A Workshop on Writing: Personal Reflections
Recently, Dr. Jason Duesing asked me to share on the subject of writing to the rest of our faculty at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. As Research Professor at MBTS, I’m glad to do my part in helping to nurture a culture of research and writing among faculty and students.
I love writing. For me, writing is a divine calling. It’s also a lifelong passion and a guiding vision. For our purposes, I’d like to cover our subject in two parts: the why of writing (Part 1) and the how of writing (Part 2). First, why write?
Part 1: Why Write?
That’s a good question to start with. Not everyone starts there, but I think that’s a good place to begin. For me, my vision for writing as a Christian started when I read a book by Douglas Hyde, Dedication & Leadership. A former communist, Hyde said communists put Christians to shame by their effective use of propaganda and he challenged Christians to emulate communists, not in their ideology, but in their skillful use of persuasive arguments and rhetoric.
For some reason, it caught my attention and helped me realize that, first of all, writing can be a strategic stewardship.
There are typically only a handful of students taking my classes. Writing is a way to extend my audience beyond the classroom to a regional, national, sometimes even global audience. Writing helps me transcend both time and space. People might read something I’ve written even after I’ve already died, so writing is transcending those limitations. Also, some of my books might be translated into other languages, so there is even an opportunity sometimes to have a cross-cultural impact as well.
Strategic stewardship would be one good reason for writing. Stewardship means that it makes good use of my time because it’s very productive and multiplies my labors beyond teaching just a handful of students, even though there can, of course, be some good synergy.
Classroom teaching may give me some of the questions that people are asking, and then I can write about it and address them in my writing. So, I’ve often found that when people ask me: What do you like better, teaching or writing? there is some sort of a symbiotic relationship between the two, and I can’t really imagine not teaching at all because I’d probably dry up before too long if I did that.
So, writing is strategic stewardship, leaving a written deposit for subsequent generations. Therefore, let me ask you: What’s your strategy?
I write unashamedly to persuade, not just to inform or to put something out there randomly. So, there is a purpose for my writing. Writing for me is not an end in itself, just because I like writing so much! I want to persuade people in two ways. I want to persuade them in the truth, and I also want to persuade them of falsehood in some cases and defend orthodox doctrine or right beliefs, whether it is the apostolic authorship of John’s Gospel or interacting with Bart Ehrman.
This struck me as revealing: some people think, well, I’m supposed to publish, so I better do that, but it’s not because of a driving passion, like Paul, who said: Woe is me if I don’t preach the gospel! Woe is me if I don’t write! He had this passion to communicate the gospel. So, my advice to you is this: Only write if you have something to say, and preferably something that is not already universally known, where you can make an original contribution, something that capitalizes on your gifts, your strengths, your background, something you’re passionate about.
Just like with strategic stewardship, where I asked you: What’s your strategy? my question to you here would be: What’s your passion? What are you passionate about? And then, third, concentrated contribution.
Pick two or three areas of major interest and develop publishing expertise: your dissertation area, perhaps. It doesn’t mean you’re stuck with whatever you happened to write your dissertation on, but it could be a foundation, and then you branch out into other areas. In my case, it happened to be John and mission, because I wrote my dissertation on John 20:21, “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you,” on John’s theology of mission.
Another area, somewhat unrelated, that I developed an interest in was biblical manhood and womanhood, so that was a second area of interest, and related to that, Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus, because there is a lot there on biblical manhood and womanhood.
Also, I am passionate about BT, hermeneutics, and NT Greek. It may seem random, but all these interests flow from my commitment to study Scripture as it ought to be studied, if possible, in the original languages, following proper rules of biblical interpretation, as an outflow of my commitment to biblical authority and to impress it on others and to assist them in that.
So, writing entails strategic stewardship, passionate persuasion, and concentrated contribution. My question to you on that third point is: What’s your contribution? Where do you feel you can make a contribution? This will be just a limited number of areas where you keep up with the literature and become an authority in the field.
Note: This blog is an excerpt from an address I originally delivered at the Faculty Writing Workshop at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, February 14, 2019.