Thursday, February 10, 2011

How to Read a Theological Book

As theological educators, we want to help students to develop critical theological thinking. Let me offer some hints on how to read a theological book:

· When you read a theology book, instead of nodding, shake your head. Don’t give consent to the author too easily.

· Don’t assume the author has you in mind. Then you will see Anselm, Calvin, or Tillich were writing for a different audience and context.

· Try to see the forest and not just the trees. Let me teach you some Chinese and you'll get it. Forest looks like 森, and a tree is 木.

· A picture is worth 1,000 words. Some people will benefit from something like a concept map.

· After reading, put down the book, summarize the main arguments in your own words. If you can’t do this, that means you haven’t grasped it yet. Re-read.

· Ask who is missing from the conversation? While you can’t expect the author to speak for the poor, the blind, your next-door neighbor, the girl with a tattoo, and everyone else, you want to ask what are the voices missing.

· Set up a debate with a friend or in your own head, e.g. I asked the students to debate whether Christ is Black when reading James Cone.

· If you don’t understand, take a break. Your mind might be constipated. Poke somebody on Facebook, tweet, and have coffee.

· Laugh Out Loud. This is a strategy taught by Mary Daly. Ask many early feminists. This was how they survived seminary.

· Create your own index. The indexer of the book might not have your interest in mind. Note down the concepts important to you and page numbers.

· Buy the book. This is not to fatten the publishing houses. Having the book means you can underline, draw droodles, and stick colored tapes on it.

· Stretch the ideas to the limit. This one is from Gayatri Spivak. This is how she can be a feminist, Marxist, and poststructuralist at the same time.

· Plot a different itinerary. Also from Spivak. Trace the itinerary of the author’s thought and plot a different one.

· Invite yourself to the table. What would you say to the author if you meet her? What are the questions you want to ask?