day his secretary called me to set up a time we could talk.

our one hour conversation didn't solve my problem, but he certainly helped me understand it better and gave me a few tools to get me on my way.

i'll never be him, but i'm better because of him.

true story.

Sled Dog said...

Is the email Phil started the post of with an actual email (word for word), or a mosaic of actual emails or a fictional email that represents the types of emails Phil receives?

Stephen said...

"I figure the hardest part is transcribing the message accurately"?

"in just 5 minutes of your time

Both of those statements are the very reason I felt motivated to post a comment. As I said before, it's just a nice e-mail.

In my experience, those kinds of remarks (which I hear all the time; evidently you do, too) tell me that I am dealing with someone who is 1) naive; 2) probably will not follow through on the effort; but 3) just might be young and really interested.

To those kinds of inquiries, I opt for responding as if the person is young and really interested because when I was at 17 I was not into all the social activities of teenagers, but was wanting to totally be a part of the ministry of our church in a meaningful way. I wanted to see my pastor's notes, I wanted to watch him study, I wanted to hear him counsel people. I asked very naive questions of very patient man of God: Warren Wiersbe.

I was in a discussion about 5 years ago in Dick Mayhue's office on the need for leaders to warmly love young men who just want to know "how it works". As one man there said, "They don't need to be lectured on the finer points of achieving failure."

The fact is, you don't know if he is "seriously interested" in being mentored. You should assume that he is. His "figuring" that the hardest part is transcription is simply an effort to find the core of the apple; your five-point response could have refocused him on peeling it first. And his 5-minute remark is nothing more than an indicator that he respects your time, not that this is a fast & easy process.

I really think this is a young, eager guy like I was. Maybe he's the next Rick Holland. Or the next Phil Johnson. Or not. Who knows? One thing's for sure: for a moment, you were his Warren Wiersbe.

Finally, I'm not all that anonymous, Phil. The nondisclosure is deliberate and necessary because your colleagues here are gauche, viz. the inference this time that I am an "idiot".

In any event, you know what would be neat? A GTY video illustrating the long process of a sermon series going to print (similar to the radio production one.) Many people want to know how disciplined work for God and His glory “happens.” That’s the real question, and it deserves a real answer.

stratagem said...

JAEng
Your parody is amusing but I hardly think the choices in life are a)fame & fortune or b)sitting as a minion in an obscure cubicle.

Brad Williams said...

They don't need to be lectured on the finer points of achieving failure.

Oh man, I LOVE this! That is a nugget I'm filing away for keeps.

Johnny Dialectic said...

In looking at the email and Phil's response once more, I think it was entirely appropriate for Phil to include a heavy dose of reality. If it discourages the young man right off the bat, that's good. Writing and editing books can only be done successfully if the person has the drive to ignore the potential hardships and go forward anyway. Phil may have saved this fellow a whole lot of wasted time and disappointment.

I might have added a note at the end that if he is truly interested in learning what's involved, he should get to a good writers conference before attempting anything. If he's truly committed to excellence (and turning sermons into books requires that) then he would, at the very least, be willing to do that much.

Stephen said...

I think it was entirely appropriate for Phil to include a heavy dose of reality.

“Reality”? Phil prognosticated a potential reality that the sermons this guy is hearing are probably not as great as John MacArthur’s (“even if you're working with some of the greatest sermons ever preached (something I have the wonderful privilege of doing”), probably don’t have any gems worth reading (“unless the sermon itself is very fertile with important thoughts and profound insights, it's probably not going to make a viable book anyway”), and probably won’t be of interest to a publisher.

In the end, the inquirer knows no more about the work he thinks he would like to do than when he typed the e-mail. All that he has heard is caution about doing something he still does not know how to even begin.

If it discourages the young man right off the bat, that's good. Writing and editing books can only be done successfully if the person has the drive to ignore the potential hardships and go forward anyway.

“Ignore” the hardships? Or persevere through them?

Are you saying you have been informed all of your life of potential hardships before you get there, and have thus avoided (some or most of) them? If so, please do not desire the office of elder in your church.

