In Masterclass in writing Dr. Royce Francis not only weaves together theological reflection and practical suggestions on becoming a skilled writer in general and within one’s field, but also offers exercises to put the ideas in practice. If along the way you have missed some of “the classes,” click here. Questions and conversation are welcome—feel free to use the Comments section to express them, or email them to http://www.intervarsity.org/contact/emerging-scholars-network.
And I will show you a still more excellent way.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. — 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13, ESV
We are used to hearing this passage in weddings, but I’d argue that these verses are probably more important for your work. The true purpose of these verses is to explain how we in the body of Christ are supposed to use our spiritual gifts for building up the people of God. Paul takes great care to show how while we are all individually empowered by God to different varieties of service and activity, we are individually members of one body. What makes this body work together when there is such diversity? What makes this body work together when some gifts are esteemed more highly than others, especially in the eyes of men? What makes this body work together when some parts seem to be unpresentable, weaker, or less honorable? Love.
Your vocation, your calling, must be undertaken in love. It is a response to the call of the Holy Spirit into places you didn’t even know existed. He has selected a place for you in the body of Christ, and for us this includes academic inquiry. But how do we show love in academic inquiry? How do we show love in academic writing?
Let’s start with our approach to prophetic power and understanding mysteries. It is tempting to pursue academic work for our own sake. To explain phenomena and predict where we might find new ones simply for our own glory. However, we must move beyond our own glory into love. When you are writing, your first goal is to explain what you are seeing so that others can follow you as you follow God into the unknown. This is the reason that we aim for clarity in our writing—so that God can draw others through you into His mysteries. If you don’t have enough love to want others to see what you are seeing, your work is nothing.
When we fail to draw others into what God is doing through our writing—or when we lack the desire for others to see what we see—we are tempted to harbor envy, boasting, and arrogance in our hearts. How prevalent are these in academic life! It’s almost as if an academic must achieve proficiency in boasting, displaying arrogance, and treasuring jealousy in our hearts. This can affect our publication practices, the ways we use our writing in public teaching and speaking, the way we review grants and papers, and even the way we select new lines of inquiry. Without love, you run the risk of rejecting the lines of inquiry God calls you to in order to pursue something that satisfies our cultivated jealousies.
And finally, love is the only thing that remains. Research questions are only questions as long as they remain unsolved. Lines of inquiry are only interesting as long as the moment helps to cultivate interest. Theories will pass away with the paradigm. And more tangibly, our students and audiences will remember almost nothing that we have said or done. What remains is our love. What excites you about this field? When you speak, is it clear that you care your audience understands? Is it important to you that non-specialists understand these things? How did you treat seekers and novices? Writing is a process that oscillates between wrestling with knowledge and production of knowledge. Love is the thing that binds it together.
Our love is what gives meaning to our work. This week, take some time to think about the ways love enters your work.
- Do you desire that others learn what God has shown you, or are you promoting yourself through your writing?
- What would others who experience you only through your academic life say about you? Would those things reflect love or something else?
- How does envy, jealousy, boastfulness, or arrogance influence your work?
Towards the end of our focal Scripture passage we read: “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” Our academic writing is a process of discovery. Not only do we discover knowledge, but we also discover ourselves. As Christians, this self-discovery is a natural consequence of following Christ into our academic pursuits in a love relationship that is real and personal. As we write, our writing changes us—at least as much—as our writing changes our world.
Peace and Blessings.
Royce is an associate professor of engineering management and systems engineering at the George Washington University. He conducts and teaches under the broad theme “SEED”: Strategic [urban] Ecologies, Engineering, and Decision making. His research and teaching interests include infrastructure sustainability and resilience measurement, risk analysis, and drinking water systems analysis. Royce is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), and the Society for Risk Analysis (SRA).