3 Simple Methods for Writing

When I was teaching and preaching, I was asked how I decided what to teach, how I studied, and how I organized/wrote my notes. As a blogger, I get asked how I decide what to write and about my writing process. The answers I have are overly simplistic, but I thought I would share them. I do not expect that they will work for everyone. I might even be shocked to find out they work for anyone.

1. Capture Your Thoughts

The first thing I do when writing is thinking intentionally. This might seem like a silly point. I don’t know many people who have unintentional thoughts. My point is that the thought be intentionally oriented towards what you are writing. When I have spare moments, I want my thoughts to count. I have a limited amount of free time these days and have few spare thoughts to go around.

This does not mean that every free moment presents me with the opportunity to generate a new, isolated thought. I am not just free to think about writing. Not even close. My thoughts are tightly linked to the experiences of my day. But this does not prevent me from directing those thoughts intentionally.

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Mind the Gap, Mind Your Own Mess

Most incidents in my house involve music and a screaming child. Music is playing around the clock. Screaming children indicate every passing half hour. This incident was no different. I was rocking Olivia to sleep while Taylor Swift played. A scream originated from our children’s room and my wife got to the scene first. In my defense I was walking with a little baby while my wife did some speed walking. A later enunciation revealed more embarrassment than fear, “I had an accident.” Now yes, I was sad for my daughter but I was grateful that it was not something more serious. We had hoped to be past the accident stage but not worth getting upset.

Alaina moved Kenzie into the restroom, collected her spoiled clothes, and went for cleaning supplies. All the while Judah continued playing as if nothing had happened. I remained with Olive trying to settle her. I stood taking the scene in and was impressed at how the family handled it. There was a general mood of calm that helped Kenzie to settle down. Then a practical thought struck me. This was not a common occurrence in our home anymore. Yet the entire mood of the house was understanding and calm. It got me thinking about Paul’s teaching on church membership. When I teach on church discipline, one passage of Paul’s always received a double emphasis from me.

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Review: Daniel Strange’s Their Rock Is Not Like Our Rock (Zondervan)

“It is not enough to say what other religions are not: we must know what they are, for this affects our missiology and praxis” —Daniel Strange

How is a Christian supposed to talk with an individual deeply committed to another religion? How is the Christian to appropriately respect a person’s religious convictions while holding to the exclusivity of salvation found in Jesus Christ? How should a Christian relate the details and nuances of another religion to the truth claims of Christianity? It is for questions such as these that Daniel Strange tries “to develop and deploy a biblically rich and nuanced theology of religions” (32). This effort culminates in Their Rock Is Not Like Our Rocks.

Their Rock starts with some clarifying bluntness. Strange states, “evangelical theology of religions has been stunted in its growth” (32). He believes this has occurred due to justified, but nevertheless over-focused, defenses of “the exclusivity and uniqueness of Christ” and “questions of soteriology” (32).

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Jerry L. Walls’ Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory (Brazos Press)

“You cannot rationally be indifferent to heaven and hell.” (14)

A title like Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory: A Protestant View of the Cosmic Drama (henceforth, HHP) is bound to provoke interest. The idea of a Protestant purgatory is not novel (as is proven in the book itself) but certainly uncommon to many ears. As an important element of Catholic theology rejected in the Reformation, a Protestant doctrine of purgatory might sound like an oxymoron. Hence the natural interest many will have in this title by theologian/philosophy Jerry L. Walls.  HPP is the distilled product of three academic books spanning over a decade proving Wells is no novice on these issues (16). This is no half-baked publication from an emerging theologian. This level of understanding and writing is achieved by a longtime philosopher and professor and makes HPP lucid, enjoyable to read, and provocative.

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Essential Christian Classics: The Canons of Dort

The Church has produced many great confessions across many of her traditions. One stands out as being valuable presently and for the future of the Reformed tradition, Calvinism, and evangelicals discussions on sovereignty.

From 1618-1619 a synod of Dutch Reformed men wrote The Decision of the Synod of Dort on the Five Main Points of Doctrine in Dispute in the Netherlands as a response to the followers of Jacobus Arminius. More commonly called The Canons of Dort; these “five main points” are the first historical refutation of what is presently called Arminianism. Although The Canons of Dort are not formally the foundation for the acronym TULIP (more on this to come), it expresses the major five points of Calvinism early in the history of the Reformation. Making up part of the Three Forms of Unity, The Canons of Dort are essential reading as a historical confession, an early form of TULIP, and a pastoral reflection on infant death.

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Review: Donald M. Lewis & Richard V. Pierard’s Global Evangelicalism

In North America, evangelicalism is almost synonymous with Christianity. In some parts, evangelicalism is used interchangeably with fundamentalism. Edited by Donal M. Lewis and Richard V. Peirard, Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History and Culture in Regional Perspective, evangelicalism provides a definition, a timeline history, and a world wide scope to evangelicalism. Some of these details and stories are familiar to Western Christians. The stories from other regions of the world present a deeper and wider movement that reveals the trajectory of Christianity.

