It’s probably been 15 years, but ever since I first read Nathan Brown’s articles I’ve been struck by the conciseness and frankness of his writing, the courage with which he tackles the prejudices and superficialities of religion, and the naturalness with which he invites his readers to live a spiritual life worthy of God’s generous offer.

I was delighted when Brown was appointed editor-in-chief of the Australian edition of Signs of the Times. In 2012, as I was preparing for my trip to Australia to film several dozen interviews for my TV show on the Hope Channel, a mutual friend in Melbourne paved the way for a special conversation with Nathan Brown.

Were you always good with words and language? Or did that come later in life?

It was definitely something that interested me. I was particularly interested in language. I think I understood English better because I also studied German. It was an interesting experience to find out how the language works, what its components are, and to piece together the grammar and all that boring stuff.

Were you an avid reader?

Yes, I always have been. My father was a pastor and as a young man he went to a master’s programme. When I was at high school, my mother was also at university. So I was very focused on reading and was strongly encouraged to read a variety of books, from all religious traditions. I read biographies of Spurgeon and other famous preachers. These were, of course, the books on my father’s bookshelf. Very early on I discovered C.S. Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia. From there I moved on to other writings, the apologetic ones.

I studied C.S. Lewis at university. Taking a story you read as a child and analysing it on an academic level is a great adventure and an extraordinary journey.

There must have been a moment when you had to make a career choice. How did you decide?

At first I thought about becoming a pastor, like my father. But later I wanted to go my own way. I studied law for six years at a university in Brisbane and worked as an undergraduate in various law firms in Australia. It was a great adventure. But after two years I realised it wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I still decided to complete my degree, but the day I handed in my last paper at university was the day I retired from the legal profession, so to speak. I have absolutely no regrets about not practising law, but I also have no regrets about going to law school. I loved studying law and I think it helped me a lot. Legal language has to be very…

Very precise?

Yes, it is. I learnt to write and read very carefully and precisely. That was a very important discipline. I got a very good understanding of how society works. It was a wonderful experience and I don’t regret it. At the same time, I don’t regret stopping. I decided not to become a lawyer, but I still didn’t know what I wanted to do.

Of a million options, you were sure that one was out of the question.

But there were still plenty of options. I had just gotten married. My wife was still a student. We decided to do something different. So we volunteered as preachers for the church for a year. We went to the Northern Territory, one of Australia’s sparsely populated states, to a small town of 2,000 people about 500 kilometres from the nearest slightly larger town, Alice Springs. It was around this time that I started studying literature and writing a bit. I had time for that.

I started studying literature as a way of pushing myself to read different things that I wouldn’t have read otherwise. That’s why I’m still studying literature. It’s an ongoing course. There are so many great and beautiful works in the world to read. Sometimes we can get a rather narrow view of things. I was very motivated to explore this world and to learn. I started experimenting with reading and writing. At first they were hobbies, then they took over my life and became my activity.

So you started writing. What did you write? Did you start a big project, like a novel? Or did you try something short?

I wanted to write a novel, but before I wrote a novel I wrote a lot of short articles. I started writing articles and sending them around. They were published in a Baptist magazine, a Catholic magazine, and other Christian magazines. In the beginning I was published more in those magazines than in Adventist ones. This is something I would like to see more of: young Adventists crossing the boundaries of our church and contacting other publications or other magazines and trying to contribute something. It’s an opportunity to clarify our ideas and try to communicate them in a language that goes beyond Adventist jargon.

At some point you also began to be published in Adventist magazines.

Some of the articles I wrote in the beginning were published in Adventist magazines at the same time. But I think my big break came from a competition run by the Adventist Review in late 1998. It was a literary contest for writers under the age of 35 to write articles for the AnchorPoints column, which covered articles on faith. Articles were received from all over the world. The assignment was to write an article on a fundamental point of Adventist doctrine. Somehow, they chose my article as the winner of the contest. It was very nice when they gave me the prize. They also put my picture on the cover of the magazine and all those bizarre things you don’t expect to happen to you, like seeing your face on the cover of a magazine.

