The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Apr 30, 2015

Academic Ghost Writing and Teacher-Student Interaction

Yesterday, I read for the first time two fascinating articles by a former "academic ghost writer," i.e., the professional guy (or gal) who writes papers for desperate (or lazy) students, for a fee. The two articles, by David Tomar, are "The Shadow Scholar: The Man Who Writes Your Students' Papers Tells His Stories" (on the Chronicle of Higher Education site: click here) and "Detecting and Deterring Ghostwritten Papers: A Guide to Best Practices" (on The Best Schools site: click here). The former article is under a pseudonym of Ed Dante (but both articles are by the same author). Academic ghost-writing, unlike plagiarism, is virtually undetectable since each paper is custom-tailored to an individual student's needs (for a price, of course). Based on his own account, I'm quite prepared to hail Mr. Tomar as the most scholarly guy alive! Who else can boast that they written papers, on various levels (yes, including the doctoral level) on history, philosophy, psychology, sports management, theology, sociology, maritime security, and, ironically enough, ethics?!

The saddest part of his article "The Shadow Scholar" is this statement here:
"I do a lot of work for seminary students. I like seminary students. They seem so blissfully unaware of the inherent contradiction in paying somebody to help them cheat in courses that are largely about walking in the light of God and providing an ethical model for others to follow. I have been commissioned to write many a passionate condemnation of America's moral decay as exemplified by abortion, gay marriage, or the teaching of evolution. All in all, we may presume that clerical authorities see these as a greater threat than the plagiarism committed by the future frocked." 
(by the way, on a related note: ghost-written sermons have been advertised in magazines from the time before the internet, so let's not assume preachers always do their own work, either)

Those of us who teach theology or biblical studies should not be so naive as to assume the temptation isn't there, or that Christians can't fall into that trap (while a grader at Southeastern, I once caught a student blatantly plagiarizing; on a book review assignment, they had basically just cut and pasted text from a blog that was reviewing the same book).

 In his article "Detecting and Deterring," Tomar categorizes his clients into 3 major groups: 1. "English Language Learners" (those whose native tongue is not English and often can find nobody to help them learn), 2. "Composition/research deficient students" (those who, in Tomar's words, represent the " tragically overlooked prevalence of students at the undergraduate and even graduate levels who simply lack the skills or knowledge to produce university-level writing or research"). The 3rd category is simply the "lazy student."

So what's the solution? In his second article, Tomar provides a number of helpful hints for both preventing and spotting such papers. It's the "deterring" part I wish to focus on. I have no wish here to diminish the theological significance nor dismaying irony of a Bible student cheating. Yet part of the problem is most likely a disconnect between teachers and students, including a lack of awareness concerning which students are struggling and how to help them. While we can't necessarily help the third category, the "lazy student," for the first two categories the faculty of a school should have a system in place for detecting and assisting those students most likely to struggle (Southeastern, my doctoral alma mater, has a dedicated "Student Writing Center" staff to assist just that type of student as well as anybody who just needs another person to look over their work). These students can easily be detected early on in college or seminary and directed towards resources that will help them improve. 

Furthermore, a teacher's enthusiasm for his or her subject may very well translate into willingness on the part of the student to actually study. As Tomar notes in "Detecting and Deterring," "I have also generally observed that students are more motivated to cheat in contexts where professors aren’t particularly motivated to teach." Indeed, "When the professor demonstrates passion for the material, this helps to create a moral dilemma about cheating that has more to do with the student/teacher relationship than with the notion of academic integrity. In reality, this relationship weighs heavier on the conscience."

Also, here's a thought (quite the radical one for Christian educators!): perhaps teachers should be willing to go the extra mile with their students, taking extra time to give them some pointers on their papers? (especially in undergrad) I'm not suggesting that teachers do their students' work for them, but our job is, after all to teach (and, biblically-speaking, to mentor). Yeah, spending 30-minutes with a student explaining the difference between a "devotional" commentary and an academic one, or why calling those of other theological persuasions an "idiot" is unacceptable in their paper, may take away some valuable time from writing my next killer article on "Social Scientific Perspectives on the Allegorical Interpretation of St. Ronald of Wendysia," but which activity, ultimately, is going to matter more to the Master?