God’s strength is perfected in our weakness. Step one in responding to the kind of inquiry posted here is one of simplicity, and encouragement. Yes, the difficulties are certain, and will test the person’s mettle soon enough. Surely, stumbling blocks will come, but there is no reason to seek the role of being the bearer of those stumbling blocks.

If he's truly committed to excellence (and turning sermons into books requires that) then he would, at the very least, be willing to do that much.

But that’s part of my point! No suggestion to that effect was made, to even give him the opportunity to turn down such advice. You seem to imply that this person is not willing to go to a writer’s conference, but we have no evidence that he has even considered that such a resource even exists for him!

TruthStands said...

Some people need to be discouraged. Some people get really passionate about doing something, they get all geared up and that activity takes over their life for a few weeks, and then it sizzles off and their own to something else new.

Those kind of people should be discouraged.

I know someone who is attempting two major writing projects: a fiction novel and a Bible translation.

No training in writing. Zero education in Hebrew, Greek, or any form of seminary training.

All he has is pure passion and three commentaries. I wish he would get a reality check like this.

Caleb Kolstad said...

Stephen, forget brother Dan- post your real name for the other readers here at Pyro. Stand behind what you post people (with your real names) or don't post. It is far too easy to say something here that you would never say to someone if talking to them in person. When Christians write on blog sites using silly IM names it is really quite sad to witness the product of those conversations.

barak3777 said...

I don't see how editing is any different than any other "academic venture." Sure it requires hard work and determination, but I would imagine any average, highly motivated, determined person could do it. If a person is motivated to do this (and has "average abilities" that can be honed through repetitive training and practice), then over time they could become very able at this tedious task.

Sure the reality of "hard work" is there, but to limit this to: "you've either got it, or you don't," I think is too hasty. I think this emailer should be encouraged to do it; maybe he'll find he doesn't like it, and his motivation will be diffused, and he'll move on. But maybe he'll become an editor of all editors . . . who knows, maybe his pastor is the next John MacArthur.

barak3777 said...

Caleb,

Why is it okay for Dan to call someone an idiot? Why do you give him a pass, and are more concerned with getting background info on Stephen (his name is Stephen, and he just told us in his comments who he is, and that he apparently works/ed with Warren Wiersbe)?

And how are Stephen's comments snarkey, or whatever? All he is doing is challenging Phil, a bit; isn't that okay?

Bobby Grow

DJP said...

Who did I call an idiot?

stratagem said...

Stephen, I think by now we all realize that you would not have answered as Phil did. You would have been more encouraging and less cautioning.

To the extent that you receive emails such as the one Phil received, you should answer as you see fit. I don't know that anyone is trying to tell you otherwise, as much as they are telling you that there are other perspectives. OTOH, I'm not sure why you are trying to tell Phil that he should have answered as you would? That's the part I don't get.

Also, to some extent, what you are saying undercuts itself, because the younger the person is who was inquiring, the less ability they'd have to know if their pastor's sermons are really noteworthy.

Finally, I think it's a bit much to expect the kind of tutoring that you received as a young man, to be conducted over email. So maybe you should jsut let Phil handle it his way.

Bobby Grow said...

Dan,

you said:

Right. Not likely smirky, smarmy sniping. Any idiot can do that.

I thought you were referring to, Stephen, no?

If not, I stand corrected.

Bobby Grow said...

Strategem,

I don't understand your response to Stephen. Whether or not his pastor's sermons are "noteworthy," as you say is not the point. In fact there are those who would say that MacArthur's aren't "noteworthy" (in both content and style); this is a very subjective thing. The point is that this emailer was asking for advice on "how" to go about transcription of sermons --- and he obviously has alot of respect for Phil. It has nothing to do with the age or so called noteworthiness of his pastor's sermons. MacArthur started somewhere, as did Phil; and maybe, as I said before, this emailer and his pastor could have parallel circumstances to those of Phil and MacArthur.

Stephen said...

Caleb - My mother gave me the name Stephen when she was your age. That was in 1956. And to your comment, "It is far too easy to say something here that you would never say to someone if talking to them in person", I say that is exactly what Dan did.

stratagem - So I have stayed on topic, tried to state my argument clearly, and have tried to abide by the rules for this blog, but the regulars - once they cannot produce a salient rebuttal - demand that the commenter just be silent.

