Recently, a fellow member of the faculty told me that a student in one of his classes this past semester displayed a negative attitude towards learning to write well. The student expressed the belief that, since he was called to preach, he did not have to do well in written communication. The only form of communication in which he had to do well was verbal communication. Christian ministers should learn to communicate the gospel as well as they can verbally and in print. Lacking the ability to speak well and to write well feeds the bias some persons in our society have against Christians and Christianity and such an inability reflects poorly on our Lord.
Sadly, many in our society prefer to think of all Christians as uneducated and lacking in intelligence. This misconception is quite popular – just ask the liberal secularists. There are even persons working in higher education who possess terminal degrees who have given themselves over to such a terrible bias. Too often, we have assumed that such highly educated individuals should be able to recognize commensurate levels of education among those who possess terminal degrees in Christian environments. Apparently, we can no longer make such assumptions.
This means that we must express our ideas verbally, and especially in print, in such a manner that those encountering the message of God in our communications cannot ignore the content in what we say and write. Numerous errors in our verbal and written communications would only serve to confirm their biases and distract them from the message we are seeking to convey. Rather, if it is our desire that our society deal with the claims of the gospel we proclaim, whether verbally or in print, we should be certain we are presenting the claims of Christ with as few errors as possible.
Our desire should be that the message of God be communicated by us with no errors, so that those who would ridicule the messenger for being uneducated and lacking in intelligence would find themselves confronted with well-formed statements regarding the truths of the gospel. Our desire should be for the lost to face Christ’s claims without being able to point to distracting errors as a means of ignoring or demeaning the gospel.
Together, form and style serve as a vehicle for conveying a message. In the past, I have compared the form and style associated with a dissertation to an airplane that one had to build. He is given the current plans for how to build the aircraft in the classroom and had to build the aircraft to the correct specifications. If the aircraft was not sound, its passengers and cargo (the content) would be highly unlikely to reach their intended destination (graduation with a terminal degree).
Students often stress the importance of content over form and style (as do professors) and I would agree. However, those of us who teach have all seen worthy ideas crash and burn because they were poorly expressed or poorly conveyed. With respect to ministers in the field, communicating poorly, whether verbally or in print, may mean that the gospel is allowed to crash and burn before it reaches its God-intended destination – the human mind and heart.