by Stan Mitchell
“Books must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they are written” (Henry David Thoreau).
“My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh” (Solomon, Ecclesiastes 12:12, ESV).
Who are the best writers, past and present, in Churches of Christ? I am aware that is a question as broad as a Kansas prairie.
Our fellowship began by writing, from Stone’s Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery to Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address. It seems like everybody in the early years edited a periodical. There is an old quip that while Churches of Christ had neither bishop nor pope, they did have magazine editors. This certainly indicates the power of writing. These days we are still writing, in books, periodicals, blogs and bulletins. The quality and tenor of writing varies greatly.
So who have our best writers been? Can I nominate a couple? J.W. McGarvey from a bygone age was not only a magnificent biblical scholar, but an excellent writer. His Sermons Delivered in Lewisville, Kentucky will still preach, and his New Commentary on Acts is still readable and applicable. Leroy Brownlow from the mid twentieth century wrote numerous pieces for the thoughtful “man in the pew.” Why I Am a Member of the Church of Christ is still an excellent resource.
Who have our best scholar writers been? J.W. Roberts, who died too young, was already a respected author. The recently deceased Neil Lightfoot straddled the scholarly and practical world with writings such as How We Got the Bible. If you can get his Lessons from the Parables you will also have an excellent tool. Jack Lewis and Everett Ferguson have also elevated our thinking as a brotherhood with scholarly yet well-written books.
And as for bulletin articles, a desultory literature littered with authors such as “Selected” and “Anonymous,” John Gipson of Little Rock has for decades been a counter to this trend. What of our current writers? I have enjoyed recent works by Aubrey Johnson and Charles Hodge (ours, not the Presbyterian and Princeton theologian). It is certainly not true that the only good writers out there are from other fellowships. We can take pride in many writers who have come from our own fellowship.
You are no doubt crying out, “But you missed (such-and-such) an author! No doubt I missed out many.
If I could be so bold, may I say a few things about writing?
- Be collegial and be Christ-like. When you write you are on record. You might say something true, but in an unkind manner that you will regret in years to come.
- Write with care. Proof read and if needed allow others to proof your work. Even if you are writing a blog you should know that the reader’s opinion of you (and more crucially their opinion of the subject you convey) will be diminished.
- Be as accurate as you can, especially biblically accurate. Great biblical writing never comes from poor exegesis.
- Consider your reach: People you will never meet will read your work, people from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. You may also be read by generations to come, contemporaries of your children and grandchildren.
- A writer can write and rewrite his piece. He can improve its tone and expression. This is something a public speaker cannot do. Once he expresses an idea, whether harsh or incorrect, it is out there. Take what you have written, polish it, hone it, develop it.
- Work on your craft. Unlike a running back in the NFL a writer can get better in his 30s, 50s and 70s if he works at it.
I am humbled that one of Paul’s last requests was this: “Bring the cloak I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all, the parchments” (2 Timothy 4:13). Consider that in a dark prison cell, the condemned Paul wanted to read … and write.