DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Critical Thinking

Written by: on November 2, 2017

Dr. Linda Elder and Dr. Richard Paul, two specialists in the area of critical thinking, have created a handbook that can, and quite possibly should be used by all who are focused on higher learning. Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking addresses the highly necessary foundations of thinking concerning higher learning and educated communication. “Critical thinkers are clear as to the purpose at hand and the question at issue. They question information, conclusions, and points of view.”[1] The discuss the need for the communicator to first understand their own questions in regard to their research, however, they must be able to do this with an honest and open-eyed view of other perspectives as well. Miniature Guide is written in a manner that is clear and very easy to understand for any student beginning higher education, and yet very thought provoking to the very learned of scholars.

The need for understanding critical thinking is of course not the only means of understanding scholarship; however, the importance represented here is described so that the reader may gain accurate perspective on any information obtained, as well as any information passed on. In his review on one of the other works of Elder and Paul, Howard A. Daughty wrote, “The Foundation for Critical Thinking, of course, does not dominate the educational marketplace. Many alternative, though generally similar, methods are available. The Foundation’s products, however, can stand as exemplars of the kind of approach that sustains the project of critical thinking that is now an integral part of the curricula of schools from the elementary to the post-doctoral levels.”[2] As a student in a doctoral program, I found myself seeking potential for personal growth through the few pages in this guide. At some points I wanted to thank the authors for the insightful advice and beneficial advantages I found to my grow my own dissertation strategies. At other points, I was tempted to write a disgruntled letter for their insight into some of my own potential shortfalls.

In particular, I did come to find three particularly areas that I would like to focus on here; personal struggle in my own scholarship and teaching, personal conflicts with biblical teaching and critical thinking, and personal tools that will help in my own dissertation.

First, concerning a personal struggle that I must always keep attentive to in my own ministry, I know that I always seem to have an agenda when I research anything. Whether it be for personal growth, to teach a bible class, or to prepare for a sermon, I always have a prior motivation for the areas that I study. One of the questions asked in the text was, “Are you distorting ideas to fit your agenda?”[3] As ministers, we always desire to fit scripture into every topic, however, there is the challenge to maintain the integrity of the text while still understanding the audience we are preaching to. Critical thinking requires us to maintain not just the integrity of the message, but also the integrity of the audience we are addressing. I believe all ministers have to hold themselves accountable to an honest answer of this question.

Second, I had a personal conflict with the concept of biblical teaching versus critical thinking. Elder and Paul asked another question; “Do we need to consider another point of view?”[4] There are a number areas of study that of course require this question to be asked, especially in regards of grasping a well-rounded perspective on a topic; however, is this a feasible situation when teaching the Word of God? My concern here is that there is often too much consideration to others views, perspectives, and opinions when preaching, and do not believe that this is proper with biblical instruction. When viewing many of the consideration clauses in the text, the reality of ministry is that we will always be biased; we have desire to teach the gospel out of the belief that we have in the Gospel. Many of the ideas of fairness and openness seem at conflict with the need to “speak things which are proper for sound doctrine.”[5] Opinion, preference, and desire should have no impact on the preaching of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Lastly, though there may have been some obstacles in this message, I also found very valuable tools for working on my own personal dissertation; primarily in the organization and preparation. Elder and Paul provided a “Template for Problem-Solving,”[6] which I found kept me thinking about the order of the paper I intend to write. What an incredible tool this will prove to be in helping to plan the questions I will ask as well as the motives for the direction my dissertation will take. I have thought long and hard on not just the content of my paper, but also the intention behind it. When then combining the Problem-Solving template with the “Template for Analyzing the Logic of the Article,”[7] I realized that the outline for my paper…which I have been dreading…will almost work itself out. (I hope!). Not only are these tools great for research, but I believe they will also be great for structuring our own work.

I truly feel as though this book is the most helpful I have found in this course so far. It is truly one that I plan on keeping next to me during the next three years of writing. Perhaps this is the reason that you will not only find a number of reviews on these works, but also numerous websites that have listed this or a variance of this work on their site.









Daughty, Howard A. “The Limits of Critical Thinking.” The Innovation Journal: The Public Sector Innovation Journal, 2006.

Elder, Linda & Richard Paul. Miniature Guide for Students and Faculty to Scientific Thinking. Foundation for Critical Thinking, 2013.

—. Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking. 2014.

[1] Elder, Linda & Richard Paul. Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking. 2014. Kindle.

[2] Daughty, Howard A. “The Limits of Critical Thinking.” The Innovation Journal: The Public Sector Innovation Journal, 2006.

[3] Elder. Kindle.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Titus 2:1.

[6] —. Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking. 2014.

[7] Ibid.

About the Author

Shawn Hart

13 responses to “Critical Thinking”

  1. mm M Webb says:


    I just landed in SFO after 2 days of travel from the field. I thought I would review and write a few comments on my 3-hour layover. First, I am not sure I agree with your statement about the communicator-researcher having to have an “honest and open-eyed view of other perspectives.” For example, if I am researching ways for the church to improve its response to spiritual warfare, I doubt I will give much of an honest and open-eyed view to atheist world views of supporters of devil worship. I will be aware of those views, but after a quick critical analysis bias them and place them outside of the scope of my research.

    You mentioned you will use Elder’s mini-guide for your dissertation. How will it help you find answers to your dissertation question about the problem with diversity and spiritual equality in the church?

