The gateway drug of ghostwriting

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There’s a lot of talk these days of ghostwriting, brought to the surface by the allegations of plagiarism facing Mark Driscoll. Ghostwriting is a serious issue—one that seems to be pretty clear cut, and yet many don’t see it that way.

Ghostwriting is the practice of writing books or other material where another author—usually someone who’s public notoriety can sell books, even if they’re incapable of actually writing them themselves—receives full credit. This is a pretty standard practice in publishing, one many don’t think too much of. In fact, if you’ve read an autobiography of an actor or politician, chances are you’ve read something that’s been ghostwritten.

And if you’ve read a book by a pastor, sadly, there’s a decent chance a ghostwriter’s been involved, too. A number of notable Christian pastors and leaders—among them Driscoll and John Maxwell—have employed ghostwriters over the years.

Writing a sermon and writing a book are entirely different animals. The only thing they have in common is they’re a form of communication. They require words. But how you write a sermon is not remotely like how you write a book. I remember being involved in a conversation with a big-name Christian pastor who admitted he has a really hard time sitting down to write—not do sermon prep, but actually write. It takes courage to admit that. And when he finally did release a book, he credited the person who helped shape the book, taking his sermons and making them actually make sense, as his co-author.

It takes integrity to do that.

Unfortunately, many don’t do this. They fall on the “accepted practice” clause, but fail to think through their actions biblically. The Bible doesn’t say, “thou shalt not employ a ghostwriter,” but it sure does say, “do not lie.” And using a ghostwriter and failing to credit them is lying. This is the same point Kevin DeYoung made just yesterday when he wrote:

Whether in sermons or in print, it’s not okay for pastors to take credit for something that is not theirs. Granted, the lines can be blurry. But that doesn’t mean the line doesn’t exist. And just because it feels like the sin of sloth more than the sin of theft doesn’t make it less of an error.

Randy Alcorn is even more forceful in his rebuke of what he calls the scandal of evangelical dishonesty. He reminds us that lying only begets more lying—ghostwriting is the gateway drug to larger integrity issues:

If we teach them it’s okay to lie by taking credit for a book they didn’t write, why should we be shocked if we discover they lied when they claim to have graduated from a college they didn’t, or to have fought in a war they didn’t, or to have done a job they didn’t? Isn’t it ironic that Christian publishers would consider it an ethical breach if they discovered an “author” gave them a resume containing false information, when the same publisher has knowingly led the public to believe this person wrote a book he or she really didn’t write? Which is the bigger lie?

Alcorn is quite clear: ghostwriting is lying. Period. In writing this, I realize I’m dangerously close to violating Paul’s admonition that the younger man should not rebuke the older. My goal here is not to do that. Instead, I want to ask the older men, particularly those who’ve employed ghostwriters: Why is this okay—and what does it teach those of us who are coming behind you?

To the younger, particularly those of you who are writers, I don’t have a rebuke, but I do have a plea: If someone asks you to be a ghostwriter, say no. If you have been ghostwriting, please stop. I know it pays pretty decently, but is the money worth the cost of your—and others’—integrity?

Links I like

The Calvinist

This is really well done:

Seven Thoughts on Pastors Writing Books

Kevin DeYoung:

Rewind my life six years and I would tell you that one of my biggest dreams in life is to get a book published. I hoped that someday, somehow, somewhere, for somebody I would be able to write a book. I never dreamt I would have that opportunity so soon and so often. It’s much more than I deserve.