Through three sections, Global Evangelicalism presents theoretical issues (chapters 1-3), ground level regional studies (chapters 4-8), and cultural issues (chapter 9-10). Written with “college, university, and seminary students” in mind (13), the presentation can be tedious. Ogbu Kalu’s chapter on Africa (chapter 5) is a prime example. Though loaded with historical details and exceptional insights the chapter drags and is dry. In contrast, C. Rene Padilla’s chapter on Latin America (chapter 6) explores complex issues but the delivery engages. Both chapters represent the amazing resource Global Evangelicalism can be for patient and enduring readers. But this type of writing will turn away non-students and the average laymen.

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Essential Christian Classics: Luther’s Large Catechism

In a dark, murky Facebook Group, the Grace for Sinners staff discussed essential Christian books. With a focus on books that are often neglected, this series will provoke Christians today to connect their history. This does not insinuate modern books are irrelevant—just that their lasting importance is yet to be determined.

Martin Luther’s Large Catechism holds a special place in my development as a Christian. Coming from a Baptist rearing, I went through a tumultuous period becoming convinced of monergistic salvation and infant baptism. John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion was crucial in this conversion. Seeking doctrinal council, I also consulted Martin Luther’s Large Catechism and Michael Horton’s Introduction to Covenant Theology. Though I would ultimately side with Calvin and Horton, Luther’s Large Catechism humbled me.

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Review: Michael Horton’s Ordinary

“We need fewer Christians who want to stand apart from their neighbors, doing something that will really display God’s kingdom in all of its glory. We need more Christians who take their place alongside believing and unbelieving neighbors in the daily gift exchange.” —Michael Horton, Ordinary. (p. 167)

There are billboards for the next big thing. There are the quarterly showcases of the latest newest. The world is enraptured with new and better. In Ordinary, Michael Horton argues that this same restless and revolution-seeking attitude is prevalent not only in the world (e.g. business, marketing, etc.) but also within the church. The next big pastor will be at the next big conference. The next big teacher will publish the next big program with that publishing company known for innovation. “Rinse, wash, and repeat” the shampoo bottle says. This psychological and sociological bent for more, better, and now creates an endless spiral where the latest must always be an improvement on the last or suffer ridicule. In the church, this has translated to—stay with the times or be left behind. “How to keep millennials in church” being the recent favorite get-with-the-times fad. More authentic. More results. More cowbell.

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Review: Jeffrey Niehaus’ Biblical Theology: The Common Grace Covenants

Biblical theologies are the breaking trend in Christian theology. Looking at theology as a comprehensive vision of the Scriptures, Biblical theologies attempt to draw out truths and themes from the Scriptures that pervade the text’s basic essentials. No Biblical theology is definitive or exclusive but work to grapple with the themes and texts often overlooked or underemphasized via systematic theology. Jeffrey Niehaus’s Biblical Theology: The Common Grace Covenants (henceforth, CGC) stands in this growing trend with a profound emphasis on the covenant outworking of God in history.

Both a poet and theologian, Jeffery Niehaus writes in an elegant, poetic, and occasionally frustrating way (e.g. long excursus on Cain building a city that ultimately is more about the Spirit than Cain, 138-153). This makes his mind perfect for the flowing, thematic theology associated with Biblical Theology. Even when discussing familiar subjects, Niehaus is thought provoking in his analysis, definitions, and conclusions. This should make him a pleasurable read for students of theology, pastors, and even interested laymen. In line with his covenant theme, Niehaus wastes no time stressing the Scriptures as “covenant literature” (2-4).

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Review: Zondervan’s The Books of the Bible (NIV)

For many, reading the Bible is a tedious task. Often the forest gets lost for the trees in the Old Testament. For some, a simpler and more original version of the Bible is helpful in instilling newfound interest in the Bible as literature. In this vein, Zondervan’s The Books of the Bible (NIV) seeks to return the Scriptures to a readable, story-like form. Reference markers (e.g. chapters, chapter headings, and verse) have been removed and a single column format is utilized, creating the feeling of reading a story. The effect on the general reading is excellent. The NIV is perfect for this format and is enjoyable to read without the additional reference points that have become standard in printed Bibles.

The order of the books in BOTB is also set to accommodate this story-like approach. The Old Testament (referred to as the “First Testament”) utilizes “an order much closer” to the Hebrew tradition in book order (1). 1st & 2nd Samuel are combined with 1st & 2nd Kings. Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah are recombined into their long scroll form and are placed among the concluding “Writing” (e.g. Psalms, Lamentations, Job, Esther, and Daniel) of the First Testament. The prophets are presented in some semblance of a chronological order.

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Review: Peter Enns’ The Bible Tells Me So

“Christians, don’t expect more from the Bible than you would of Jesus” (243).

Peter Enns is a familiar name in the discussion on the content and purpose of the Christian Scriptures. In The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It, Enns brings a wealth of humor and honest questions to many common held beliefs among conservative Christians. The jokes range in value. The questions are necessary. Enns’ answers are the source of controversy and disagreement.

