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
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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