Since 2008, when Why We’re Not Emergent came out, I’ve done a lot of writing and a lot thinking about writing. With Stephen Furtick in the news for his mansion-to-be and Mark Driscoll facing accusations (and some evidence within his ministry) of plagiarism, I thought it would be worthwhile to write down a few thoughts on pastors writing books.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

A few deals for you to check out:

Where Jesus Lived on Mission

Tim Brister:

In recent years, there is a section in the gospel accounts that have impacted me significantly, both as a disciple of Jesus and as a disciple-maker. This portion Scripture has the bookends of His temptation in the wilderness (the beginning) and the commissioning of His disciples (the end). In the book of Matthew, it is Matthew 4:17-9:38. In the book of Luke, it is Luke 4:14-8:56. I believe this passage is worthy of serious and sustained reflection and meditation as a disciple of Jesus because it reveals the life of Jesus on mission from the inauguration of His ministry to the commissioning of His disciples. I am convinced that every step was intentional, every story was purposeful, every aspect providential for the purpose of not only accomplishing His mission but also modeling and training His apprentices to become like Him in every way.

So What Exactly is an Apostle?

Interesting piece by Lyndon Unger:

I have heard it said before that the lack of modern day apostles is a large part of the reason for the struggles of the North American church, and I’ve also heard it said that the presence of modern day apostles are a large part of the reason for the struggles of the North American church. I don’t think both positions can be correct, unless they’re working with different definitions of the word “apostle”.

So what exactly is an apostle? Some suggest that a church planter is an apostle.  Some people suggest that they are an apostle.  Some people suggest that nobody after the first century could possibly be an apostle.  Some people suggest that everyone is, in some way, an apostle.  Before you toss your hands up in the air and reach for a painkiller, let’s take a quick, but thorough look at the Biblical usage of the term “apostle.”

A Few Lessons I’m Learning

Several months back, I mentioned that I’m writing a book and haven’t said too much about it since publicly. There are reasons for that, obviously, most of which amount to I haven’t had much to say.

However, I thought I’d give you a quick update on where things are at with it and what I’m learning through the process.

1. Having good friends and contacts is essential. The deeper I get, the more I realize that if you don’t have a good network to help, you’re going to have a hard time getting your foot in the door. On top of that, good friends and contacts who are willing to give you constructive feedback on what you’re doing will make the process that much easier. The feedback (and encouragement) I’ve received from Trevin,Tim, Dan, Andrew and Amber in particular has made even the process of submitting proposals that much easier.

Which brings me to my next point…

2. Submitting to publishers is not for the faint of heart. It can really hurt to get rejected, particularly if what you’re working on is something you’re sure God has put on your heart to write.

3. Rejection can be really encouraging. I’ve sent a proposal to six publishers at this point and have already received my first rejection. Believe it or not, I was really encouraged by it as the editor (a friend of a friend, incidentally), let me down really easily and reminded me that I can write real good when I’m trying.

4. Get an established author to show you how they write book proposals. I had no idea how to write a book proposal when I started this thing. At all. Fortunately, my friend Dan Darling gave me the down-low. I am unbelievably grateful for this. So grateful, in fact, that I will hyperlink to himTwice. [Read more...]

Get to the Point

For a little over two years, I’ve been a “professional” writer.

For about a year, I’ve actually been good at it.

I’m always curious what other people are doing, because it gives me an opportunity to learn. As I’ve been learning to do my job better, one thing has become shockingly clear:

Marketers have a hard time getting to the point.

Think about this. Pick a corporation. Pick a charity. Pick a person. Read a couple pages of their websites.

Have they said anything at all? If they have, do you understand it?

Last week, Seth Godin made a great point on his blog about this very issue. He writes, “Most people work hard to find artful ways to say very little. Instead of polishing that turd, why not work harder to think of something remarkable or important to say in the first place?”

His advice to marketers is simple: “Write nothing instead. It’s shorter.”

It’s good advice.

Brevity isn’t merely important, it’s essential.

If we can’t get to the point, and can’t do so in a way that everyone will quickly understand, then we’re doing a terrible job in our marketing.

So how do we uncomplicate things? How do we get to the point?

Probably the best advice on this I’ve read is found in Made to Stick by Chip & Dan Heath. This is what they refer to as the SUCCESs model, particularly the principle of simplicity. They write:

Simplicity isn’t about dumbing down, it’s about prioritizing. (Southwest will be THE low-fare airline.) What’s the core of your message? Can you communicate it with an analogy or high-concept pitch?

