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  • steve carter is an associate teaching pastor who now oversees the rockharbor fullerton campus. he works with a great team of staff and volunteers who are committed to helping this young community become an actual family. steve lives with his wife sarah, their son emerson and their dog fenway in fullerton, california.

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November 18, 2008


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This is an interesting situation and argument. I think people deserve credit for good things that they do.

It becomes even more interesting when it comes to the Gospel. I think of Paul ripping off pagan teachers of his day to present the truth of God (with no footnotes of course). Like Lori was saying, if we're "presenting" for our own intellectual sake, then perhaps we shouldn't be presenting a gospel that proclaims something completely different.

I don't know how I would define the distinction between intellectual property and truth.

Joe Hays

As I've always said, be the change you want to see in the world.

yikes. this is meaty.
I agree. and disagree.


Alright. I'm so happy I found this topic. Bro, I'm sitting here at seminary right now working on my Psalm 8 exegetical. I'm stunned by the wealth of information I am reading in commentaries by Brugemann, Hays, Longham,(spelling was bad on all those names) the list goes on and on! There is so much good stuff in here. Now check it out, when I graduate from this school, the plan is to become a full time preacher. I am going to steal from anyone and everyone, BUTTTTTTT and this is a huge butt, if I'm stealing and presenting it as my own genius that is one thing, but if I am stealing it passing it on to others to help them then it is another. If someone came up to me after I spoke and said, "you sound a lot like Rob Bell, did you really come up with that on your own?" I would respond with "bro nothing I came up with is on my own. My name is Steve and I'm from a small town, what in the world would I know? I am simply trying to convey a message and at times I bring my own artistic abilities into it by forming the message but really I'm just stealing from everyone else who stole." Now if I publish a book and claim that some of the thoughts are my own thoughts without giving proper citation to who came up with them, then that is another. Also, the application is the art. I may steal someones interpretation, but the application of the interpretation is something I have to come up with on my own. What do you think man? I mean as preachers, are we charged with being doing ALL the work, or is listening and using the wisdom of others, a part of our work? Good discussion.


One more thing. You think Rob would be angry with you for "stealing" his stuff? I don't care if people try to steal my stuff as long as it is for a good cause. Isn't that good art?


i think that this issue does need to be handled carefully.

in your case steve i dont see plagiarism.

i do have friends that ere on the side of caution and simply say this idea is from (fill in the blank) when speaking on a subject that is well known from a popular speaker. letting the audience know you got info from a different source than what may be perceived also covers your bases. i think that adds credibility.

what im not a fan of is when a speaker literally takes all the ideas expressed in a sermon and even personal experiences and makes them their own. i know of very popular pastor in texas that took robs "art of living" series and basically did just that. funny thing is in talking with other pastors when the subject of plagiarizing sermons comes up inevitably this persons name comes up because of this. lost some credibility due to this. i guess more people realized this, but no one calls anyone out on it.

steve carter

Ryan - good take...i think the majority of the people around Paul would have had an understanding of the poets he was quoting. he was pretty intentional. as for truth, we're similar in believing it is all God's. each person is a reflection of the image of God and can teach us something new about's too bad that we need something like intellectual properties; but it's to protect the artist. for instance, John Rocker, the former Atlanta Braves reliever who made some pretty insensitive statements wanted the Twisted Sister song "I want to Rock" to be played each time he took the mound; but they said no. they didn't want their song associated with him...

Hays - you're a funny man.

Steve - good is intriguing to me that you see a difference between sampling ideas for a teaching and for a book. i understand your take on how the text is applied and i really connect with that. i don't think Rob would care; but it's not how he taught me to look at teaching. a message is something that comes out of you, out of studying, praying, asking the difficult questions, sitting with it and letting it do something in and through you. taking from Rob would be the easy thing; but it would cheat me and also those i'm being trusted to lead...

Christopher - i don't know of the pastor in texas. very for the err on the side of caution, again if it is someones idea, i think this is a must, if it is a definition of a hebrew word that is widely circulated then i don't think that it needs it. just my thoughts...


"Bad artists copy. Great artists steal." - Pablo Picasso
"I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it."- also Pablo Picasso

I think it is a bit overblown. There is nothing new under the sun.

I think you are right Steve, it does come down to question of intent, but I'm not sure that really matters either. If I am impacted by a teaching, I am going to share it. I'm a better communicator when I am sharing things that have personally impacted me. If that originally came from someone named Bell, Miller, Giglio, or Carter, I'm still going to share. It changed me and it can change others if they have the chance to hear it. If asked, I have no problem giving credit, sometimes I even do it during a talk, but I borrow from people all the time. It makes me a better communicator. I watch others, see their style and try to copy to some degree so I can learn what I do not already know how to do.

Bands do covers live all the time and don't take the time to stop and say, "We didn't write this." It's artist interpretation.

The bigger question might be about a Christian sub-culture that has made the communication of the Good News a commodity to be bought, sold and copy-written for personal gain. I have no problem with people making money in the Christian arena by sharing their gifts, but some of these kind of issues make me step back and ask some bigger questions.

