There are a handful of books that every seminary student should have on writing. Michael Kibbe’s From Topic to Thesis is one of them. Thanks to IVP Academic, I was able to get a copy and read it rather quickly. While short, small, and new, it provides a concise and step by step overview from moving from an idea to a finished paper. Or as the title suggests, from a topic (like one assigned in a seminary class) to a thesis (what you’ll actually argue in your paper). The introduction is the longest chapter in the book and orients readers to how theological research is like as well as unlike other types of research. In addition, readers are introduced to the distinction between primary, secondary, and tertiary sources. Each of the following chapters explain one step in the method of research:
- Finding direction
- Gathering sources
- Understanding issues
- Entering discussion
- Establishing a position
Along the way, the author gives real life examples using a biblical studies paper as well as a theological studies one. The last third of the book is appendices covering topics like what to never do in a research paper, research and writing tools, scholarly resources, how to navigate ATLA, how to use Zotero, and a suggested timeline for your research.
I found the book to be very helpful for my own rusty thinking on paper writing. I tend to have difficulty moving from topic to thesis so this book was exactly what I needed to prod me along and I think I’ll plan to utilize it for an upcoming paper proposal. As I do, I fill you more in on the guidance the book offers.
As a follow up to his Dude’s Guide to Manhood, Darrin Patrick teamed up with his wife Amie to write The Dude’s Guide to Marriage. Thanks to Thomas Nelson I was able to get a copy and see what I thought. In some ways, much of the advice here should be basic common sense. However, as someone who went through pre-marital counseling and still ended up clueless about certain things, I’d say common sense isn’t initially all that common. If you look at the chapter titles, you’ll notice there is nothing that revolutionary:
Well, maybe the submit part (and maybe the fight part). On the whole though, I think most dude’s would at least tacitly understand they should listen, talk, fight (argue), grow, provide, rest, etc. There is a gap though between knowing what you should hypothetically do and knowing how to actually do it well. That is where this book can be a valuable resource. In a way it is basic. But, dudes tend to need basic (even if they won’t admit it). I found the value not so much in the exposition but in the discussion questions provided at the end for talking with your wife. This isn’t to say that the Patricks honesty and vulnerability in letting us in our their marriage isn’t helpful. It’s more to note that if I only read their exposition, it might help my own self-understanding, but I need to take the topics and discussion questions to talk things through with my wife. My biggest problem, and probably most guys problem is to read something like this and just assume I’m nailing all of it and then move on. I have to take the extra step of actually seeing what my wife thinks and the Patricks have a provide a good discussion starter for doing just that.
A couple of summers ago I enjoyed reading Zack Eswine’s Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being. This was both because of content and style. In terms of the former, it is a very reassuring and realistic encouragement to those of us in ministry that we don’t have to be perfect. This focus pairs well with Eswine’s meditative and reflective writing style. Having also benefited from his preaching book, I thought I’d use Crossway’s Beyond the Page program to read The Imperfect Pastor.
The book you hold in your hands is, in some measure, an updated— and shortened— rewrite of my earlier work Sensing Jesus. I hesitated when I was invited to rewrite the earlier volume. Like any writer, I contemplated the loss of prized sentences, and I flinched. But now I give thanks for the opportunity and the effort. This new work, The Imperfect Pastor, is half the size of Sensing Jesus; nevertheless, one-third of the content is brand-new. Sensing Jesus will find its place in used bookstores and academic libraries, while The Imperfect Pastor will stand on its own with distinct language, size, content, and purpose. I hope that in its pages you will find the grace of Jesus for your life and ministry. (Kindle Loc., 117-122)
In other words, if you’ve read Sensing Jesus, there’s nothing particularly new here. And the downside is that you can’t tell that until you read the introduction since there’s nothing about the book or endorsements on say Amazon that suggest this is an updated, shortened rewrite of an earlier book. On the plus side, Sensing Jesus is out of print and not readily available. So while it is a great book and probably one every pastor should read, they can now read this instead. And to be honest, that might be for the better. One of the downsides of Sensing Jesus is that the chapters seemed much too long for the content being discussed. Now, that’s not really a problem. This is a leaner, meaner version of the book and will probably end up more widely read than its predecessor. So, on the one hand, it’s unfortunate it wasn’t more obvious this is a re-write. On the other, it is a needed re-write and this is probably a better go-to recommendation than Eswine’s previous work.
Lastly, Zondervan sent me an advanced reading copy of Todd Wilson’s More: Find Your Personal Calling and Live Life to The Fullest Measure. Generally speaking, I hate advanced reading copies because they are step below eBooks in that they are not actual flesh and blood books and also are a slight step beyond a rough draft of the final book. Perhaps it is for the best since I mistakenly thought this was a book on life calling by Todd Wilson, as in the the co-author of The Pastor Theologian and solo author of Real Christian: Bearing the Marks of Authentic Faith. It is however, a book by an entirely different Todd Wilson, one who is the founder of Exponential.
The book looks promising. The first part explains what a calling is and the second part helps you find yours. Giving it the brief flip through that an ARC deserves, I’d say it would be a helpful book to work through if you’re feeling stuck where you’re at in life. Or, if you’re a college student and not sure what to do after graduation. Or, if you’ve graduated but are not enjoying your current or previous jobs (and aren’t sure about the future either). For any of these reasons, you might still need clarification on what your calling in life is. Wilson appears to help readers ground their personal life calling in the larger story of what God is doing in the world and then discover what they should be doing regardless of their ultimate role (i.e. be a disciple and make disciples). I might give this to a friend who is asking these questions and get back to you and what they think. The book itself comes out in April, so keep an eye out for it if anything I’ve said piqued your interest.