I love writing. For me, writing is a divine calling. It is also a lifelong passion and a guiding vision. In the following brief reflections, I’m going to share some of my thoughts about three things today: the why, what, and how of writing. First, why write?
- Why Write?
That’s a good question to start with. Not everyone starts there, but I think that’s a helpful starting point. For me, my vision for writing as a Christian was shaped by reading a book by Douglas Hyde, Dedication & Leadership.
A former communist, Hyde argued that communists put Christians to shame by their effective use of propaganda. He challenged Christians to emulate communists—not in their ideology, but in their skillful use of persuasive arguments and rhetoric.
For some reason, Hyde’s volume, and the vision underlying it, caught my attention and helped me realize that writing can be a strategic stewardship if engages in passionate persuasion and makes a concentrated contribution. First, let me share a few thoughts on writing as stewardship.
There are typically only a handful of students taking my classes. OK, right now I teach a class with almost 70 students, but my point remains the same. Writing is a way to extend my audience beyond the classroom to a regional, national, and sometimes even global audience.
Writing helps me transcend both time and space. People might read something I’ve written even after I’ve died, so writing afford those of us who sense God’s calling in this area an opportunity to transcend limitations of time and space.
In terms of space, some of my books have been translated into other languages, so there is even the occasional opportunity to have a cross-cultural impact as well (an example of this is my book on marriage and family, which has been translated into Chinese).
Strategic stewardship is one excellent reason for writing. Stewardship means that writing makes good use of my time because it’s very productive and multiplies my labors beyond teaching or other local ministry, even though there can, of course, be some good synergy there.
In my experience, classroom teaching can give me some of the questions that people are asking, which I can then address in my writing. People sometimes ask me: What do you like better—teaching or writing?
While I love writing, I can’t really imagine not teaching because there is a symbiotic relationship between the two. I’d probably dry up before too long if I stopped teaching! For all these reasons, writing is strategic stewardship, leaving a written deposit for subsequent generations.
Therefore, let me ask you: What’s your strategy?
I write unashamedly to persuade, not just to inform or to put out information randomly. So, there is a decided, conscious purpose for my writing. Writing for me is not an end in itself, just because I like writing so much!
I want to persuade people in two ways. I want to persuade them in the truth, and I also want to persuade them of falsehood in some cases and defend orthodox doctrine, whether it’s the apostolic authorship of John’s Gospel or interacting with Bart Ehrman, the notorious skeptic.
I once met a fellow student in line at the campus post office after I had just published my very first article. And he asked me: How do I get published? So I asked him: Why would you want to get published? He drew a total blank. He had no idea why he’d want to publish anything!
This struck me as revealing: some think, well, I’m supposed to publish, so I better do that, but it’s not because of a driving passion, like what drove Paul, who said: Woe is me if I don’t preach the gospel! Woe is me if I don’t write! He had this passion to communicate the gospel.
So, my advice to you is this: Only write if you have something to say, and preferably something that is not already universally known, where you can make an original contribution, something that capitalizes on your gifts, strengths, and background, something you’re passionate about.
So, here my question to you is this: What’s your passion? What are you passionate about?
Therefore, be strategic, passionate, and concentrate your contribution. Pick two or three areas of interest and develop publishing expertise: your dissertation area, perhaps. Not that you’re stuck there forever, but this could be a foundation, and then you can branch out into other areas.
In my case, it happened to be John’s Gospel and the mission theme, as I wrote my doctoral dissertation on John 20:21, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you”—John’s theology of mission.
Another area, somewhat unrelated, in which I developed an interest was biblical manhood and womanhood, so that was a second area, and related to this, Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus, because they contain a lot of information on biblical manhood and womanhood.
In addition, I’m passionate about biblical theology, hermeneutics, and New Testament Greek. It may seem random, but all these interests flow from my commitment to study Scripture responsibly—if possible, in the original languages, following proper rules of interpretation.
This, in turn, is an outflow of my commitment to biblical authority and my desire to impress the importance of the authoritative, life-giving nature of God’s Word on others and to assist them in discovering it and in exploring it for themselves.
So, writing entails strategic stewardship, passionate persuasion, and concentrated contribution. My question to you on that third point is: What’s your contribution? Where do you feel you can make a useful impact? Realistically, there will be just a few areas where you keep up with the literature and become an authority in a given field.
Andreas J. Köstenberger (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is the senior research professor of New Testament and biblical theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. He is a prolific author, distinguished evangelical scholar, and editor of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. He is the founder of Biblical Foundations, a ministry devoted to restoring the biblical foundations of the home and the church. Köstenberger and his wife have four children.