Eugene Peterson on writing

Over at the Gospel Coalition page Owen Strachan interviews Eugene Peterson about the reading and writing life of the Pastor.  It is simply “must” reading for any and every pastor, even bloggers.  I admit I need to be sure I am working on my writing as I blog and just just post stuff from other people all the time (though I do think blogging has helped my writing quite a bit).  Here is an excerpt:

Good writers are people who pay attention to language, are interested in telling the truth, and are in some ways finding themselves inoculated against the fads of what will sell, what will please. Good literature almost always goes against the grain of the culture: interpreting it, subtly criticizing it, maybe not polemically. Pastors are right in the center of deceit and corruption and bad use of language. We have a commitment to use words accurately and honestly.

Good writing does not come easy; it takes a lot of discipline, a lot of self-criticism. A lot of people in my position want to know how to write, and after talking to them for a while I realize, “You don’t want to write, you want to get published; you’re not willing to go through the disciplines, the rejections.” Rejections are often compliments, because we’re not writing for popular taste or the stuff that just titillates people, what makes them feel good or bad or whatever. Propaganda is the worst kind of writing; there’s almost something pornographic about it. It just dehumanizes what’s going on, and we’re just filled with it right now politically, so I think of the importance of poets and novelists, because I think of poets as the high priests of the language. No poet writes in order to get published, not in America, so anybody who takes the path of poetry is going a lonely way and a not lucrative way.

It’s hard to be a good novelist in America because of all the Stephen Kings. There are good novelists and great novelists, but I think for pastors their training isn’t how to use their imagination like novelists in the sense that they see the narrative connection of everything, how everything fits into the story. So if our imagination isn’t trained to see these connections, relationships, and the way words work to bring out truth rather than just facts, we are just giving lectures from the pulpit, moralisms in a counseling place. It’s a great responsibility, I think, to learn to use words rightly. Pastors don’t realize how much we owe to our congregations, to the public, to learn how to use words rightly and skillfully and truthfully.

Boy, isn’t that the truth??!! I would take it just a little further and suggest we pay attention to how we use our words when preaching or teaching.  It is an art as much as it is a science and it takes discipline to preach or teach well.  There is a deep need for preachers and teachers to carefully craft their words in speaking as in writing.  As the old adage goes it isn’t so much what you say as it is how you say it!  This is why, I think, it is important to write out your sermons and teaching scripts word for word as much as possible, as often as possible.  It will help you in your speaking and in your writing, and it will help those who read or listen too!

Read on for more!!   Blessings!


3 responses to “Eugene Peterson on writing

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