DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Aha and Eureka Moments

Written by: on October 18, 2018

For as long as I can remember, writing well has always been a roadblock to pursuing advanced degrees—at least the kind of writing required to pass courses. Secondary education and the years in college did not prepare me well for the task of writing. Sure, we had English, Literature, Grammar, but nothing on how to write. I do not remember spending class hours on the mechanics of writing nor any of my teachers spending time helping us write better. What I do remember are the red marks on the margins critiquing style, not adhering to rules, punctuation, etc. 

By the time I got to college, a particular kind of writing was assumed. Again, no instructor in any of my classes gave us any clue as to what goals or practical ends our writing ought to be. Our syllabi had writing assignments and the assumption of everyone was that by the due date we would turn in pages with writing in it. Then the red marks and grades came in. I never failed any writing assignments but I never knew in advance if my writing would ever get an “A.” If I ended up with high marks, it was accidental. It all seemed like a mystery to me what criteria was used to evaluate our papers. Especially when one puts in a lot of time and sincere effort into it.

The anxiety over whether or not I could succeed at writing at the doctoral level had for a long time ruled out the idea of pursuing another degree beyond an MA. It still paralyzes me to think that a much longer paper will be due by the end of the Spring (2019) and wondering if I will be up to the task. I know it sounds crazy that I even bring this up since we are not even close to being done this semester and I am already worried about the next one. 

I start with this to help me frame and contrast the new things I am learning in the art and science of writing. To say this book by Derek Rowntree Learn How to Study: A Realistic Approach is groundbreaking is an understatement for me. How so? Because it destroys all the rules of writing I grew up learning. This absolutely is for me an aha and a eureka moment. I kid you not, I literally jumped out of my seat when I read the following from Rowntree:

The best one-sentence guide to effective writing I’ve ever heard is: ‘Write like you talk.’ In my own writing (e.g. as in this book), I try to put down on paper what I would say to my reader if he or she were witting there in front of me. In other words, I aim for a style that is informal and fairly conversational — but without being matey or chatty. Whether such an approach would be acceptable to your tutors is something I leave you to decide.1

That was under the subheading “Writing simply and directly.” He continues with a list of tips that was, without exaggeration, the opposite of what I was taught in high school, i.e., it’s okay and even preferred for writers to use personal pronouns such as “I”, use everyday words, use short and simple sentences, etc. I do not know nor can explain why I was taught the complete opposite of what is taught in this book. It’s not like this resource was not available when I was going through high school. This was somewhat perplexing to me that I had to ask my son who is in the 10th grade and was sitting next to me when I had my writing epiphany. I asked him if any of these things in the book was news to him. He basically said that they learned all the rules just like I did but their teachers give them leeway in their writing assignments; more freedom to express themselves. 

Listening to my son I was reminded about the proper roles rules bear on writing, and for that matter much of life. Rules are very much like fences or railings. They serve the purpose of preventing things from falling off the edge or other dangers. It does not follow that just because they are there that we should stay close to them. The spaces in the center provide safety and freedom to explore. In this case more freedom to explore and express our ideas on paper. Indeed, this realization that there is far less restrictions in writing than I had been taught is liberating. I just hope and pray our tutors agree with Rowntree on this.

 


1Derek Rowntree, Learn How to Study: A Realistic Approach (London: TimeWarner, 2002), 196. 

About the Author

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Harry Edwards

Harry is married to Minerva and has the privilege of raising two young men. He is the founder and director of Apologetics.com, Inc., an organization dedicated to defending the truth claims of Christianity on the internet, radio and other related activities. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Christian Education and a Masters of Arts degree in Christian Apologetics from Biola University where he currently works full time as the Associate Director of the graduate programs in Christian Apologetics and Science & Religion. Harry is currently pursuing a DMin (Leadership & Global Perspectives) from George Fox University. He is an active member at Ocean View Baptist Church where he leads an adult Bible study and plays the drums for the praise and worship band. In his spare time, Harry enjoys doing things with his family, i.e., tennis, camping/backpacking, flying RC planes and mentoring others to realize their full potential in the service of our Lord.

