“The approach to style is by way of plainness, simplicity, orderliness, sincerity… Muddiness is not merely a disturber of prose, it is also a destroyer of life, of hope.”

— E. B. White, as quoted in Cornelius Plantinga’s Engaging God’s World: A Christion Vision of Faith, Learning and Living (Eerdmans, 2002), p. 129.

I could be out of line here, but let me suggest some implications of White’s quote:

  • Writing reflects something about an author and tends to have some effect on a reader.
  • Clear, concise writing comes only from clear thinking.
  • Expressing half-baked thoughts is irresponsible.
  • “Fluff” or drivel is a waste of my time and yours, and therefore is actually discouraging. In other words, it is not merely unfortunate but objectively bad.
  • Aesthetics and function are closely connected. That is, beauty is not an optional addition to clarity, it is, perhaps, one and the same. This is why flowery language (ironically) fails its attempt at beauty, and why an “art” chair that is not comfortable is not a chair, and (I would argue) may not be very good art, either.¹
  • In short, a good writer is concerned with order, honesty, and the benefit of the reader because God has declared these things to be morally good (in a Christian worldview).

That’s a tall order to fill (!), but it confirms my belief that training students in the discipline of thinking and expressing themselves effectively ought to occupy a heavy spot near the core of our curriculum. That being said, I’ve probably already broken one of the rules in this (somewhat ambitious) post. Please feel free to draw my attention to my missteps. I’m still learning.


¹ Without getting into a discussion of aesthetics, I’d say that art that is said to be “purely aesthetic” or “serves no practical purpose” actually does serve a purpose as a legitimate art object to be observed, enjoyed, and interpreted.