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A Pastor’s Reflections: Why I Write, part 1

October 24, 2017

J. V. Fesko

Over the years I have had a number of people ask me why do I write theology books and essays, so I figured I’d do the expected thing and write an answer! I don’t know why other people write, but I have my own reasons. First, it’s a gift from God and I want to be a good steward of this gift. When I was in seminary I had many friends who did everything they could to avoid writing papers. If there was a choice between an exam or a paper, they always chose the exam. I did the opposite—I always chose to write the paper. In fact, my particular degree required that I had to write a major 20-25 page research paper for every class that I took. That meant I was writing roughly 100-150 pages worth of papers each semester I was in seminary. As I’ve reflected on these past events, I’ve come to the conclusion that God gave me the gift of writing, and so I want to use, hone, and be a good steward with this gift. I’m not saying that I’m the best writer around and am “gifted.” Far from it. Rather, God gives us all talents, abilities, and interests, and one of mine just happens to be the desire to write.

Second, writing makes me a better communicator. Writing forces me to think in a concise organized fashion. I have to organize my thoughts and ensure that I’m within the stated word limits for an essay or book. This helps me with my preaching and teaching.

Third, writing helps me to be a better teacher. What many people do not realize is that, ideally, writing and research should be the pillars for a good teaching ministry. I’ve heard a big-name theologian once say that he wrote his initial lectures in the beginning of his career, and then never really did much with them for the next twenty years. I was aghast, to say the least. This means that this professor’s students received relatively fresh material for the first three to five years, and after that it was stale for the next fifteen years. When I research and write, my work is an integral part of my teaching. I incorporate my research and writing in my lectures. This also means that when my book or essay comes out, I don’t want to rehash the published material. I don’t want students thinking, “Gee, I could have read his book from the comforts of my bed with a nice Latte, why did I come to class this morning?” This means that I am always honing my lecture material, digging deeper, and doing my best to master my subject-matter. The more proficient I become in my subject, the better the classroom experience becomes for students.

Fourth, I don’t want to be a “me too” theologian. There is a saying in my denomination: “It’s been said, but not everyone has said it.” This means that you can sit in a very long meeting where you hear the same speech over and over again because people feel the need to say, “Yes, I too think such and such.” The same pattern unfolds in the publishing world. You can pick up several books on the same topic and see that they largely say the same thing. Perhaps there is a place for this, but at the same time I don’t want to contribute to this trend. I want to do my best to offer something unique or new to the conversation. I don’t want to be novel or theologically innovative. Innovation is the mother of theological trouble. Rather, authors often exposit the same texts, cite the same works, and say the same things as other authors. The more I research a topic, I find out that there are things that the church has forgotten. There are other texts and other works that I can cite that offer new, or more properly forgotten, insights into a subject.

In next week's post I conclude this entry by giving the final three reasons why I write.