Do you remember what the winning article was about?

It was about our faith in creation, the joy and wonder of creation. Sometimes, we lose sight of the joy of creation because we get caught up in the controversy about science. God has created a wonderful and joyful world and universe.

After winning the competition, I was invited to do an internship with Adventist Review.

What did you have to do in this internship?

I wrote about different aspects of faith and life under the guidance of instructors. I was trying to get people to think differently, to inspire them, to get them excited about what faith means in the context of our lives.

In one of these articles I read an interesting phrase: “Change the world, seven hundred and fifty words at a time”.

It was the shortest form of summary I could think of. It sounds a bit smug, a bit bombastic, but the world is being changed every day in so many ways, some positive, some negative. I truly believe that everything we do changes the world. So why shouldn’t these 750 words of an article have the same purpose, to change someone’s choices or behaviour or priorities?

Was it difficult to fit into the 750 word limit?

Actually, it’s a very good discipline. Writing something that might persuade someone or move someone’s heart within that word limit is quite difficult. The process of becoming a writer helps you to say a lot in a few words. When I look at the articles I started out with, I find there are a lot of words that don’t say much. Nowadays, when I write a 750-word article, I say a lot more than when I started.

Someone said: “It’s good to clear your throat before you start talking.” A lot of times you start writing and you’re looking for what you want to say, but by then you’ve used up all the words. If you cut out the first part, you’ll get the essence of what you want to say. It’s a good exercise. I like that limit because it doesn’t take up too much time, but it’s enough to say something powerful, something that can challenge people.

How do you choose your subjects?

I don’t think it’s necessarily something I choose; basically I write about things that catch my attention. These things can come in any form: a current issue, a news story, something I read, maybe a Bible verse. It could be something I’ve been struggling with in my heart. It is said that preachers preach to themselves first. When I write, I share something that has helped me give meaning to life and faith. I believe that God can help others in a similar way.

Tell us more about the way you write.

Different writers work in different ways. I’m the type of person who, when I sit down to write something, writes something that is very close to the final product, because the idea has been developing in my mind for a long time. I have an idea that sits in my head and grows and grows and grows until it gets written down. Other times I have an idea that I write down immediately. Overall, though, my writing process is slow. I guess I trust in the power of an idea to develop. At the same time, I jot down other ideas or quotes from books. But the best and strongest ideas are the ones that grow over time.

At the same time, deadlines mobilise me—being forced to sit down and write something. Every creative person struggles with that. It’s a rare privilege to have a quiet afternoon in the office where I can sit and write. I usually write late at night at home, but only when an idea has reached the point where it needs to be written.

I have seen many quotations from the Bible in many of your articles. This shows your familiarity with the Bible. I suppose these texts are always active in your mind, that’s why they come out so easily. I would like to ask you, when did you start reading the Bible, as a small child or later?

As a small child. I’m really glad you noticed that, because when I write, the Bible is the most important thing I can work with. If I put a Bible verse in an article, the readers will find at least one thing that is sure to be useful to them. Even if the rest of the article says nothing to the reader, that passage can speak to them. Reproducing and using the Bible in this way is an important basis for everything I write.

I remember from a very early age my parents encouraging me to read the Bible, to simply read it. People would look at me strangely when I told them how I read the Bible. My way of reading and interacting with the Bible is to just read it. I start at the beginning and work my way to the end. And then I start again.


This is my daily habit. Sometimes I read faster, sometimes much slower, one chapter a day, like this. Now I’m starting again. This time I’m reading faster, three or four chapters a day. I think at that rate I’ll finish it in about a year. I think this way of reading the Bible makes you read passages that you normally leave out. There are parts of the Bible that are often overlooked. At the same time you get an overview of what’s in the Bible. Then, when you read a verse, you realise that it fits into a bigger picture. That’s how I’ve come to understand God.