Answering the question on how you responded- I think you are much more gracious and humble than I would have been. You were thoughtful, articulate and heartfelt. I probably would have just called him a douche and walked away.


Steve your point is well taken. Teaching comes from within and I don't mean to circumvent the hard work of others and passing it off as my own.

Wouldn't you say there is an art in taking the good of someone and mixing it with the good of someone else. For example, I have 70 minute dance mixes that have like 25 songs and they play a minute or two of the best part of each song. I love the way these things are put together. The artist knows exactly when to put each song so that it keeps you interested.

When I preach, I may use a concept from Rob and then Don and then Willard. I mean I've heard Rob talk about an "upside down kingdom" which is almost verbatim from Willards Divine Conspiracy. He doesn't stop and give him credit but at the same time, I'm sure Willard isn't the first one to use that terminology.

One thing that has caused me to really respect and like Rob as a teacher is that he doesn't reveal his sources ALL the time. Actually a lot of times he says stuff like "one poet" or "on guy said" or "someone said". The reason why I respect this is because he doesn't take the attention off his content. If I were preaching at my "conservative church" then a lot of people are waiting to hear those names so they can bash me. As soon as they hear Rob's name they will get disinterested in the message, simply because they are haters. So when I use a concept of Rob's I won't give him credit because I want people to hear the message and not his name. Now if someone came up to me afterwards and wanted to talk more, I would refer them to Rob's book or teaching.

Also, do you know any books of preaching/communicating that Rob or you would reccomend? I already read that one by Hipps. Got anymore?


Also, on the difference between a teaching and a book. You're right there isn't a difference except in form. Usually in a report I write, I'll footnote where I got an idea. I guess the difference is that my school assignments aren't published works so I don't worry as much. I figure if I'm teaching the teacher will catch it and bust me or something? ahh who knows. that stuff is complicated. I surely don't like to get credit for things that I didn't do.

Honestly man. I'm not good at coming up with original thoughts. My understanding is that original thoughts come from hours upon hours of meditation. I am a full time student and have no time to do that. So in the mean time, I don't pretend to be smart, I just refer people to Rob or whoever else. In the future, I hope to have more time and be more disciplined. Seminary is just tough.

Matt Laidlaw

interesting discussion. it reminds me of one i hosted on my blog last month titled: "vanilla ice + stolen beats + ripped off teachings". maybe you saw it?

ryan guard

I was looking up Vanilla Ice videos last night after reading this post! I remember seeing one video where he was trying to convince the interviewer that he didn't steal the beat from them... that it was totally different. All I found was a video of his smashing up an MTV set, and some other "In Living Color" videos that distracted me from saying anything on here at all. Now I'm too busy to chime in!!


I've seen that video. It's pretty funny. I wonder if he really believed what he was saying?

ryan guard

SCarter I think it's just easiest for me to say that I agree with you entirely. I think it's simple enough to just give credit where credit is due, even if that means saying something like "I'm seriously indebted to Louie Giglio for most of what I'm going to say tonight. I got a ton of my information from a talk I heard him do. It was so good that I wanted you guys to love it too." Sometimes I've figured out a way to just play a talk on DVD if I felt like my kids needed to hear something (every Nooma, the Indescribable talk by Giglio, plus his Prayer: Remix talk). I'm not paid to teach, even though I love to a ton... I'm paid to shepherd kids.

It definitely concerns me when I see a pastor just copying and pasting his sermon series topics. I've known some amazing communicators who were just so busy with all the other "stuff" that they never had time to do any real digging.

The bummer is when you teach what you THINK is an original idea, only to re-read a book and realize that you got the thought from someone else and had forgotten. I've been pretty proud of myself a couple times, only to see that it was Dallas Willard who should be applauded.

Kyle Stowell

Looks like im kind of late on this ongoing conversation.

Heres my two cents......

My first impression is(correct me if im way off)these teachings aren't the persons, or the church's, or the website you got them from, but God's? And since they were all inspired by him, they would be freely given to others? I know theres the business side, royalties, copyright infrigement etc. etc. But if someone had a teaching that inspired people so much to live there lifes for Jesus, woudn't that "creator" of that sermon want other people to hear the good news of Jesus? Just a thought.............

Another thing.......Steve you once said to me "imitation is the best form of flattery." Look at Puff daddy, pdiddy, diddy (whatever youw atn to call him). He has been getting beats since he came onto the hip hop scene and expanding on them and making them better and better. What would stop a teacher from doin that from other sermons?

And I feel like you dealt with that situation very wisely......

USC vs Florida...

Jason Mitchell

I found it funny a few weeks ago after teaching that someone told me, "Yeah that was McKnight's ideas from "Jesus Creed" wasn't it." To which I responded, "Unfortunately, I haven't even read that yet."

There is nothing new under the sun.

And even though I am sure i am plagiarizing someone, "If it's new, it isn't true."

