Why Do I Write What I Write?
The other day, our summer intern at New Covenant asked me why I write on the things on which I write. Since I've been asked this question on a recurrent basis in recent years, I thought it might be helpful to write about it! Having written articles, essays and blog posts for nearly a decade now, I have had sufficient time to reflect on the reasons for and the criterion by which I decide to write what I write. Here are four thoughts on why I write the things that I write: I. I Write to Become a Writer. At the outset, it's extremely important for me to admit that I do not consider myself to be a good writer. In fact, I cringe when I go back and read some of the things that I wrote in the early days of my blogging--as I suspect that I will do when, in years to come, I read those things that I write at present. The truth of the matter is that I write what I write, in large part, to get better at writing. I started writing in order to learn how to write. I turned in a paper on John Calvin's use of Bernard of Clairvaux for a Reformation History course in seminary. Having put an enormous amount of time into uncovering every citation and reference in Calvin to this great Medieval experimentalist, I expected to see an 'A'--if not glowing praise for my diligent labors--at the top of the paper. Instead, there was a pronounced red 'C' on the top of the front page with the accompanying words: "Excellent breadth of research. Terrible grammar." This was the most discouraging event of my seminary education--and yet, it was the catylyst for my drive to learn how to write. I went to the professor who had rightly given me this grade and these remarks and asked, "If you could recommend one theologian who you believe is a good writer, who would it be?" Pausing for a moment, my professor said, "Well, let's see. Definitely not Van Til. You don't read Van Til to learn how to write!" He then paused again and said (in an emphatic tone), J.I. Packer. Read James Packer." I immediately bought J.I. Packer's Collected Shorter Writings (vol. 1, 2, 3 and 4) and began analyzing his grammar, sentence structure, citations and introduction of quotations. Blogging was a way in which I could try my hand at writing. I was an intern at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia when I started blogging at Feeding on Christ. Phil Ryken--an extremely gifted theologian and writer--set a high standard for me as a young man pursuing Gospel ministry and a writing ministry. By immediately publishing things on a blog, I was forced to be more careful than I would have been if I was simply writing papers for a seminary professor. I realized that people might actually read what I wrote. This gave me a heightened sense of urgency for the editorial process. I had to become my own editor if I was going to put things online for anyone to read. II. I Write to Carry Myself Through Ministry. 90% of what I write are things that have to do with what I am currently preaching on in worship, discussing with friends, debating with others or dealing with in pastoral ministry. As one who externally processes, writing helps me gather my thoughts and consolidate them into organized and more refined systems of thinking. Some people can do this without externally processing their thoughts. I, on the other hand, need to be able to verbalize or read what I am thinking in order to analyze it more carefully. In turn, I believe that this has also helped my preaching. So much of what I have written finds its way into sermons. The digestion process and the whittling down of thoughts yields the two-fold benefit of being put into print and into sermons. There is also a personal counseling aspect to what I write. I am an impulsive individual by nature. I tend to make quick decisions and to respond before giving myself enough time to think through matters thoroughly. Writing gives me the opportunity to slow down and counsel myself from Scripture as well as more carefully think through things that I have read or conversations that I have had with others. Writing forces me to pause before saying or doing things in ministry. It has become one of the more helpful means of growing as a pastor--especially when I am facing extremely challenging or painful experiences in pastoral ministry. III. I Write What I Perceive Needs to be Written. I suspect that there is nothing on which something has not been written. As Solomon noted, "Of the making of many books there is no end." That being said, there are always subjects or issues that have not received a careful or satisfactory treatment. I try to limit the things that I write to subjects that have not received their fair share of attention. I seek to write on things that I cannot find ample treatment on in the annals of church history. I have a close friend in the Christian writing and publishing world who gave me sage advice in the early days of my writing articles and essays. He said, "Nick, you always have to ask yourself the following questions: 'Am I the most suited to write this? Does it need to be written? Is there someone who has already written on it?'" This has been guiding counsel for me over the years. There have been times that I have started writing something and then realized that I was out of my depth or that someone in the circles in which I move has already written on that particular subject that was far better than what I could have produced. This had the added benefit of keeping me from wasting time that I do not have to waste writing things that do not need to be written. In order to keep track of those things that I believe need to be written, I use the note app on my iPhone. I log away in a note every subject of interest that arises in conversations that I have with other ministers or church members. As soon as I write on a particular subject, I update the list. This had helped me remember those subjects of interest. IV. I Write in Order to Edify Others. I seek to write on subjects that have a wide-reaching application to all Christians. There are so many subjects that are relevant to Christians and pastors at every stage of growth and development. There will never be enough written about Christ in all the Scriptures, Christian living, the life of the Church, the growth of the Church, the worship of God, spiritual warfare, etc. These are timeless themes that are immediately relevant to all Christians everywhere. I try to focus on these subjects more than others because they tend to have a transcendent value to them. While there is a need for current event analysis guided by a biblical worldview, I tend to think that those sort of posts have a short shelf life. As Kevin DeYoung recently wrote, "I’d rather write something that might still be helpful six months (or six days!) from now." I desire to write things that will edify or help other believers six months or six years from now. What I write may not be useful six years from now, but I try to make that a guiding test of much of what I write. Writing to edify others in the body of Christ should be one of the chief goals of all Christian writing. These are just a few of the thoughts that I have on why I write what I write. I am the first to admit that I am by no means a model writer. I am simply a Christian and a pastor seeking to use whatever gifts the Lord may have given me to help guide myself and others through the Christian life and pastoral ministry.