Culture / Ministry / Writing / January 11, 2012

Hip, Emerging, or Missional: How is a Writer to Write?

My first post of 2012 was a request for reader feedback to help spark ideas for blog posts, reflection, and creativity. Several people offered feedback, all good, all helpful. Commenter Mike, though, asked a question that is one all Christian writers must answer in some way. It will be answered implicitly or explicitly, but it will be answered.

“How can contemporary Christians write in fresh ways while remaining faithful to the gospel message and traditions – do we really need to become hip or emerging or missional in order to have something worthwhile to say?”

Parts of this question are too big or too varied to answer well in this space (like the definition and/or value of “traditions”), but the crux of the question is utterly necessary to examine as a writer. I’m going to try to answer the second half of the question and in so doing answer the first as well.

Must a writer be hip in order to have something worthwhile to say? “No, a writer does not have to be “hip”, that is tuned in to the latest in pop culture and entertainment phenomena. John Piper is the least “hip” person I know. He says worthwhile things. Tim Keller doesn’t seem terribly hip, but is terribly worthwhile. Hipness can be a vehicle to connect with an audience, but it is just as often a distraction from the message. Hipness also, without fail, ceases to be hip in very short order therefore nullifying much of what was said with good intention.

Must a writer be emerging in order to have something worthwhile to say? Truthfully, I have no real idea what “emerging” means. I thought I did at one point and then I didn’t and then I did again and now I don’t. So I’m going to say no, a writer does not have to be emerging to be worthwhile. If there were people who were “emerging” at one point I would that by now they are fully emerged. “Emerging” was a buzz word that was hip, and hip stops being hip after a while, so let’s put that one to bed.

Must a writer be missional in order to have something worthwhile to say? I would answer this with a definitive YES! “Missional is a word that gets thrown around almost as frequently as “emerging” used to, if not more. But “missional” means something good. It incorporates the ideas of gospel centricity with cultural relevance in a particular context. It emphasizes Jesus in a way that most effectively communicates to a particular culture or subculture through people from that same culture or sub culture. If that isn’t the heart of writing then the writer needs to go away.

I read this C.S. Lewis quote recently in Tim and Kathy Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage: “. . .no man who bothers about originality will ever be original; whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring two pence how often it has been told before), you will, nine time out of ten, become original without having noticed it.”

So what must you do as a writer? Write the truth with consideration to how God has laid that truth on your heart. Give up the emphasis on hipness, and, instead, communicate with all of who you are before God. Effective communication is that which is heartfelt, aimed at a particular audience, and above all, TRUE. Yes there are writers who are better than others because of their particular styles, verve, vocab, or variation. Yes some authors excel at bringing in cultural applications to enhance a point. But is truth, written with love, out of the life and giftedness God has given you that is the starting point. 


Jan 11, 2012

Thanks for this, Barnabas. I like that you pull those three adjectives away from each other. Too often we try to use them as synonyms when they are not. And I love the Lewis quote. Which, of course, is required of all Christian…loving Lewis quotes. 🙂

Jan 12, 2012

Your dad is the least hip person you know because you haven’t met my dad.

Jan 13, 2012

Thanks, Monica. It seems to me that many Christians just aren’t very careful in their use of terms and it leads to confusion and some really unnecessary and nasty debates over what is often just semantics.

Jan 15, 2012

Hi Barnabas,
Great to read your thoughts on my question, particularly what you define by ‘missional’. I live in New Zealand and the emerging church idea seems to still have some sway here, though our culture has missed the boat when it comes to ‘hip’. Being outside the US we tend to see the extremes of whatever is current within the American churches and this can lead to the impression that only those with enormous churches who are either very trendy or very well educated (or both) get listened to.

My ‘gut feeling’ has been that being completely committed to living and writing about the gospel in the context of real life within a particular cultural context can’t go too far wrong, it seems you agree. (And you are in a unique position to know whether John Piper is a “hip” person. I agree that he says worthwhile things.)


Jan 17, 2012

Nice post! It reminds me of what A. G. Sertillanges wrote in his classic, The Intellectual Life, on reading nonfiction: “The source of knowledge is not in books, it is in reality, and in our thought. Books are signposts; the road is older, and no one can make the journey to truth for us. It is not what a writer says that is of first importance to us; the important thing is what IS.” I think he’s on to something. Tony

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