Charitable Writing

by | Jan 15, 2021 | Book Review

We are writers. Whether we’re writing for school, work, or enjoyment—we write. But how is a Christian supposed to write? Richard Hughes Gibson and James Edward Beitler III, in their book Charitable Writing: Cultivating Virtue Through Our Words, remind us that every act of writing is an opportunity to serve God and others. This writing guide does not dwell on the mechanics of style and grammar but rather the mechanics of godly writing. Writing as an act of love requires the Christian to humbly listen, graciously argue, and carefully write. Avoid the temptation to blow their thesis off with a “like” and go scrolling on your merry way because charitable writing is an unfortunate rarity among Christians. We all too often neglect the application of these well-known words of Jesus to our writing: 

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:37–38). 

It’s telling that the first part of this three-part book is spent on listening. Too much Christian writing is based on too little listening. We’re quick to blow over our opponents, block them, and cancel them without showing love by listening. As quoted by the authors, Hugh of Saint Victor said, “The wise student, therefore, gladly hears all, reads all, and looks down upon no writing, no person, no teaching” (42). Listening requires us to humbly approach those with whom we disagree not as our opponents but as our peers. Before we write a response we must first be sure to understand why someone is saying something we disagree with. We don’t have to agree with their premise. But our understanding of their position ought to be to the level of development where our opponent peer would agree with our understanding of their argument. That is loving.      

After you listen, now you can argue. Argument might sound like the opposite of loving. And many times it’s exactly that. But Gibson and Beitler urge Christians to consider argument as a banquet instead of warfare. Our opponents are guests who we are not out to beat but to love. The Christian writer should engage other voices as a loving host who wants to see everyone at the feast come out edified. That is loving. 

After listening and arguing comes writing slowly. This is the closest the book comes to the traditional mechanics of writing. They encourage the writer to prewrite, draft, and revise. But ultimately it simply comes down to thinking through our writing. It’s not the literal speed they have in mind, but the need for purposefulness in writing so that it is carried out as a spiritual discipline. Writing is worship.  

As a student, I appreciate their guidance on writing charitably as a Christian. And while the book is geared more towards academic writing, the authors do not see the limit of application to the tight circles of classroom and academy. You could just as easily apply these steps to writing an email or a post on social media, which is where many of us do a fair share of our writing. My only (loving) critique of the book is that the authors don’t address the wider circle of writing outside the classroom more overtly. Nevertheless, following Gibson and Beitler through their guide, clearly written as a labour of love, will encourage you to write like a Christian. And I should note this book isn’t all words. It’s a picture book full of artwork to offer illustrations and reflections on artistic representations of writers such as Jerome, Augustine, and even Jesus. These pictures are intended to visually remind us, in accordance with the book’s prose, that those who know God should write as an act of love towards God and others. If that is how you would like to write, then you would be the ideal reader of this book. 

Special thanks to IVP Academic for providing me with a free review copy of this book. This did not affect my thoughts in any way so far as I know. 

 

Brent Niedergall

Pastor, Grammarian, Runner

Brent Niedergall, MDiv, is Associate Pastor at Victory Baptist Church in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia. He’s gone to war in Afghanistan, felled towering trees, and parsed Greek verbs.

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Brent Niedergall