John Frame explains his method for writing theology, and gives some advice along the way.

Here is one of his 11 points:

Be self-critical. Before and during your writing, anticipate objections. If you are criticizing Barth, imagine Barth looking over your shoulder, reading your manuscript, giving his reactions. This point is crucial. A truly self-critical attitude can save you from unclarity and unsound arguments. It will also keep you from arrogance and unwarranted dogmatism—faults common to all theology (liberal as well as conservative). Don’t hesitate to say “probably” or even “I don’t know” when the circumstances warrant. Self-criticism will also make you more “profound.” For often—perhaps usually—it is objections that force us to rethink our positions, to get beyond our superficial ideas, to wrestle with the really deep theological issues. As you anticipate objections to your replies to objections to your replies, and so forth, you will find yourself being pushed irresistibly into the realm of the “difficult questions,” the theological profundities.

In self-criticism the creative use of the theological imagination is tremendously important. Keep asking such questions as these. (a) Can I take my source’s idea in a more favorable sense? A less favorable one? (b) Does my idea provide the only escape from the difficulty, or are there others? (c) In trying to escape from one bad extreme, am I in danger of falling into a different evil on the other side? (d) Can I think of some counter-examples to my generalizations? (e) Must I clarify my concepts, lest they be misunderstood? (f) Will my conclusion be controversial and thus require more argument than I had planned?

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7 thoughts on “How to Write a Theological Paper”

  1. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    Does Frame take his own advice when he wrote this review of David Van Drunen’s book: HERE.

    1. Eric says:

      Truth Unites… I remember seeing that review a while back, but don’t recall Frame failing to be self-critical in it, just strongly disagreeing on a point of doctrine with another theologian. Was there something I missed?

      1. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

        I don’t think so.

        But others may disagree.

  2. Michael says:

    This is really good advice. Even going down this road though, I think it’s important to find someone else you trust who can help you see things you won’t. No matter how critical I am, I still see the world from a certain perspective and am unable to compensate for the lack of experience that you may bring to the table. I think it’s a good idea to find a counterbalance who sees the world a little differently who doesn’t mind having you bounce your thoughts off of them.

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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