Baptist Catholicity: An Introductory Bibliography

I briefly mentioned a few works on Baptist catholicity in my previous blog post. Here I offer a more detailed bibliography for those who are interested in the subject. Enjoy! I do not intend this list to be exhaustive; I only wish to highlight books and articles that I have found especially interesting and helpful. Do feel free to offer suggestions, though. I would love to receive your feedback.

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Photo: Worldartsme.com

Broadway, Mikael N., Cutis W. Freeman, Barry Harvey, James Wm. McClendon, Jr., Elizabeth Newman, and Philip E. Thompson. “Re-envisioning Baptist Identity: A Manifesto for Baptist Communities in North America.” Perspectives in Religious Studies 24, no. 3 (Fall 1997): 303–310.

Cross, Anthony R. Baptism and Baptists: Theology and Practice in Twentieth-Century Britain. Paternoster Biblical and Theological Monographs. Carlisle: Paternoster, 2000.

———. Recovering the Evangelical Sacrament: Baptisma Semper Reformandum. Eugene: Pickwick, 2013.

Cross, Anthony R. and Philip E. Thompson, eds. Baptist Sacramentalism. Studies in Baptist History and Thought, vol. 5. Carlisle: Paternoster, 2003.

———. eds. Baptist Sacramentalism 2. Studies in Baptist History and Thought, vol. 25. Carlisle: Paternoster, 2008.

Emerson, Matthew Y. and R. Lucas Stamps. “Baptists and the Catholicity of the Church: Toward an Evangelical Baptist Catholicity.” The Journal of Baptist Studies 7 (2015), 42–66.

Fiddes, Paul. S. “Learning From Others: Baptists and Receptive Ecumenism.” Louvain Studies 33, nos. 1–2 (2008): 54­–73.

———. Tracks and Traces: Baptist Identity in Church and Theology. Studies in Baptist History and Thought, vol. 13. Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2003.

Fiddes, Paul, Brian Haymes, and Richard Kidd. Baptists and the Communion of the Saints: A Theology of Covenanted Disciples. Waco: Baylor University Press, 2014.

Finn, Nathan A. “Contesting Catholicity: Some Conservative Reflections on Curtis Freeman’s Theology for ‘Other Baptists,”’ Southeastern Theological Review 6, no. 2 (2015): 151–170.

Fowler, Stanley K. More Than a Symbol: The British Baptist Recovery of Baptismal Sacramentalism. Studies in Baptist History and Thought, vol. 2. Carlisle: Paternoster, 2002.

Freeman, Curtis. “A Confession for Catholic Baptists.” In Ties that Bind: Life Together in the Baptist Vision, ed. Garry A. Furr and Curtis W. Freeman, 83–97. Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 1994.

———. Contesting Catholicity: Theology for Other Baptists. Waco: Baylor University Press, 2014.

George, Timothy. “An Evangelical Reflection on Scripture and Tradition.” Pro Ecclesia 9, no. 2 (Spring 2000): 184–207.

———, ed. Evangelicals and the Nicene Faith: Reclaiming the Apostolic Witness. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011.

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Photo: Wipf & Stock

Goodliff, Andrew. “Towards a Baptist Sanctoral?” Journal of European Baptist Studies 13, no. 3 (May 2013): 24–30.

Harmon, Steven R. Baptist Identity and the Ecumenical Future: Story, Tradition, and the Recovery of Community. Waco: Baylor University Press, 2015.

———. “’Catholic Baptists’ and the New Horizon of Tradition in Baptist Theology.” In New Horizons in Theology, ed. by Terrence W. Tilley, 117­­–143. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2005.

———. Towards Baptist Catholicity: Essays on Tradition and the Baptist Vision. Studies in Baptist History and Thought, vol. 27. Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2006.

Holmes, Stephen R. Listening to the Past: The Place of Tradition in Theology. Carlisle: Paternoster; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002.

Jorgenson, Cameron. H. “Bapto-Catholicism: Recovering Tradition and Reconsidering the Baptist Identity.” Ph.D. diss., Baylor University, 2008.

Monck, Thomas, et al. “An Orthodox Creed.” Transcribed by W. Madison Grace II. Southwestern Journal of Theology 48, no. 2 (Spring 2006): 133–182.

Thompson, Philip E. “Re-Envisioning Baptist Identity: Historical, Theological, and Liturgical Analysis.” Perspectives in Religious Studies 27, no. 3 (2000): 287–302.

