A Few Personal End of Year Reflections about Writing
I am going to take a wee break from writing and for those who read this blog I thought I would seek your advice. I began writing a few years ago. Or should I say that I began writing in public a few years ago. I had always kept a diary, written personal letters and wrote regular letters to newspapers. When I was minister in Brora I had a regular column in ‘the Raggie’ (The Northern Times) which quite often saw me get in trouble – I remember two articles in particular that almost got me sacked – one on the Duke of Sutherland and one on abortion.
However it was only about ten years ago that I really began serious writing for public consumption. I had been given a column on the old Free Church website and I noticed that my various musings often got quite a response. In one of those columns I took on Richard Dawkins and this then resulted in the 2007 The Dawkins Letters, which became a surprise bestseller. This was followed by Magnificent Obsession, Engaging with Atheists and Quench (a short book about Café evangelism published by Solas). I had earlier written a modern life of McCheyne entitled Awakening. I continued the letter writing to newspapers, with the only difference being that they were published more often. But it was the Internet that opened up a whole new world. I found it a whole lot easier to write articles for newspapers and this meant that with a quick response and turn around rate a lot more were getting published. Over the years I had become used to writing two sermons per week, numerous letters, a diary, academic papers, essays and occasional articles for publication.
And then I began this blog. One of my friends wondered whether it was like giving a pyromaniac a box of matches in a gunpowder store…but I began anyway. Initially I did not really think that anyone would read it. I basically wrote for myself – I guess you could say it was like a kind of therapy. I wrote what I felt and tried to think through issues on paper – or at least on screen. Many, many times I got it wrong but there were also times of great encouragement – as I realised that some people were provoked, others challenged, some encouraged and others even changed! It slowly dawned on me that this was as much a ministry as the pastoral, preaching and evangelistic work I do.
I like facts and figures so I find it interesting how the numbers reading this blog have grown:
In 2013 – 55,524 views –
2014 – 179,023
2015 – 308,553
2016 – 713, 688 (so far)
It also intrigues me where they come from – the top ten countries by views are:
- South Africa
- The Netherlands
In 2016 what surprised me was that I had visitors from 190 countries out of 196 in the world.
And what are they interested in. The top ten articles in 2016 have been: (Click on the links to see each one.
- European Referendum – The Tipping Point
- Why Creflo Dollar is Not Welcome in Scotland
- The Blasphemy of Christian Voice and an Apology to Tom Daley
- Scotland’s Shame as Political Leaders Embarrass Ghana
- An Open Letter to Creflo Dollar
- The Ultimate April Fool – An Open Letter to Nicola Sturgeon
- A World Without God – Six Statements from Sally Phillips Documentary
- Why I’m Leaving Secular Scotland
- David Bowie – the Hysteria, the Sorrow, the Frustration and the Hope
- Creflo Dollar and Scotland – The Reaction.
Whereas last year five out of the ten were to do with the Church of Scotland, this year three out of the ten were concerning Creflo Dollar. I received a considerable amount of personal correspondence on this, most of which was very encouraging. A large number were people in Destiny who did not agree with the position their leadership took (and who incidentally kicked back pretty strong as they tried to do damage limitation). I was glad to be able to articulate their thoughts and feelings. It’s interesting that these articles still get regular visitors every day from the US…
By far the most read and influential was the European referendum article that was read on my blog by 100,000 people and was passed on to many more. It took a long time for me to research and write. Like Boris Johnson I could have gone either way and almost did the same as him – writing two articles, one either way. I was pleasantly surprised at how many people said the article had been helpful and in some cases even changed their minds. I am glad to have done my wee bit for Brexit!
In writing there is a temptation to write in order to get as many readers as possible, but that’s not my aim. I still write for myself but I hope and pray it is helpful to people. It’s all too easy to write something controversial in order to try and get numbers, but I think I am past that stage. I actually don’t like the controversy and the vehemence, anger, bitterness and hatred that often follow. Several times I have hesitated before posting something because I know that it will offend/hurt/wound some and I really don’t want to do that. My purpose is to challenge but only in order to build up. My interest is in building the Kingdom of Christ for his Glory.
Basically I try to write about what I am interested in, and what I feel…however I am also aware of who is reading and I try to remember that this is no longer just for my own personal benefit. Journalists, politicians and preachers read this. But for me the most important people are what I would call the ordinary punters. The Christians who write and are thankful that the Lord enables me to express what they feel, those who don’t agree but are challenged and sometimes correct me; and the non-Christians who engage with, question and challenge me.
