Michael P. Jensen. How to Write a Theology Essay. London: Latimer Trust, 2012. 78 pp.
Each of the twenty chapters (titles in bold below) ends with a bullet-point summary:
1. How not to lose heart before you start
- The topics of theology really matter
- The knowledge of God is not the preserve of the very clever
- Starting to write theology is a challenge that can be fun!
2. What is theology in any case?
- Theology is a species of reason, subject to the Word of God
- Theology is a form of speech
- Theology is evangelical: it about God and his deeds
- Theology is evangelistic: it is an invitation to submit to the Lordship of Christ
3. What is a theology essay?
- An essay is an invitation to persuade
- The object of the theology essay is to say true things about God
- The theology essay deals with ideas and concepts
- It is not merely a summary of Scripture
4. The responsibility of theology
- Theology is answerable to God and must be done with prayerful reverence
- Theology is best done in service to God and his people
5. Choosing the question
- Choose a topic that interests you, but look carefully at the question
- Avoid a topic that is a contemporary church controversy where possible
- Consider what others are doing
6. Analysing the question
- What higher level task am I being asked to do, explicitly or implicitly?
- Am I being asked to find a cause or a purpose, or trace a connection, or describe something?
- What is the measure I am being asked to use, explicitly or implicitly?
- Where is my question located in the context of the ongoing theological conversation?
- Are there any extra features of the question that I have to take into account?
7. Beginning to think about it
- Get your brain moving early on
- What different ways of answering the question are there?
- Do some preliminary quick reading to orient yourself to the topic
- Get everything you can think of down on paper in no particular order
- What thinkers might be relevant? Especially look for potential opponents
- What passages of Scripture might be worth investigating?
9. How to read for theology essays (and what to read)
- Read to gain basic information
- Read to gain nuance and subtlety
- Read to develop arguments
- Read to find stimulating conversation partners and ‘surprising friends’
- Read to find out what the opposition says
10. Using the Bible in theology essays
- You have to read Scripture as a whole to do theology biblically
- Orthodoxy helps you to read Scripture theologically
- Avoid prooftexting and word studies
11. How to treat your opponents
- Treat your opponents with respect
- Avoid cheap shots and caricature
12. Some advice on quoting
- Use quotations sparingly
- Quote if:
- The author nailed it
- You want to prove your opponent really does say that
- You are expounding a view to learn from it
- Quote SHORT
- Quote faithfully to the author
13. Types of argument for your essay
- Volume knobs, not on/off switches
14. The classic introduction
- Your introduction should set the scene and frame the question
- Your introduction should state your answer to the question
- Your introduction should give an indication of how you are going to answer the question
15. Why presentation matters, and how to make it work for you
- Presentation does matter
- The essential principle: don’t distract your reader
16. How to write well in a theology essay
- Be a reader of great writing
- Don’t be afraid of metaphors
- Learn the simple rules of English punctuation
- Be clear, and avoid vague words
17. The art of signposting
- Use headings
- Use summative sentences
- Use questions that flow
18. Bringing home the bacon
- Your conclusion should add nothing new
- Make sure you have fulfilled any promises you have made
- If you do have some space, consider the implications of your essay for other areas of theology
19. What to do with it now
- Don’t be shy about thinking of ways in which your essay could have a second life
20. A footnote about footnotes
- Use footnote commentary sparingly
- Don’t hide extra words in your footnotes
- Take care that the footnote relates clearly to the text
- Use footnotes to protect yourself by showing that you have read widely
Related: Six Useful Books on Writing