OK, you got it.

stratagem said...

Bobby

Whether or not his pastor's sermons are "noteworthy," as you say is not the point.

Anytime you are talking about selling (aka, publishing) anything, its quality and uniqueness is a major issue. And he brought up publishing, he didn't only ask about transcription.

In fact there are those who would say that MacArthur's aren't "noteworthy" (in both content and style); this is a very subjective thing.

True to some extent until its published, after that it is not subjective at all: You just look at the sales dollars of one pastor vs. another.

As a side note, after all this I kind of wish that Phil would have simply written back "try Dragon Naturally Speaking software. It will do a good job of turning recorded speech to text. And good luck, sonny boy!"

Phil Johnson said...

Stephen: "the inquirer knows no more about the work he thinks he would like to do than when he typed the e-mail."

Well, if he actually read my reply, he should know more. When he typed the e-mail, he wrote, "I've never done anything like that, but it doesn't sound difficult."

I told him it is difficult, and that if he has zero experience but thinks this will be a snap, it probably isn't going to be a good career choice for him.

(BTW, I didn't reveal details about who wrote that letter, and I didn't quote all of his letter, but he's not some 7-year-old kid looking for a mentor; he's a person on the precipice of mid-life crisis looking for a career change, hoping to get into something easier and more lucrative than he is currently doing. If you re-read the portion of his message I did quote, it contains several clues suggesting that book editing is not going to be a field in which he will excel.)

I stand by my advice to that fellow. I'm sorry if it sounded abrasive. (I confess that I do have that problem sometimes.) But I still think it was the right advice for this guy, and for the vast majority of people who are halfway to retirement age and have "never done anything like that, but [think] it doesn't sound very difficult."

I have mentored a number of people who became editors and/or writers, and several of them are still working either full time or free-lance in the publishing industry. All of them were college age or slightly older when they started, and they all clearly had an aptitude for the work before they learned anything from me.

As for publishing sermons in book form, it would be interesting to see a list of pastors who have been successful in getting material published in book form (not self-published) by having someone edit their sermons for them. I think the ratio of failures to attempts would more than vindicate my pessimism about such ventures.

Anyway, I'm amazed this e-mail stirred such passion, but I appreciate the feedback, and I'll try to do better.

stratagem said...

Well-said, Dr. J.

Andy Dollahite said...

Phil said"I stand by my advice to that fellow. I'm sorry if it sounded abrasive. (I confess that I do have that problem sometimes.) But I still think it was the right advice for this guy..."

Is this one of those "I'm sorry you were offended" non-apology apologies, because it seems on either side of the "I'm sorry" part it seems you have no regret for anything you wrote. Was it abrasive in a manner that merited an apology?

Bobby Grow said...

Strat,

How much something sales doesn't make it anymore "subjective." Your money point is like comparing book sales to "church growth," as if the more, the more substantial. Sales might represent an objective number relative to sales; but it still remains a subjective thing relative to "subjects."

But now we're arguing over minutae that I think in the end is fruitless. Have a good one, Strat.

David Rudd said...

Phil,
I really appreciate your comment. It sounds like the email you quoted contained other information which contributed to the tone of your response.

Thank you for modeling a GREAT response to a sometimes less than charitable dialogue.

Sled Dog said...

There's nothing wrong with being direct with people in email responses. We surely can't mentor every person who comes along, and I've had my fair share of people approach me about wanting to do what I do, unawared of really what I do.

But, to me, this email response is an example of going over the top. It seems that as this guy is being squashed for his aspirations (even if wearing rose-colored glasses), someone else is being elevated, talking about their gifts and abilities, and how hard it is to to what they do.

I remember being on staff at a church and the preaching pastor would often say that preaching a sermon is equivelant to an 8 hour work day. Give me a break. Preaching for an hour is equivalent to working for an hour. To this man I would say, "It wouldn't hurt you to go work in a warehouse or a refinery for a while."

C'mon...we all work hard and have different God-given abilities...but let's have a little meekness and humility about it all...

DJP said...

StephenI say that is exactly what Dan did.

What are you talking about?

trogdor said...

