It was just moments before I would walk up the stairs and through the doors of Binkley Chapel, where I would then be “hooded” as a doctor of philosophy. Lined up outside with fellow graduates, all of us decked out in our regalia, I was handed a sign that said “I am going to” with a line underneath left blank.
The “I Am Going” sign is one of Southeastern Seminary’s trademarks. Southeastern faculty and staff love to ask people to answer that question with a marker and then hold the sign up for a picture. You can either write down where you are about to go or what you plan to do.
Jittery with emotions at the time, my mind drew a blank about that blank! Where am I going? What am I going to do? I’ve completed this PhD process and my formal education has come to an end. What next?
The only word that came to mind was “write.” No matter where I go or whatever else I do, I am going to write.
Ideas and Words
For almost a decade now, I’ve done most of my writing here at this blog. The routine of writing two or three articles a week has helped me discover my voice and grow in my skills. Feedback from readers has sharpened my thinking. I’ve learned why it is important to ponder, not pontificate. And why the goal is persuasion through solid argumentation, not “rallying the troops” through ranting.
One of my primary and constant callings in life is to write. Truthfully, “writing” is not nearly as enjoyable for me as “having written.” Ideas animate me, not words. But words are a powerful way of communicating ideas. And ideas, both true and false, have consequences.
The Beauty and Difficulty of Good Writing
On a plane trip late last year, I was reading an edition of First Things in which Roger Scruton wrote about good journalism and the life of the mind. In one well-crafted sentence, Scruton explained the beauty and difficulty of this kind of writing:
“To take the issues of the day, to give them the context that frames them and the arguments that reveal their importance – to do this in the minimum of space, and at the same time to mount a clear case for an opinion that you can express in all sincerity and in the hope of persuading the reader, is to engage in one of the hardest and most rewarding exercises of our reasoning powers.”
After reading that sentence, I reached into my carry-on luggage and found a pen so I could underline those words. I reread them several times and thought, Yes. That is what I want to do.
To take the issues of the day…
John Stott was famous for recommending believers engage in “double listening” – listening to the Word of God and to people in the world, in order to bring God’s Word to bear on the issues of the day. We need writers and thinkers and preachers who do this well, who can speak to the issues of our day and encourage people toward faithfulness.
… to give [the issues of the day] the context that frames them and the arguments that reveal their importance…
Anyone with a Facebook account can write about the news headlines. What we need are people who can widen the lens and put these issues in context. Writers should help people see why these issues are confronting us and not others. Sometimes, we’ll urge people to pay attention to deeper, more foundational issues that don’t make headlines. Good writers don’t just speak about the issues; they speak to the context that frames them.
… to do this in the minimum of space…
I have more than a few friends who mourn the loss of the long-form essay among evangelical blogs and books. It’s truly rare that articles exceeding two or three thousand words get widely-shared and read. With Scruton, however, I am excited by this challenge. The constraint of space, of cutting and chopping your work to meet an artificial word count can be freeing. Discipline makes you a better writer.
… and at the same time to mount a clear case for an opinion that you can express in all sincerity…
It’s one thing to point to an event, and another thing to make a point about it. The best essayists and bloggers and writers are making a case for something they believe in. Your sincere opinion invites sincere criticism. So get ready for the commenter who pats you on the back and the commenter that punches you in the face. Sometimes, it may be the same commenter!
… in the hope of persuading the reader…
Here’s why the writer goes public. It’s one thing to write down your opinion for yourself, or to work on your writing skills on your own. It’s another thing to envision your reader, anticipate his or her objections, and skillfully answer them as you promote your opinion. I realize that my blogs and essays may not always be persuasive, but I hope they at least make people think, to reconsider some assumptions they’ve never questioned before.
… to engage in one of the hardest and most rewarding exercises of our reasoning powers.
Yes, it is hard to reason in this way, with minimal space, in an environment where many people are looking for confirmation of what they already believe rather than an encounter with another point of view. Nevertheless, this practice is rewarding. In anticipating and answering objections, we grow. We learn how to reason. We become better at clarifying our points and persuading our readers.
Going to Write
With my dissertation behind me and new adventures in writing books and blogs on the horizon, I realize I was right to go with the first thing that popped in my head that morning in the moments before Graduation. So, in 2016 and beyond, I am going to write. Thank you for reading.