“It means that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.”―Aslan describing the Deeper Magic: CS Lewis
True stories of plagiarized sermons…or were they?
A number of years ago, I spent a couple of years in Ed Young Jr’s Fellowship Church. We were new to Dallas, and it was near our house. I was pregnant and our second daughter had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. We were in no position to church shop. However, those couple of years afforded me a number of lessons and I still talk about those days many years later.
Back in those days, before the church grew into the megachurch it is today, we were herded out of the left side of the sanctuary immediately at the end of the service so the next group could get in the seats coming in from the right. We would then be lined up so that we could shake Ed’s hand and be shown the door to get our cars out of there so they cold fit in more cars. That church was a machine!
One day, a man in front of me shook Ed’s hand and said:
“That was a great sermon. I liked it even better then when I heard it at Willow Creek.
Ed paled, smiled and turned to shake my hand. I quickly shook his hand and chased the man into the parking lot. I asked him what was going on. He smiled and said that Bill Hybels preached the exact sermon a few years ago while he was attending that church.
We became good friends with his family, formed a Bible study and then we all left to attend Pete Briscoe’s church a year or so later.
However, was it really a plagiarized sermon? My friend from Willow Creek explained that he was under the impression that a church could join the Willow Creek Association and have complete access to the sermons at Willow Creek. He thought he ‘d been told that the ones who used the sermons didn’t have to give credit to Hybels, etc.
Let’s assume for a moment that this information is correct. It happened back in the 90s so it is hard to verify it. Since the time, I’ve heard that copying the sermons of others is a *time-honored* practice.
I can now hear the objections. Well, that’s just crazy Ed Young Jr. So, here is another example from my former Reformed Baptist (SBC) church. The leadership at this church was tied into all the *right* groups like The Gospel Coalition, etc. A couple of years into my membership in that church, I was listening to sermon by an associate pastor who told a supposedly true story that happened to his friend. Except, I happened to know that it wasn’t true. I had become an aficionado of Snopes. Here is the *true*story, as told by the pastor and as written about on Snopes in touching tale about a troubled boy named Teddy Stoddard and the teacher who turned his life around.
I wrote the pastor an email and explained the origin of the story. He apologized but blamed it on his friend except…
A couple of months later I attended a different service time. It was the same pastor who proceeded to tell the exact same sermon, including the supposedly spontaneous jokes. It came to the end and I waited, hoping he wouldn’t do it but he did! He repeated the same story, now knowing the story was false and had been published in a magazine in the 1950s as a fictional short story.
So, I went to the senior pastor who looked quite irritated at me as I recounted the story and said, “You know I’ll have to talk to him about this.” I said that I should certainly hope he would. Then he told me that telling these tales was a *time honored* Baptist tradition and that pastor had been trained in the old school method. I responded, “So they teach them to lie ?” It was not well received.
It is becoming quite easy to spot plagiarism due to the power of search engines.
The advent of the internet allows the average person to spot check sermons and speeches as well as to detect plagiarism in written material such as books, pamphlets etc. Psychology Today posted How to Not Plagiarize
Writing Psychology Papers in Your Own Words by Glen Geher. Not only does the author present what constitutes plagiarism in academia, he discusses how easy to is to spot plagiarism.
Oh if only students knew how easy this stuff is to spot, the entire practice would cease worldwide! First off, there are now many computer-based plagiarism checkers (e.g., “turnitin” via BlackBoard). Let alone the power of the Google search engine. When I’m reading something that just does not sound like a student wrote it – or if it just has way more details than it possibly should given the assignment, I’ll just grab a small sample and put it into the Google search bar with quotes around it. When I suspect plagiarism and do this, about 99% of the time a website or pdf files comes immediately up with the same wording. This process takes me about 4 seconds and it’s nearly something that can be done in my sleep. Things that come up are wikipedia sites (boo!), pdfs of published papers, websites, etc.
The only thing easier than plagiarizing is finding evidence of plagiarism. I think if more students realized this fact, this problem would go away.
I have empathy for those who much preach lengthy sermons due to their church traditions.
I actually believe that it is difficult to preach sermon after sermon, years on end, without using the works and words of others. In many churches in the Reformed or Baptist tradition, the sermon is the centerpiece of the church service, often lasting 45 minutes.
Quick digression: The Internet Monk recently wrote a thought provoking post What’s Wrong With The Sermon?: It’s Too Long. Thankfully, in my church tradition, the sermon is shorter. After years of listening to lengthy sermons, I actually find I remember more from a shorter sermon…but to each his own
I would assume that pastors would use many resources and quote from well know theologians. Recently, one pastor wrote me and met me know that he hands out the sources he used to put together the sermons
So, if a pastor or professor is utilizing the words or thoughts of another, why not simply admit it. It does not detract from the sermon, especially if the pastor/professor has his own unique style of presentation.