Enns starts The Bible Tells Me So with a flurry of helpful statements and personal history (chapter 1). Enns’ story acts as background for his thesis that conservative Christians demand too much of the Bible. One cannot disagree with the statement “the Bible isn’t the problem” (7-9) since the church must reform itself to the Scriptures. Disagreements occur over what the Scriptures are ontologically and what they were written to communicate.

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Tell All Your (YRR) Friends

I have a confession to make. My generation is the generation that made the Young, Restless, and Reformed (YRR) possible. We connected with movies like Fight Club and The Boondock Saints. We listened to "edgy" music as an act of defiance. Basically, young and restless long before reformed. Recently, a popular name said that the serious problem with the YRR was their minimization of the "Reformed" part of the slogan. He alluded to many being only 3 to 4 point Calvinists (gasp!). I'm going to respectfully disagree. The issue is not with the doctrine. I am convinced the real issue is, hopefully now was, an uncontrollable restlessness.

I won't hide behind my decisions growing up. I've been restless for a long time. That restlessness was inappropriately centered and focused on many worldly things. Bands likes Taking Back Sunday and Brand New made my restless soul happy but not in any Christian way. (I will confess I still enjoy the "real rebels" of the music world: Cash, Nelson & Dylan but I do so now from a different starting paradigm.) In the cinema world, movies like Fight Club told me there is an evil called privilege in the world. Resentment became a foundational element in restlessness. It taught me there are things worth rebelling against. It taught me this permeating evil of privilege can only be beaten by reckless abandon and backwards views of society. I loved it. In a nostalgic way I still do. 

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Establishing the Kingdom #AscensionSeries14

As a father of two young children I am painfully aware of the necessity for ritual. Some might prefer the word “schedule” but I think this downplays the necessary participation of all parties and the genuine benefit derived from participating in the “schedule.” Pertinent to the subject of Christ’s ascension are the rituals surrounding my departure to and arrival from work. There are hugs and kisses as I walk out the door. There are awkward shouts and dances of exaltation when I walk in the door. It really is quite cute coming from children. They’re young and oblivious for thirty-seconds to whatever had been going on in their day. Everything stops. Dad is the main event.

Unfortunately for some Christians, the ascension and return of Jesus Christ is unintentionally similar to this. The results are not quite as cute. Christ’s disciples were sad and confused as He went up to the clouds. The questions about His kingdom continued to persist. The answers remained vague enough for the disciples to persist in their misunderstanding until Pentecost.

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Review: Alistair C. Stewart’s The Original Bishops

Alistair Stewart has written a behemoth in The Original Bishops. Let me be frank up front, Stewart’s level of writing is fairly beyond me. Theology is my specialty. This is a scholarly evaluation of church history, extra-Biblical documents, and Biblical texts concerned with church authority and leadership. The end result, The Original Bishops is an overwhelming amount of condensed information to challenge long held presuppositions concerning church leadership and how this authority developed historically.

In light of my limited knowledge, I chose to focus on Stewart’s contention that most scholarly works “repeat the same ‘facts’” (23) in defense of their ecclesiology. These “facts” are the basis of most evangelical and conservative works that I have read and dealt more directly with the Biblical text. The major (and familiar) points Stewart strives to show as “baseless” include “the synonymy of episkopos and presbyteros, the emergence of a monepiskopos from a collective presbyterate, and the origin of presbyteroi in the synagogues” (23).

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Review: David Murray’s How Sermons Work

In the Protestant tradition the proclamation of God’s Word is central to the edification and equipping of the saints. As an example of the increasing importance of sermons, many great men are remembered principally for their preaching (Charles Spurgeon being the most prominent example). In this long tradition, David Murray writes How Sermons Work to “present the accumulated wisdom of many gifted men in a clear, simple and useable way” (“Acknowledgments”).

How Sermons Work is written as a quick reference resource for a diverse audience of students, elders, experienced preachers needing a refresher, and laymen (9-10). With this large audience in mind, Murray avoids unnecessarily technical language and instead writes casually, incorporating practical examples, pertinent quotes, and helpful summaries (examples on pp. 15 and 17).

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Review: Mark Branson & Nicholas Warnes’ Starting Missional Churches

“The church is a sign, foretaste, witness and instrument of the in-breaking of God” (182).

American church planting has reached its zenith. An industry in itself, church planting has become the mission statement of some denominations present in North America (e.g. the Southern Baptist Convention). In anticipation of the many methods practiced by these church planters, Starting Missional Churches: Life with God in the Neighborhood (henceforth Missional Churches) offers an important vocalization of a new missions-minded church planting movement. Instead of treating America as a field of harvesting, the authors of Missional Churches demonstrate a story of American church planting that places “missions” at the front of the church’s worldview. Based on the presupposition that America is a mission field in which God is already at work (9-10;), the “collection of stories” (11) constituting Missional Churches focuses on addressing the neighborhood as the church’s mission field.

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