Ward, Roger E. and Philip E. Thompson. Tradition and the Baptist Academy. Studies in Baptist History and Thought, vol. 31. Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2011.

 

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Baptist Catholicity: A Brief Intro

I recently read a Baptist theologian bemoan the fact that every systematic theology he read by a Baptist featured no serious engagement with the great tradition. This theologian further stated that every lecture he attended whilst a student at a Baptist seminary was similarly deficient. I cannot speak for his experience, but I suspect he is not the first

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Photo Credit: Orthodox Road

person to make such claims. Baptists are not exactly known for their catholicity.

One can find in the history of our movement examples to the contrary. The Orthodox Creed used by the General Baptists commended the Apostles’ Creed as well as the Athanasian Creed, and numerous Baptist doctrinal statements have employed the Trinitarian grammar provided by the Patristic Era. John Gill, the theologian I am presently researching, opened his systematic theology by condemning a crude form of biblicism that would reject the importance of the tradition and also by praising the value of the regula fidei in biblical interpretation. The church covenant still in use at the New Road Baptist Church in Oxford, England, reads, “We denominate ourselves a Protestant Catholic Church of Christ.”

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Photo Credit: Wipf & Stock

Some contemporary Baptists seek to follow in these footsteps. To offer but a few examples, the publication Re-Envisioning Baptist Identity has created some interest amongst Baptists in the resources of the broader church tradition. Curtis Freeman’s Contesting Catholicity: Theology for Other Baptists seeks to present the Baptist movement as “a community of contested convictions within the church catholic,” a presentation that entails the retrieval of sources both from the Baptist tradition and the church catholic. The works of Steven Harmon, most notably Towards Baptist Catholicity: Essays on Tradition and the Baptist Vision, display a similar aim. Some Southern Baptist theologians have also expressed a desire for greater engagement with the tradition. The Journal of Baptist Studies recently featured several articles that examined the possibility of a Baptist reengagement with the tradition and critiqued Landmarkism.

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Photo Credit: Baptist Standard

In my next blog post, I will offer a more extensive bibliography of works on this topic. What suggestions might you have for this list?

 

 

*A portion of this blog originates from a paper presentation I offered at the 2016 Baptist Historical Society meeting in Manchester, UK.

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Reviewing Helpful Tools for Ph.D. Students: Evernote

For the next several blog posts I will concentrate on some of the tools that I have found helpful in the writing of my Ph.D. thesis. I begin here with Evernote.

If you are not familiar Evernote, the software allows you to clip information you find on the web and to store it for safe keeping. It allows you to do the same for emails in your inbox or even PDFs and Word Docs on your computer.

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Evernote Running on iOS (Wikimedia Commons)

While this service does not sound too exciting, when you are working with a lot of information arriving from several different sources it becomes tremendously helpful. In this blog, I will recount how Evernote assisted me in preparing for my upcoming paper presentation at the Baptist Historical Conference in Manchester.

Research
While I was conducting research for my paper, I used the Evernote app on my iPhone to scan portions of books and articles from sources at our university library. Doing so instantly made the text of these documents searchable; it allowed me to search for particular names or concepts across multiple sources quickly. Also, if I found a book that appeared relevant to my work while browsing websites such as Amazon or WorldCat, I used the Evernote browser plug-in to save the bibliographic information. This action allowed me quickly to compile a list of potential sources with almost minimal effort.

Write
When I began to write my paper, I used Evernote as a repository into which I placed my rough drafts and brainstorms. Evernote seems to me somehow less serious than Microsoft Word; I can play with sentences in the software, save them, and not worry about corrupting the more polished version of my paper in Word.

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Evernote Smart Notebook

Organize
Now that my paper is nearing its completion, I need to start sorting out the logistics of my trip. Today I purchased my train tickets to Manchester. I also received the final draft of the conference schedule. I emailed both documents my Evernote account. Doing so means that I will not have to wonder through my house searching for my tickets or my schedule on the day that I depart; both documents will be there for me as soon as I open the Evernote app on my phone.

While I am traveling on the train, I will be able to review my paper as well as all of the sources that I consulted while writing it with just a few quick taps on my iPad. I will not have to bring with me several different articles or books. I will not even have to search through multiple folders on my Mac. Every resource that I used in the production of my paper will be in one digital place so that I can quickly look over everything and collect my thoughts.

