The Whisper of Plagiarism

Dr. Ed Litton, pastor of Redemption Church in Saraland, Alabama, was elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention after contentious debate and a lot of dirty political maneuverings by his supporters. He was hailed by the academic elite in WokeEVA Inc. and the secular media as this moderate choice for the SBC after the convention attendees were able to beat back those terrible legalistic ultra-conservatives.

I’ll let readers do their own research regarding the aftermath of the 2021 convention and what all of it forebodes for conservative, Bible-loving Southern Baptists. What came to light within the week or so after the convention is what is most concerning.

Back in January 2019, then SBC president J.D. Greear, “preached” a sermon (really more of a TEDtalk) on Romans 1:26-32, where Paul condemns homosexual sin. Greear downplayed the seriousness of the sexual perversion by declaring homosexuality as no more sinful than heterosexual sin and saying how God speaks much more loudly about injustice, theft, and other similar lesser sins, and “whispers” about sexual sins. We as Christians, he says, should only whisper about those sins God whispers about. He was rightfully criticized and his sermon was another sad illustration of how big megachurch elites in the SBC were not only wildly off-target regarding the wickedness that struts throughout our culture, but also terrible handlers of God’s Word.

Fast-forward to the week of the 2021 SBC convention. Some alert soul happened to remember that Ed Litton had said something similar to Greear regarding God whispering about the sin of homosexuality. People who take sin seriously and know God has never whispered about any sin, especially the gross perversion of same-sex attraction and homosexuality, just face palmed and wondered why Litton wasn’t vetted before he was nominated to be the SBC president. Of course, he was vetted. Lots of solid men posted articles and podcasts detailing the problems with the man’s thinking and overall direction his leadership would take the SBC. But, no one really cared. They only wanted to beat those MAGAtard, white Christian nationalists who hate women.

While the SBC tumultuously wrestled over who would be the next president, another curious individual noticed that Litton’s whispering comments sounded way too familiar to what Greear said. He took the time to find Greear’s original sermon and then listened to Litton’s sermon preached exactly a year later in January 2020 on the same subject and was shocked — SHOCKED — to discover that there wasn’t a few similar comments, but entire sections literally plagiarized, including the opening illustrations and the exact outline of the passage! He edited the the two sermons together:

Many evangelical elites have roundly condemned plagiarism in sermons over the years. For example Justin Taylor contributed to an article at Desiring God, What is Plagiarism? back nearly 15 years ago. The same for Al Mohler who spoke against pastors plagiarizing sermons in one of his The Briefing daily podcasts, Plagiarizing in an Internet Age. Jared C. Wilson wrote for the 9 Marks blog an article entitled, “Thou Shalt Not Steal” that tells pastors that any plagiarizing of sermons is breaking the 8th commandment. And unironically, J.D. Greear wrote an article back in 2012, What Counts as Plagiarism in a Sermon? In it, he lays out 5 rules he follows so as not to plagiarize other men’s sermons, and Ed Litton broke every. single. one. of them.

Litton’s sermon on Romans is such a flagrant example of plagiarism that in a born-again, God-fearing Christian community that values holiness, obedience to God’s law, and personal integrity among it’s pastors, it should cause an instant disqualifying scandal for Litton. He should not only resign as SBC president, but also as pastor.

Regrettably, that won’t happen. Those who voted him in are not spirit-filled God fearing individuals who value God’s Word and personal holiness. It may be that a number of them aren’t even born-again, but I digress. In fact, all of those men who thundered against pastors plagiarizing sermons won’t say a word. Everyone will rush to defend him with some contorted, deformed version of the truth.

The sad reality is that such sermon mining has been going on for at least 2 decades since the advent of the internet. It’s not only practiced regularly by pastors at all levels, it’s actually encouraged by various websites who host prepared sermon outlines for either free download or purchase. The mindset excusing this naked intellectual laziness is that it frees up a pastor from having to spend his time in the study so as to concentrate on people and spreading the gospel. Why spend hours on a Thursday afternoon preparing a sermon when you can have one already made for you!? That way you can counsel, and hospital visit, and whatnot, and just read over the prepared sermon on Saturday afternoon.