Of course not every one is appreciative. And that is the way it should be. I don’t really want to upset people but there are some people who, if I did not upset, I would upset myself! – Modernist Liberal Christians, Post-Modern Evangelicals, Traditionalist Christians and New Fundamentalist Atheists!!
Liberal Christians do my head in…they are usually not very Christian nor very Liberal. They spend their time denying either Christ or his Word and they are very illiberal to those who dare to disagree with them. But that’s nothing compared with Post-Modern Evangelicals who are basically 19th Century Protestant Liberals in American Evangelical clothing. They are always ‘on a journey’, and they self identify as ‘brave, courageous, challenging’, when in reality they are about as conformist and as culturally safe as you can get. And they use the language of love in order to encourage hate. I have become very wary of people who sign of with ‘blessing and love’ or other such spiritual clichés. They usually do this after they have stuck the boot into you – calling you unintelligent, legalistic, unloving, backwards, out of touch etc. and then they virtue signal to their followers by signing themselves off ‘in love’! A knife in your back is still a knife in your back – even if it comes covered in sheeps wool!
The Traditionalists are those who profess love for Christ, and for all I know may actually be Christians, but they have got their priorities wrong. They are the people who can weep over a communion table being moved but never shed a tear over lost souls. They are more interested in the finer points of ecclesiology than they are about theology or Christ. Like the liberals and postmodern evangelicals they often couch their prejudices in spiritual language, but the hardness, hypocrisy and unreality is usually just bubbling away under the spiritual veneer. I have a small following of anti-Catholic bigots who every now and then start up a wee Twitter campaign, just because I dared to cite Pope Benedict without calling him the Anti-Christ. I feel sorry for those they influence but sometimes they are so OTT it becomes amusing. My favourite? The time a conference organiser was told ‘you can’t sell his book – he’s the spawn of Satan!”….
The NFAs are unreachable. They emote whilst stating that they are the only reasonable ones. They live in their own wee fundamentalist bubble and refuse to engage with anyone outwith it, other than to mock. I guess that’s why they read and re-post my blogs so often. In this respect it’s interesting to note that everything you write on the Internet is there forever! I have people who are constantly quoting back (often out of context) things I wrote years ago. In fact, right on cue, even as I write this, a message has gone up on social media citing something I said about Islam several years ago and telling me that I ‘entertain’ everyone on Secular Scotland. Being aware of this, the danger is on the one hand that you can get really bland, trying hard not to say anything, anytime which could possibly offend anyone – which in this post-truth snowflake generation is almost impossible anyway! Or, on the other, you go all Trumpesque, shock jock and say the most outrageous things in order to provoke – but not unto love and good works. I have no real interest in this because I know that I have to answer to a higher authority. There will come a time when I have to give account to Him for every careless word written. What can man (or woman!) do to me?
I no longer am involved in any of the secularist webpages and social media, mainly because of the vitriol and abuse but also because I came to realize that they actually represent just a tiny proportion of atheists and secularists and my time is better spent with the majority with are much more reasonable. There is a sense in which I think the argument has been won and we have bigger fish to catch!
Let me deal with one complaint. It’s actually two – but they are really different sides of the same coin. There are those who read this and say they enjoy it but could I leave out the religious stuff?! There are others who read and say could I leave out the political stuff? I can’t do either. I just can’t divide the world neatly like that. I don’t claim that my opinions have any authority because they are my opinions. Rather they are just personal reflections based upon my understanding of the world, and the view that the Bible is the only sure and absolute authority.
