The fear of every preacher is repeating the same sermon to the same audience in roughly the same period of time. My wife tells me that I’ve done this at times (though, of course, I have a selective memory regarding such things), and she’s probably right. So my reporting of what follows is not without empathy.

I recently heard two preachers preach the same message on the same portion of Scripture with the same illustrations to the same congregation just two Sundays apart. The exact styling of the messages differed: one was evangelistic; the other, pastoral. Nonetheless, both began with the same illustration and developed the passage in similar fashion, with matching phrases appearing throughout.

As one who works in literary criticism, I couldn’t help exercising my critical skills while listening to the two preachers. Did the one pick up his material from the other? That might be the case, since the two know each other. Or did their similar sermons derive from a common source? I concluded that that was more likely, simply because they were classmates and graduates of the same theological college—not the one where I teach, but one I know fairly well.

Concluding that the two sermons probably stemmed from some common sermonic source, with each preacher restyling what he had heard in terms of his own perspectives and purposes, my mind wandered back to what I knew of the professors at the graduate school where the two preachers received their formal training. My guess was that one of two possible professors at that school might very well have been the source on whom the preachers depended. In fact, I even tried to reconstruct how that particular professor himself might have preached from the same passage—wondering, in addition, from ...

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