Cody A. Cunningham

What is the Aim of Christian Writing?

Every morning, just as the sun starts to peek over my neighbors’ homes, I sit down to write. The click of the keys starts as a trickle, and words creep onto the screen. Each day, my words are either pointing to the glory of God, or are a patched-together idol to myself. We were created to proclaim the glory of our triune God. This is the bedrock of our motivation for any endeavor we pursue. But sadly, this is not always the aim of my writing.

Every morning, just as the sun starts to peek over my neighbors’ homes, I sit down to write. The click of the keys starts as a trickle, and words creep onto the screen. Each day, my words either point to the glory of God or are a patched-together idol to myself. We were created to proclaim the glory of our triune God. This is the bedrock of our motivation for any endeavor we pursue. But sadly, the glory of God is not always the aim of my writing.

So often, I evaluate my writing on questions like, Will people like my writing? How many shares will it get? I settle for moldy crumbs of vain glory when there’s a feast to be found in the glory of the Lord.

How do I evaluate whether or not I’m writing for God’s glory, regardless if it’s a blog article, a sermon or song lyrics? As we read, as we edit, and as we share on social media, it comes down to these questions:

Am I writing out of love for the readers?

Any public performer, whether a writer or preacher or musician, faces the temptation to be driven by the love of their own ego. If this self-love fills our sails, our gifts and skills are put on display primarily to gain greater approval or notoriety. Maturity in Christ, on the other hand, leads to a love for our audience, whether it’s an audience of five or fifty thousand.

Words can be used to tear down, to build up, to lead hearts astray, or to guide others into the firm foundation of the gospel. Likewise, blog posts and articles can either be focused on serving Christ’s kingdom or serving the kingdom of self. It is remarkably easy to become focused on the audience-building side of things. While striving to get content out to a wider audience is not wrong, this desire to grow an audience should at least cause us to pause for reflection. Am I doing this out of love for others and a desire to see their good, or is this just vanity under the veneer of Christian publication?

Is this truth or ear-tickling?

Describing what ministry looks like in the local church, Paul tells the Ephesians, “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15). While these are Paul’s instructions about ministry in the local church, they’re also a helpful guide for writers. As those who possess the Spirit of Truth, our lives should be marked by truthfulness, but truthfulness is much more than not telling a lie. It’s a push to see all things rightly, as they have been revealed to us by God’s divine revelation.

This dance between truth and love is important to hold. Without one, the other crumbles. To speak something that is not truthful is not loving at all. Likewise, to speak without love is a misrepresentation of Christ’s character, which is the ultimate falsehood. In addition, most people will turn a deaf ear to your message. Too many Christian blogs—often self-identified as “truth-tellers”—are merely cheap imitations of American culture’s response du jour: outrage and snark. The way of the cross, though, is truth in love.

Writing is an attempt to take the truth of God’s Word and apply it to the crevices of life. The form may vary. Some write blog articles, some long-form essays, some poetry and some novels. While the conventions of writing may change, the dedication to truth should be unwavering.

Is it helpful or just clever?

Am I writing to actually help the readers or to help myself? We tend to focus on clever phrases, just for the sake of showing off our skills. Often, cleverness is simply a cheap trick, a magician’s sleight of hand to make you think something is extraordinary when it’s just a bunch of smoke and mirrors. Though I’m tempted to rely on literary cuteness to gain approval, I’m wasting my time and readers’ time if my writing is nothing more than literary flourishes. We must evaluate whether or not a particular sentence or even word is helpful for getting your point across.

Don’t hear me proposing a puritanical sense of “plainness” for all writing. Triteness is not a Christian virtue. Creativity is important because it reflects God’s creativity. Part of what draws any writer to pick up the craft is having a certain joy when you hear beautiful imagery or turns of phrase. Fun and creativity belong in writing because they are woven into the fabric of this world. God didn’t have a plain and utilitarian approach to creation. He gave us over 17,000 species of butterflies for crying out loud. And as I’ve written before, our attention should be given to the smallest aspects of our writing. I can write truth-filled articles all day, but if my writing is incoherent or just plain boring, nobody is going to read it. Therefore, nobody is going to be helped by it.

Before we press Publish, this should cause us to go back and ask, How can I make this writing more helpful for readers? This question is our act of love and service to the readers. My prayer for my writing, as well as my prayer for you if you write, is that our words would be monuments of love and truth that helps others towards the glory of the Lord of the universe.