Couldn't help but be reminded of point 4 in this classic. The whole line of questioning comes off as a rare combo of lazy and condescending - "sure it's your full-time career and I have no clue where to even start, but with a few quick pointers I assume I can do it nearly as well as you in a few hours on weekends". Dude can certainly use a little smackdown.

It'd be one thing if the guy was axin' about the best way to pursue that type of career or what kind of training would be useful. But he sounds like he was treating it as a hobby, something he could just do on the side and (with a few paragraphs of advice) perform at a nearly-professional level. Surely it would not be loving to leave such hubris to go unchallenged and let this guy waste his time on such a poorly thought-out venture.

The silly LeBron parody completely misses the point of this exchange, but it provides a good framework to work with to illustrate the absurdity of this request. Imagine, if you would, a guy in his early 20s who has never played basketball, but he has maybe a few hours a week to play (no time to practice to learn the skills and rules, just jump right in and play). Maybe with a few quick pointers from LeBron (maybe not even LeBron, maybe someone like, I dunno, Speedy Claxton or Jack Sikma) he could be good - not NBA quality maybe (although it sure seems like that'd be easy!), but at least enough to get a D-1 scholarship. How seriously do you suppose the NBA player should take this request? Frankly, I'm kind of impressed Phil even takes the time to respond to such insulting nonsense.

I can totally relate to this type of thing, which happens to me at least a few times a month. My job is in a fairly new and highly specialized field (probably not even 1000 people do it worldwide), but it looks easy enough that occasionally our clients will decide to get their own equipment and do it themselves. Always works out great for us, since we can buy their used systems pretty cheap once it sets in how hard it actually is and how much they've cost themselves by messing around with it. Could I show them the basics in 5 minutes? Sure. Would they be anywhere near competent? Not a chance. And I don't feel the slightest twinge of guilt for pointing breaking them of that delusion and stopping someone from making a huge mistake.

NoLongerBlind said...

Wow.


Must be a full moon or somethin'.



This meta is just, uuhhh,


well, it seems to be about as edifying (and entertaining)

as an Argument Clinic!

trogdor said...

"It is far too easy to say something here that you would never say to someone if talking to them in person."

I, for one, can attest that I'm much nicer and careful about what I say in comments, largely because of how poorly text conveys subtleties of communication. Rest assured that everything I say here is just the beginning of what I'd say to your face, and with significantly more tact. For example, I have not yet ended a comment-thread rebuke with "That's right, run home! Run home and cry to mama!" or "Now go away or I will taunt you a second time!"

Frank Turk said...

Note to Phil:

Plainly, when you make the nearly-impossible look effortless, you have transcended the normal bounds of your craft.

It's the curse of genius.

Frank Turk said...

Note to DJP:

Your curse is that I repeat almost everything you say.

DJP said...

But it's so much cooler when you say it, and people don't get as mad. They go "Oh, hm, deep. That Frank - just wow."

Including me.

Matthew Birch said...

"Unless you are already a SUPERBLY gifted writer"

Did it feel weird writing that?

Too funny

Brad Williams said...

I have to say that I think Stephen has a point here. I am also surprised at the discussion in this meta! I may not be a top-notch editor, but I have cobbled together a few zingers from Stephen that would make even Frank and Dan proud. Sir, I salute you! (I always appreciate a good zinger. Judge me as appropriate!)

I have a BS in English, a BA in Communications, an MDiv, a ThM, and a ThD. Do you also want to know what institutions they are from, too, just to make sure? What do you have for credentials, Dan? A blogging relationship with Phil?

And

The nondisclosure is deliberate and necessary because your colleagues here are gauche, viz. (I had to look up gauche and viz.)

And

Caleb - My mother gave me the name Stephen when she was your age. That was in 1956.

And I already mentioned my favorite at 10:53am. I may not be a top-notch editor, but I have cobbled together a few zingers from Stephen that would make even Frank and Dan proud. Sir, I salute you! (I always appreciate a good zinger. Judge me as appropriate!)

Brad Williams said...

HAHA!! I mis-edited my own edit and included the same paragraph twice! Phil was right! I wish I had done it on purpose.

stratagem said...