How do you deal with feedback on your articles?

I’ve come to appreciate getting feedback on the articles I write. Any kind of response is a good thing because it means a person has taken the time to read the article and it has caused them to have a reaction.

With universal access to the internet, it has become common for some people to react almost immediately to what they read. Often you can tell they’ve written without thinking too much.

But to take the time to engage with the article, to disagree with it and still take the time, is a wonderful thing, even more so if you write a strong and thoughtful response. If people are angry, at least you know they care. Indifference is the worst way to treat an article. If someone responds angrily, it means they care about the issue, they believe strongly in something. These are people you can have a conversation with, even if it is not always pleasant. I think we need to practise this kind of conversation, because we don’t all have to think the same way.

Another very important thing is that writing helps us to clarify the things we think. If you want to find out what you really think about a certain subject, sit down in front of a piece of paper and try to write an explanation. You’ll be surprised at what you discover. I’m often surprised myself. Sometimes I start writing without knowing where I’m going. At the same time it shows you where you lack knowledge. You start to write an argument and say what you think about something, but how do you arrive at the conclusions? This is where you fill in the blanks. Writing is an intellectual exercise that is worth doing.

It can also be an exercise in faith.

Yes, we come to understand what we really believe and why we believe it.

I opened this topic because I would like to see a lot more reactions from our readers and viewers, both favourable and unfavourable, or even angry. But instead of just saying “I don’t like it!” Say: “I don’t like it because…”

People usually react to the author by attacking the person who wrote it, rather than addressing the idea that the author has proposed. It’s easier that way, and I understand why people do it. If you can tear down the author, then you stop worrying about their ideas.

You were the editor of Signs of the Times magazine in Australia for a number of years. What memories do you have?

I’m glad we managed to keep the print version. Not everything can be electronic. It’s hard to give something virtual to a friend. You can send them a link, but it’s not the same as saying: “Look what we were talking about the other day, this is a magazine produced by my friends at church. You can pick it up and read it if you like”. To me, that’s the easiest way to plant something else in people’s minds.

You’ve also written books. I loved one book: Seven Reasons Life Is Better With God.

Basically, the book is for young people with a solid education, who have everything they need and a lot of opportunities. Why is God important in this situation? So often there are reports of people confessing that they are at the end of their wits, that everything is going wrong and they have nothing good left in life. From there they look up to God and He changes their lives. And these are wonderful stories.

But at some point it gets boring to use the same pattern over and over again. Why should I care about God if things are going well enough? That was the starting point of the book.

Is there anything else you’d like to say to those who are already writing or thinking about writing?

First of all, I would draw their attention to what I am experiencing. To meet someone like you who says they’ve read things I’ve written… it overwhelms me. To know that someone on the other side of the world felt something when they read my articles, that a connection was made… that’s something that makes me very happy. It’s a great privilege for me. That’s how God works. You do your part and trust God to use it as He sees fit. For me, writing is a joy, in fact I write with a smile on my face and that’s probably why people like what I write.

Writing is also a lot of hard work. Many people are enthusiastic about the idea of becoming a writer, but far fewer are enthusiastic about the idea of writing. Writing is not a spectator sport. It requires struggle, it’s sometimes boring, it requires solitude—it’s hard work. But if it’s something you love, you’ll do whatever it takes to get better at it. Everything you write is writing practice. When I text my friends, I always write in full, without abbreviations. If I can write a sentence that surprises them, that makes them smile, then it’s good practice. Anything you write, whether it’s an email or something on Facebook, whatever you do, it’s writing practice. I have this idea that whatever I’m writing, I’m not writing for nothing. Even if it’s a simple note to my mum or whatever, it’s something I can think about later.

Note: This is a television interview by Adrian Bocaneanu, broadcast on the Romanian channel HopeTV. The transcript of the interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.