But the Bible is not a political manual any more than it is a scientific manual. The Lord has given us minds to think and to try and work out, in the light of His Word, where we are at and what is happening. That is all I am trying to do. In effect this blog is my thinking out loud, and trying to read the world, in the light of God’s word. In that I believe I am fulfilling not only the Creation mandate but also that of Paul in Romans 12: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
“A wish has sometimes been expressed, than men who, like Owen, have contributed so largely to the enriching of our theological literature, could have been spared the endless avocations of public life, and allowed to devote themselves almost entirely to authorship. But the wisdom of this sentiment is very questionable. Experience seems to testify that a certain amount of contact with the business of practical life is necessary to the highest style of thought and authorship; and that mind, when left to undisturbed literary leisure, are apt to degenerate into habits of diseased speculation and sickly fastidiousness. Most certainly the works that have come from men of monastic mind have done little for the world, compared with the writings of those who have ever been ready to obey the voice which summoned them away from tranquil studies to brace the storms and guide the movements of great social conflicts. The men who have lived the most earnestly for their own age have also lived the most usefully for posterity.” Andrew Thomson on John Owen – Work Vol 1 – LXVIII
I don’t want to be a writer. I want to be involved with life and to change it. But I believe that the pen is mightier than the sword. That’s why I write. That’s why I try to read, understand and listen to as many people and points of view as possible so that I can learn how to apply the Word of God in the context of the cultures that we live in.
How do you do it? This is a question I am often asked. I’m not really sure. I work by inspiration as much as perspiration! If I do not feel inspired I find it almost impossible to write. I usually take one day a week to write – and one hour a day after that. What is more important is what I take in. I try to read at least a couple of hours a day, avoid reading social media (even though I use it) and I try to keep track of anything that is interesting or useful that I could use later. (Evernote has been very helpful). I try to read widely – magazines like The Spectator, Private Eye and The Week. I don’t really bother with newspapers, which nowadays really don’t have much news. Although I do take the Dundee Courier and get some articles online. I read about 100 books per year. I read historical works, modern fiction, the Puritans, the early Church Fathers, poetry, biographies, and books about contemporary subjects both by Christians and non-Christians. I need to get my filing system sorted! And most of all I pray that the Lord would give the inspiration and the ideas. For example my latest blog on Prince Charles happened because I saw his talk online, wanted to respond but then thought I shouldn’t. I woke up the next morning with an outline in my head…and after praying about it, just sat down and wrote it straight.
So where now? Finally – this is where you dear reader come in! I am really tired and am going to take a wee break. When I return I seek your advice…what should I do? Is it worthwhile continuing to write in secular and Christian media? Is this blog helpful or do you think it is even a hinderance to the kingdom? Feel free to leave your comments or to contact me personally. What ways could I improve? All suggestions and constructive criticisms gratefully received. I have no interest in wasting time or mucking around. Time is short. The days are evil and I just can’t be bothered with trivia. I write as a dying man to dying men (and women if the use of the generic term passes you by!). If this blog helps the Lords people then I will continue…if not, then I would rather stop anyway! Now is not a time to be self-indulgent. I am first of all a preacher and evangelist. I will only write in public insofar as it helps the preaching and proclamation of the good news…
I write on average five articles per week. There is a weekly one for Christian Today, a six weekly for the Scotsman and a weekly podcast for Solas (Quantum of Solas is continuing to develop)…I try to write one a week on politics, one on apologetics/evangelism and one on church/pastoral issues. I also try and do a weekly review (books/films/culture).
I am going to take a complete break until the New Year. No blog, no social media, no writing. And hopefully I will come back refreshed. It’s not as if I have run short of ideas….I have a backlog of about fifty articles I want to write. Some of them will never see the light of day…others I am not sure about. I am greatly concerned about some of the things I see in the church in the UK and wonder if I should write about them. There are also some cultural/political aspects which I’m not sure I am seeing right…but fools rush in…!
A woman who complained that he used far too much humour in the pulpit once accosted Spurgeon. His response was “You may be right, madam, but you should be thankful for what I don’t use!”. In like manner I would suggest that it may be the case that I have been too forthright and blunt, but you should be thankful for what I haven’t used! For example I have a couple of articles about the current situation on the church in Scotland and the UK which I was going to put out last week, but have decided to hold off until the New Year. I might wound some friends but then the wounds of a friend are faithful! I will pray about it over the next few days and may put them out after that.
Anyway if you have bothered to read this far…thanks. If you are a Christian I value your prayers, support and feedback. If you are not a Christian I value your being open-minded enough to read this and I pray for you – so that one day you can pray for me and we can share in the work of the Lord together. We only have one life to live and it is surely best that we live it for Jesus.
If anything I have said has hurt, wounded or offended you – I apologise. If anything has helped and encouraged you I ask you to thank the One who gave the inspiration and the words. May the Lord bless you all richly over the Christmas period and God willing I hope to see you in the New Year.
Psa. 45:1 “My heart is stirred by a noble theme
as I recite my verses for the king;
my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer.”