Bobby:

How much something sales doesn't make it anymore "subjective." Your money point is like comparing book sales to "church growth," as if the more, the more substantial. Sales might represent an objective number relative to sales; but it still remains a subjective thing relative to "subjects."

Excuse me, but in the world of publishing, even "Christian" publishing. sales level is the only thing that matters. If you would want to argue that point, go to a publishers' convention! It's a business, dude!

Phil Johnson said...

Matthew Birch: "Did it feel weird writing that?"

No, why?

Read the fuller context of the phrase you cherry-picked: "unless you are already a superbly gifted writer, no matter how great the original material is, you'll never be able to translate it into writing in a way that equals its original greatness."

That's the reality of what I do. I'm not able to translate John MacArthur's sermons into writing in a way that equals the sermons' original greatness. Therefore I wouldn't spend the energy and the hours it takes to do that with source material that is merely above average, and not genuinely great.

What about that do you find "weird"?

Bobby Grow said...

Strat,

Calm down!

You missed my point. I didn't deny the objective nature of sales (in other words, there are statistics), but the objective nature of the subjects who make the purchases (you're presuming that this "pastor" won't have the appeal with a certain niche [like MacArthur's appeal -- it's niche] that MacArthur does or has). You're engaging in a category mistake.

Maybe the emailer could publish "booklets" instead of books, to start out. And maybe they could make a regional, instead of national or international impact for the kingdom of Christ. That's my point.

Calm down!

Sled Dog said...

Whoever you are, Stephen, I hear you in the core concern you've expressed. I just so happen to be taking our pastoral staff Warren Wiersbe's "On Being a Servant of God." Though firmly grounded in the truth of Scripture, Wiersbe challenges ministry leaders to be loving channels of God's grace.

"Blessed are the meek..."

CR said...

I remember way back when reading some of MacArthur's sermons online. I contacted the guy by email and thanked him. I didn't ask him how he did it or anything like that and he emailed me back thanking me for thanking him. I don't remember his name except that it was Tony. Anonymous can do a google search for Bible Bulletin Board and contact that guy directly.

I can't imagine anyone being able to transcribe sermons to written form unless they're one of those court reporter or transcriber guys. The Lord doesn't always call people to learn brand new skills in the new creation. He calls people when he saves them to use those same skills in the old creation, in the new creation.

Matthew Birch said...

Phil, It just struck me as prideful that's all so I meant weird in that sense, sorry for the confusion.

Matthew

Matthew Birch said...

Phil, one more thing.

Thanks for all the hard work you do with MacArthur's sermons. He is my favorite Bible teacher and Pastor and I know he couldn't do many of the things he does if it were not for you and many others. I am in my early 30's and surrounded by postmodern/liberal "christians" who don't hold dear the one true faith that was handed down once for all to His Saints. God's word and your books have helped me be prepared in season and out while I try to lead them back to the truth.

Matthew

Phil Johnson said...

Matthew Birch: "one more thing."

OK. But perhaps you can explain to me what strikes you as "prideful" about saying "I'm not able to translate John MacArthur's sermons into writing in a way that equals the sermons' original greatness."

Your accusation doesn't make a lot of sense.

Matthew Birch said...

I didn't make an accusation and I could be totally wrong and just misunderstood what you said. It did strike me as prideful, like you were calling yourself a superbly gifted writer which could be the case but it just sounded strange coming from you and not someone else.

THAT IS JUST THE WAY I TOOK IT, IT DOESN'T MEAN IM CORRECT.

Have a good evening.

TruthStands said...

Sled Dog,

Give me a break. Preaching for an hour is equivalent to working for an hour.

I take it you haven't preached a sermon for an hour. I don't know that I would make it equivalent to 8 hours, but you would be surprised how much energy is exerted.

It's not just talking and rambling for an hour which might be effortless (ok, so for some "preachers" it is). A diligent preacher exerts a ton of energy in getting it out.

I'm just starting my ministry, and whenever I preach I am exhausted afterward. Not like huffing and puffing, but just physically drained.

Not everyone is the same, of course, but I wouldn't mock him until you've spent many hours in exegesis and brought it to bear in a one-hour exposition.

Rambo said...

