Because I have spent much of my life writing articles and books, it has been necessary to consider what good writing is like. While I am sure that I do not have all of the answers, I think I have a few. In this post, in a running outline form, I shall share some of my guiding principles with the hope that some of you will find them useful and be encouraged to put some of your own ideas into print.
Christian writing should be
I. Biblical—but not academic.
- Writing that is informative, scholarly, and substantive,
- that uses the original languages and the best commentaries and helps,
- need not be dry as dust,
- using a stilted, abstract, passive, colorless style
- similar to that which is found in most Ph. D. dissertations.
But, instead, it can be,
II. Interesting—but not shallow.
- Interest can be aroused over a variety of matters:
- stories, jokes, unusual experiences.
- But, good writing arouses interest from the subject matter itself
- by exposing the interest values that are inherent in it,
- by relating it significantly to the reader and
- by doing so in a style that at every point is appropriate to him and that grows out of these values.
- Such a style will have warmth and vividness, will stress active verbs, and will adopt the best colloquial form of the day.
Good Christian writing also will be
III. Practical—but more than a stress on “how to.”
- While “how to” and good methodology are essential,
- the writing must address itself to problems and issues
- and meet needs;
- in short, it must be motivated by a desire to help someone in some way
- and should, in fact, do so.
That is why it must be
IV. Substantive—but clear and simple.
- It is hard work to strike the proper balance between substance and simplicity,
- but that is an essential factor.
- There is a large class of people who need to read substantive material but will do so only if they think that what they are reading isn’t.
- Because most academics refuse to write in a style that will reach them, their scholarship results in too little good.
When necessary, Christian writing must be
V. Polemical—but not personal.
- It should attack faulty positions, but not people.
- However, a writer should never smash a window unless he has another, better one to replace it; negative writing, calculated only to tear down or root up, is a blight.
- The Christian writer, therefore, must also plant and build.
- But there must be a zeal for truth, coupled with boldness; people are tired of pussyfooting.
And, finally, conservative Christian writing should be
VI. Innovative—but for a purpose.
- It must never contain innovation for its own sake.
- Rather, innovation must be used to clarify, freshen, and strengthen old truths,
- and it is important to realize that in many things the most radically innovative step of all is to be more biblical.