Tag Archives: Writing

Is it really worth writing? Thoughts on Great Christian Literature


There aren’t many truly great writers in the world today, and fewer still are Christians.  In any given generation, very few genuine classics are written, and this kind of literature is more often determined by history and the generations that follow than by those in which it was produced.  Magnificent authors are rare indeed and worth their weight in gold.

In contrast, above average and good writers are much easier to come by and abundant in every generation. But given the fact that the vast majority of Christian writers in our age will never write an authentically enduring work, does that make them unimportant?

I would argue no.  Like all contemporary cultural products, such works represent a wide spectrum of both quality and influence.  Some have great initial influence but are quickly left behind for the latest and greatest production.  Others have little initial impact but grow in influence over time as their significance and importance become increasingly acknowledged.  Still others are immediately recognized for their exceptional nature and outstanding quality.  Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, for example, was quickly (and rightly) hailed as one of the greatest novels of the 19th century, not merely in Russia, but throughout the world.

There are, of course, cases where magnificent literature is only recognized for what it is much later in time.  It’s influence and quality are only appreciated posthumously.  Pascal’s Penseeswere not found and published until after his death.  The writings of Thomas Aquinas were initially condemned by the Catholic church until, over a period of several generations, their value and brilliance became undeniable.

The vast majority of Christian works, however, find themselves in the category of being neither very noticeable nor influential.  They may have some value and meaning for their authors and the few who read them, but they do not bear the marks of magnificence and significance that truly great writings possess.

And yet, this rushing flood of what we might call “normal” Christian writings has a crucial place in the creation, maintenance, sustenance, and transformation of culture in our time.  Very often it’s the “average” and “mundane” things that we read and think about each day which ultimately mold and shape us most powerfully over time.

Consequently, most Christian writers write, not necessarily to make money, influence the masses, or produce magnificent works of literature that will be read and appreciated for generations to come.  Rather, they write because it is, in many ways, a divine calling and vocation.  God has given them something to say and a way to say it, even if only a precious few will take any notice.

I like the way Anne Frank put it in her now-famous dairy: “[I]t seems to me that neither I—nor for that matter anyone else—will be interested in the unbosomings of a thirteen-year-old school girl.  Still, what does that matter?  I want to write. . . .”

Perhaps the “unbosomings” of most writers—Christian and otherwise—will not be preserved in the museums, publishing houses, or churches of future generations in any concrete way.  They will, however, be read, absorbed, and creatively appropriated by some in their own time.  Perhaps a few will be passed on to those who come after by private collection, recollection, word of mouth, and way of life.  In the end, if God is in the writing, such an outcome is more than enough.  It is for this rather unremarkable Christian writer, anyway.


Lament of an Unexceptional Writer


Looking through some catalogs the other day, I came across the fourth volume in a five-volume systematic theology series being written by my PhD mentor, Veli-Matti Kärrkäinen.  It’s a massive 520-page tome that only represents one fifth of the entire work.  Besides these works, he has also written and edited more than twenty other books, over one hundred articles and chapters in collected works, and shows no signs of diminishing his voluminous output.  He does all of this on top of a full-time seminary teaching position that includes not only regular class responsibilities but also the mentoring of several PhD mentees.  He is also a part-time pastor of a Finnish church in Southern California since Finnish (not English!) is his native tongue.  In addition, he is docent of ecumenics at the University of Helsinki and is active in the World Council of Churches.  I’m assuming he also finds time to spend with his wife and children since he is happily married and the father of two.

I share this to make a point.  There are some people in this world who are not only exceptionally brilliant, they are exceptionally energetic and disciplined as well.  I know this because it takes much more than intelligence and energy to write books and articles.  It takes discipline and a lot of hard work.

As a writer, I have a folder in my computer entitled, “Thoughts on Files.”  When an idea or sudden flash of insight strikes me, I take a few moments to write down the beginnings of what I want to say about the issue, event, or idea.  As of this writing, besides numerous (bad and amateurish) poems, I have sixty blog posts (two of which are poems) and over a hundred and forty other “thoughts on files” saved for future development.  There are also sketches and outlines for at least three major books and several articles.  The fact is, I have tons of ideas I want to develop and communicate to others with more coming all the time.

If I am honest, however, it seems likely the vast majority will never be developed into even short works of writing, let alone a fully developed feature-length articles or full-blown books.  I could live another lifetime or two and never have enough time to write all I want to write.  Doubtless, additional lifetimes would only produce additional ideas that would continue to pile up in the “to be developed someday” folder.

When I think about it, it drives me to lament.  It does not bother me much that I may never engender a widespread readership or that my blogs will never go “viral.”  What vexes me more is the great likelihood that I will never have the satisfaction of taking all these scraps and pieces and weave them into a coherent and helpful whole that might be used by God for His glory and the edification of Christ’s body, the church.

Between the daily responsibilities of my teaching and mentoring ministry coupled with my family life and other interests, it is unlikely I have the intelligence, energy, or discipline to bring these thoughts to any semblance of full fruition.  Like the journals, letters, books, essays, memos, and poems of countless other average writers through the corridors of time, they will all turn to dust and be forgotten to the world in a relatively short span of time.

My lament, then, is not so much a lament of frustration or anger: “Why did you make me this way, God?”  Rather, it is a lament that my time and energy keep running out.  I think in my heart of hearts, I did want to make a larger and broader contribution to the body of Christ, perhaps by leaving behind a bestseller or two.  But in the end, the impact I have, though felt in much smaller ways, will be no less significant, so long as I am faithful to gifts and abilities God has given me.