MBirch,

I didn't make an accusation. . . It did strike me as prideful

Did it feel weird writing that?

Sled Dog said...

Truth,

What made you make an assumption about my familiarity about preaching?

I preach all the time...have so for years...pour myself into it all week and every Sunday. No holds barred.

And as I look out in the congregation I see guys who've lifted and dug and exhausted themselves 8-10 hours all week long. I'm just laboring like they do!

Baron said...

Here's another route Phil could have taken after Stephen's first critique:

"Hm. Interesting. It's POSSIBLE I was too harsh. The Gospel is offensive. However, offending someone for any reason other than the Gospel is certainly not in the spirit of love and humility that encapsulates Christianity."

I get it. This emailer may have needed truth; and sometimes truth hurts. But an entire meta has now been spent with two Christian men in alternating defensive/offensive stances (and it wasn't even over actual theological issues).

PS- I almost did not post anything for fear of being attacked by comment moderators or blog visitors. Is that the atmosphere we should be creating with our computers?

By the way, my name is Baron Anthony Eidson from Dallas, Texas. No hiding.

Sled Dog said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rambo said...

It's just amazing what arrogant and unedifying things people say when pretending to defend humility & edification.

SandMan said...

How do you guys know so much? I assume it must be partly because of the circles you run in, but is there anything else? In other words, when something like the Manhattan Doctrine comes out, you guys are on it. If a good, or bad, book comes out- you know about it and have a response/review at the ready. I appreciate this blog for that reason and many others, but how could I find out about these things on my own?

Would you guys mind providing a short list of "must read sources?" ...trusted websites, important periodicals, etc?... and perhaps why you think they are worth it?


Now that the dust has settled a bit, would you gentlemen consider doing a series on this?

I'm doing my best to read what I can. With a full-time job, young wife, two small children, church responsibilities, home repairs, auto repairs, yard maintenance, etc., (yes, I do these things myself-- I'm poor/not proud) I find it challenging to be informed about Christian issues outside the sphere of my little life.

Do you have any best practices that you could share at some point in the future?

Thank you... sincerely,

-Jason Sanborn

stratagem said...

Bobby

No offense was taken. I actually wasn't upset when I wrote that last response, which is why I used the semi-humorous salutation of "dude." I guess I have to make my mood more clear given the wonders of the written word to make us sound harsher than we really mean to be.

Sled Dog said...

My point in my now "admin deleted comment" was to type a comment that was pretty typical of something that the admins or regulars write around here. In fact, it was pretty much a satire (I was of the understanding satire was appreciated around here...must have been wrong) of DJPs 6:34 comment: the questioning of a commenters "qualifications" rather than really interact with the content of their comment.

BARON WROTE: "I almost did not post anything for fear of being attacked by comment moderators or blog visitors."

I can so relate to Baron's sentiment. I think there is quite a bit of inconsistency that exists between the pyros and their fan base and those who come in with a differing perspective. When they get a bit snipy our satirical it's seen as defending the faith with some style...when an "outsider" questions them, well, they can expect to have their call to ministry questioned.

Edification has two sides to it. One is a passionate desire to communicate that which is true is true and right. The other is the attitude of human respect that avoids being presumptous, condescending or overly-contentious in that process.

In my experience, I have found it impossible to enter into any conversation here without walking away saying to myself, "Why did you even bother." I interact at other blogs and this is not the case.

Josh said...

I read but rarely comment - I am no blogger

As a pastor I only have this to say - when I considered the idea of someone reading my sermon notes and transforming them into material fit to be published I cringed.

My notes make sense only to me and do not carry the full weight of my thoughts nor my study.

This would be a difficult enterprise indeed. I agree wholeheartedly with this article.

Phil Johnson said...

Sled Dog:

You've been making pretty much the same comment for five years now. You began your campaign within a week after the launch of my original blog. Your pattern is nearly always the same: You start out with a critical comment, almost always about "tone" or attitude. Then if enough commenters disagree with you, you'll resort to extreme snarkasm to make your point about how much you are offended by other people's snarkasm.

I can't recall ever responding harshly to you. (If I ever have, point it out and I'll beg your forgiveness.) I usually don't respond to your comments at all, because I know your pattern. But when I have replied to you, I have tried to do it with kindness and good humor.

