The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Sep 9, 2016

Why our seminary students now have to read From Topic to Thesis by Michael Kibbe.

The other day, while reading a Bibliotheca Sacra article from over 100 years ago, I was struck by the thought that it seemed so much more polished than the scholarly material of today. My mind also reasoned (correctly or incorrectly, I don't know) was that perhaps since proportionally more people publish today than over 100 years ago, the overall literary quality of the writers is significantly diminished. The N. T. Wright's and John Piper's of the world (i.e., the top biblical writers) become a much smaller percentage compared to the "average" published author, even the average peer-reviewed author. We may be tempted to suggest that, on the other hand, the capability to research may be improved, and to the degree that technology and textual discoveries enables us to access and analyze material, yes (A. T. Robertson did not, after all, have access to Logos software or the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae). However, 100 years ago the "average" published author was quoting Calvin in Latin (not English) as a matter of course, while B. F. Westcott was collating ancient manuscripts by hand, without any electronic helps! They did more with what they had, in other words.

The internet, of course, only compounds the problem (the lower literary quality of writers), by removing peer-review. Now everybody with an opinion automatically assumes they're worth being published just because, you know, they have an opinion! [and don't get me started on Twitter :) ] Consequently, schools today have their work cut out for them. Since more people are writing (and that's not a bad necessarily a bad thing, mind you), graduate schools especially need to be more rigorous in developing the talents of their students.

This year a professor named Michael Kibbe published From Topic to Thesis: A Guide to Theological Research (click here for the Amazon link). Kibbe is a professor at Moody in Spokane, Washington, and fairly new to the field of scholarship (his revised dissertation was just published by the very prestigious De Gruyter. His book fills a very important niche for seminary students in three ways:

1. First, the book is a step-by-step guide to the process of theological research, with very specific instructions. For example, one very helpful portion of the book discusses the difference between "Primary," "Secondary," and "Tertiary" sources, and where in the research process each comes into play. Elsewhere, he discusses the note-taking process, how to interact with sources, and how to narrow your topic into a solid thesis. While I don't always agree with him (actually, page 66 on taking notes is probably the only place I disagree with him significantly), this is an excellent and very specific treatment of the research process, from assignment to crafting an argument. Note also that Kibbe has some very helpful appendices (including one devoted to the bibliographical software Zotero).

Caveat: the book does not cover writing per se (for that, I would suggest Joseph Williams, Style: Writing with Clarity and Grace (required in my doctoral studies), nor does Kibbe really discuss how to proofread, etc. This is mostly about research, developing a thesis, and interacting with sources, not how to actually write.

2. Secondly, this book is written specifically for theology students by a Biblical scholar who clearly sees theological research as a spiritual activity, not a neutral endeavor: "The one thing theological research cannot be is a purely academic exercise or one limited to certain spheres of my existence and kept away from others" (p. 30). Indeed, the introduction is very well-written and well-thought out in regards to why theological research needs to be done properly and with the right attitude.

3. Finally, and this will sound a bit odd, but I believe this book benefits from having been written by a younger, less well-known scholar. In other words, if this book had been written by D. A. Carson or Larry Hurtado or another well-established scholar, quite possibly it would have been too far removed from the average seminary student to be as helpful, not to mention uber-intimidating, to boot. Granted, Kibbe is probably smarter than most of us, anyways, but he's still closer to the average seminary student than a 20-year veteran of academia. And that, I believe, is a good thing.

So I highly recommend this book for graduate students, with the caveat that you need some other resource to help you with the technical aspects of writing itself.

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