25 August 2005

We are visited today by an esteemed guest blogger

My pastor, John MacArthur, whom I have never seen truly flummoxed in any situation where he was called upon to speak, discusses an affliction that frequently bedevils the rest of us.

by John MacArthur

No preacher likes the feeling of being tongue-tied—especially when it happens in the pulpit. Those awkward moments when your brain gets stuck in neutral and your mouth continues to rev are the nightmare of every preacher. It can be especially dangerous when everything you say is recorded.

A few years ago some of the guys who work on our radio broadcast put together a taped collection of all my verbal fumbles over the years. They collected about fifteen years' worth of out-takes and strung them together to make an entire sermon of nonsense. It was a painful thing to listen to.

So I have nothing but extreme pity for the Reverend William Archibald Spooner, who suffered from a disability that no preacher deserves. Spooner was a brilliant man who was dean of New College, Oxford, at the turn of the century. Today he is chiefly remembered because he elevated slips of the tongue to an art form. He was particularly prone to one variety of verbal blunder that has been given his name: the spoonerism. A spoonerism is when you transpose syllables or sounds from two or more words, resulting in nonsense—as in "Let me sew you to your sheet."

Spooner's backward eloquence was unsurpassed. Reprimanding a wayward student, he allegedly uttered these immortal words:"You have hissed all my mystery lectures; I saw you fight a liar on the college grounds; in fact, you have tasted the whole worm!"

Once Spooner accidentally referred to the stately Queen Victoria as "our queer old dean."

Professor Foot-in-MouthIt's easy to see how this tendency could adversely affect a preaching ministry. Spooner's tendency to transpose sounds occasionally caused him to say the very opposite of what he intended. Once when the Reverend was performing a wedding, he told the bridegroom, "It is kisstomary to cuss the bride."

On another occasion Spooner was preaching on Psalm 23, and he assured his congregation that "Our Lord is a shoving leopard."

When you realize that Spooner's ministry was primarily among students, you have to give him high marks for fortitude.

No communicator wants to mangle the message. But for Christian communicators the need to get the message right is elevated to the height of a sacred duty. Perhaps we can smile and pardon an affliction like William Spooner's, but we certainly cannot tolerate any distortion of divine truth that results from traits such as sloppy thinking, laziness, carelessness, apathy, or indifference. More sinister yet is the tendency to sidestep elements of truth or water down the message because of a desire to please people, a love of worldly praise, or a lack of holy courage.

If anything, the obligation to communicate the truth of the gospel clearly and accurately weighs more heavily on our generation than on those who have gone before us, because our opportunities are so much greater. Luke 12:48 says, "From everyone who has been given much shall much be required."

No previous generation has been blessed with the means of mass communication like ours. A hundred years ago "Christian communication" consisted almost totally of preaching sermons and writing books. The only form of mass communication was the press. It never occurred to men like Charles Spurgeon that the means would exist to transmit live sound and images via satellite to every nation in the world.

Spurgeon was the most listened-to preacher in history by the end of the nineteenth century. He preached to huge crowds in his church. By some estimates, four million people actually heard him preach in person over a remarkable lifetime of ministry.

But today, via radio, Chuck Swindoll preaches to more people than that in a typical week. J. Vernon McGee ("he being dead yet speaketh") has been broadcasting every weekday worldwide for decades. If you count the sermons that are translated and preached in other languages, McGee has undoubtedly preached to more people than any other person in history, and he continues to do so from the grave.

The staff who produce our recordings like to remind me that the sun never sets on our ministry. At any given moment of the day or night, worldwide and around the clock, someone, somewhere is listening to a sermon I preached from our church pulpit. I can't tell you how heavily that responsibility continually weighs on me. I am constantly aware of the obligation to get the message right, to speak it clearly, and to proclaim it with authority and conviction.

New vistas in communications are constantly opening up. At Grace to You we now offer a daily podcast of the radio broadcast. No longer is it necessary to order a cassette tape and wait for delivery. Sermons can now be downloaded instantly from the website. Electronic media now make it possible for material to be searched and scrutinized like never before. Want to know what James Boice said about the doctrine of God? You can find it in an instant online. Wondering whether Spurgeon ever preached on the text of Scripture you're studying? Phil has a website that will answer that question for you in a minute.

