What is the Role of a Christian Writer?
I have a lot of words in print, and it scares me. As a fallible—nay, sinful—person with a young perspective on the world, I worry that my words may somehow mislead. Many of my words live in the nebulous world of the internet, in blogs and articles and tweets. I am quite sure a good critic could cross-examine my writing and find great fault.
So this anxiety (which I know is unbiblical per Matthew 6:34) got me to thinking about my role as a Christian author, article-writer, and poet. I spend hours upon hours every week in front of a computer screen, a Bible splayed open along with my heart. What am I doing here? What is the net result of these words strung together?
This morning I read a verse that I could not get past. You know how that happens, how every once in a while you read something in your Bible that impacts you so deeply you struggle to keep reading? It is like you have found a treasure, and you must turn it over in your hands and let the light dance through its angles.
Here it is:
Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old. (Matthew 13:52)
To be honest, I don’t even want to put words after this verse. I’d rather just have us sit with it. But I think I’m proving my point before I make it.
If you take a book idea to an agent or a publisher these days, you will first be vetted on your online platform. One friend in the industry told me publishers want to see an email list with 20,000 subscribers to take a book proposal seriously. That’s insane. Now I am not judging publishers, as they are simply doing the math and trying to figure out what it takes to get distracted people to buy books such that their paychecks clear the bank on the first and fifteenth. But this platform criteria is a funnel with a very small opening at the end.
This platform issue has been a problem for many writers, myself included. It limits books published by big publishing houses to those written by celebrities or pseudo-celebrities.
A Christian writer should not be bogged down with this platform issue. Sure, as a writer I want my writing to gain as large of an audience as God wills, but focusing on platform instead of writing is putting a roof on a house with no foundation.
The scribe of Christ—that is, anyone who spills words and follows Jesus—is tasked with a mission to share the treasures of God with all who would read their words. To build his platform, insofar as we are capable.
We are also called to share the light of Christ with others. I have often said that if one person benefits from my writing it has been worth it, and if we writers count others more significant than ourselves (Phil. 2:3), this is true.
Bringing Out Treasure
These days I am trying to read more than I write. The reason is because it is easy for my writing to outpace my wisdom. I think of writers like Eugene Peterson and C.S. Lewis, how their writing seemed to be drawn from a deep well. Like Peterson and Lewis, we must draw deeply from the well of the wisdom of God.
The Christian writer is not to write just to make others think. That is not enough. Making people think is easy—just challenge their ideas or shock them with controversy. That’s just noise, and Lord knows we don’t need more noise. No, the Christian writer is to fetch treasure to share with readers. Not life hacks. No leadership tips. Treasure.
Where is this treasure found? In the Word of God, of course. Just as the faithful pastor exegetes texts for congregants, the Christian writer should be an exegete of the text for readers. Now this could take many forms, and this is what I dearly love about the written word.
A beautiful poem can be an exegesis.
A novel can be an exegesis.
An article can be an exegesis. (In fact, this one hopefully is a decent exegesis of Matthew 13:52.)
There is much freedom for the Christian writer. If our work is borne out of a delight in the glory of God, we writers can play in the meadow of the written word like children. Our work can be academic, literary, humorous, or deep. There is freedom.
But as our guests sit down with us, we must fetch the treasure from where it can be found: the Word of God.
Knowing Your Treasure
Just this week I learned what the word eisegesis means. And I realized this word encapsulates my aforementioned fear of misleading readers. Eisegesis is reading your own presuppositions and worldview into the text, instead of exegesis, which is an attempt to bring out what the text means on its own terms. Writing from eisegesis is what I fear.
No one can claim to be free from the error of eisegesis. It is unavoidable, at least to some degree. Our presuppositions and worldview cannot be set aside, for we see through them. But the Christian writer must be an exterminator of eisegetical thought in their writing where it is found. We do not proof text. We do not quote Scripture without understanding its context. I have certainly done this, and I regret it.
So must a Christian writer be a scholar? Must he or she be a seminary graduate or a professor? By no means. But the Christian writer must be immersed in the Word of God. She must sit under it and let it warm her to life. It must be her primary means of research, but more than that—it must be her treasure.
The Christian writer serves the treasures of the glory of God to readers. The treasure is already prepared by the Jeweler. The writer merely delivers the treasure to the table, arranged beforehand on a platter of words.