Evaluating Theological Writing

January 29, 2011 — Leave a comment

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Yesterday, I posted a link to some of John Frame’s thoughts on how to write a theological paper. Justin Taylor highlighted one of the points and then linked you to the rest of them. The whole discussion is appendix F in Doctrine of the Knowledge of God.

In appendix E though, Frame goes over how to evaluate theological writing. What he provides will more or less be the matrix I use on several reading projects I’ve got at the moment (Horton, Barth, and Wright).

These points, as Frame says, are aimed at young seminarians and are stated in other places through DKG. In the appendix then he is just relating in concise form some applications from his book, particularly in terms of thoughtfully evaluating what others have written theologically. Pretty helpful yeah?

Anyway, here’s his 9 points of evaluation:

  1. Scripturality (is it taught in Scripture or consistent with it?)
  2. Truth (is it true beyond being found in Scripture?)
  3. Cogency (is it argued well/soundly?)
  4. Edification (is it spiritually helpful/harmful?)
  5. Godliness (does this writing exhibit the fruit of the spirit?)
  6. Importance (are the ideas important/trivial?)
  7. Clarity (terms well defined? intelligible structure? position clear?)
  8. Profundity (does it wrestle with difficult questions? note distinctions?)
  9. Form and Style (is it creative? does it fit the subject matter?)

Frame says that he tends to grade papers first on #1, but then mainly in terms of #7, #3, and #8. He then lists some unsound criteria for evaluation. His reasoning behind why these are unsound are expressed elsewhere in his book, and in my opinion, he argues the case well. In contrast to the above 9, here are 3 illegitimate grounds for critique:

  1. Emphasis (there is no such thing as a normative emphasis, so an emphasis is only improper if it leads to violating one of the above 9 points)
  2. Comparability (never criticize a work because it resembles some other work that is not highly regarded)
  3. Terminology (same as #1 above; it is not the terminology that is the problem per se, but when poorly used terms and motifs lead to deficiencies in the above 9 criteria)

You might notice though that a lot of criticisms sometimes center on these points. I’m guilty of it myself. In making evaluations though, it would probably be best to make note of emphasis/comparability/terminology issues and then see if they relate to one of the 9 main points. If they do, then it might be a legitimate criticism. But taken alone, they do not produce sound criticism.

From here on out, as best I can, I’ll try to make the on-going evaluations along these lines, and I would encourage you to do the same in your own reading.

Nate

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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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