Satellite technology, digital sound, high-resolution wide-screen television, and blogs are all changing the way we process information. Other high-tech advances suggest that a hundred years from now, communications will have advanced at least as far beyond today's technology as our world has come since Spurgeon's time. If the Lord delays His return, our great-great grandchildren might have access to forms of communication that we cannot even imagine today.

This is a very exciting age in which to live and minister.

But let's remember Luke 12:48: "From everyone who has been given much shall much be required." We are stewards who will be held accountable for the opportunities the Lord has blessed us with. And if we are honest with ourselves, I think we would have to confess that the church for the most part has simply squandered the rich opportunities modern communication technology has given us. Our generation, with greater means than ever to reach the world with the gospel, is actually losing ground spiritually. The church's influence is apparently diminishing. Our message is becoming confused, and it is confusing. We are not speaking the truth plainly enough for the world to hear the message.

We who have access to the divinely inspired truth of God's Word should be confronting the apathy and foolishness of a society that is addicted to entertainment and ignorant of truth. We should be shouting truth from the rooftops, not adapting our message to the shallow and insipid amusements that have left our society morally and intellectually bankrupt.

Living in an age that has abandoned the quest for truth, the church cannot afford to be vacillating. We minister to people in desperate need of a word from the Lord, and we cannot soft-pedal our message or extenuate the gospel. If we make friends with the world, we set ourselves at enmity with God. If we trust worldly devices, we automatically relinquish the power of the Holy Spirit.

By all means, let's make the most of the opportunities modern technology affords us. But in the midst of it all, remember that we ought to be less concerned with what is fashionable more concerned with what is true. Rather than adapting our message to suit the new media, let's utilize the media to present the unadulterated message as clearly, as accurately, and as fully as possible. If we're faithful in that, the soil God has prepared will bear fruit. His Word will not return void.

John MacArthur


Jeremy said...

Dr. MacArthur (and Phil!)

Thanks for the reminder to us about what our blogging, and communication in ministry should be aimed at - proclaiming the Truth without apology! I appreciate this post greatly.

And thanks for demonstrating what you have just said so well on Larry King the other night! Soli Deo Gloria.

Jeri said...

Great post. Many thanks! Your opening remarks on spoonerisms remind me of a legend at Bob Jones University. Reportedly, our much loved and godly Bible teacher, Marshall Neal, once opened chapel in prayer by asking the Lord to "forgive our falling shorts".


Nathan White said...

MacArthur Said:"I think we would have to confess that the church for the most part has simply squandered the rich opportunities modern communication technology has given us. Our generation, with greater means than ever to reach the world with the gospel, is actually losing ground spiritually."

This coupled with your mention of Luke 12:48 is terribly convicting. Its so easy to fall into that ‘easy armchair Christianity’ rather than emulating Paul who said:

I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. 1 Cor 9:27

Let us also tremble at:

For the turning away of the simple will slay them,
And the complacency of fools will destroy them
-Proverbs 1:32

Complacency...will destroy?! God have mercy on us! Let us all repent of our complacency!

Thank you John for the graceful word spoken according to the need of the moment; thank you Phil for ‘sharing’ your blog :)

Joe Fleener said...

Thank you Phil and pastor MacArthur. With the work I have begun doing with The The Master's Academy International one of our desires is to use technology to just what pastor MacArthur has so clearly articulated!

Jeremy Moore said...

boy i hope this is just the start of Dr. MacArthur blogging...great post (already dl the podcast as we speak...er type)

Found out the other day that R.C Sproul will be on a new directv channel in the winter (hint hint), so good things all around!!

It must be Christmas!!

FX Turk said...

If lunch with Phil actually materializes on 9/1, I'm going to have nothing to say. I'm just going to sit there aghast that I am having lunch with someone who can e-mail the one man in American Christianity I consider to be an unequivocal voice in the wilderness and have him knock off about 1200 words for the blog.

I'm going to have to brush up on my Cubs stats or something, because if the blogosphere comes up I'm just going to swallow my tongue and start writhing on the floor. Doubtless, Phil will bring a camera and record that for his blog.

