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Cheating to Show Yourself Approved

I was doing my student teaching in John’s Epistles as part of my doctoral studies in the early 2000s.  Toward the end of the term, the students’ research papers were due.  As I began to read through them, I noticed something strange about two papers.  The grammar and vocabulary kept changing dramatically as if a different writer was at the helm throughout sections of the paper.  Scattered within or at the very end of these sections a footnote cited the source that influenced the students’ thoughts.  I decided to take their papers to the library where I found the books they had cited.  To my surprise, both students had copied from their sources verbatim.

When my academic advisor and I approached these students, one was immediately “repentant” while the other was defiant.  Strangely, about two days later, both students changed their minds.  The “repentant” one became defiant, and the defiant one became repentant.  In the end, the unrepentant student failed my class while the repentant one received mercy and an opportunity to rewrite the paper and do some extra assignments.

There are two ways to show yourself approved in the eyes of men—hard work and cheating.  Hard work is the honest way while cheating is the way of sin.  When it comes to handling God’s Word in our preaching, Paul states plainly:

2 Timothy 2:15—Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth (ESV).

The verb translated “do your best” means to hurry, expedite, or eagerly make every effort to accomplish something.  This not optional for the called-of-God pastor in the local church.  Sure, we pastors consult commentaries, other pastors and their sermons, and perhaps even get help building our sermons as we work with fellow pastors that may be on staff at our church.  But none of these approaches should be allowed to threaten God’s clear instruction in 2 Timothy 2:15.

Ed Litton is but one of many tragic examples of men that have persistently chosen to cheat to show themselves approved.  Let’s be frank—no pastor has ever had a completely original thought.  Between the depths of wisdom in God’s Word and the Holy Spirit-led wisdom of countless Christian preachers over the past two thousand years, no contemporary pastor goes unaffected .  But there is a stark difference between being influenced by and stealing from others.  In the Litton case, his deception is all the greater and evidenced by his use of personal illustrations stolen from other preachers as if they happened in his own life.  Litton has yet to acknowledge this aspect of his lies as he only acknowledges what J.D. Greear gave him permission to use.  But there is no way that Greear’s permission for Litton to use his sermon notes included using Greear’s personal life experiences.  If Greear was/is okay with this, then he too becomes a suspect of cheating to show yourself approved.

If Ed Litton had been in my seminary class twenty years ago and refused to repent of his cheating in its entirety, he would have failed the class with the full support of my academic advisor, department chair, and seminary president.  All this to say, Litton must be held accountable as the SBC President, as a pastor, and as a Christian.  He will do more good in all these areas and for all involved, as well for the onlooking world, if he would repent entirely.  If he refuses to repent, and the other SBC leaders choose to remain silent as most have now for several months, then it is time for churches to consider withdrawing fellowship from the SBC.  There are many valid reasons for this final step intertwined with the topic at hand that can be summed up by the following question:

If the SBC is unwilling and unable to handle the issue of a plagiarizing SBC President, how can it handle the more pernicious issues of abortion, homosexuality, critical race theory and intersectionality, and women pastors to name only a few?

Solid Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta

plagiarism, SBC, sermon writing