Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Book Write-Up: From Topic to Thesis, by Michael Kibbe

 Michael Kibbe.  From Topic to Thesis: A Guide to Theological Research.  Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016.  See here to buy the book.

From Topic to Thesis is about how to write a research paper about theology or biblical studies.  What Michael Kibbe says could apply to undergraduates or graduate students.  It could also apply to scholars who want to do research so that they can get published.  Kibbe differentiates between the types of research papers that he is discussing and dissertations.  The latter have to be original, interact with secondary sources in foreign languages (depending on one’s discipline), and keep up with the very cutting-edge of the scholarly discussions; the former, not so much.  Still, Kibbe’s discussion of research and trying to find a topic can apply to people doing dissertation work or writing scholarly papers.

On some level, I have done some of the things that Kibbe suggests, without realizing it.  It is still good for Kibbe’s principle to be in my mind, though, so that I can consciously identify productive ways to do research.  Kibbe talks about starting with tertiary sources, which include theological dictionaries and encyclopedias.  They usually give people a survey of scholarly discussions.  When one continues to read and starts to see the same sources cited over and over again, that could be a sign that one has consulted enough secondary sources.

Kibbe does not necessarily hold students’ hand.  Students who read this book may still feel that they need more guidance.  For example, Kibbe on page 63 talks about the importance of integrating different relevant sub-disciplines (i.e., literary, geographical, theological) rather than just focusing on one.  A student may need more help in going about this.

At the same time, Kibbe does use two papers that he wrote as examples of his process in action—-a process of having a general interest and narrowing down one’s topic until one arrives at a thesis.  One paper was about the tearing of the Temple veil in the Gospel of Mark.  The other concerned John Calvin’s concept of divine accommodation and whether the Sinai theophany in Exodus 19-34 supports it.

Especially helpful are the appendices, in which Kibbe identifies for readers the sources that can help them in their research.  Many were familiar to me.  Some, not so much.  I was somewhat surprised that Kibbe did not mention that one can find parts of the Patrologia Latina and the Patrologia Graeca online.  Still, his lists are invaluable for theological and biblical research.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

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