Why did I tell the Derek Thomas story on this blog?
One gracious commenter, after suggesting that I was a little lower than dirt, said
“I look forward to your response.”
Here it is.
I was once told that one letter to the editor in the local news media would equal the thoughts of about 1,000 others in the community. Most of the stories that I feature on this blog are here because I’ve heard about it from readers and their compatriots.Read that again.
Could it be that others have heard about this situation?
Years ago, when I first started blogging, I would actually delete unkind comments until one person said that she hoped I wouldn’t. She persuaded me that we should hear from people, in their own words, however awkward, what they think about issues in the post. I decided she was right. Therefore, I rarely delete harsh or pointed comments. I think it is helpful for those in positions of leadership to hear how things sound to the little guy out here. That also goes for me.
I have no problem with people harshly critiquing me or calling me names. In fact, when I see people getting bent out of shape, I realize I have kicked a hornet’s nest and I wonder why. Since that happened in this situation, I now believe that there is probably more to this story. Folks, when you get this angry, I know something is afoot.
Take a look at these two quotes. Both of these men were supposedly telling stories from their own lives. Is this just another example of the accepted tradition of borrowing stories from other sources and then pretending that it happened to the person retelling it? Was it unintentional? An incredible coincidence? Was it plagiarism or just plain cute?
Why is this story important to me, personally?
I would assume that most people know that Thomas’ seminary is the one run by Ligon Duncan. Duncan is one of the 4 in T4G: Duncan, Mark Dever, CJ Mahaney and Al Mohler. Duncan was, and as far as I know, still is an avid supporter of CJ Mahaney in spite of Al Mohler’s recent apology for supporting Mahaney who apparently lied to him about an investigation.
Here is a copy of the letter that Duncan wrote with his buddies in support of Mahaney. In. the meantime, Dee, along with many others, were reeling from the reports and allegations of the coverup of sex abuse in Sovereign Grace Ministries (Churches). I became friends with some of those families as I covered the story. It was sickening.
Duncan apparently believed the same lie that Al Mohler believed. Mahaney claimed that an investigation had been done. Nope.
So, to be perfectly frank, I do not trust the judgement of Ligon Duncan. If he remained silent in the face of years of pain and suffering by victims in the alleged coverup of SGM, why should I believe he made sure that everything has been documented in this situation?
Why I believe that there is more to this story.
I’ve been writing this blog for 10 years. When I see such vehemence on the part of just a few readers, new commenters at that, I know that I’ve struck a nerve. I’m a bit irritable since a few people decided to describe a perfectly sensible post on the admitted plagiarism by a pastor and seminary professor at Ligon Duncan’s Reformed Seminary.
Let’s look at the comments of those who accused me of unchristian behavior….
-(I perpetrated ) abuse on Thomas.
Thomas is the one who plagiarized. Had he reviewed his book carefully, this would not have happened.
Please read the book the Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse. Gossip is a buzz word for those who don’t want to hear what bothers other people.
-Sticking our fingers in everybody’s business is fun, titillating,
No it’s not. It’s interesting but it’s not fun. It’s not *everybody’s business.* It is the business of those who care about the church and how we handle issues. It ceased being a *private* matter the minute a book was published or sermons became available online. The public does have a right to know. Jesus said we are to be a light on the hill. That means everyone gets to look at us.
-Seeing others fall can often make us feel better about ourselves.
It didn’t help me. In fact, I felt a bit dismayed.
-Salacious gossip column
Salacious? Do you know the meaning of the word? Plagiarism is hardly salacious or titillating? Following the Kardashians might meet those definitions.
-Assumes the worst about someone.
Nope-I can think of lots worse. I write about lots worse.
-But the investigator was the victim himself, and the victim found no evidence that Dr. Thomas’ lack of attribution was intentional.
Plagiarism occurs even when the victim has no problem with it. It also occurs when the unquoted person is dead. That’s not the point.
Um…It’s just little ole me and some readers.
I think someone has been watching too much of Game of Thrones
He’s still teaching and preaching so mercy has been achieved. This post won’t change that.
I wrote one post on the matter until these comments starting rolling in. Now it’s two posts. It doesn’t fall under the *relentless* category.
When sensible conversation cannot be achieved, attack the faith of another.
-Why a Christian would be calling for such a destructive punishment
I would suggest reading tis article: The Price of Plagiarism: Why bother teaching our students not to cheat when professors can get away with it?
