The Theologist / Scott Lencke / Spiritual Writing for the 2020s

The Theologist is your guide to all things writing and publishing in the fields of theology and biblical studies, from finding inspiration for your work to reading the best literature on writing, from overcoming writing obstacles to finding writing mentors, and more. In this newest installation of The Theologist, we interview Scott Lencke, author of Reflections of Immanuel (Wipf & Stock, 2020) and Change for the First Time, Again (Wipf & Stock, 2016).

What have been your biggest breakthroughs in writing throughout your training and career?

The biggest breakthrough, or growth experience, I have had in writing has come through my blog. I launched it in June 2008 and the rhythmic practice of writing short articles really helped in my writing development.

What has been the most important lesson on writing you’ve learned while working on your PhD?

Perseverance. Especially when it comes to writing up your field research. It is the most challenging part for me, an area that causes me to get stuck because it doesn’t feel as “exciting” as other parts. But my advisor has continually challenged me to see it as integral to my gaining fresh insights into my research.

What makes for interesting and engaging religious writing, in your view?

The material needs to be fresh to really provide impactful material. What I mean is twofold. For starters, one cannot write as if we still live in a bygone era. It is not 1984 or 1997. What does it mean to write in the 2020s? Furthermore, as you address a topic, you can bet on others having written about that topic. Matter of fact, when submitting manuscript proposals to publishers, they typically want to know if you are aware of the lay of the landscape for your subject matter, and what makes your contribution unique. So, as you are writing, offer something distinct from others.

What are your biggest obstacles in writing?

Time. You must carve out time. But, because most people are not getting paid to write, or will probably only receive a little income from it, writing gets put on the back burner. We have family, work, kids’ activities, hobbies, friends, rest, and more. Writing must become a regular rhythm.

What does your research process look like when you have a writing project in mind?

I usually write about things I have already researched, at least to some degree. Thus, I will have books read with underlined statements that I’ll pull from the shelf to draw upon. I’ll remember that an article was written by such and such person or publication and Google search for that article to re-read it. The same goes with videos or podcast episodes.

What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

I’m not sure this is a quirk, but I do secretly long to write fiction. I only write non-fiction theology at this point. But, many years back, I started a creative blog as well and tried my hand at a couple of fiction stories. I have a current story line developed in my head that I want to tease out in the future.

What have you learned about yourself through your experiences writing and publishing?

I have learned it is a practice that helps in my own spiritual formation. From journaling to blogging to PhD research to books, each of these have provided a formative space for me. I wouldn’t consider it a top spiritual practice for me, but it is significant enough to note. 

Who do you try to reach with your writing, and how do you try to reach them specifically?

I am an evangelical, so most of my writing is to those within the evangelical church setting. My blog is entitled The Prodigal Thought and I launched it with the idea of helping our “prodigal thoughts” return to the good and beautiful ways of God. Sometimes that is expressed in gentle ways; at other times it, I think, cuts like a two-edged sword.

Which writers’ (plural) prose is your favorite to read, and why?

My two greatest spiritual writers are Henri Nouwen and Eugene Peterson. When I went through my own deconstruction period some twelve years ago, what helped me most was landing on the more contemplative-mystical side of the faith. So I began reading authors of this manner. There are others, but these two have written in a way that nourishes my soul in the gentle and beautiful ways of God.

Why publish?

I think it is a way to get your work out there more officially. Self-publishing allows you to take home a much larger cut for each item sold. But I believe publishing helps to officially authenticate your work a bit more.

What has your experience been like working with publishers?

Overall, it has been positive. The managing editor has always been helpful with any questions I may have. And if he doesn’t have the answer, he will direct me to the correct person. Furthermore, I’ve continued to make connections with those working for other publishers, just as a way to branch out for future projects.

What advice would you give to a young writer navigating their first engagements with a publisher?

Know what they want. And that is fairly easy to find through a Google search that consists of the publisher’s name plus the words manuscript proposal. All publishers have similar requirements for a proposal to be sent in, but you will do well to be aware of exactly what each publisher desires.

What book(s) are you currently reading?

I always have way too many books sitting on my nightstand, but these are three books I’ve been working through these days: The Enneagram Goes to Church by Todd Wilson, Jesus and John Wayne by Kristen Kobes Du Mez, and the fiction thriller Coyote Fork by James Wilson

Do you have any other writing projects in the works?

My dissertation. I would love to have that finished by the end of 2024. And I’d also love to turn it into a book that is accessible to the general populace. I also have a couple of manuscripts in the works, one on women in leadership and another on apostolic ministry for today.

In your work coaching budding writers, what pieces of advice do you find yourself giving again and again?

Going back to the question on obstacles, the advice I give most is carving out time to write. Set a regular rhythm each week or at least every other week to write for a half-day, if not a full day. The project will not get finished if you don’t sit down and write.

Also in your coaching, what do you see as the main pitfalls young writers tend to fall into?

I would say it’s believing you have the answers—or at least most of the answers. And, oh, was that true of me as a young writer. As much as I might say I know I don’t have it all figured out, I still thought I had it all mostly figured out. So, I would say, try to write with humility as you remember the words of the Teacher in Ecclesiastes: “Of making many books there is no end . . .” (Eccl 12:12). Your writing is one tiny drop in the bucket of books being churned out left and right in our world today. Keep a level head and be happy if you impact even just a few with your writing.

Scott Lencke is a PhD candidate at the University of Aberdeen and has an MA from Covenant Theological Seminary. He is an educator, life coach, and writer. He also regularly blogs at


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