Kibbe, From Topic to Thesis: A Guide to Theological Research (Reading Notes)

Kibbe, From Topic to Thesis: A Guide to Theological Research


Author: Michael Kibbe
Title and subtitle: From Topic to Thesis: A Guide to Theological Research
Publisher: IVP Academic
Place: Downers Grove, IL
Date: 2016

Note: The following reading notes are a mixture of quotation and paraphrase throughout.


  • The Process: From “Topic to Thesis”
  • The Ongoing Conversation
  • Theological Research is like Any Other Kind of Research
  • Theological Research is Not like Any Other Kind of Research
  • Defining Key Terms:
    • Theological: Referring broadly to both biblical and theological studies
    • Primary Sources:
      • Different senses:
        • The single object of your research.
        • Sources contemporary with your subject matter.
      • Helpful questions: Is a particular primary source…
        • Relevant?
        • Necessary?
        • Necessary for your research, given the scope, time constraints, etc.?
    • Secondary Sources: Points back to the object of your research.
      • Guide your interaction with the primary sources.
      • Bring you into the conversation
    • Tertiary Sources: Written about secondary sources.
      • Diagnostic Question: Is this source making an argument about an issue (secondary)? Or explaining what others have argued (tertiary)?
    • Research Bibliography: Keep a running list of relevant sources throughout your project, then cut it down to the sources you’ve interacted with.
    • Scholarly Sources: Peer reviewed; interact with other sources.
  • Theological Research: The Method
    • Finding Direction
    • Gathering Sources
    • Understanding Issues
    • Entering Discussion
    • Establishing Position

Finding Direction

  • Keys to Finding Direction
    • Do not decide what your paper will argue before starting the research process!
    • Research takes time.
    • Don’t touch secondary sources in the initial phase of your research.
    • This is the only phase in which you will depend heavily on tertiary sources.
  • Questions to Ask TERTIARY Sources
    • What are the relevant and necessary primary sources?
    • Who are the key people?
    • What are the key works?
    • What are the key issues?
  • Questions to Ask PRIMARY Sources
    • Which portions are clearly relevant to the topic you’ve chosen?
    • What issues in those portions strike you as particularly interesting?
    • What are some possible arguments you could make?

Gathering Sources

  • Keys to Gathering Sources
    • Do not spend too much time on any one source.
    • There’s a fine line between redirecting and getting distracted.
    • Not every important source will be well written.
    • Research is first and foremost about primary sources.
  • Questions to Ask SECONDARY Sources
    • Does this source handle your primary source(s)?
    • Is it a scholarly source?
    • Does it deal with one or more of the issues you’ve identified from the primary source as a possible topic? Does it highlight and issue that you’ve missed that could serve as a possible topic?
    • Does it point you toward more secondary sources that might be useful? If so, put them in your research bibliography. Be aware of chronological development between sources.
  • Excursus One: Common Research Mistakes with Sources
    • Using non scholarly sources.
    • Citing the internet.
    • Using only sources that you agree with.
    • Using only one type of source. (Commentaries, journal articles, dissertations, essays, monographs, and dictionary articles are all important!)
    • Considering only one sub discipline.

Understanding Issues

  • Keys to Understanding Issues
    • Read with a pen or pencil.
    • Allow yourself large chunks of time to read.
    • Read sources not for their own sake, but for the sake of your paper.
    • The specificity of your sources will determine the specificity of your topic.
    • Don’t be afraid to cycle back and forth between gathering sources and understanding issues.
  • Questions to Ask SECONDARY Sources
    • Where is the discussion coming from? What have been the major positions and the major shifts?
    • Where is the discussion going today?
    • What sorts of arguments are being made? What are the strengths and weaknesses of those arguments? Who stands on which side of the divide?
    • What might be a possible thesis, and what are the arguments for and against it? What evidence from the primary source is relevant for this thesis?
  • Excursus Two: Common Research Mistakes in Interaction
    • Too much quoting.
    • Depending too much on tertiary and secondary sources.
    • Misunderstanding sources.