At the methodological level, I have an idea I might start implementing. Instead of just requiring students to turn in their paper, I may require, from now on, that students turn in their research notes as well (I know, I know, some students, as well as major scholars, prefer to research as they write, so this might not work; differently people are wired to write in different ways).

One more final thought: In the second article, Mr. Tomar states, "When I worked as a ghostwriter, lazy students helped me to make my living but it was the lazy professors that made my life easier. The task of pretending to be a student in somebody’s class is greatly simplified when the professor takes no special steps to differentiate the course, its content, or its assignments from the many millions of other courses that have been taught on the same exact subject from time immemorial." Based on that, I have to conclude that someday, Mr. Tomar's former job may be outsourced to robots. No joke! Already a medical researcher, using a random text generator website, was able to get an article accepted by 17 medical journals! (click here for the story, and thanks to my Dad for sending me the link) Now, all 17 of those journals were "Pay-to-publish" journals that prey on those who are desparate; but that's precisely my point! Some teachers (or grad assistants) may pay as much or less attention to the papers they get than the editors of those "journals" do! Coupled with the superior capacity of computers to research the internet (let's not forget that recently IBM's "Watson" computer beat two champions at Jeopardy), the dawn of "AI Writers" may very well be upon us. Very soon "HAL2016" may be able to generate a B+ paper for next year's freshman . . . (and, personally, I'm looking forward to the first Baptist sermon written by a robot)

Note about peer-review journals

Apr 16, 2015

Guest essay by John R. Himes--An Alumni Reflects on the Closing of Tennessee Temple University

I have asked my father, John R. Himes, to post some thoughts on the recent closing of Tennessee Temple University, his college alma mater. At one point TTU boasted an enrollment in the thousands and was a premiere Baptist school. As of a few years ago, it was down to a few hundred, and now it has completely closed its doors, sending its students to Piedmont International University (click here for the news story). Why the drastic change? My father shares his thoughts.

The Demise of Tennessee Temple: A Cautionary Tale of a College

By John R. Himes

In 1976 when I graduated with my BA in Bible, Tennessee Temple College was a wonderful bastion of revival, soul-winning and fundamentalism. Sure, it had its problems. I’ve wondered many times why I did not have to take a course in Baptist history or polity, since it was ostensibly a Baptist school. But overall it was a very exciting place to be spiritually. At its peak, it had an enrollment of 4 or 5 thousand.

The governing church, Highland Park Baptist (HPBC), was large (at one point one of the largest churches in the U.S.) and promoted revival. Its pastor and the president of the school was Dr. Lee Roberson, a man unparalleled in his devotion to holy living and revival. We heard famous sermons such as “Prayer, Asking and Receiving” by John R. Rice, and “Payday Someday” by R. G. Lee, and saw revival with hundreds of students and others crowding the aisles.

Temple also had a wonderful emphasis on world evangelism. There was a missionary conference every Fall, sometimes attended by over 200 missionaries. It was through a missionary from Japan at this conference that God called me to be a missionary. HPBC then supported our ministry for 33 years in Japan, for which I thank God. However, it was through this connection that I eventually began to see a slide in the Christianity of the school and church.

After Dr. Roberson had retired and been replaced by *------* after a short time with another interim pastor, we visited the church on furlough. I thought *------* to be a great preacher, but a strange choice for the job since he was from the GARBC orbit rather than the Southwide Baptist Fellowship crowd with which many Temple graduates fellowshipped. Furthermore, many thought he was a poor administrator, and this turned out to be arguably so.

To me as a missionary the moment that defined the future for Highland Park Baptist Church came when a young missionary from South America showed his furlough slides in a training union and said, “We practice direct evangelism and do not advocate lifestyle evangelism.” Afterwards *-----* rose and excoriated the young missionary for this statement, saying, “All the evangelism we do at Highland Park is lifestyle evangelism.” This not only was rude and dismissive toward the young missionary, but inaccurate, since at that time HPBC was using a robot program to “cold call” people’s homes and deliver a taped salvation message! This event caused me to avoid presenting my furlough report at HPBC for many years after that.

In addition, Tennessee Temple’s treatment of alumni was somewhat cold. It seemed to me that they rarely ever reached out to alumni except to ask for money; twice they offered an alumni directory for sale for $100 (this is in stark contrast to the school I received my MA from, which always keeps me up-to-date and provides a much easier way to keep in contact with other alumni).

