Nobody really wants to say it, but it’s true isn’t it? So much Christian writing is ultimately quite bland. The big question is why? It’s not like we’ve got anything worthwhile to say, is it!
Here are some reasons I think we tend toward the boring in our Christian writing.
I get that Christians don’t want to unnecessarily offend people. None of us should be going out of way to be offensive for offence’s sake. But the bottom line here is that we’re sometimes so concerned about offending people that we fail to say anything worthwhile at all. Our points – valid as they may be – often get lost in all the caveats and hedging. We have something to say but for fear of offending others, we spend more time not saying it than we do making the point clearly and honestly.
Like it or not, most of the conservative Evangelical world is middle class. I’m not having a go about that (honestly!) it just is. But smooth relationships and avoiding offence are valued highly in those circles, often to the detriment of truth telling. We would rather skate round issues than upset the people we’re speaking with. We want to soften the force of what we say so as to avoid upsetting the other person, even if it’s something they desperately need to hear.
In terms of Christian writing, we are dealing with mainly middle class writers who are writing to a predominantly middle class readership. Again, that is not to have a go about that, just to point out the fact of the matter. But that often has the knock-on effect of middle-classing ourselves into the blandest of writing. We have writers inclined to couch their writing in the most careful terms and a readership inclined to want truth somewhat soft-peddled compared to, say, the average Oldhammer.
Linked to the last point, most people writing Christian books and articles haven’t ever been trained to write in those media. Most people learn to write articles (and their slightly longer cousin, books) at university or bible college. But there, they are writing academic essays to their lecturers. But without having had any other training to write any differently, often we are getting what amount to academic-style writing. Even where people try to get away from academia – it’s not that everything written is highly academic – it still carries a strong whiff of your garden variety humanities essay.
Like with anything, inevitably, there are those who have never had any training apart from the academy whose writing turns out to be great, accessible, easy to read, insightful and all the rest. But, let’s be honest, that just isn’t going to be most of us. And the more of us used to reading this kind of article end up perpetuating the style of writing because, compared with all the other pseudo-academic, slightly bland stuff we’re used to reading, what we’re now reading compares well. But compared to writing that is actually interesting or worth reading, it may not score quite so highly.
Asking the right people to write
Sometimes, the people asked to write about things are not necessarily the best people to write about them. They are just the people who got asked. When you look at it, the reason they were asked was less because they were an expert in the field and more because they’d written other stuff or were an established name and so people had heard of them. A book by some guy you’ve never heard of, no matter how qualified he is to speak, is rarely going to sell as well as one by the latest celebrity pastor du jour. Sometimes, the wrong people are asked and so the writing lacks bite, it just bites.
There is a famous line, spoken by Jeff Goldblum, in Jurassic Park: ‘Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should’. One sometimes gets the impression this is what happens with Christian writing. Somebody could write an article or a book, but they don’t bother asking whether they should. Interestingly, this works the other way round too. Somebody feels there should be an article or book on this, that or the other that they don’t really stop to think whether they could actually write it in an engaging way. Sometimes, we are better just asking somebody else to do it.
Anyway, there are a few reasons why Christian writing can go awry. There are, obviously, lots of people out there that buck all of this. And I’m not suggesting that what I put up here doesn’t sometimes (often?) fall foul of that stuff too. But I am going to stop, lest I caveat myself into blandness.