And Repeat
To get a sense of my life, imagine multiple projects such as this one happening simultaneously. While working on this paper, I have also been working on a paper that I am to present at the Ecclesiastical Historical Society the following week. I have my usual thesis work and all of the documents associated with it. I have papers and notes related to the online classes I am teaching for the Baptist College of Florida. I have not even begun to mention here all of the files related to my personal life—passport paperwork for Sophia, digital brochures of places April and I would like to visit, names of books that I would like to read in my (almost nonexistent) spare time, etc.
It is this busyness that makes Evernote indispensable for me. It helps me increase my productivity and not worry about losing information. It helps my typically disorganized self remain on track and feel on top of things. If you do not use Evernote, what software do you like to track documents and notes (OneNote, Apple Notes, etc.)? What have you found helpful?

Evernote US Website: https://evernote.com

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John Gill, Andrew Fuller, and Adam: Briefly Assessing John Gill’s Remarks on Adamic Inability

Baptists today debate John Gill’s theological identity; specifically, was he or was he not a no-offer Calvinist? Several convictions constituted the no-offer Calvinist position, but one of the most interesting was a belief in Adamic inability. Here I explain Adamic inability and briefly explore Gill’s rather inconsistent remarks concerning it.

No-offer Calvinists such as Joseph Hussey and John Brine argued that before the fall Adam did not possess the ability to believe the Gospel. In his pre-fall state, they reasoned, Adam would have simply had no need to believe the Gospel; sin had not yet entered creation. They then asserted that, if Adam had no ability to believe the Gospel before the fall, then humanity certainly possesses no ability to believe the Gospel after the fall. This rather simple argument became the backbone of much of their no-offer position.

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John Gill (Courtesy WikiMedia Commons)

Assessing John Gill’s acceptance of this teaching can be a difficult task. In a sermon entitled Faith in God and His Word he wrote that “man never had in his power to have or to exercise” belief in Christ and that this fact was true even “in the state of innocence.” However, in his tract against Arminianism entitled The Cause of God and Truth he claimed, “That Adam, in a state of innocence, had a power of believing in Christ, and did believe in him as the second Person in the Trinity, as the Son of God, cannot well be denied.”

There appears inconsistency here in Gill’s corpus, and Particular Baptist minister Andrew Fuller offers some insight into how one might interpret these statements. While Fuller referred to Gill occasionally in his important Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation, his Reply to Mr. Button features his most substantive remarks on Gill’s belief in Adamic inability. There Fuller explained that during the modern question controversy some hyper-Calvinists such as John Brine “maintained the argument from Adam’s incapacity to believe, yet Dr. Gill, when contending with the Arminians, gave it up.”

Fuller’s conclusion, then, is that Gill simply made contradictory assertions concerning Adam’s ability to believe the Gospel given his various polemical contexts. His reading has plausibility. Gill wrote The Cause of God and Truth when he involved himself in a heated attack on the Arminian theology of Daniel Whitby. It is likely that he moderated his position for rhetorical purposes; he perhaps did not wish to defend this particular conviction in the midst of an important argument over key aspects of Reformed soteriology. In his other works, however, he could espouse Adamic inability with vigor.

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Andrew Fuller (WikiMedia Commons)

Interesting then is the fact that, even though Gill rejected Adamic inability in his debate with Whitby, he did not necessarily surrender the no-offer position. In The Cause of God and Truth, he immediately followed his statements concerning Adam with an explanation that, even though a prelapsarian Adam could have believed the Gospel, because of the fall “men have lost the power of believing.” In other words, he quickly shifted the conversation from Adam’s prelapsarian abilities to the inability Adam’s of descendants after the fall. He then provided fairly strong rejection of free Gospel offers. He wrote, “As for those texts of Scripture I know of none, that exhort and command all men, all the individuals of human nature, to repent, and believe in Christ for salvation; they can only, at most, concern such persons who are under the Gospel dispensation; and, in general, only regard an external repentance and reformation, and an historical faith in, or assent to, Jesus as the Messiah.”

According to Gill, universal appeals in Scripture for people to trust in Christ speak primarily of outward moral reform—what he often called legal repentance—and mental assent to the truths of the Gospel. They are not clear exhortations for all people everywhere to trust in Christ; such exhortations cannot exist in the no-offer system.

Work remains for historians to explore in more detail just how Gill developed his no-offer position. It appears that the concept of Adamic inability was a part of his theology in some of his works but that he did not rest his entire argument for no-offer Calvinism upon it. He could still promote a present human inability to believe the Gospel grounded in part in human depravity. Contemporary readers of Gill should remember this point when they read his works.