As time went on, Tennessee Temple drifted further and further from its alumni, who were largely independent Baptists. One furlough some years ago two friends and I visited the campus and entered the gymnasium where we had spent many happy hours working out. After we exited we were approached by a man who wondered what we were doing there, identifying himself as the new athletic director. When we said we were alumni, and two of us were independent Baptist preachers, he said, “I’m not sure what an independent Baptist is. Please explain it to me.”

That encounter typifies to me the primary reason for the demise of Tennessee Temple. Not too long after that it was announced that the college and church were joining a different ecclesiastical orientation (though still Baptist). Thus, the college left its roots. This process may not cause the demise of a college if it occurs over many years, as witness the fate of a school like Princeton which started out as a conservative Presbyterian school. However, in the case of Tennessee Temple, the process of departing from the positions of the alumni and supporters began shortly after the retirement of its founder, Dr. Lee Roberson.

From the point when the board unwisely hired a man from outside of the base of support of the school, the demise of the school was only a question of time. The final letter to the alumni announcing the news of the “merger” with another school (after said news had been published in the Chattanooga newspaper) sadly noted that in trying to save the school 17,000 brochures and letters were sent to alumni. Less than one percent of the alumni responded.

Apr 2, 2015

A Slightly Expanded Exegetical Discussion on why I Believe Babies go to Heaven

Generally I stay away from controversial theological topics (my desire is for this site to be a resource), but I felt I'd expand a bit on Dr. Danny Akin's brief discussion of why he believes babies go to heaven (click here; and thanks to my Doctorvater David Alan Black for mentioning this on his blog); I'm aware of counter-arguments to some of Dr. Akin's thoughts, so I want to expand a bit more on a few of his statements and mention a couple other relevant verses. (Dr. Akin is a theologian and scholar, president of my Alma mater Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and an excellent preacher)

This is, of course, a highly charged discussion at times, and also one that is not explicitly discussed in Scripture. Theologically, the debate can go either way: the inherent goodness and mercy of God, on the one hand, and the total depravity (however defined) and sin nature of all human beings from the moment they are conceived on the other hand. Furthermore, I cannot discern any theological positions that automatically fall on either side of the debate; both Calvinists and Arminians, for example, could take either position (one could argue, though, that the belief in regeneration prior to faith [which I do not hold to] might make this position a bit easier to defend).

Nonetheless, while Scripture does not directly discuss the topic, there are a few textual hints that seem to imply a certain "age of innocence" where a child may not be held accountable for their sin nature, or rather is held accountable but receives the mercy of God. First of all, we have such general statements as that in Isaiah 7:16, a particular prophecy will occur "before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good" (KJV; NET has something similar, "before the child knows how to reject evil and choose what is right"). All this proves, of course, is that at a certain stage, a "child"  is clearly distinct from an adult in his or her ability to make moral choices. Nevertheless, keep that distinction in mind as we look at some other verses, and this will play a key roll in our discussion of Revelation 20:11-15. (The Hebrew word for "child" here is na-ar, which seems to be a fairly broad word applicable to various ages, but context seems to indicate a very young age).

For me, 1 Kings 14:13 is also significant. As God curses Jeroboam's line for their wickedness, he declares through the prophet that of all his line, only this little child will be properly buried (Hebrew yalad, much more frequently referring to newborns and young babies; see, for example Genesis 21:8, Exodus 1:17, 2 Samuel 12:21-22; however, Genesis 4:23 may be a counter example, unless Lamech was bragging about killing a child!). Why, then, would this young child (perhaps still a baby) be given a peaceful  and proper burial in contrast to the rest of Jeroboam's line? Because "he is the only one in whom the Lord God of Israel found anything good" (NET; the KJV has "because in him there is found some good thing toward the LORD God of Israel"). Since this is a yalad, it is doubtful that the child or baby has had time to manifest a godly character (though a counter-example might be Samuel). What, then, is the "good" that God has seen in him? Context would seem to indicate the lack of wickedness that characterized the rest of Jeroboam's family, i.e., a sort of innocence. None of this denies the fact of Adam's sin imputed to our DNA (or whatever; I'm a Biblical studies guy, not a theologian, so pardon the inexact language). Rather, this may simply indicate that at a certain level the child was considered innocent. Once again, by itself this does not prove that babies go to heaven, but it's evidence that needs to be taken into consideration.