Entering Discussion

  • Keys to Entering the Discussion
    • Do you have something to contribute to the discussion?
    • Can you recognize the appropriate time to enter the discussion?
      • Are your sources conversing with each other?
      • Can you converse with the sources?
      • Could you sit down at a table with the 4-5 most significant scholars in this area and understand and contribute to the discussion?
      • When’s your deadline? (Recommends that you stop looking for new sources at least a week prior to final deadline.)
    • Can you articulate how your thesis fits into the discussion?
      • What is the specific issue?
      • What is the current conversation about that issue?
      • What is my argument concerning the specific issue?
      • How does my argument fit into the current conversation?
  • Questions to Ask SECONDARY Sources
    • What arguments are scholars making for and against my thesis?
    • Does my thesis hold up against the counterarguments? (Include objections and your responses to these objections.)
  • Questions to Ask PRIMARY Sources
    • What evidence has been lost in the shuffle? Are there any issues in the primary source that no one seems to be talking about? (Note: if your list of these points is very long, you’ve probably not done enough reading yet!)
    • Does my argument match what the primary source has to say? (Does it work with the entire primary source and not just one tiny part of it?)

Establishing Position

  • Keys to Establishing Position
    • Your thesis is the heart and soul of your paper.
    • Don’t start writing the paper too soon.
    • Research is entering into an already-existing conversation about your topic.

Appendix A: Ten Things You Should Never Do in a Theological Research Paper

  1. Suggest that your research paper has broken new ground.
  2. Use debated terms without demonstrating that you know they’re debated terms.
  3. Make personal attacks on scholars you disagree with.
  4. Discuss how you “feel” about certain issues or viewpoints.
  5. Commit logical fallacies.
  6. Misrepresent scholarly viewpoints or arguments.
  7. Adjectivize the scholars you disagree [and agree] with. (“Compelling”…”liberal”…”robust”…”reductionistic.” These aren’t arguments!)
  8. Forget to identify your thesis.
  9. Ignore the required citation style guide.
  10. Plagiarize.

Appendix B: Theological Research and Writing Tools

  • Formatting and Style
    • The SBL Handbook of Style.
    • Turabian. A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations.
    • The Chicago Manual of Style.
  • Research and Writing Process
    • Booth, Colomb, and Willians. The Craft of Research.
    • Vyhmeister. Your Guide to Writing Quality Research Papers: For Students of Religion and Theology.

Appendix C: Scholarly Resources for Theological Research

  • Primary Sources
    • Biblical Texts
    • Ancient Near Easters, Jewish, and Greco-Roman Texts
    • Early Christian Texts
  • Standard Tertiary Sources
    • The IVP Dictionaries
      • Pentateuch
      • Historical Books
      • Wisdom, Poetry, and Writings
      • Prophets
      • New Testament Background
      • Jesus and the Gospels
      • Paul and His Letters
      • Later New Testament and its Developments
    • New Dictionary of Biblical Theology
    • Anchor Bible Dictionary
    • The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible
    • Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible
    • Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology
    • What Are They Saying About…?
  • Major Scholarly Publishes for Theological Studies
  • Scholarly Journals (with Standard Abbreviations)
  • Scholarly Commentary Series
    • Anchor Bible Commentary
    • Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture
    • Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament
    • Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible
    • Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture
    • Hermeneia Commentary Series
    • International Critical Commentary
    • IVP New Testament Commentary
    • New American Commentary
    • New Cambridge Bible Commentary
    • New Century Bible
    • New International Bible Commentary
    • New International Commentary on the New Testament
    • New International Commentary on the Old Testament
    • New International Greek Testament Commentary
    • New Testament Library
    • Pillar New Testament Commentary
    • Sacra Pagina New Testament Commentary
    • Two Horizons New Testament Commentary
    • Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary
    • Tyndale Old Testament Commentary
    • Word Biblical Commentary
    • Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament

Appendix D: Navigating the ATLA Religion Database

Appendix E: Zotero Bibliography Software

Appendix F: A Suggested Timeline for Theological Research Papers

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