Renee said...

Thank You Dr. MacArthur and Phil for addressing this issue.

I am often troubled when I see professing Christians focusing more of their energies (on their blogs or websites) on matters of the world (such as race, the economy, politics, etc.) and less on sharing the Word of God with others. Sure, there is nothing wrong with addressing some of these issues because they affect us, however when they become the main focus, the Lord is left out of the picture.

It is great to see you address this issue with the Word.

Renee said...


I agree with jeremy moore,

I hope this is not the last time Dr. MacArthur visits the blog.

Phil Johnson said...


I hope you've inked in lunch on your calendar that day, because I am definitely planning on it.

BTW, your sidekick may have a sweet ride, but my sidekick has a better blogdesign.

ScoobyDrew said...

John wrote:

"A few years ago some of the guys who work on our radio broadcast put together a taped collection of all my verbal fumbles over the years. They collected about fifteen years' worth of out-takes and strung them together to make an entire sermon of nonsense. It was a painful thing to listen to."

As a Grace partner, I would love to hear something like that. Is there any way you could link to it from this blog?

puritanicoal said...

"...the church for the most part has simply squandered the rich opportunities modern communication technology has given us."

Dr. MacArthur, how true that is. We have taken our incredible ability to communicate, and turned it into entertainment instead of nourishment. In a book that you reviewed, "Counted Righteous in Christ," John Piper wrote, "I doubt that a religious ethos with such a feel for entertainment can really survive as Christian for too many more decades."

That the sun will never set on our proclaiming that Christ was made sin for our sins, in order that in Christ we might become righteous with His righteousness.

Phil Johnson said...

Scoob: I think we destroyed that tape as a gesture of kindness to our beloved pastor.

Shawn said...

Thanks Macarthur and Phil,

You both have been a great influence on me in the last 5 years. I thank you for the encouragement to share the gospel in many new ways.

May we be more passionate about God and His Glory than anything.

Weary Crusader said...

Thanks to you both,

Dr. MacArthur gives me motivation to continue.


Momo said...

I tried to get my pastor to post something worthwhile on my blog but I'm beginning to think he doesn't have anything decent to say. Must be nice to be you. :)

David said...

Thanks for this Phil - a good and timely word from Dr. MacArthur. I thought you and others might get a kick out of my most embarassing spoonerism. When I was a youth minister I was offering the pastoral prayer one morning and I praised Jesus for being perfectly sinful. I meant to say sinless.
A couple of people asked me about it in the hallway and I denied truth be told I was a little offended - I would never say something like that. Then, the Senior Pastor told me I had said it - I said "nuh-uh," and he looked at me very squarely and said "yes you did."
So there you have it - blasphemy from the pulpit. I have repented.
David Wayne, aka Jollyblogger

Away From The Brink said...

I had a music teacher that inserted foot in mouth as a young music leader.

He liked that his mentor would exhort the congregation to "sing lustily" the hymns.

Wanted to imitate his mentor, he once exhorted the congregation to "sing lustfully."

MTG said...


Chris Meirose said...

I think we have all fallen to the mis-ordered or mis-phrased words a time or two, but few ever do it before such a large group as Dr. MacArthur! I've heard an number of doozies from the pulpit, and I think anyone who speaks in front of other people long enough will encounter this embarassment. I think the trick is to have some sort of rehearsed thing to say when it happens, so you can laugh at it, get recentered, and move on with whatever you are talking about. I've heard some great "off the cuff" recoveries, that I believe were previously thought of just in case something happened.

Thank you for sharing today Dr. MacArthur, and keep up with your great ministry that is such a blessing to all of us. I have the pleasure of hearing your voice daily on 980AM KKMS, and the even better part is your show plays right before Greg Boyd, so I can get filled with scripture, and then have the satisfaction of turning the radio off on Boyd's program!

Big Chris
Because I said so blog

Bryan said...

Excelent entry. I had never heard of Spooner before, quite interesting.


Patrick Berryman said...

Dr. MacArthur and Phil,

First...thanks for your appearance on LKL. I've never been disappointed with your preparedness and evenhandedness, even in the midst of a hostile panel.

