Margaret Orren, my seventh-grade teacher, used to say that when a student made a questionable statement. She was referring to the “tick” she slept on as a girl, a homemade mattress filled with straw or corn shucks. If a “tick” had so many holes that it wouldn’t hold shucks, it was useless.

We seventh-graders had no formal courses in logic or rhetoric, but we had Mrs. Orren, and she would put up with no foolishness in our essays or class reports. I can still see her cross her arms and arch her eyebrows to interrupt my bluster with withering scorn: “That won’t hold shucks.”

I think every writer, especially every Christian writer, needs a Mrs. Orren in the subconscious mind. It’s too easy to think that our readers will overlook faulty logic if we dress it up in inspirational prose, but our readers are not naïve.

This morning, I read an article on Psalm 80 by a well-known biblical scholar whose argument went something like this…

  • National disasters warned Israel that God was about to punish them for ignoring Him.
  • The United States has suffered a series of national disasters over the past 70 years, from Pearl Harbor to 9/11.
  • Therefore, God is about to punish us for ignoring Him.

We can find good evidence for each of these statements on its own; but to string them together as cause-and-effect is intellectually dishonest. As Mrs. Orren would say, the argument “won’t hold shucks,” so it erodes readers’ confidence in the writer as well as the message.

I believe this is true of nonfiction and fiction as well: We can’t assume that our calling as Christian writers will cloak us in a shroud of unassailable authority. It won’t. Our readers are sharp enough to know that lame logic from a Christian writer is still…lame!