Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Short & Sweet: A Primer on Research

Written by: on September 6, 2013

Richard Paul and Linda Elder’s The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking, 6th ed. is a tremendously helpful and brief tool for reasoning and research.  While filled with much helpful advice, what these authors do so well is provide a laundry list of potential pit-falls that researchers often unknowingly fall into.  These include recognizing that one’s conclusion may not be the final answer to the question; that everyone brings assumptions and prejudice to the table; researchers get to pick and choose their evidence; and facts are easily distorted to fit one’s thesis.  This calls for great honest and great humility, which is necessary for genuine dialog and open debate that moves research and reasoning forward.  Blindness to these issues creates dead-ends to open reasoning.

Due to the “miniature” nature of this text, there are many issues and assumptions that are not addressed, which ironically is one the pit-falls warned about in the book.  In fact, the book is based on the givens of modern research methods, which anyone with a higher degree would instantly recognize. But important assumptions are given without discussion, like: is there in fact something called reason that is a common and accepted idea among all researchers, and is it possible to find it by following certain guidelines (as laid out in this book)?   Is it true that all research addresses a fundamental question?  Upon what basis do we in fact conclude that clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance and other points are indeed the best criteria for successful research?  There is little question in my mind that all this is true a priori, yet, much of the text calls us to accept without argument or defense the argument that good research requires both argument and defense.

Most instructive for is the discussion on sociocentric and egocentric blinders.  From the point of view an Evangelical Christians, both of these tendencies can have detrimental effects on one’s research and level of openness to criticism.  From a tradition of revealed and authoritative truth, there is the danger among Christians to both falling into groupthink and blind acceptance of assumptions that are beyond the scope of ever being questioned.  Any criticism on essential truth claims would find only deaf ears.  Questioning some assumptions might even result in consternation by one’s peers.  This would naturally block any form of open dialog or honest struggle with other traditions or truth claims.  However, such sociocentric blinders are not necessarily inherent to Biblical Christianity, which, I believe, encourages humility, even when it comes to truth claims.  True humility for Evangelicals might begin with a reminder that we don’t own the truth nor can we fully comprehend the truth.  But we seek truth in a person claims to be Truth.  To say that one knows Truth fully has failed to understand that – like in any relationship – we can know someone well, but we will never fully know them and we will always be learners.  As humble seekers who hunger for Truth, we of all people should create space to listen and learn.  Further, we understand in general revelation signs of God in every culture, people group and even religion.  Such openness and awareness of our limitations as mere seekers and God’s truth appearing in unexpected places through out His creation, will provide a path to deeper humility, understanding and appreciation of ideas and arguments from outside our group.

Research, we are reminded, is a multifaceted process.  It includes one’s person (ego and life-experience), one’s society and culture, one’s training and belief systems, which ultimately instruct both how we approach a problem and how we respond to criticism.  Bottom line, humble recognition of our “baggage” and limitations that we bring into the process and setting clear and honest goals for the research process, will provide the basis for an open, critical and reasoned dialog that will move research forward.

About the Author

John Woodward

Associate Director of For God's Children International. Member of George Fox Evangelical Seminary's LGP4.

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