Interview with

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Stephen writes in to ask: “Pastor John, how do you feel about pastors who use ‘ghost writers’ to produce sermons, blogs, books or other written content from their ministry in their name?”

I don’t like it. In fact, I am against it. I think it is wrong, Tony. But let me define what I mean, lest they mean something I don’t mean. I don’t want to accuse inappropriately. Ninety-nine percent of readers believe that a byline, my name under a book title means I wrote it. Either I spoke it, like Spurgeon and someone wrote it down or I took a pen or a computer and I wrote it. That is what they assume and, therefore, it doesn’t matter whether two publishers agree that is not what it means or an author and an editor. Well, we don’t think that is what it means. Well, it is what it means. And you can’t play fast and loose with people’s interpretations that way. That is what a byline means. And I hope it stays that way. And, therefore, I think to put your name on a book you didn’t write is a lie. And the people would be shocked if someone got your ... the idea that this is just your ideas, like this person took a one page set of ideas that they got from your sermons. They turned it into a book and you put your name on the book. That is a lie. And God said thou shalt not lie. God said love the truth. We are pastors. We are people who serve the truth. Our standards for truth should be higher than anybody’s standards for truth, not lower than anybody’s standards.

Now I believe in editors, big time. David Matthis at DG is called senior editor. I sent off to him a book yesterday, or was it the day before yesterday, and I said, “Go at it, David. Help me avoid error. Help me not say things stupid. Help me get my grammar right.” So he is going to send this back to me and there will be some blue, you know, highlighting in it. And if that editing process reaches a point where this is anywhere near substantially David’s work, his name is going on it. So I put John Piper with David Matthis.

Let me give you another example. A lot of guys do this, don’t do this and I think they should. People write letters for them. People write letters for presidents of schools and presidents of organizations. He just signs them and sends them out. I just think that is a lie.

If Josh Etter, who is one of our directors at desiring God wants me to write a letter to ask our listeners to support, if he sends me the substance of the letter and it is written and I like it and I tweak a sentence here and a sentence there, I say to Josh, “I am not going to put my name on this without your name, period. Your name is going on there. You wrote this and I tweaked it.” But if he sends me an email that has got five bullet points: “please include these things in what you say. This statistic and that deadline and this condition of our budget and whatever,” and I take those five things and I write it, I will put my name on it.

So I realized that we get help in what we do. And I think, frankly, we should be way more than eager to give credit where credit is due. So I already wrote the forward to my book, I mean the word to the reader and I put in it thank you David Mathis for this and that because he has already done work in helping me assemble the pieces that went into that book.

So my answer, Tony, to all the fears of putting somebody else’s name on your book with you is that God will honor that. Publishers don’t like it. They don’t want two names on a book. Well, tell them you are going to be honest and you wrote this with so and so. And then God himself will honor that truth from us.

So for those who are not aware, apparently, from what I gather, this is a pretty significant problem in the publishing world.

Evidently. I mean, I don’t know them, but I hear that that is the case. And, in fact, there was a scandal some years ago where—I won’t name any names—but a name of a well known person who has become a leader in the homosexual movement was found to be a ghost writer who actually wrote the books for three or four very well known Christians. And when I heard that, my heart just sank. It really sank my estimation of those men’s integrity sank several notches.

And, you know, while I am talking, Tony, one other thing come to my mind. I believe that a book or an essay in a book is a craft. It is an art. When people appreciate writing they are not appreciating just a nugget of an idea that have incidental words around it. That is not what is happening. If this book is well written, people are enjoying the craft of writing. And who is getting the credit for the craft? The guy who did not produce the craft. And such is wrong. It is wrong for people to be sitting there saying, “This is really good. This is effective. I am pleased with this. I am enjoying this.” And they are thanking God for pastor so and so and he didn’t have anything to do with that craft. That is just wrong.

Thank you Pastor John. And thank you for listening to this podcast. Please email your questions to us at askpastorjohn AT desiringgod DOT org. At desiringgod DOT org you will find thousands of free books, articles, sermons, and other resources from John Piper. … I’m your host, Tony Reinke. Thanks for listening.