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On Eating Big Elephants Slowly: How to Read A Lot of Books Without Exerting Yourself

I must confess that I am often embarrassed by what I have not read. I have not read Barth’s Church Dogmatics in its entirety. I have not read the Summa Theologica aside from key passages. I have not even finished works in the ANF to the degree that I would like.

I know that some people might say that I am holding myself to too high of a standard. Still, I desperately want to read these works and others like them. I want to be able to interact with the great theologians of the past with integrity.

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Ah! Eat the books and not me! (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

I thought for some time that the answer to this problem was simply to bear down and power my way through. I would sit for hours trying to focus on an important text. I quickly found, though, that this approach was sincere but not the most efficient. My mind would soon begin to wonder, and I would start to lose interest (Barth is not the most fun read over a long period of time).

I then remembered a cheesy adage that I often heard during my childhood. People used to say that you can only eat an elephant one bite at a time. Their point was that before you take on a large project you must first break it up into smaller and more manageable tasks.  I also remembered a man who once told me that he read through the entirety of G. K. Beale’s massive A New Testament Biblical Theology while he was brushing his teeth. Each morning and each night when he brushed he would read a few pages (he must have been a serious brusher), and he eventually worked his way through it.

I now take this slow and steady approach to my reading, and I am overall excited by the results. I map out how many pages a day I that would like to read. When I follow the schedule and stay committed, I am often surprised by how much I have been able to accomplish. In fact, I heartily recommend it! I stay more focused on what I am reading, I am no longer intimidated by the length of the books, and I feel the satisfaction that comes from completing an important task.

Do you have a schedule to “eat the elephant” in your life? What routine do you use to read the books that fascinate you the most?

If it is helpful, here is the plan that I personally use:

  • 10 pages a day from a more recent work (right now it is Thiselton’s Systematic Theology)
  • 25 pages a day from Bavinck’s amazing Reformed Dogmatics
  • 15 pages a day from ANF
  • 10-15 pages a day related to Barth (either primary or secondary sources)
  • I also set aside roughly one hour each Friday for reading in the field of Baptist history. I read a primary source for 30 minutes (right now that is J. L Dagg’s Manual of Theology) and then a secondary source for the remaining amount of time (right now that is Bebbington’s Baptists Through the Centuries) Yea, it is nerdy, but I call it Baptist Friday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Letter to a Young Theologian: This is What I Wrote to the Me of 10 Years Ago (Part 2)

This post is a continuation of what I wrote last week. It describes a letter that I would write to the me of ten years ago.

6. Local church ministry is more difficult than you can imagine, but you must stick with it. Right now you have an optimistic view of the church and of pastoral ministry. Seminary has filled your head with many exciting ideas. You are thinking about leading a congregation to participate in international missions, church planting, and local social work. I must tell you, though, that you are about to fall hard. Pastoral ministry is more difficult than you can now imagine. Some people will resist change simply because they have an ownership mentality of the church; they will view any new proposal as a threat to their influence and control. Others will intend well but will be uncomfortable with something different. In the end you will be pressed but not broken. By staying committed to the local church you will progress in your sanctification. You will learn how to forgive those who hurt you. You will learn how to love the unlovable. You will take up pastoral ministry with the intention of changing a church, but you yourself will be the one who is changed—and ultimately for the better.

7. Remember the practical. Theology is important, but you cannot live in an ivory tower. Out in the real world most people are not debating the issues that now seem so important to you and your friends. Focus on connecting what you learn to what is happening “out there.” Each day there are people who are losing their homes, struggling to pay their rent, trying to raise their kids, fighting to save their marriages, and burying their loved ones. You must have something to say to them.

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Andrew Fuller, a theologian who used his considerable gifts to meet the practical needs of his congretation

8. Pursue what really fascinates you. Life is short. You do not have time to chase a research topic simply because your supervisor finds it interesting or because it provides you with an opportunity to receive attention. Focus on the topic about which you are passionate. Study what you love. The rest will take care of itself.

9. Consider another degree. The job market for theology graduates basically does not exist. You can pastor, but few churches have openings. You can teach, but there are many PhD graduates who will compete with you. You must have a way to care for your family. Doing a non-theology degree is not selling out. You are not letting down the cause if you pursue bi-vocational ministry.