We need to, in whatever field we work, get to the core of our message. To figure out what’s most important and talk about that in a way that makes sense.

For those of us in the church, it means maybe we need to take a look at our published mission statements.

What’s our purpose?

Why do we exist?

Do they make sense to anyone except the person who wrote it?

Do they make us sound more like a life-coaching organizations rather than messengers of the gospel of Christ?

Are we getting to the point?

Around the Interweb (01/10)

John Piper: A Sweet and Bitter Providence

John Piper’s got a new book, A Sweet and Bitter Providence. About the book:

The timeless themes of sex, racial tension, and God’s perplexing and perfect plans are as much a part of our human experience today as they were for Ruth and Boaz over three thousand years ago.

In A Sweet and Bitter Providence, the book of Ruth comes alive as a story of how God uses the most dangerous and tenuous circumstances to accomplish his wise and gracious purposes.

Here’s the trailer:

Read the book as a PDF or order a copy online


In other news

Christianity Today interviews Brit Hume, the former news anchor who appealed to Tiger Woods to turn to Christianity.

Kevin DeYoung on writing: part one | part two | part three

Bob Kauflin offers some reflections on turning 55


In case you missed it

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

A review of Marva J. Dawn’s In the Beginning, God

“Perhaps I’ll be like Peter in his bravado…” Steve Timmis on giving up our lives for the gospel

The Perfect Worshipper, a few thoughts on Psalm 15

D.A. Carson on what the Church in America needs

An inspiring excerpt from C.H. Spurgeon’s All of Grace

It Makes Me Laugh: How To Write Badly Well

Today’s laughter comes to us courtesy of my new favorite blog, How to Write Badly Well:

Narrate every scene in a matter-of-fact tone, no matter how exciting

At this point, the dragon, which was larger than a single-decker bus but smaller than an articulated lorry, breathed some fire out of its mouth (or, more properly, exhaled a mixture of flammable gas and liquid which was ignited by a spark from a gland in its throat). This burned several people quite badly, although the knight who is the subject of our story remained largely unharmed.

Naturally, this incident caused a reaction of fear and surprise amongst the local population. It also caused a not insignificant amount of damage to property, which would take local residents many weeks to repair. Aside from this immediate inconvenience, the subsequent disruption caused by reconstruction efforts would also have an adverse effect on the local economy in the medium term. The knight then hit the dragon with his sword, killing it, which was probably for the best.

And one more:

Introduce major plot elements in an off-hand manner

As the wailing of sirens got louder, Claire and Pete hunched over the glowing computer screen. Pete swallowed nervously.

‘What now?’ he said.

‘Well, now we disarm the missiles.’ Claire flexed her fingers. ‘I didn’t tell you this before, but in my spare time, I’m a skilled computer hacker. I’m sure I can crack these defence codes.’

‘Excellent,’ said Pete. ‘I’ll use my extensive jujitsu training to hold off the guards if they come through the door, which we were unable to lock behind us because the key broke off in the lock, which I forgot to mention at the time, but it did.’

‘I’m in!’ said Claire. ’The password was the middle name of the shadowy CEO of Cryptotech, who incidentally is secretly my father.’

Happy Monday!

If I Skip It Today…

skip-today

Some days, it’s hard to get motivated to write. Today has been one of those days. (Incidentally, this can be especially frustrating when it’s what you do for a living.)

I really dislike it when I don’t feel inspired or motivated; days when I’m not really sure if I’ve got anything relevant to say (although I’m sure some would question whether I ever have anything relevant to say).

Days like these, it’s really tempting to just skip it and veg out (or catch up on my reading).

But it’s also these dry moments that help me develop discipline as a writer.

It’s easy to check out and do something else. But it’s harder to stick with it, sharpen your skills and increase your understanding of your craft.