It reveals the heart of a lot of what is wrong with the SBC and honestly, with the Church throughout the United States. No one values the Word of God anymore. They don’t want to study it or disciple others how to study it, and until that foundational attitude toward Scripture is changed in the heart of pastors and the people they shepherd, Bible-loving Christians will continue to be rolled by those latte-sipping worldlings.

Update as of June 27, 2021: Litton has responded to his plagiarizing by essentially confessing to it. In his statement, he says that he had permission by Greear to swipe his sermon. In a similar statement, Greear affirms that he did in fact give Litton permission to use it, so all is good and everyone should calm down. The problem, however, is that Litton at no point during the sermon alert his audience that he was borrowing heavily from Greear’s message from the previous year. That doesn’t help at all. Greear’s very first point in his article outlining his five rules for preventing plagiarism states,

1. If I ever preach the gist of another person’s sermon, meaning that I used the lion’s share of their message’s organization, points, or applications, I give credit. I don’t ever think it’s a good idea to preach someone else’s sermon… but in those rare times when you feel like you just can’t help it, you have to give credit. A sermon is a major thought unit. If it’s not yours, you have to acknowledge where it came from.

Litton’s sycophantic “yes men” all cheered those statements as “demonstrating integrity,” and said the charges of plagiarism need to be dropped. Well, if Greear’s rules are right, Litton certainly violated that first one.

Furthermore, as of Sunday morning following the revelation of his plagiarism, Litton’s church has scrubbed his Youtube channel or privatized over 100 videos of his sermons. That’s bizarre, and demonstrates a cover-up rather than the so-called transparency he and the SBC are supposed to be operating under these days. I have it under good authority that there are many other plagiarized sermons of his out there that are word-for-word verbatim. He and his team can scrubbed all they want but they must remember that the internet is forever.

Plagiarism Hunters

plagiarismThe latest evangelical “scandal” in recent weeks has been the discovery of plagiarism on the part of New Testament scholar, Peter O’Brien.

O’Brien, who is the professor emeritus at Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia, has written a number of popular evangelical commentaries. The first one I ever secured was a handsome copy of his fabulous work on Colossians from the Word series which I picked up used for like 10 bucks. He has also written on Ephesians, Philippians, and Hebrews for the Pillar NT commentary series.

His works are extremely well-done; being both well researched and crafted in a readable style that even lay-level individuals can benefit from, not to mention that he is conservative, an increasing rarity for commentary writers these days. The charge of plagiarism is almost laughable considering that O’Brien has the reputation of being an expert scholar in his field of NT studies.

According to this article, the story began over in Korea when a NT scholar published 22 commentaries in less than 7 years. Such an amazing accomplishment obviously raised red flags of suspicion. His work was challenged, and he was taken to court over the matter of plagiarism. When egregious examples were uncovered, in his defense, the Korean fellow pulled O’Brien’s commentary on Hebrews as proof that commentators often cite other commentators without attribution. In the case of O’Brien, he allegedly cited William Lane’s commentary on Hebrews in a number of places without noting it.

I agree with Stanley Porter’s take on the issue that he lays out in his article, that given the demand for Christian publishers to produce commentaries, the lack of competent scholars to write them, and the glut of commentaries already in print, a failure to properly cite sources is a real possibility among commentators. The question is whether or not it was intentional, as if the guy is a lazy, glory seeking slob, or accidental, which happens to everyone at some time or another.

In regards to O’Brien, I happen to side with the accidental conclusion. He’s gone on record insisting that any plagiarism was completely unintentional and seeks to correct it. I happen to take him at his word.