On many campus web sites, you will find little attention paid to scholars stealing from other scholars. As a professor, do you remember ever having to sign a declaration defining plagiarism before publishing an article or book? The publishing agreements we do sign — such as one I just signed for a forthcoming paper in an academic journal — include only a brief, vague statement that we “represent and warrant to the press and the journal that the article is original.” Who wouldn’t think their work is original? I wrote it, didn’t I?
-(He) committed unintentional plagiarism for which he repented of immediately.
I have problems when people start delving into the motives of others. Take a look at the two quotes above. Was that unintentional or merely an incredible coincidence?
-Failed to demonstrate why it is good and right that you tear down Dr. Thomas
I didn’t tear him down. I posted something that said he plagiarized. In fact, I said that he might be the nicest man on the planet but screwed up in this one area.
-A spirit of division and slander.
There is no division. People do things like this all the time unless you attend a perfect church/seminary. Now, it’s obvious that you have not read this blog. I have a real thing about the misuse of the word *slander* in the Christian community. Slander is the deliberate and knowing telling of a lie in order to cause malicious harm to another. In case you claim the Bible says different, please read my post Slander or an Inconvenient Truth.
In fact, by accusing me of slander, you may actually be the one slandering if you cannot prove that I deliberately and knowing lied in order to bring malicious harm to Thomas.
-Completely uninformed rant
Nope. I bet I know lots more about Thomas than many people.
-I would like to have seen the author reach out to the publisher, which he didn’t. To the elders at Thomas’s church, which he didn’t.
Do you think the story would have changed? Are you saying that what you’ve told us about the publisher and the elders isn’t true?
-You know nothing about Derek Thomas
I know more than I did.
We passed on an opinion. If I were asked to pass judgment, it would be handled differently.
-Inconvenient facts like investigation by the legitimate authorities
You mean the authorities with whom you feel comfortable.
-Half cocked internet mob justice
We have no means by which to achieve justice so this is just plain silly.
-Whether you think it’s hard to believe that it’s unintentional is not really up to you to decide.
It is hard for me to believe. However, I do have the right to state an opinion, even if we can’t *decide.*
-What makes this hit piece anything better than slime gossip is not discernible to me,
It’s all good. Read another blog or start one yourself.
-In the name of the unity of Christ’s Church, remove this trash.
Unity is not broken by pointing out problems in the church. In fact, the very Gospel points to our sinful nature. We can be unified in disagreement.
-First off, lumping Dr. Thomas in with others who have misused their office is stereotyping without basis. I’ve heard him preach and he has a very tender spirit about him. He’s humble.
So, who said anything about his humility or tender spirit. Who said anything about him misusing his office (I think you mean as pastor?) This is Christianese at its best.
-Then the Neo Calvinist “Hall of Shame” members are dragged into the piece.
Whether or not you like it, they are part of it. Good night! Think about it, Lowlandseer.
If everyone had held their collective breaths, this would have gone away with the next post, fading off into the internet sunset. Hopefully this will be the last piece on this matter. However, I’m a bit suspicious this is much more going on behind the scenes. I hope I’m wrong.
“For a long time I have been convinced that I could take a person with a high school education, give him or her a six-month trade school training, and provide a pastor who would be satisfactory to any discriminating American congregation. The curriculum would consist of four courses.
Course I: Creative Plagiarism. I would put you in touch with a wide range of excellent and inspirational talks, show you how to alter them just enough to obscure their origins, and get you a reputation for wit and wisdom.
Course II: Voice Control for Prayer and Counseling. We would develop your own distinct style of Holy Joe intonation, acquiring the skill in resonance and modulation that conveys an unmistakable aura of sanctity
Course III: Efficient Office Management. There is nothing that parishioners admire more in their pastors than the capacity to run a tight ship administratively. If we return all telephone calls within twenty-four hours, answer all letters within a week, distributing enough carbons to key people so that they know we are on top of things, and have just the right amount of clutter on our desks – not too much or we appear inefficient, not too little or we appear underemployed – we quickly get the reputation for efficiency that is far more important than anything that we actually do.
Course IV: Image Projection. Here we would master the half-dozen well-known and easily implemented devices that create the impression that we are terrifically busy and widely sought after for counsel by influential people in the community. A one-week refresher course each year would introduce new phrases that would convince our parishioners that we are bold innovators on the cutting edge of the megatrends and at the same time solidly rooted in all the traditional values of our sainted ancestors.”
Eugene H. Peterson. Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity (Kindle Locations 72-81). Kindle Edition.