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Stolen Goods: Tempted to Plagiarize

Understanding the necessity of citation and the damage of deceit

A couple of years ago, a student in one of my preaching courses was struggling terribly. The sermons he preached in class were plodding, disorganized, and weakly supported exegetically and theologically. He was aware that he was not meeting expectations, and he was frustrated and embarrassed by his performance. But then, in his final opportunity to redeem himself in the course, he surprised us all by preaching a stunning sermon, both profound and lyrical. It was unexpectedly excellent.

Too good, in fact. Sadly suspicious, I plugged one of his more delicious phrases into Google. Alas, up came the whole sermon on a church's Web site, preached by the pastor of that church many months before. It was an unfortunate but clear case of plagiarism. That was not, however, the whole story. My search actually produced dozens of hits, disclosing that, evidently, my student was not the only preacher to find this particular sermon compelling. A number of others, all with their sermons posted online, had ...

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