They may not be gifts on a level with the exceptional whom we can certainly appreciate and admire.  Nevertheless, His gifts to me are still precious, and He only asks me to offer them up and use them for His glory.  I raise, therefore, not merely a lament, but also a sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise to God for all I have been given, be it much or little when compared to other writers.

As writer-extraordinaire John Lennox puts it in Against the Flow, “We must learn to be content with the significance that God gives us . . . and contentment comes when we understand that it has pleased God to make us just as we are” (81-82).

Thank you, Lord, for gifting Your church with exceptional writers.  And thank You, too, for making me just as I am and helping me use my gifts for Your greater glory and honor.


Why I Blog


People blog for a wide variety of motivations.  And as a result, the blogosphere has taken on a dizzying array of purposes and products.  Some blog because they want to chronicle their lives and the lives of those around them.  Some blog to share insights and ideas about politics and the surrounding culture.  Some blog because they want to be heard.  Some blog because they want to be famous.  Some blog because they think they have something to say and so others may as well have the chance to hear it.  Still others blog because they have too much time on their hands and don’t know what else to do with their lives.  Blogging is a popular pastime and they might as well jump on the bandwagon and join the fray.

For most, it is probably a complex and varied combination of all these reasons and more.

But in thinking over the question, it strikes me, it might be a good idea to ask myself, “Why do I actually blog?”

Here’s a first pass at an answer:

First and foremost, I blog because I am a writer.  But I do not write to be published, to become famous, or even to have something to post on my blog.  I write because I have to, because it is a calling.  Something—or perhaps it’s better to say Someone—deep within compels me to write.

Whereas some use conversation, others use silent reflection, and still others use art and music to clarify their thoughts, most of the time, I use writing.  It helps me process and understand what I’m thinking and feeling about God, His word, His world, myself, and others.  It’s also an opportunity to play around with words.  While others like to play Pokemon Go©, with their friends, their guitar, or their voice, I like to play with words.  Believe it or not, it’s almost a form of entertainment, bringing genuine joy and a profound sense of satisfaction.

I also blog because it makes public what was once only private.  There is a hope that the things written would be used by God to offer help, encouragement, and insight for those who want and need it.  Ultimately, and above all else, I blog as an offering to God, that He might somehow be honored and glorified.

On Sloth and Writing Well


In the field of writing, I have to admit, I envy the brilliant and productive, the disciplined and accomplished.  Like many others, I wish I could write dozens of books and articles and be a well-known published author and professor.  But there are two things I lack that those who do such things do not.  I lack both brilliance and diligence.

While all minds can be developed, true intellectual brilliance is something only God can give (or take away), so there’s no use in asking God, “Why did you make me this way?” or bemoaning the fact that when it comes to intellectual capacities, all people are not created equal.  A lack of industry, however, is something for which I certainly bear some responsibility.  But two main barriers stand in the way of such due diligence.

First, I want life to be easy.  I want things to flow magically from my mind to the page without significant energy being expended.  I want all of my writing to be instinctively and effortlessly inspired, all of my ideas to be clear, profound, and succinct.  I don’t want to have to work—and work hard—to produce those kinds of masterpieces!

Second, I like making excuses for why I have not been able to do more and produce more.  That way, I am not consciously accountable to God or the Christian community for my laziness and lack of intentionality.

The traditional word for these attitudes is sloth.  It’s a good word and one that has fallen out of favor in our leisure-obsessed society.  We like to be entertained and dazzled by the greatly gifted not so much because we can see God’s grace given to us in the midst of a pain-filled, sin-stained world, but because we like to experience the joy of amazement and enlightenment without putting forth much personal effort.  Why learn and produce music when I could listen to someone else create and sing it better?  Why write when someone else can say it more eloquently for me?

In Genesis 2:15 God gave human beings a mandate—a mandate linked to our nature as image-bearers.  That mandate was a creative one.  We were place in the world, placed in the garden “to work it and keep it,” to cultivate and be productive as a way to reflect God’s creativity and productivity in the world, as a way to honor Him as image-bearers.

I am almost 50.  Now is the time most in academia consider to be the “productive years” of a teaching ministry.  Now is the time when my mental faculties are still sharp and I am supposed to have the accumulated knowledge and wisdom that is worth sharing—and sharing well—with others.  To be sure, a large part of that takes place in the classroom and through ongoing friendships, mentoring relationships.  It also happens in the home and in the community as I interact with my immediate and extended family, with strangers, co-workers, and acquaintances.

But in the midst of all this, God keeps giving me ideas and pushing me to write them down and think about them more—to mold and shape them into something worth reading and considering and applying.  This is a stewardship that I simply must offer back to Him with both gratitude and sobriety.  I am deeply thankful for the insights He has bestowed upon me, but I am also sobered by the responsibility to be a good steward of those insights.

In this sense, I do not write to be published, to be noticed, to be impressive, or even to be helpful to others, as much as I want my writings to be.  I write to honor the One who calls me to write and gives me the motivation and ability to do it.  What He does with it after that is His business.  I only need to be faithful and depend upon Him to empower my efforts.

Oh God, save me from sloth.  Save me from a scattered and indifferent life that would bring You less glory than You so obviously and magnificently deserve.