On Theological Writing -- By: Ryan M. McGraw

Journal: Puritan Reformed Journal
Volume: PRJ 02:2 (Jul 2010)
Article: On Theological Writing
Author: Ryan M. McGraw


On Theological Writing

Ryan M. McGraw

One of the first college classes that I was required to take as a history major was a course in historical writing. The professor chose a topic for the students to write about so that they might practice and exemplify what they were learning. The point was to learn how to write an “academic” paper through the use of primary sources, with support from secondary sources, and by becoming accustomed to the process of formatting footnotes. In addition to these useful skills, however, I was taught that I must abandon all personal commitment to my subject, and that I must especially avoid all passionate involvement in my subject. A writer must either state his or her personal biases as quickly as possible in order to get them out of the way or, better yet, must suppress them altogether. To model these principles, one professor in the history department chose the history of Vietnam as the topic for his course. He chose this topic specifically because he had no personal interest in it. In a way, this method trains the student to divide his humanity by seeking to sever the student’s heart and emotions from his intellectual labors.

Theological seminaries, journals, and certain types of theological books have largely accepted the academic model as a normative model for theological writing. However, in light of the nature and purpose of theology as it is revealed in Scripture, is this model valid? By theological writing, I intend writing that in some form seeks to communicate the theology of the Bible. In the material that follows, I will scrutinize the academic model in light of the purpose of theological writing, look at the biblical authors themselves as a model for theological writing, answer some questions, and finally set forth some practical guidelines that are virtually excluded by an “academic” model for theological writing. It is my contention that

the Lord would be better honored, and the church would be better served, if theological writing were shaped by the teaching and model of Scripture rather than of the “academy.”

Questioning The Academic Model

Historian James McPherson has indicated that in historical writing, scholars have found themselves flustered over their inability to reach a popular audience:

Professionals hold themselves to rigorous standards of scholarship and write learned articles and books that are read mainly by other professionals or are assigned to students by fellow academics. ‘Amateurs’ write articles and books that reach a larger audience but do not always adhere to the technical standards of professional scholarship. Despite such raising of eyebrows and looking down noses at such...

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