Second, thank you for the reminder of the great responsibility that we have because of the media that God has provided us with. As great as the internet is for spreading the truth, it is equally effective at disseminating error. The enemy has the same tools at his disposal, so the battle is not going to be easier, and we need to be more diligent than ever to proclaim the unsearchable riches of God.

Third, I've heard of spoonerisms, but I had no idea that Spooner was a preacher. That adds a whole new dimension to the story.

Finally, I'll finish with my favorite blooper (albeit not quite a spoonerism). A former pastor sent a letter to the whole congregation. As was his custom, he closed the letter with a phrase that was intended to encourage us. Instead, he wrote "Yours in the hope of a glorious immorality."

Jeremy said...

It's might not be well known, but the last President of Moody Bible Institute, Dr. Joe Stowell, was infamous on campus for "sponerisms" during President's Chapels. My favorite was his discription of large concrete trucks that were always in front of him as he drove in Chicago. Of course he was not aware of what he had said until the entire student body errupted in laughter at his "Big Ass-Fault Truck." Poor Joe, and any pastor (myself included) who has had a spoonerism here or there...

Brad Williams said...

Since I'm sandwhiched below some spammers on this comment, I think this might be safe.

I know what Dr. MacArthur means about having to be precise when everything you say is recorded. Many of my sermons are on the web in MP3 format.

What scares me is that someday people will realize that I hardly have an original thought in my head, and that I have stolen everything from dead Puritans, John MacArthur, and others. Then the jig will be up for sure.

Pedantic Protestant said...

If MacArthur decides to guestblog at PP, he just might begin to make something of himself! I'll gladly help him get his foot in the door.

Ronnie said...

What a nice surprise!

Thanks, Phil. I look forward to reading your thoughts, but this was a nice change.

The "spoonerisms" had me laughing out loud. Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

Jonny Mac arrives! Thanks, Phil and John, for that post.

Dr. MacArthur, I hope to get a chance to speak with you this semester (I'm back at school tomorrow), and, even though I don't have a funny "spoonerism" (or something like that), perhaps you will remember my dad. When you spoke in front of all the new freshmen last year (2004) for orientation, we approached you, spoke with you, and I got a picture with you. My Dad's first comment to you--without ever having met you before--was, "So... you're the one who broke me!" Perhaps it is true, but the strong Bible education I'm getting at your school is worth every bit. Please, start a blog! : D

Pastor Leo said...

A needed challenege to we who work each week to keep from sputtering and spoonering in the pulpit.
Not only has Dr. MacArthur been great used by Lord worldwide in ways only eternity can measure, God has used those behind the scenes folks as well. Having spent 20 years on the broadcast side of ministry (radio network), I have always appreciated the quality and professionalism of the Grace to You staff. Phil, Lance Quinn, Tom Pennington, Jay Flowers and many other dedicated people were (and I'm sure remain)a great blessing to those on the station side of things. Glad to see the iPod availabilty too.

Thanks again,

Jonathan Moorhead said...

Phil, I have often wondered who will chronicle Dr. MacArthur’s life. Is anything in the works for a biography or autobiography? I have heard whispers that Dr. Mayhew or Phil Johnson or perhaps a family member would write the biography.

Thanks for having him on the blog!

NetRealist said...

I just wanted to say thanks so much for the podcast. I live overseas and we have few churches here in Asia. If it weren't for the Grace for You broadcasts on the web, I might never hear a gospel-centered message. Those of you getting rich, word-centered preaching every week should never take that for granted! It is precious. Thanks again!

Dave C.

jthomas899 said...

Once while reading from Jude. I read "certain men slip in their underwear." I knew something was wrong when my sweet wife's eyes got as big as silver dollars and gave me the stangest look.

In another sermon I was trying to say the Inter-testament period, and I said the inter testial period. I caught that one as it came out and didn't look up till the sermon was over.


Tony Byrne said...

"We minister to people in desperate need of a word from the Lord, and we cannot soft-pedal our message or extenuate the gospel. If we make friends with the world, we set ourselves at enmity with God. If we trust worldly devices, we automatically relinquish the power of the Holy Spirit."

