Introduction to Theological Research: Foreword

Author's Bias | Interpretation: conservative

Easily one half of an education in any discipline in the humanities, such as biblical or theological studies, consists in knowing where to turn for the proper tools and how to use them once they are located. Professor Cyril Barber has opened up both those doors.

This volume had its origins in a course that the author prepared while he was a librarian at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. That course, entitled "Theological Research Methods," was designed to help master of arts and master of theology students gain bibliographical control over the whole range of theological literature while they prepared to investigate a selected topic for a graduate level thesis.

Many of those same procedures and principles of research are modified in this volume to provide the broadest foundation for the largest number of students of the Scriptures. Any student of the Bible who loves to explore its text and the various theological disciplines will bristle with delight as he or she is led by this master bibliographer and bibliophile through illuminating descriptions on general and specific reference tools. Especially useful will be the discussions on the use of concordances, the importance of lexicons, and the chapters on word studies.

Professor Barber has rightly earned a reputation as the evangelical Nestor of basic bibliography for minister's libraries. In fact, his magnum opus in this area, The Minister's Library, was published in 1974. It has been periodically supplemented with additional titles in several paperback volumes, each of which maintains the annotated format and the eleven major divisions used in the first volume.

Therefore, it is a pleasure to commend An Introduction to Theological Research to all who truly aspire to enter into biblical and theological studies as fully as possible, given the tools at their disposal. Anyone who spends even a few hours with this guide will be richly repaid in many more profitable hours of happy research. Furthermore, we believe that the ministry of those researchers, whether they be behind the classroom lecturn, the congregational pulpit, or the scholarly pen, will be markedly more effective and penetrating. Their ministry also will be more alert to the issues involved in a given subject, the history of the discussion that has ensued, and the advances that have been achieved. Theological research need not be thought of as exotic or the domain of a few gifted academicians; rather, it is a ordinary and available as most of the books mentioned in these pages.

Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.

Introduction to Theological Research: Preface

Nothing aggravates students more during orientation week than being instructed in the use of the card catalog in the library, and nothing frustrates them more during the years of their studies than not being able to find the information that they need. For the encouragement of those using this book, the approach here will not deal with those elementary issues. Instead, by building upon experience, we will seek to introduce those in college and seminary to a select few of the more important research tools.

Specific comments will be made in relation to each of the works mentioned. Not all of them are of equal value. Their usefulness will largely be dependent upon individual needs and the subject being researched. Our purpose is to eliminate as far as possible what William Wordsworth regarded as the "gloom of uninspired research." The best way to do that is to facilitate the collection of data. The result should be qualitatively better work and a greater sense of personal fulfillment.

Some who use this book will come from a strongly evangelical tradition and will have been taught to fear a "liberal" education. (The dictionary defines liberal as "favorable to progress or reform, as in religious or political affairs…favoring or permitting freedom of action, esp. with respect to matters of personal belief or expression…free from bigotry; tolerant." Theological liberalism differs radically from a truly liberal education and should not be confused with it.) They will be concerned lest they be led astray from the truth by unwittingly imbibing error. I can empathize with them, for I have experienced the same concerns. During my studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, however, Dr. Howard G. Hendricks said something that has helped me considerably. "Men," he said (for those were the days before Dallas Seminary enrolled women), "all truth is God's truth, and truth in one discipline or area of investigation will not be found to be in conflict with truth in any other area." (For an explication of this principle see Authur F. Holmes's All Truth is God's Truth [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977]. See also Frank E. Gaebelein, The Pattern of God's Truth [Chicago: Moody, 1968].)

I found that to be a liberating and stabilizing thought, particularly when culling truth from the writings of humanistic psychologists, secular historians, and pagan philosophers.

If you were to read only those books with which you were in agreement then you would have to limit your study soley to the Bible, for only the Bible is entirely reliable and without error. All other books, this one included, contain imperfections.

In your studies, therefore, at no time should you feel that you are required to believe all you read. What you read should be read with discernment and in continuous subjection to the ministry of the Holy Spirit, for, as the apostle Paul said, "he who is spiritual appraises [discerns] all things" (1 Cor. 2:15), and it is the Holy Spirit Himself who acts as our guide and leads us into all truth (John 14:17; 16:13). So let Him be your real teacher! And as you adhere tenaciously to the teaching of the Scriptures, you will not need to fear interacting with the concepts of those who are theological liberals.

Some students view bibliographic research as if it should take the prize for being the most boring subject in the entire curriculum. In teaching theological research, I have tried to make the discussion of each of the areas interesting, practical, and relevant. I believe that research can be exciting!

Of course, it is easier to hold the attention of students in the classroom than to sense intuitively the needs of one's readers. In putting this material into print, I have tried to meet the needs of my readers as well. All I can hope is that those who use this book will be gracious with its (and my) shortcomings.

The illustrations I have used are factual and typify the numerous kinds of questions asked daily in the libraries of colleges and seminaries. I have used those typical questions as the basis of what will be discussed in later chapters.

A reader, however, might well raise the question, "Why go into so many areas of investigation? Why not confine the discussion solely to the Bible?" The question is a good one.

First, not every area of academic pursuit has been covered. Limitations have been imposed on this work. The criterion for the inclusion of a reference work or resource tool has been specifically those subjects most frequently associated with or impinging upon biblical and theological studies and the practice of ministry. The needs of those in college or seminary who are not Bible majors have likewise been kept in mind.

Second, the Scriptures speak of the importance of the whole person ( 1 Thess. 5:23; Heb. 4:12), and Paul set an example in declaring to his converts the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). The needs of the Christian ministry extend beyond the preparation of gospel messages to the application of the truth of God's Word to the needs of the whole person. For that reason as well, reference tools and other specialized resource works have been included. If, however, reference be made to John A. Bollier's The Literature of Theology, readers will soon see how selective I have been. I have chosen for inclusion in this book only those works which experience has shown to be of greatest importance to students.

Although this book has been prepared with the needs of beginning researchers in mind, the procedure advocated also can be followed by those pursuing more advanced studies. Following a discussion of general reference works, the section on terminology will help one refine his topic (if such is necessary), and the discussion of subject catalogs will help one ascertain which published writings deal with the subject in question. The next chapters discuss indices and abstracts. They are designed to place the researcher in touch with journal articles on his subject. Computer terminals from which bibliographic printouts may be obtained are mentioned briefly. Finally, condsideration is given to unpublished materials such as doctrinal dissertations.

Progress, therefore, is purposeful and progressive and covers:

  • General reference works
  • Books
  • Journal articles
  • Unpublished materials

In concluding this preface, I would like to thank those who have helped in the preparation of this book. first, I would like to thank my wife, Aldyth, who graciously puts up with my writing ministry and unfailingly supports me in my work; second, my colleague, Janet Kobobel, who read the manuscript and corrected my misplaced modifiers, split infinitives, and dangling participles; third, two scholars whom I am privileged to call friends, Dr. James E. Rosscup of Talbot Theological Seminary, La Miranda, California, and Dr. John A Witmer, librarian par excellence of Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas, who read the manuscript and made practical suggestions for its improvement; and finally, my good friend and former colleague on the faculty of the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois, and now its dean and vice-president for academic affairs, Dr. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., for so kindly reading the manuscript and writing the Foreword.

Taken from Introduction to Theological Research by Cyril J. Barber, Moody Press, copyright ©1982. Used by permission. (

Copyright © 2001 All rights to this material are reserved. We encourage you to print the material for personal and non-profit use or link to this site. If you find this article to be a blessing, please share the link so that it may rise in search engine rankings.