    Stand firm,

    M. Webb

    • Shawn Hart says:

      Thanks for the reply Mike. Notice that I did not say not to give consideration or critical thought to ideas, I just said that I believe too many people are giving too much consideration to those ideas. I fear this practice is allowing their lessons to be dictated by world view rather than by biblical view. The struggle with maintaining biblical integrity regardless of the pressure to conform to the desires of man is a huge obstacle in preaching the truth. I just believe it is necessary to focus on the message, regardless of opinion.

  2. Greg says:

    You wrote, “I was tempted to write a disgruntled letter for their insight into some of my own potential shortfalls.” As I read this book, I kept wondering if the authors knew me. I too was challenged in some of my thinking, or lack of. As well educated people, it is easy to come to conversations or written concepts with more confidence than I should. Mark Twain 2 famous quotes seems to be appropriate here. First, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” I admit so often I find myself confident about an opinion that turns out to be wrong. Twain second quote is where I sometime live, “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” Finding the balance of making sure what is studied and taught are Biblical and set out with an agenda is what we all strive for.

  3. mm Jean Ollis says:

    Hi Shawn!
    As I was reading your blog, I found I had an immediate reaction to your statement “Second, I had a personal conflict with the concept of biblical teaching versus critical thinking”. You went on to say you believe people should receive “preaching that is sound doctrine” without needing to critically think about it. Respectfully, I disagree. There are so many reasons why critical thinking is important to faith…one of those being the flawed nature of humans as the Bible was translated and written hundreds of years later. And still being translated… Then there’s the question of why does this matter for my life and do I really want/need faith? I want Christians to be critical thinkers about their faith and the Bible. After all, God is the great designer of our amazing brain!
    I did some quick research to see what others say about faith and critical thinking (and of course I’m citing someone’s view who I agree with):
    “In my view, two of the crucial reasons even conservative Protestants need to learn how to think critically are: 1) they need to be able to defend their faith, and talk reasonably and rationally about it to skeptics and antagonists; and 2) since Christianity is not a philosophy of life but rather an historical religion it is absolutely necessary to be able to analyze historical evidence, sift data, assess conclusions, sort out whether certain kinds of arguments or interpretations of the Bible and historical evidence are faulty or not, and so on.”

    • Shawn Hart says:

      Thanks for you reply Jean. I think you read something into my statement that I did not mean to imply. I have no problem whatsoever with critical thinking in regards to preaching…in fact, I believe it to be very necessary. However, I believe that all too often too much consideration is given to the desires of the hearer rather than the true needs of the hearer. In one of the comments I made in class in South Africa, I still hold here…”we are supposed to be accommodating God rather than trying to make God accommodate us.” So my point is that there is potential to overdo the critical thinking to the degree that it could potentially interfere with the message that should be preached.

  4. Shawn,

    This week I had the opportunity to have a beer with a new friend, a fellow known as “Naked Pastor”. He’s a cartoonist, and his work has taken on a viral life of its own thanks to the internet.

    Below is his cartoon from this week which I thought had a lot to do with your post. The glasses we use to read any text are our POV glasses (Point of View).

    • Shawn Hart says:

      I would partially agree with that; in fact, I believe this could be called “faith”. However, I also believe that there is a time to have critical thinking in ministry, and another time to just preach what is there. I use critical thinking quite often, but at the same time, when I study scripture, I believe that God’s Word has spanned time, culture, race, gender and preference…and to allow outside sources to influence the message could be very dangerous.

      • I don’t think it’s possible to just “preach what is there”.

        We all have POV and we all interpret using it. We may preach what is there, but it is done through our cultural/historical/interpretive bias.

        What is apparent and obvious to one person is interpreted differently by another because of POV. In my opinion that’s why there are tens of thousands of Protestant denominations.

  5. mm Jason Turbeville says:


    Your discussion on putting our own personal bias into our sermons or studies hit home with me. The one thing I always try to avoid is coming up with something I want to preach on and then finding a scripture I can make fit into my own desired narrative. While our bias comes in the form of God’s word being good for all forms of learning we have to be careful not to try to make it say what we want it to say. Thanks for your insight.

  6. Chris Pritchett says:

    Hey Shawn- thanks for your post. Your three personal pieces of reflection and learning from the book were helpful. I resonated with your interest in the problem solving model and will follow your lead on using that for my research. Regarding biblical critique, it seems that because we elevate the Word of God as our final authority for faith and practice, no other book is authoritative to teach on these matters, so we don’t need to bother with comparisons. Other books might be more authoritative on certain subjects than the Bible (for example, a textbook about Quantum Physics is more authoritative than the Bible for teaching Quantum Physics, but the Bible is more authoritative for teaching what Quantum Physics has to do with God and God’s covenant with his people). So I agree with you that for preaching, where the purpose is to proclaim to Word of God for the people, and let’s say the sermon is from Genesis 1-2 about God being the Creator of the world and our lives, I really don’t need to consult with Richard Dawkins on the matter. The Scripture will suffice!

  7. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Shawn,

    I have noticed the longer someone is a Christian, the less they think critically about the Scriptures. I understand this, because who wants to be critical of God’s Holy Word. However, maybe we are not seeing the benefit of being critical readers–we should evaluate what we are reading so that God may improve our lives through it. Consequently, we are not being critical of God or of the Bible, but of ourselves, so that we may be sanctified wholly on the day of His return…

    Thanks for the post my Brother.

  8. Shawn Hart says:

    My struggle is not so much with using critical thinking concerning scripture, it is pretty much most of the other books out there. I have seen preachers that quote other authors more than they quote the bible; some who worry about adjusting the Word to accommodate the listener; and some who simply abbreviate the Gospel because it is less offensive that way. I believe God is always trying to teach me something in His Word…I hope I am always eager to find out what it is.

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