What stands out to me in this post is that these words are spoken with integrity. Dr. MacArthur is living by what he says here. He models biblical boldness, not an unwise "boldness" that doesn't care about theological accuracy in thought and speech. May such virtuous men increase to the praise of God's worthy Son.

KSmilkmaid said...

Thanks to both Phil and McArthur for this post. I listed to the Grace to You broadcast often while doing farm chores and caring for our children. The Lord has used you to touch my life in many ways. Thanks for your ministry.

I pray often for those using the internet. It is a great medium to reach people. Satan has used it effectively. I know Christ has a greater plan though. I will be checking out those Podcasts. Thanks again and Blessings to you both!

SoccerReformer said...

I once made a 2 or 3 asides in the same sermon referring to the fight between "Samson and Goliath."

My all-timer though was the pastor who conducted my wedding. In another sermon he made a reference to growing families in some of the church's Sunday School classes, singling out one teacher's class in particular by saying "Brother Jim's got half of the women in his class pregnant."

there was a bit of a hush in the room for a moment - then a lot of laughter.

jc said...

"you have tasted the whole worm"

what is this supposed to be?

Gunner said...

ynottony: Great point - Pastor MacArthur's encouragement here is more striking because his life backs it up. I'm a student at The Master's Seminary, and Pastor MacArthur does not only give us exhortations to hear but footprints to follow.

jc: The young man was being accused of having "wasted the whole term."

Jabbok said...

Dr. MacArthur said,
"If we're faithful in that, the soil God has prepared will bear fruit. His Word will not return void."

I'm certain that the soil God has prepared will bear fruit and His Word will not return void whether we're faithful or not. He is faithful.

ScoobyDrew said...


"you have tasted the whole worm" =

"you have wasted the whole term"

Unknown said...

Which paragraphs are yours? :-)

Fred Butler said...

Phil replied:

Scoob: I think we destroyed that tape as a gesture of kindness to our beloved pastor.

I have a personal copy of that tape, as well as a host of other audio collectibles from John. I have them hidden away at my house I break them out only on rare occasions.

I guess I could start an ebay auction. I will start bidding at a grand. ;-)

Hip and Thigh

John R. said...

Life's tough when the preacher looks at the clock and wonders "How fast can I get out of here?" I've had the experience. There's nothing like bombing in the pulpit. Communicating effectively is an eternal pursuit.

Had to keep from laughing out loud in the library as I read the Spoonerisms.

Innovation is a good thing.

Preaching at the core.

Innovation at the periphery.

Good Post.


FX Turk said...

Phil --

I am counting on lunch. I figure it'll be worth 500-750 hits on my blog afterward to tell everyone what it was like to buy you a steak and watch you eat it while I sat there trying not to make a fool out of myself.

BTW, this isn't like some internet sting operation where I go to Callahan's thinking I'm going to meet the director of GTY but the Feds are setting me up to meet a minor in order to book me on some trumped-up charge in order to shut my blog down and ruin my bookstore, is it? Are you working for Rob Schlapfer?

FX Turk said...

btw, Phil's sidekick's web design is ... is ... it's downright enviable. Totally branded.

Forgiven Sinner said...

John MacArthur is an awesome author and teacher. I can hardly wait to hear and meet him October 2nd.

Ben said...

Not to be off topic, but I've seen a few posters here that have attended either Moody Bible Institute or The Master's College. I'm looking into both, but cannot decide. Moody is more attractive because it is 1/3 the cost. If you feel called to respond, we should probably carry on this conversation via e-mail (see my profile) so we don't spam any more than we need to :) Any and all help and advice would be greatly appreciated!

Daniel said...

What a treat!

I notice that Pastor MacArthur didn't guest blog until after your hundredth post milestone... :-)

Timotheos said...

Thanks Phil and Dr. Macarthur for standing up for Biblical truth in a day of compromise and irrelevant pragmatism.

Away From The Brink said...

"...I saw you fight a liar on the college grounds; in fact, you have tasted the whole worm!"

"Fight a liar"="Light a fire"

Could this student have been our own beloved Pyromaniac?

Anonymous said...

Ben... TMC... enough said. ; )

David & Rose Ann said...

The daily podcasts of Grace to You are greatly appreciated. Thank you!