That being said, however, there is a squad of truthers who inhabit social media and the bloggosphere who insist any hint of plagiarism in any person’s work only reveals the dark heart of a cheating scumball. It doesn’t matter how small the alleged plagiarism may be or the explanation of how such horrific malfeasance could have crept in under the nose of the writer, nothing can be done except to savage the person publicly and burn his or her career to ash.

mobDoug Wilson is one who has come under the rancorous scrutiny of a particular blogger who has made destroying his ministry a white whale. Charges of being a serial plagiarist have been leveled against him. No matter how he tries to explain himself (see HERE for instance), he is considered such a villain, that his accuser is to be unquestioningly believed even though it has been soundly documented she is making stuff up against him.

Now I don’t want people to misunderstand me. I think plagiarism is bad. Even as a low level internet blogger, I do my best to cite my sources and provide link backs to individuals who may have influenced my thinking on some issue. In fact, I had an anonymous avatar plagiarize me once. The faceless entity cut and pasted an article I wrote answering a particular point of apologetics and posted it to a web forum in response to an atheist he was haggling with about the existence of God. I wouldn’t have even known about it if it wasn’t for another atheist who recognized it as my writing and alerted me to it.

I expect everyone who is a serious writer/researcher/publisher to take plagiarism seriously, primarily for the reason we should guard against any sloppy laziness on the part of writers, and to have the backs of those clever individuals who were clearly plagiarized.

But I think we need to keep in mind that when it comes to theological writing, especially commentary publishing, if there are dozens and dozens of commentaries on the book of John (and this can be over the course of centuries), how many ways can a scholar comment upon John 3:16 before he begins to repeat what others have already stated? If a scholar ever reaches a place where he is attempting to be fresh and novel with his theological commenting for the fear of a plagiarism scandal brewing around him, he is beginning to wander into dangerous territory.  The idea of “fresh” and “novel” usually gets us N.T. Wright’s views on justification and the cranks over at Biologos.

Additionally, should our immediate response to any and all instances of alleged plagiarism be to conclude that it is truly the work of a sinister scoundrel? Can no one be extended the benefit of the doubt? If they are apologetic and equally embarrassed can we just say, “Go back and fix it and be more careful the next time?”

Sadly, the one area where I believe plagiarism is an uncontained wild fire is among Bible preachers and teachers. That is because it is really easy for overworked, beleaguered pastors who don’t manage their time well to scour the online sermon prep sites in order to pull their message together. Study time is finished in a snap and the pastor can return to the more important things like hospital visitations and organizing the local shelter outreach.

I am familiar with a pastor who preached mediocre messages that felt like he hurriedly tossed them together on a Saturday afternoon. However, one Sunday the message was coherent and somewhat heartwarming. It even had an alliterated outline and a powerpoint presentation to go along with it. Soon it became noticeable to everyone when he started preaching these well crafted sermons every week both Sunday morning and evening.

Knowing what the guy’s preaching was like for a number of years before this marvelous change caused people to wonder how he found the time to spend on study, especially to add an accompanying powerpoint presentation. It wasn’t until one thoughtful congregant bothered to Google his outline and quickly uncovered the website from where he was copying his sermon.

Now discerning people, at least discerning people who have a deep, abiding love for integrity, would be aghast at such a revelation. I’ve spoken with some folks from my orbit of friends about this situation and they would insist on the pastor’s immediate dismissal for basically being an embezzling thief. Harsh.

Instead of him being confronted for thieving other people’s intellectual property, however, the greater majority of the church saw his copy-catting sermon notes as an inventive way to invest wisely in his sermon prep. He didn’t have to spend valuable time sitting at a desk all day slaving over a Bible lesson. What a tragic way for a pastor to think about ministering God’s Word.

Unfortunately, the internet, with its never ending sermon prep websites are never going away, and it will forever be a welcoming temptation. Logos is also another big culprit that adds to this problem as well. Pastors and teachers need to rediscover the seriousness of study and the impact their labor in the Word of God has in their pulpit and among the people they shepherd. That passion is only stirred when churches see the importance of sound, doctrinal preaching drawn from the exegesis of Scripture. Encourage your pastors and Sunday school teachers along those lines.

And of course, the plagiarism witch hunters aren’t helping either with their life destroying crusades. If they could take it down a notch, that’d be better for everyone all around.

