Coherence: The Grammar of God and Why It Should Matter to Us

by: Jon Pirtle, Atlanta

According to Scripture, coherence is inseparable from God. Paul writes, “And he [Jesus] is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17 English Standard Version). Another English version (NKJV) translates the verb phrase as “consist”: “And He [Jesus] is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” The ESV, NASB, KJV, NKJV, and the NIV reveal that the Lord Jesus holds all things together. He is sovereign over all things; therefore, the universe is characterized by orderliness. It is not random; rather, it holds together because God himself is a God of order and we creatures are designed to reflect that orderliness (though imperfectly) through our writing. As God’s people, we ought to reflect the logos/grammar/coherence of God; writing well does that.

In teaching literature and writing courses at Belhaven over the last few years, I have witnessed many students struggle with written expression. Therefore, during each class, I spend up to half an hour addressing some common errors in contemporary culture’s written expression. For example, it’s is not the same as its. And there is not the same as their or they’re. Fragments, misplaced apostrophes, improper use of contractions, confusion over affect versus effect, etc. seem to plague many American writers. How much more important is it, therefore, for us to inculcate the essential role of correct grammar and coherence in writing?

I appreciate so much the rubric that Belhaven uses for student writing. It consists (pun intended) of seven parts: content, organization, fluency, word choice, conventions, voice, and worldview analysis. When students use the rubric effectively, their writing holds together. The “meat” (content) of the ideas they’re exploring and evaluating (worldview analysis) flows (fluency) in an orderly design (organization). When they write in a believable and convincing tone (voice) with proper syntax (word choice) and correct grammar (conventions), the writing satisfies what we as readers crave—coherence.

When meeting with students individually about their essays, I indubitably ask this: “What is the main idea you wanted me to see here?” The answer to that simple question reveals much. Very often, life-changing learning occurs shortly thereafter. Why? Because all of us (students and teachers) crave coherence.

We are designed by a God of order who revealed himself–not haphazardly but coherently. When we write well, we honor our brothers and sisters in Christ and glorify our Father in heaven.

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