Can imagine how crazy we would go each week if we were worrying about whether or not to site every idea, conversation, piece of music, etc.. that inspired us in our teaching.

Steve S

Interesting thoughts.

First of all, when it comes to the breakdown of a Hebrew word, "steal" away. Like you said, Rob didn't create that or begin the conversation on it. I think I first heard about Tohu va vohu (sp?) when I was in High School, about 5 or 6 years before I'd ever even heard of Rob Bell. In my opinion you'd need to cite a Hebrew Lexicon before you'd need to cite Rob on that one. If you had indeed learned that from Rob then it wouldn't hurt to mention that, but I don't think it's necessary. If it were necessary then 99% of the time of any sermon would be spent giving citations. Ridiculous.

Personally, I think it's important to credit someone when it's their own original idea (i.e. your example of using "Everything is Spiritual") or if you were knowingly presenting something the exact same way someone else had (i.e. if you'd intentionally presented Tohu va vohu the same way Rob had and were trying to sound like him). If we don't do that, then we're stealing their creativity and denying our own. Lori's right, we have to be who God created us to be.


thanks gents for all your thoughts. it is nice to have a place to discuss these things. most people wouldn't understand the dillema.


Wow, you sure opened up a can, eh?

For me, I guess teaching becomes people I've read + people I've talked with + experiences + my own ideas + ...well you get the picture. It always seems to me that teaching is a synthesis of all of these injected with a little bit more of you and your personality.

It's one thing to teach an entire message that basically looks the same as someone else's, it's another thing to use a part of that message combined with other things you have read, experienced, and created.

When I hear Rob Bell, I don't think, "Wow, he's said something entirely new!" No, I say, "Wow, I've never really thought about it that way before." It's not anything new, but that own teacher's experience plus their personality makes it unique.

Teaching just seems to be a lot of synthesis to me, whether you give credit for it or not doesn't seem crazy to me. I mean, I'm sure you've stolen a lot of stuff I've said...:) (totally kidding bro!)

But seriously, I've heard friends of mine teach things that I have said without giving me credit. If it was a book maybe I would get upset (I don't think I would), but I'm hoping anything I teach is helpful, regardless if I get credit.

That was all thinking out loud after 1am. Great topic brother.

Heather Sullivan

Three thoughts:

Everybody sounds like somebody. I sound like my influences, the leaders from whom I learn and with whom I serve. A local reformed church has a pastor that sounds like Driscoll/Chandler to me. The house church I visited last week sounds Bell-ish meshed with a little Mclaren. My six year old niece sounds like her mom. The point? We sound like those we learn from. Why would it be surprising or even unnerving that you sound like Rob, your pastor/co-worker/former housemate?

I think this as a legal issue is secondary. This is a heart issue (and maybe that's the girl in me). It seems like the concerned party is insinuating that you were looking to fame yourself, that perhaps you had selfish ambitions of the audience praising you for your knowledge. I don't think you were feeding pride. I do, however, think this concerned party failed to listen to the rest of your message, which was entirely about storytelling, how Stephen had a better story to tell, and that when we share our stories, "...people would leave [our] presence wanting to know, and give reverence to God." If I felt you were looking for accolades for your intellect, I'd probably throw a few concerns and accusations your way too. But since you were relaying the gospel, and even instructing others on where to point fame, it's unwarranted. You weren't building the kingdom of Steve Carter with those words, so why the fuss?

Furthermore, I hope you have the great pleasure of someone "stealing" your intellectual property one day to further the message of Christ. How humbling.

Travis Long

Hey man...really appreciated like this. I don't think you were in the wrong. Rob does an amazing job of researching his stuff. You do an amazing job of researching your stuff. The idea that we can't sample one another's thoughts is absurd. If we cant sample other people's works, why did Paul ask for parchments and scrolls from Timothy?

Good stuff man!


Worth Wheeler

I know this is late in coming, but having read all the responses, there is not much to add, other than one thing I think. I'm very pleased that this conversation is going on here (as opposed to in a court), and I'm very pleased with the way you handled the original email you received Steve (hopefully that was the end of it and everything was reconciled?). A couple of years ago I heard of a pastor in Prescott, AZ that was let go because the elders said he was plagiarizing his material for his sermons (I don't know if he was citing sources or not). It's a pretty sad commentary on the church when we can't work these things out ourselves. Situations like this could potentially happen anywhere these days, but I'm glad it didn't escalate to the crazy-level for you. I've noticed a lot of legal jargon on lots of church websites over the past several years, especially concerning podcasts, which lie right smack in the middle of this intellectual property rights debate. Churches want their teachings out there, but they don't want others to use/borrow/steal them. The legal jargon is there for a reason. Does it's presence on a church website really mean that a church would take a Christian (or another church) to court for "usurping" "it's message" (read my facetiousness here). Mockery doesn't quite describe what we'd be, does it? 1 Corinthians 6 speaks to this, and I think it's part of this conversation.

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