The tone-police thing just isn't convincing when you give other, more edgy (and more sarcastic) forums a pass--then make deliberately insulting remarks here but excuse your own mean-spiritedness as "pretty much a satire." It just makes you look hypocritical.

Also I can't control what other commenters say, and I almost never delete comments unless they are gross violations of the sidebar rules. So things do sometimes get a little unruly when there's controversy brewing.

But I wonder whether it would test your patience if someone sniped at you continuously for five years. Given the nastiness of your response in the "Admin deleted" post above, I have a hard time imagining your response to such a serial sniper would be any more sanctified than some of the comments you are complaining about.

Sled Dog said...

Phil, I have not sniped at you continuously for five years. That is utter hyperbole.

The reality is I really haven't spent much time at team pyro in the last few years, for the reasons I stated earlier...many who have a dissenting view often get "the treatment" from both admins and regular commenters. I've seen it time and time again.

Now, I understand that for some people who have entered the comment box with utterly abberant theological views that would be somewhat expected. They push a strange doctrinal agenda and it can't be ignored. I'm not talking about them. I am talking about some good folks (like Stephen...who I think correctly detected something a bit "off" with your actual blog posting) who have to endure the gauntlet of ridiculous comments. Dan's 6:34 is a perfect example of how it all gets started. Assume the worst about anyone who might dare to question.

The reallity is that I read a post here every great now and then, and some are good, some even great. I think I only recently posted a response in regards to Greg Johnson and Standing Together ministries. Other than that I've been a long sabbatical from commenting here.

I think you've made a true observation that, after attempting to initiate dialogue, I can come to the place of frustration and join in the hijinks...which is ultimately used against me as the reason my point -whether true or not - need not be considered. When it comes to giving passes in regards to sarcasm and satire, my sense is you give a bit more "leash" to those who are on the pyro bandwagon.

You must admit you are not above sometimes posting a quirky photo or using satire or sarcasm to drive home a point.

You are right that you cannot control what commentors say, but, IMO, you and the guys do create a climate.

I find it a bit humorous that you know of which forums that I give passes to. What that has to do with actual discussion escapes me. That makes me wonder that perhaps if I make a valid point, some time of association will be used against me to invalidate my point. I don't represent anyone's thoughts but my own.

Bottom line...aside from all the other stuff that has been thrown on the wall, I simply share Stephen's sentiments about your blog post. You put it out their for public consumption...it just didn't go down well for me. And
it had nothing to do with "tone."

Solameanie said...

I'm usually pretty good at judging whether the meta of a given post is likely to careen wildly off the rails. I misjudged this one and badly. I'm also shocked, and not in the Casablanca sense.

I'm surprised that a post of clear, well-intended, hard-headed advice ended up being taken so badly. As someone who has to do a good deal of editing and transcribing in my own job, I think what Phil said is spot-on accurate. I left a broadcasting career at the age of 33 and have been doing what I'm doing now for 16 years. The transition was difficult and I still have a lot to learn.

I hope I don't assume room temperature before I get there!

Bobby Grow said...

Strat,

Cool! Blogs wouldn't be blogs w/o the 2-D misunderstanding; I think if this was all in person we might actually be friends, and not "just" brothers and sisters in Christ . . . in other words, we might actually like eachother ;-). I got more excited than I should've too, sorry about that.

Peace in Christ,

Bobby

Bobby Grow said...

I wonder if I fit into the "Sled Dog" category around here . . . probably. W/o antagonists though, what kind of story would the Pyromaniacs be (really boring ;-).

I just wish you guys would do more posts on Calvinism so I could engage in some of my pet critiques . . . ehh, that's why I have my own blog.

DJP said...

New policy? You're not going to cut and paste your favorite quotation from Bozonquius in the 15th century until it's on-topic?

Not quite enough to make me go post-mil, but cool.

Bobby Grow said...

Dan,

Was that in response to me? I think I could squeeze "Calvinism" out of every post you guys do (which is good, you're consistent, at some level with your theology). Anyway, I will try to stay on topic here.

Rambo said...

Phil: you should repost this