In some ways, it’s like developing a regular habit of reading the Bible. Follow me down this rabbit trail, for a moment… [Read more...]

On Self-Publishing and Book Proposals

self-pub

For the last year I’ve been working on a short book based on a teaching series I did in my small group. My original plan had been to write a series of essays based on the study to provide to our group members. From there it grew into a full book.

The material itself is pretty solid, and I’m pretty excited to share it with people.

Some day.

Maybe.

I hope.

Truthfully, I do want to publish this work. I think it’s actually worthwhile and people who’ve been reading snippets here and there have found it enjoyable and helpful.

Where I’ve been stuck has been on the issue of publishing. [Read more...]

Sunday Shorts (10/11)

Mark Driscoll on ABC Nightline: Do Not Worship Idols

This week, Mark Driscoll once again made the news—this time for preaching against idols. Here’s ABC Nightline’s story:

[vodpod id=Groupvideo.3620524&w=425&h=350&fv=]

more about “Ten Commandments: Pastor Preaches Not…“, posted with vodpod

You can also find a transcript of the piece by following the link. It’s a surprisingly positive spot, I have to say.

Write to Understand

Justin Taylor offers up the wisdom of John Calvin, John Piper and Arthur Krystal on the relationship between writing and learning:

Calvin, citing Augustine: “I count myself one of the number of those who write as they learn and learn as they write.”

John Piper: “Writing became the lever of my thinking and the outlet of my feelings. If I didn’t pull the lever, the wheel of thinking did not turn. It jerked and squeaked and halted. But once a pen was in hand, or a keyboard, the fog began to clear and the wheel of thought began to spin with clarity and insight.

Arthur Krystal: “Like most writers, I seem to be smarter in print than in person. In fact, I am smarter when I’m writing. I don’t claim this merely because there is usually no one around to observe the false starts and groan-inducing sentences that make a mockery of my presumed intelligence, but because when the work is going well, I’m expressing opinions that I’ve never uttered in conversation and that otherwise might never occur to me. Nor am I the first to have this thought, which, naturally, occurred to me while composing. According to Edgar Allan Poe, writing in Graham’s Magazine, ‘Some Frenchman—possibly Montaigne—says: ‘People talk about thinking, but for my part I never think except when I sit down to write.’ I can’t find these words in my copy of Montaigne, but I agree with the thought, whoever might have formed it. And it’s not because writing helps me to organize my ideas or reveals how I feel about something, but because it actually creates thought or, at least supplies a Petri dish for its genesis.”

HT JT

Kevin DeYoung: Thinking about the Kingdom

Kevin DeYoung offers some helpful thoughts on what the Kingdom is, and a few cautions for all of us with regard to it. One point in particular that stood out to me:

Don’t think we build the kingdom. The kingdom is something brought by the King, not something we build. The verbs related to the kingdom in the New Testament aren’t verbs like “build” or “expand,” but verbs like “receive,” “inherit,” and “enter.” The kingdom is a gift that God gives to us, not a project that God expects us to accomplish.

Sound advice worth remembering. Kevin’s entire article is well worth your time, so go read it.

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor, discovering a hero in the faith, Pastor Tom Carson

Ripe for Co-opting, because sometimes we need to laugh at ourselves

Books as Compensation, a few thoughts regarding the recent hubbub with the FTC

An Unregenerate Sheep in the Fold – new article at SmallGroupExchange.com

About a week or so ago, my friends at Small Group Exchange posted an article I wrote on what to do if you think someone in your small group isn’t actually a Christian.

Here’s a snippet:

You’re sitting in your living room after small group, reflecting on the conversation of the evening. While you’re reviewing the night, you remember something a group member said that catches you off guard:

“I don’t know why we put so much emphasis on the Bible… it’s just a book.”

As you pray over this, you recall other similar comments, and become increasingly concerned that this person may not actually be a Christian.

And, you’re right. They may not be.

Read the rest at SmallGroupExchange.com