This week marks the 500th year anniversary of the Protestant Reformation of the church. The Reformation was initiated by Martin Luther and his 95 Theses or grievances against the church he loved. Luther longed for pragmatic change to the ways the church interpreted and lived the bible. He thought critically, not negatively but rationally, about the state of the church.
This week our lead mentor, Dr. Clark, assigned us a practical guide to thinking in The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking: Concepts and Tools. This book could help anyone better learn ‘the art of analyzing and evaluating thinking with a view to improving it.’ And there is a bonus: it is brief at only twenty-four pages in length. This mini-guide, if internalized, can help solve any critical thinking hang-ups through succinct sections on question asking, analyzing logic and sixteen other basic tools. I was grateful and quickly devoured the guide.
Situated as an educational workbook for students, the most important aspects of Elder and Paul’s guide are their problem, definition and outcomes pages in the first section which explain the need for critical thinking. The sections following the introduction apply the methods to help students think critically. Each section can be taken individually or together to enhance the depth of the reader’s critical thinking, that is, if they are willing to employ the first two pages of the booklet to think critically about critical thinking methods.
When applying analysis and evaluation of Elder’s text, I began reading an article by Howard Doughty that specifically spoke to the limitations of critical thinking as he reviewed multiple of Elder and Paul’s works. Ironically, Doughty was the only article I found in my search that questioned Elder’s content. According to Doughty, Elder’s text “is a one-size-fits-all guide to thinking, and it simply doesn’t fit.” He goes on to critique the idea of ‘official critical thinking’, as he classifies Elder’s work based on their Critical Thinking Institute, stating “official critical thinking, of course, does not deny that there are controversial issues to be discussed, but it insists that they be discussed in an unbiased or, at least, a balanced manner within a framework of depoliticized discourse. Every exercise in critical thinking is knowingly or unknowingly infused with commitments to particular human interests, and that those who cry the loudest that they are bias-free, unprejudiced and, above all, non-ideological are the ones that must bear the closest critical inspection.
From Doughty’s perspective, I had to take another look at Elder’s work and assess for myself if his claim seemed to have basis in what I knew to be true. In fact, what I found to be helpful in Doughty’s writing was the critique of critical thinking itself. His questioning made me consider class, inherent biases we carry and power. In addition, I began to critique aspects of Elder’s guide I had let pass, such as the felt disorganization of the table of contents and the lack of case studies or guides to actually show the methods at work. As much as my initial read was comprehensive, it was not critical. I was taking in an author at face value and attempting to soak up their content because I could read it in one sitting. The reality is, in attempting to apply the text one must employ the first few pages and then deviate some from the content to read around the text and cross-examine what it is saying.
Elder’s critical thinking guide, while short and workbook focused, has been a practical help toward aiding my thinking on my dissertation topic. The focus of my research is currently settling around the definition and nature of discipleship and its effects on the American church and culture. Throughout my reading of Elder’s guide, I paused to consider how often in my own discipleship and mentoring was I given the opportunity or tools to ask questions for clarification or consider assumption and their implications. The reality is I have had many mentors in my life who have shared much information with me but do not help me think critically for myself. They are answer givers. As much as I have appreciated this in the short term, I realize it is a disservice over time. Why? Because it has hindered my own ability to think critically and has caused me to simply take on other’s thinking without knowing exactly why I believe it. In addition, this discourages thinking very deeply or allowing questions to stir in me that might be uncomfortable. Finally, I realize this ‘answer giving’ produces answer giving from me to those I disciple. When people come to me, instead of helping them discover for themselves, especially if I believe I have wisdom on the topic, I give them answers. I then make a disciple in the form of the disciple I have been made to be. I have seen this same answer-giving non-critical thinking discipleship be replicated by many pastors and leaders who do not choose to take the time to help people engage with their questions well or are ignorant of the fact that they too have been discipled as answer givers.
When considering biblical texts surrounding discipleship, Jesus is the key figure who spoke the great commission to make disciples and led in the example of how to make disciples. Jesus would be the model student for both Elder and Doughty as a critical thinker who challenged his disciples to be so as well. He allowed them to ask questions, he challenged their assumptions, and he was not an idealist but an unprejudiced realist. Jesus often answered questions with questions or gave cryptic answers or spoke in parables. These non-answers created gateways for the disciples to seek out the truth and find it.
Martin Luther sought, tormented as he was, to live an authentic life as a disciple of Jesus, seeking truth and challenging injustice. He was making disciples in close and distant proximity. I am of the opinion that all people are making disciples in one way or another. The question is, do we know what type of disciples are we making and how this is effecting our churches and communities? My research aims at actively assessing and evaluating problematic systems toward helping the church reconnect Jesus’ discipleship by methodical, question asking, and sincere means.
 Paul, Richard and Linda Elder. The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking: Concepts & Tools. 7th ed. Thinker’s Guide Library. Tomales, CA, 2014, Locations 33-34.
 Paul & Elder, Location 13.
 Doughty, Howard, “Review Essay, The Limits of Critical Thinking”. The Innovation Journal: The Public Sector Innovation Journal, Volume 11(3), 2006, article 11, 5.
 Doughty, 7.