The most cited passage, of course, is 2 Samuel 12:15-23 where David quits weeping when the child dies and declares to his surprised servants that "I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me" (KJV; the NET has "I will go to him, but he cannot return to me"). Now, granted that David is not necessarily divinely inspired in what he says (in the way that the narrator is), and granted that David is probably referring to the afterlife in general, not necessarily a New Testament concept of "heaven" per se (this is a common counter-argument). Having said that, I see no other way to read the expression other than that David believed he actually would be in the presence of his child someday. The contrast "going to him" vs. "coming to me" seems to indicate this is not simply David saying "just like him  I'm going to die"; furthermore, the total loss of his child (with no hope of seeing him again) would certainly not have given David reason to stop weeping or begin to comfort his wife (and Dr. Akin makes this point in the link above). Regardless of David's own knowledge of the afterlife compared to our own, at the least he obviously did not consider his infant to be suffering in hell. 

In the New Testament, two passages are significant (both of them discussed by Dr. Akin). In Luke 18:15-17, Jesus says that "of such is the kingdom of heaven" (KJV; the NET has "the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these") in regards to little children (or, perhaps, babies or infants, though the parallel passage in Matthew 19:14 uses the broader paideia). Those who have toddlers in the house, of course, may be making an incredulous face right now, but nevertheless Jesus saw something distinct in children and/or babies--a "child-like faith." The counter-argument is that Jesus may not actually be saying "babies enter into the Kingdom of Heaven," but rather "those who have trust/faith like babies/children enter into the Kingdom of Heaven" (see verse 17). [note: I will take "Kingdom of Heaven" to broadly refer to the sphere of those who belong to God, including the temporary state in heaven and the eternal state of the New Jerusalem and New Earth] Yet consider the nature of the statement; would Jesus' declaration ring true if, in fact, children/babies did not go to heaven but rather were suffering in hell? This would be akin to saying "You have to be as famous as a football player to get into that club" when, in fact, football players are categorically not allowed to enter a particular club. Would it make sense to say "You have to be like a little child to enter into the Kingdom" when all those who die as a little child cannot possibly enter into the Kingdom? [I am loosely referring to those at too young an age to understand or accept the Gospel; I think the same line of thought might apply to those mentally unable to grasp the Gospel, i.e., mental toddlers, no matter what the age, but that's a discussion for another time] In other words, the effectiveness of Jesus' statement seems to presume that those who die as infants or little children do indeed populate the Kingdom of Heaven.

Finally (and I credit Dr. Akin for bringing this passage up, because I hadn't really thought of it), Revelation 20:11-15 indicates that the basis of eternal torment in the Lake of Fire is the evil works one has done, not the acquisition of a sin nature per se. Since infants, at least, cannot "choose the good or the evil" (remember, we saw that all the way back in Isaiah 7), consequently infants are not included in this group. In other words, here's my logic: 1. Isaiah 7:16 indicates that there is an age before which one can make moral choices; 2. Revelation 20:11-15 indicates that sinners are judges on the basis of their moral choices; 3. Consequently, infants are not included in the judgment of Revelation 20:11-5.

I trust this has been a helpful expansion of Dr. Akin's arguments that takes into account potential counter-arguments. In the end, those of us who are able to "choose the good and refuse the evil" must nevertheless trust in the saving power of the crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus Christ to save us from our sins; no other hope for salvation exists. For those who have died before they could "choose the good and refuse the evil," I also trust that Jesus' precious blood, through the grace of God, has washed away their old nature and regenerated them. To paraphrase Charles Spurgeon's quote (which Dr. Akin gives in his paper), "Mother and father, if you have a baby who has died, and yet you yourself have not repented and accepted Christ as your Savior, how horrible it would for your child to be enjoying the benefits of eternal fellowship with God Almighty and His Son, Jesus Christ, while you yourself suffer justly for your sins? Repent, and turn to the Resurrected Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, trust in Him alone for your salvation, the One who died on the cross for your sins and my sins yet rose again on the 3rd day by the power of God--'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved' (Acts 16:31)."

Dear reader, if you wish to post a comment, whether in agreement or disagreement, please keep it relevant and courteous.