6 responses to “Aha and Eureka Moments”

  1. Digby Wilkinson says:

    Hi there Harry. Fab reflection. It has been interesting reading all these books on how to read, learn and write. With you, I think Rowntree was by far the most practical.
    I failed everything at school – I left with no qualifications whatsoever. When I attended theological college in my early twenties I had to beg to get into the degree programme because it was post-graduate. I still remember my first mini-essay, “Luke’s Portrait of Jesus as Saviour”. They wanted 2000 words and I had never written any more than a review I copied from the dust cover of a book. After a bit of help, I scrapped through those first courses with C+. Even now, after all these years and two dissertations, I still live with a degree of literary self-doubt. I was pleased that Rowntree made it clear that most students do. It would have been great to have read it all those years ago.
    If there was one practical chapter that stood out for you, which was it?
    By the way, I think if you write like you speak Harry, you’ll probably be fine. You’re precise kind of guy.

    • Hey Digby, thanks for the kind and encouraging words. I’m having fun trying to imagine you arguing and defending your your case with your professors as you struggled through theology school in your twenty’s because it’s just not what I thought fit your profile. In the short time I’ve gotten to know you in Hong Kong, you easily are one of my most intelligent friends I know. For me, the point of knowledge and obtaining a proper education didn’t make sense until much later in my college years. And that’s after having changed majors multiple times and going about it directionless. I can write about all that was wrong in my early educational experience but this isn’t the time and place for it.

      However, it all changed for me when I became persuaded of God’s call on my life. I didn’t gain the sense of any specifics, I just knew I was going to be in ministry. That’s when education made sense to me. I recall taking to heart the verse in 2 Tim. 2:15 that commands us to “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” In the KJV, it says to “…study to show thyself….” So for me it was important to know the ends for which studying made any sense. I try to impart this wisdom to my boys now. They know why they’re doing Algebra at 9PM in the evening, reading Jonathan Edwards on the weekends, writing essays rather than spending inordinate amounts of time on XBOX, etc.

      You asked me what my favorite chapter was in Rowntree? No doubt, chapter 10, the chapter where I found that quote about how one should write. As I mentioned in my original post, Rowntree, writing a few generations ago while I was in high school, debunked everything I learned (or not learned) about writing. I regret it was late, but as the saying goes: “Better late, than never.”

  2. mm Karen Rouggly says:

    This was great, Harry! I appreciated your perspective so much! First, because I could imagine you literally jumping out of your chair. Secondly, because I love how you found freedom in this book. I too, really appreciated the perspective, and like Digby, felt like this was the one that was most practical thus far. In fact, I didn’t quite finish it before I had to write my blog (shhhhh….) and I have gone back and finished it this weekend, because I enjoyed it so much and found it so practical. Thanks for sharing!

    • Hi Karen. Yes, out of all the books so far we’ve been assigned to read, this is by far my most favorite one. The main reason is because it has affirmed the only way I know how to write — that is write as you talk; and use everyday language.

      I know we need the PhDs out there but the world also needs those who can influence ordinary folks through writing that is accessible. I’m reminded of C.S. Lewis when he said: “Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” That’s a great quote and an encouragement to us who are pursuing higher learning. But that’s not all there is to that oft-quoted sentence. Just before that he also wrote “If all the world were Christian it might not matter if all the world were uneducated. But a cultural life will exist outside the Church whether it exists inside or not. To be ignorant and simple now-not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground-would be to throw down our weapons, and betray our uneducated brethren who have no defense but us against intellectual attacks of the heathen.”

      I know it’s a long way around to just saying I so much appreciated this book because it is affirming and it gives me freedom and confidence in my writing. And hopefully, by God’s grace, we can humbly accept Lewis’ charge to act as defenders of our “uneducated brethren who have no defense but us against intellectual attacks of the heathen.”

  3. mm Nancy VanderRoest says:

    Hi Harry. Your post intrigues me, because I look at writing from a whole different viewpoint than how you learned that writing should be done. I have always been so casual in my writing (just as in my speaking), which isn’t always the best. I do a lot of public speaking, but keep in very informal and casual. Yet, it’s also necessary to keep it informational and somewhat structured, which isn’t always my forte. But I love to write and enjoy the more laid-back approach of blogging. I also found Rowntree’s approach refreshing and enlightening. Thanks for sharing, Harry.

  4. mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Harry, I have to say your post surprised me as I found you to be very articulate and your writing on our blogs have mirrored that. It seems most of us are facing new challenges and old fears in this program. I have a feeling that is the point of doctoral work, it is about becoming a doctor of the church, not just doing doctoral writing. Thank you for your vulnerability!

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