So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)
This verse provided the framework for a writers’ conference at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS). The Society for Women in Scholarship and the Library at Southeastern hosted From Thought to Page: An Event for Scholars and Bloggers on Saturday, April 7, 2018 to help writers hone their skills and gain valuable feedback on their work from peers and writing professionals. The conference emphasized that in whatever arena one writes—whether in the academy or for a popular audience through blogs, magazines or books—that writing should exhibit excellence and glorify God.
Dr. Chuck Lawless opened the conference with the keynote address, “Writing to the Glory of God.” Dr. Lawless is the Dean of Doctoral Studies and Vice President of Spiritual Formation and Ministry Centers at SEBTS. He organized his address under the heading of 1 Corinthians 10:31, encouraging the attendees to do their work in such a way that they can say with integrity, “Lord, I give this to you for your glory.” He then explained how to glorify God through writing with five principles:
- God makes himself known through his word, so we make him known through our words. How we do what we do really matters because we want to communicate God well.
- The message reigns supreme. How we speak and write the message matters. If you think what you do matters, then do it with care. This means speaking well and using proper grammar and spelling.
- Our responsibility is not to impress; it is to communicate. Flowery language is useless if it sacrifices clarity.
- We must communicate well for the sake of the nations. English is a means to preach the gospel; the importance of the gospel message requires us to know English well.
- Knowing how to communicate well requires us to consider our speech in general. We must pay more attention to our tongue and communicate clearly, concisely and Christianly.
Following the main keynote address, participants attended breakout sessions related to academic writing or writing for the popular level. Here are the top takeaways from each session:
Writing for the Academy
Dr. Deanna Rogers, an adjunct professor of English and Composition at SEBTS, presented the first academic track session titled “Probe, Prewrite, Prepare, and Plan: Invention in the Writing Process.” She emphasized the importance of the invention process in writing and identifying the rhetorical question one must answer to write successfully. She offered practical tips for getting started and planning the draft of a paper.
Dougald McLaurin, Reference Coordinator at the SEBTS Library, covered the next step in the academic writing process in his session, “How Scholars Approach Research and Writing.” McLaurin argued academics conduct their research differently than the typical student, and students can benefit from copying academics’ good writing habits. He highlighted knowing the issues, focusing on the primary question, and writing throughout the entire research process.
Finally, Dr. John Burkett, Director of the Writing Center and Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Composition at SEBTS, ended the day with his session on “(Re)Writing Readable Sentences: Mere Communication to Servant-Leadership.” Following the theme of doing God-honoring work, Dr. Burkett emphasized the importance of communicating well so the reader does not have to do the heavy-lifting to understand what you write. He demonstrated how style and grammar can hinder or help the message. He urged the attendees, “Have something to say and say it as clearly as you can.”
Writing for the Public
The popular writing track featured three breakout sessions as well. In the first session, Dr. Scott Hildreth spoke on “How to Make the Most of Your Blog and Blogging Time.” Dr. Hildreth is the Director of the Center for Great Commission Studies and Assistant Professor of Global Studies at SEBTS. His major point during this session was that you write a blog for people to read it—your blog is about the readers. He provided tips for making a blog post reader-friendly, such as creating an engaging title, using a template and considering the audience when formatting posts.
In the second session, Amy Whitfield, Director of Communications at SEBTS, spoke on the topic, “Building an Audience.” Whitfield pulled from her experience as a contributing writer and podcast host to provide advice for how to gain readers, such as focusing on a topic you love, knowing who you want to reach, knowing your limits and setting a consistent schedule. She reminded the attendees that ultimately you blog not to make a name for yourself, but to make the world better.
Christy Britton, a blogger for the Intersect Project and Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, presented the final session, “Speak Up! Using your Gift to Inspire Other and Glorify God.” She encouraged the attendees to recognize that we all have a voice and we can use that voice to add to the conversation in the public sphere by inspiring others, building people up and bless the Lord. Writing strategically and with an eternal focus brings glory to God and blesses others.
Following the breakout sessions, participants had the chance to talk with each other about their writing projects and ideas and seek help from the library and the writing center to help build and refine their writing skills. In very practical ways, From Thought to Page reminded attendees that all our written work—whether a term paper, a book review, a journal article, a blog post or anything else—should glorify God in its content, quality and intentionality. Writing is kingdom work.