Studies in Judges

judges9Next week will be a light week, it being Thanksgiving and all. The family is running around in Phoenix and the AZ desert, so besides from twittering, I’m not going to have anything on the blog.

A couple of years ago, I did an exposition on the books of Judges and Ruth for my volunteers. Doing a detailed study of the book caused it to become one of my favorites. There are some truly awesome stories within it’s pages.

I finally got all of the messages edited, and thought I would share with folks using Google Drive.

Hope it blesses your heart like it did mine.

Gleanings from Judges

The Bible and Homosexuality

After the Supreme Court decision, Pastor Don Green of Truth Community Church in the Cincinnati area, was one of the first pastors to walk his congregation through the subject of homosexuality in a conference devoted to the topic.

Don used to be our boss at Grace to You until he was called to pastor a church plant. It originally met in the Creation Museum and now they have their own building.

The Conference messages can be downloaded in two areas currently.

At their Sermon Series archive and their Conference archive.

The messages are bold and clear and are a much needed encouragement coming from a solid man of God like Don.

Here is the list in order,

1. Refuting the Five Myths on Homosexuality

2. Why Homosexuality is Wrong

3. Scripture, Shellfish, and Homosexual Sin

4. Addressing the Heart of Same-Sex Attraction

5. The Future of the Church and Homosexuality

I believe readers will be exceptionally blessed by his thoughtful, caring, and convicting presentations.

Fundamentals of Expository Preaching

I tweeted this link out when I became aware of it a week or so ago. The Master’s Seminary is posting videos of seminary course lectures on-line. There are a lot of valuable resources already available here, but I wanted to highlight the one on preaching that is taught by both John MacArthur and Steve Lawson,

Fundamentals of Expository Preaching

I have been slowly working my way through these lectures and wishing Steve Lawson had been available to teach our courses back when I went to seminary. Not to say the men who taught me were hacks or anything, but Dr. Lawson brings a gravitas and finesse that is much needed in the pulpit these days. He begins his lectures on the 4th video.

It’s fabulous stuff and I would encourage pastors to gather around the young men in their churches who may have a desire to preach and watch these lectures together. They’d make for some good discipleship training material.

Audio Recommendations

I thought I would shoot you all a couple of audio recommendations for this week if you are interested.

First up, even though the family and I have been in the process of uprooting our lives for the past few weeks to move into a new house, I still had the opportunity to preach on Mother’s Day Sunday. Topic was on the nature of saving faith in the apologetic encounter. You can download or listen here,

Saving Faith and Apologetics

Secondly, the fine chaps over at Domain of Truth alerted me to a lecture series Dr. William Barrick did for Central Seminary back in February of this year on the subject of Genesis. There is a lot of good stuff here to consider regarding how we are to read Genesis,

In the Beginning: Creation and Biblical Authority

Note at the bottom that the series is also downloadable as one podcast file. May make getting them all easier for you.

The Pastor and His Sermon Prep.

One of the highlights with the Shepherd’s Conference every year is the panel Q&A with the participants that generally takes place on Thursday of the conference.  This year, John MacArthur, Phil Johnson, Tom Pennington, Al Mohler, and Steve Lawson chatted with each other about their sermon preparation and the techniques and steps they take to craft their messages.

Of the group, only Phil does his work on a computer. Pretty much all the other guys do their prep long hand writing with a fountain pen. That revelation warmed my heart, because I am one of those guys trapped in the transition between the hand-writing age/computer age, and I learned in college how to take my notes and prepare a rough draft long hand, and then write it out on a typewriter (remember those!) and now a computer. I do that with my sermons as well as even blogging at times, particularly my longer blog articles I compile.

The conversation was interesting and fun to hear as the men explained the reason for why they prepare the way the do. It’s the one session I recommend all pastors to download.

Shepherd’s Conference 2013 Q&A

Podcasts Worth Your Time

I added a new category to my sidebar link: Podcasts I believe are worth your investment with time. Let me highlight them for you.

