Qualitative Inquiry & Research Design | John Creswell & Cheryl Poth

The cover of Creswell & Poth's Qualitative Inquiry and Research DesignI am in the awkward situation of learning sociological method after having spent my entire higher education studying theology. Starting from scratch is overwhelming, to say the least! Creswell and Poth’s text makes the journey easier.

Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design describes five overarching ways to do research:

  1. Narrative Research studies individuals and their stories.
  2. Phenomenological Research studies a several people who share the same experience.
  3. Grounded Theory Research studies a process, action, or interaction with a view to develop a theory.
  4. Ethnographic Research studies a group that shares the same culture.
  5. Case Study Research studies a specific event, program, or activity.

Each approach digs into the subject in a different way, providing a different perspective. Creswell and Poth bring the unique features of each approach to light brilliantly in the final chapter by taking a case study and reframing it in each of the other four approaches.

Creswell and Poth’s text hits the sweet spot where understandability and depth of insight meet. It brings clarity the the research methods required to do effective sociological work.


Creswell, John W. and Cheryl N. Poth. Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches. 4th Edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2018.

Tradition or Traditionalism | Jaroslav Pelikan

Jaroslav PelikanTradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism the dead faith of the living.

—Pelikan, Jaroslav in Alexander Golitzin, Alexander. On the Mystical Life: The Ethical Discourses / St. Symeon the New Theologian. Vol. 3: Life, Times, and Theology. Popular Patristics Series 16. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997, 121.

Paul and His Letters | John B. Polhill

The cover of Paul and his LettersIt’s safe to say that the church wouldn’t exist in its current forms without Paul. Although the Spirit worked through many characters hinted at tangentially (Apollo, for example), Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles. His complex background, dramatic conversion/commissioning, zealous missionary work, and extant letters have been a puzzle tackled by Pauline scholars throughout the ages.

Polhill’s book begins with about a hundred pages of introductory material on Paul before giving way to chapters about his key letters. Chapters about his travelogue are interspersed amongst the letters. Polhill presents a conservative view of Paul, assuming the Pauline authorship of the thirteen epistles that bear his name. At the end of each chapter a helpful bibliography for further investigation is included, divided into Greek-based and English-based sources.

I struggled with Polhill’s lack of subtlety in handling Paul’s motives and actions. For example, Polhill notes how “Paul remained a Jew even as a Christian . . . [h]e maintained Jewish practices, like taking a Nazarite vow (Acts 18:18) and participating in the vows of others (Acts 21:26)” (26). While it’s a given that Paul remained an ethnic Jew while following the Jewish Messiah, Polhill oversimplified the situation. Paul’s participation in the vows of others was conceived by James and company and implemented as a tactic to avoid a religio-political confrontation. (The ruse failed!)

Current issues in Pauline scholarship were undertreated. The “new perspective,” for example, receives a one page overview with the following summary statement: “The debate on Paul’s view of the law is far from finished and promises to continue for a long time to come” (297). Again, this statement is true but unhelpful. Such a major interpretive issue should be more thoughtfully handled. In these cases Polhill always assumes a traditional conservative view.

Paul and His Letters is a solid overview of the life of Paul. For a fuller picture of the enigmatic apostle, this volume should be supplemented by more current scholarship and divergent viewpoints.


Polhill, John B. Paul and His Letters. Nashville: B&H Academic, 1999.

Solitude Grows | Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich NietzscheIn solitude there groweth what any one bringeth into it—also the brute in one’s nature.

— Nietzsche, Friedrich. Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for Everyone and for No One. Translated by Thomas Common. (New York, NY: Barnes & Noble, 2012), 300.

The Christian Existentialist | Bernard Häring

The cover of Härings The Christian ExistentialistThis book made me nervous. While I have been formed intellectually by many themes of existentialism (see my review of The Committed Self), the existential emphasis on individualism is troublesome, theologically. The Christian is never a mere individual, but a member of an interdependent body with Christ at the head holding his body (along with the whole created order) together.

These four lectures, from one of the formulators of the ecumenism of Vatican II, quickly put my fears to rest. The very first lecture differentiates Personalism (Häring’s viewpoint) from mere Individualism. Individualistic existentialism embraced in various forms by Heidegger, Sartre, and de Beauvoir “aims at man’s stepping out of an anonymous existence and emerging from himself in true being-one’s own” (22). Fully developed personalism, on the other hand, portrays a person who steps out of anonymous existence as a mere functionary in a technological machine into communities of love where “he once again feels himself a man in the full sense of the word, i.e., he becomes a person” (9). This Personalism is fundamentally Christian: “a personalism of encounter and community in word and love” (11).

The second and third lectures discuss the intertwined ideas of morality, conscience and freedom. “The fully developed Christian conscience,” writes Häring, “is inseparable from a loving regard for one’s neighbor and a presence before God in faith and love” (57).

The final lecture, “A Christian Existentialism in the Perspective of Salvation History,” was a compelling exposition of the Christian virtue of prudence. The word prudence today is closely associated with the pejorative epithet “prude,” as in someone who has limited their freedom. Häring takes a richer view. Prudence is “the art of adapting our action to the redemptive actions of Christ within the whole history of salvation and in the context of a present salvific community.” Prudence is nothing less than an attentive alignment with the kairos of God’s pneumatic presence in the world.

Existentialism embraces a broad gamut of thought from Nietzsche to Buber. Häring shows that existentialism and Christianity not only fit together, they enable thoughtful Christians to reflect deeply on the their existence and responsibility before God.


Häring, Bernard. The Christian Existentialist: The Philosophy and Theology of Self-Fulfillment in Modern Society. The Deems Lectures. New York: New York University Press, 1968.

Confession and Justice | Kent Annan

Kent AnnanConfession produces freedom and restores right relationships, which releases the river of God’s justice to roll down.

—Annan, Kent. Slow Kingdom Coming: Practices for Doing Justice Loving Mercy and Walking Humbly in the World. Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2016, 60.

Practical Theology | Mark J. Cartledge

The cover of Cartledge's Practical TheologyEmpirical and Theology are unlikely partners. Empirical refers to that which is verifiable through observation. Theology (at least in the more conservative traditions) is rooted in revelation and textual studies. In Practical Theology, Mark Cartledge demonstrates how these two ideas play well together in a Charismatic milieu.

Practical Theology is written in two parts. In the first three chapters, Cartledge explains his methodology along with a variety of research methods that suit. Particularly enlightening is the way he weaves contemporary philosophy and charismatic scholarship together to define truth.

The chapters in the second half of Practical Theology illustrate the methodology of the first half. Cartledge has used both quantitative and qualitative research methods in his career. He uses the data he gathered throughout his research to demonstrate various ways of doing sociological studies. These chapters are interesting on two levels. They illuminate some key ideas in charismatic theology: prophecy, the role of women, and glossolalia to name a few. At the end of each study Cartledge offers a reflection on the methods used to interpret the data.

Practical Theology should be read by anyone interested in doing sociological research from a charismatic perspective.


Cartledge, Mark J. Practical Theology: Charismatic and Empirical Perspectives. Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2003.

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