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by Andy Crouch

Omit Unnecessary Words

On the trail of faith and writing.

Jerry B. Jenkins is administering the de facto oath of the Christian Writers Guild. Thirty novices sit up straight in their chairs, raise their right hands, and read together from the immortal words of Strunk and White's Elements of Style:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

We are gathered in a breakout room at the Broadmoor, a sprawling resort hotel in Colorado Springs. There's the faintest twinkle in the eyes of Jenkins and Andy Scheer, the former Moody Monthly managing editor who is now Jenkins' writing sidekick, as they recite the words aloud, but the students themselves seem deadly serious. Maybe they are just nervous—each of them has submitted a writing sample in advance, and this is the moment of truth. Jenkins and Scheer are about to put those samples up one by one on the screen at the front of the room, subjecting each to a "thick-skinned critique." "We're going to leave a lot of blood on the page," Jenkins warns cheerfully.

Indeed, by the end of the 75-minute workshop, nearly every fledgling literary effort is drenched in editorial ink, its adjectives and adverbs ruthlessly run through with a felt-tip pen, its passive-voice verbs summoned out of hiding. The aspiring Christian writers watch meekly. As sheep before the shearers are silent, so they open not their mouths. But when the session is over, they each want their transparencies, edited by the masters' hands.

Thanks to the Left Behind series, Jenkins is evangelicalism's best-selling author, with book sales climbing ever closer to the hundred-million mark. He is credited, variously, with establishing the commercial viability and mainstream credibility of "Christian fiction," ...

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