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“Exorbitantly excessive.”

That’s the line that caught my eye as I reviewed a recent bit of feedback from my academic editor. The words pertained to one of my bad habits as a writer (apparently, I have a couple): my too-frequent use of certain words, in close succession, to start my sentences:

Yet…
Such…
As… (before a quotation)

And the most exorbitant “excessary” of all:

While… (followed shortly by an “even so…” as a verbal chaser to my favorite linguistic cocktail).

Exorbitantly excessive.

The critique was not unkind (especially since the editors said several affirming things about my work). But it did have one result: I now see “Yet” and “As” in my writing like that kid saw dead people in The Sixth Sense. They light up the page.

I’m not complaining. My point concerns how helpful it was to receive that constructive criticism. It made the work better; and I will benefit from it going forward. In fact, the experience made me ask, What if everyone had an editor? Especially in our age of social media.

THE TROUBLE WITH HOT TAKES

Despite the benefits of platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, one downside has been the viral elevation of immediate, unedited and unresearched reactions: “hot takes.” In a callout culture, what used to be a character flaw — going off half-cocked to a room [world] full of people — is now rewarded with the possibility of praise, click-generating revilement and the illegitimate love-child of these two strange bedfellows: celebrity.

Since the background noise is loud, and the competitors are numerous, “hot takes” get noticed by a mix of speed and outrage. Can I say it first? Can I say it to eleven? If so, the media might even take note (often without vetting) so that in an Orwellian twist, the viral hot-take becomes the story.

In all of this, a crucial safeguard is absent: a firm but patient editor.

THE SPIRIT AS A FIRM BUT PATIENT EDITOR

In Christian theology, something like that “editorial authority” is the prerogative of the third person of the Trinity: the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit is a firm but patient Editor.

Patience, by definition, takes time. It isn’t instantaneous. A manuscript cannot be written and vetted in the space of a twelve-hour news cycle. It takes years in most cases. The book that I mentioned previously was mostly written three years ago; it has gone through countless revisions—and even today I found two more (fairly serious) mistakes. Publishing takes time and patience.

The hope, however, is that what one sacrifices in terms of immediate gratification (think, type, share) will be gained in truth, beauty and goodness. The Spirit is a patient Editor.

But the Spirit is no pushover.

Because of the label of “Comforter” (John 14–16) we sometimes see God’s Breath as merely an internal Encourager who offers the Christian equivalent of a Tony Robbins seminar.

“You can do it!”
“You are worth it!”
“Have you heard the new Hillsong?”

Encouragement is needed. But the Greek for “Comforter” (paracletos) could also be read as something like “Attorney.” Hence Christ tells us that the Spirit “will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). This is a legal role. And no one hires Tony Robbins as an attorney.

Michael Horton has the following to say:

The difference between Christ and the Spirit, then, is not to be found in that between legal judgment and relational comfort. Rather, it is to be found in the fact that Christ’s courtroom role is exercised for us, outside of us, while the Spirit’s is exercised within us, bringing us to acknowledge our guilt and to receive pardon in Christ before his return in judgment at the last day.

The Spirit is no wimpy paracletos—and the cross-examining aims for editorial improvement.

CONCLUSION

In an age of hot takes, God’s perfecting Presence offers something better than a fleeting hit of dopamine. The Spirit offers holiness, not by our own merits but by divine grace.

With both firmness and patience, the Spirit says,

That thing you’re doing: It’s “exorbitantly excessive.” Let’s work on it.

Joshua McNall

Joshua McNall (Ph.D.) is assistant professor of theology at Oklahoma Wesleyan University, in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. He is an ordained minister in The Wesleyan Church and blogs regularly at joshuamcnall.com. His latest book, Long Story Short: The Bible in Six Simple Movements, has just been released for churches and small groups at www.seedbed.com.

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