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John Frame identifies a key to mature writing. It may not turn as many heads (or garner as many clicks), but the result will be work that is more honoring to the Lord and should last longer:

Before and during your writing, anticipate objections. If you are criticizing Barth, imagine Barth looking over your shoulder, reading your manuscript, giving his reactions. This point is crucial.

A truly self-critical attitude can save you from unclarity and unsound arguments.

It will also keep you from arrogance and unwarranted dogmatism—faults common to all theology (liberal as well as conservative). Don’t hesitate to say “probably” or even “I don’t know” when the circumstances warrant.

Self-criticism will also make you more “profound.” For often—perhaps usually—it is objections that force us to rethink our positions, to get beyond our superficial ideas, to wrestle with the really deep theological issues. As you anticipate objections to your replies to objections to your replies, and so forth, you will find yourself being pushed irresistibly into the realm of the “difficult questions,” the theological profundities.

In self-criticism the creative use of the theological imagination is tremendously important.

Keep asking such questions as these.

(a) Can I take my source’s idea in a more favorable sense? A less favorable one?

(b) Does my idea provide the only escape from the difficulty, or are there others?

(c) In trying to escape from one bad extreme, am I in danger of falling into a different evil on the other side?

(d) Can I think of some counter-examples to my generalizations?

(e) Must I clarify my concepts, lest they be misunderstood?

(f) Will my conclusion be controversial and thus require more argument than I had planned?

You can read Frame’s whole piece on good theological writing.


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One thought on “Why and How to Be Self-Critical When You Write”

  1. Wesley says:

    This is helpful JT. Thanks.

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Justin Taylor, PhD


Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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