David Wheaton’s Christian Worldview program.  David’s weekend, 1 hour radio program always has some interesting topic and/or guest.

Copperfield Bible Church.  This is the preaching of Dan Phillips of Biblical Christianity and Pyromaniacs.  Dan has been a tremendous internet pal to me and he and I think a lot alike on many theological issues. I’ve been listening to his series on Titus. It is fabulous exposition.  I believe there is maybe 9 sermons so far and Dan has just wrapped up an overview through the first 4 verses! You’ll be blessed to listen.

Stand to Reason. The weekend podcast of Greg Koukl. I’m not keen on the classic apologetics he advocates, but overall, Greg has some good stuff.

The Dividing Line.  The webcast of James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries. By far one of my favorite apologists.  I appreciate his discipline and integrity when it comes to proclaiming biblical apologetics in our culture.

The Grace Life Pulpit.  The Sunday morning teaching of Phil Johnson and Mike Riccardi.

The Line of Fire.  The weekly radio ministry of Michael Brown. And to head off any comments, yes, I am well aware that Dr. Brown is charismatic and leans heavily toward Arminian theology, but where he is solid, he’s solid and I’ve truly grown to appreciate the man’s ministry. BTW, James White is the one who introduced me to his stuff, so a Calvinist is to be blamed.

Truth Community Fellowship. This is the preaching of Don Green, who used to be featured on the Grace Life Pulpit.  God graciously brought him to a church plant in the Cincinnati area where he now pastors a growing flock that currently meets at the Creation Museum.

Now, also to head off any commenters chastising me for not mentioning Al Mohler, he has a couple of good podcasts, too, as I understand it.  Since his weekly show stopped, I haven’t been listening with as much regularity, if at all, to his new and re-tooled programs, and hence the reason I didn’t note them.  Still, they are probably worth your time.

And, a shout out to the preaching of my pal Gene Clyatt who pastors Parkside Baptist Church in Montana.  His sermon archive isn’t completely up-to-date, but I’ve enjoyed hearing the ones I’ve heard.

 

Podcasts Worth Your Time

I thought I would recommend three podcasts that I’ve been enjoying for a while now.

— First. My friend Dan Phillips went to pastor Copperfield Bible Church in Houston, Texas. His preaching and teaching is excellent and is available for podcast, here:

Copperfield Bible Church – Sermons

Dan has been going through the basic doctrinal statement of the church where he pastors, which is really a brief, lay-friendly introduction to Christianity.

— Second. My former colleague, Don Green, recently went to a new church plant, Truth Community Fellowship in the Cincinnati area. They currently meet at the Creation Museum of Answers in Genesis on Sunday mornings. Don has been teaching through the book of 1 John and just started a brief series on the providence of God. His last two messages on the atonement of Christ from 1 John 2:1,2 is some of the best preaching on that subject I’ve heard regarding particular redemption.

Truth Community Fellowship – Sermons

— Lastly, James White turned me on to listening to Michael Brown’s The Line of Fire program.

Dr. Brown is probably one of the better apologists addressing the onslaught of the current homosexual jihad by militant, gay activists in our culture. He has a daily, two hour program that addresses a myriad of topics, including issues pertaining to Israel and the Restoration of Israel in the future kingdom. If my Reformed brethren want to engage some of the better arguments for Israel’s restoration from one of the better apologists on the subject, they need to listen to Michael Brown. He also provides a healthy anecdote to the radical Evangelical anti-Zionism promoted by the likes of Gary Burge and similar supercessionist theologians.

One word of caution. Dr. Brown is charismatic, though his convictions on those matters don’t play heavily in any of his on-air discussions. The only place his charismaticism may bubble to the surface is how he entertains callers who tell him of “visions” the Spirit of God has given the person. To his credit, however, Dr. Brown is quick to offer rebuke and correction to some of the more wilder claims of “special spiritual knowledge.” Hopefully that little smudge won’t turn people off to giving him a listen. He has some good stuff to consider.