The Difficulty of Good Christian Writing

The Difficulty of Good Christian Writing January 17, 2015

Matthew Hosier recently published a collection of keen observations about the phenomenon of contemporary Christian writing on his website Think Theology. In summary, his criticisms are:

  1. Too many Christian books are too long.
  2. Too many Christian books are too dull.
  3. Too many Christian books are written up sermons.
  4. Too many Christian books have too many quotes.
  5. Too many Christian books are more concerned with warning about something bad than encouraging the enjoyment of something good.

The task of the Christian book is difficult—it is not merely topical, and it is not straightforwardly theology or biblical studies per se: it is integration; double exegesis of Scripture and life. If I could add a point to Hosier’s list, it would be this:

  1. Too many Christian books make promises the gospel doesn’t make.

We operate with over-realized eschatologies. We insist on tying things up neatly with strings that shouldn’t be tied in such a fashion, or with such surety. Kevin Vanhoozer helps us to begin understanding this point:

“The truth of Christ is both gift and task. On the one hand, we have the Word written; on the other hand, we must interpret it. While its meaning has been fixed by the past, our grasp of that meaning is partial, and its significance is incomplete. There is an eschatological tension that must not be ignored, a tension that prohibits us from thinking that the truth—the single correct interpretation—is our present possession. It is a mistake, in other words, to confuse the content of tradition with any one moment of tradition. Truth, it has been said, is the daughter of time. It can neither be rushed nor coerced: ‘Nearly all the most discreditable actions of church institutions . . . flow from an improper anticipation of eschatology.’ Yes, it is difficult to wait, but it is worse to bring the quest for truth, for final interpretive solution, to a premature conclusion.”[1]

David Powlison brings into focus Vanhoozer’s point at the level of real life, insisting that interpreter of Scripture not only “exegetes” the text, but also the person. “Wise counseling ministry anchors in both horizons and in a double-exegesis.”[2]

Powlison warns us: “‘Trust that God is sovereign’ serves as omnirelevant counsel. . . . But Scripture itself is full of micronarratives of people’s lives and diverse microrevelations of God speaking and acting into particular situations.”[3] We should avoid this practical-theological “habit”: “Habits of treating ‘Truth’ in an over-verticalized and a-relational way sever crucial linkages even in how far-horizon redemptive ministry is perceived. ‘Speaking truth in love’ (Eph. 4:15) is more comprehensive, more personally/situationally relevant, and more relational than the phrase is usually understood.”[4]

Let’s not have an over-realized eschatology of our personal situations. Let’s not assume there’s more to say than there is. Let’s take the responsibility not to speak more than we should as part and parcel of our call to be faithful witnesses of Scripture. Are our words tethered to the realities of life—are our gospel realities discernible when not spoken in terms of life-lived—or are they perfectly at home untethered, free-floating, irrelevant from the millions of concrete, dark, cold, isolated, hopeless life-realities crying out for redemption?

[1] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text?: The Bible, The Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 429.

[2] David Powlison, “Counseling through the Lens of Scripture: Updating the Conversation,” Delivered at the 2009 meeting of the Northeastern Regional Evangelical Theological Society, 2.

[3] Ibid., 3.

[4] Ibid.


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