10. Relax and enjoy God at work. Christ is building his church each day. Trust him that this fact is true. You do not have to carry the burden of changing the world. The success of the Gospel does not rest on your shoulders. Be faithful with what little you will be given. Do not seek to be great but enjoy the small things in life. God often speaks not in a loud voice but in a still and small whisper. If you travel with worry and ambition you will miss it.

 

 

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A Letter to a Young Theologian: This is What I Wrote to the Me of 10 Years Ago

I was listening recently to a podcast on productivity in which one of the contributors explained that it might be a good idea for his listeners to write a letter to their future selves. He thought that by doing so they could better plan for their future and set more accurate goals.

His presentation made me consider what I would say in a letter to my past self. I chose the me from 10 years ago. I was beginning my MDiV study at that point; I was just feeling my way into the world of theological studies (in many ways I still feel that I am doing so). Here are five things that I would say to the me of back then. I will post the additional five in my next blog post.

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Graduating college; soon heading to seminary

  1. Do not be someone you are not. Theology is a broad discipline, and you will never master it like you wish. If you do not know something, just be honest and say that you do not know it. Do not play the game and act as if you do. Do not be embarrassed or intimidated when someone knows more than you in regard to a specific area of study. You are insecure now because you are just starting. One day you will see that the admission of “I do not know” is actually the mark of a mature thinker.
  2. The study of theology is not your life. Theology matters, but your identity does not come from your present status as a divinity student. Have a life. Go have fun. Work out. Do not stay in the library all day. Enjoy the sunshine (before you move to Scotland!). Ultimately Christ determines your identity, so work hard but also play hard. The world will not collapse if you do not write the perfect paper.
  3. Remember to read fiction. There is only so much discussion of the Calvinistic extra or infralapsarianism that you will be able to handle. One day you will see that some of the most profound insights are found not in the latest theology texts but in the classic novels.
  4. The mind and the body matter. Right now you are skinny as a rail. You can eat an entire pizza and wash it down with a bowl of ice cream and not add an inch to your waistline. Trust me when I say that it will all soon change. The amount of hair you possess on your head will start to decrease; your ability to add weight will increase. Have a balanced life. Work out. Go for walks. There is more to the world than your desk, and the future you will thank you.

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    Pic from my first year in the seminary directory (2005)

  5. Community matters more than you realize now. You are in a new place surrounded by new people. Some of them will be gone before you graduate. The rest of them you will likely never see again after you graduate (except through their, um, interesting Facebook posts). Still, you cannot go this route alone. You are a Baptist, and Baptists have always emphasized in their theology the importance of not just the individual but also the community. Life passes by quickly. You will not remember all of the books you read. You will not remember those hours you burned in front of your laptop. You will remember, though, the moments that you spent laughing and talking with friends. Those memories will be with you forever. You will come to realize that the times in which you thought you were just “goofing off” were actually the most formative for you.

What advice would you give to your previous self?

Link to part two of this post: Link

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A Tomato and PhD Productivity: Using Pomodoro Technique to Increase Focus

I suspect that many of you have heard of the Pomodoro Technique. The premise is simple if you have not. You perform twenty-five minutes of concentrated work and then break for five minutes. You then take a longer fifteen-minute break after going through this routine for roughly four cycles.

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Pomodoro Timer (Photo Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The program supposedly originates from scientific research; apparently twenty-five minutes is the maximum amount of time most people can concentrate on any given task. By separating work into twenty-five minute intervals, followers of the technique are able to keep their minds fresh and thereby increase their overall productivity.

(The name originates from the tomato-shaped kitchen time that Francesco Cirillo, the technique’s creator, used as a college student in the 1980’s. Yea, long story. See the link below for more information.)

I heard about Pomodoro from a university lecture on productivity and decided to give it a go in the writing of my thesis. Here is what I found. Perhaps what I say can help other writers:

  • Take the break even when you do not feel like it. There were times when I felt like pressing on with my work even though the timer was telling me that I should take the requisite break. I discovered, though, that if I did break as required that I could on the whole be more productive. On the days that I did not break I ended up burning out a little too early.
  • You will be surprised how rested you will feel at the end of the day. On the days in which I tried Pomodoro I left the office feeling as though I had not really “been at work.” The day seemed to go by quicker. My mind truly felt clearer.
  • It will make you feel less guilty.  Like everyone else, I struggle when I work on my laptop. The Internet is a constant temptation. Social media, blogs, email, and the news all tempt. The the smallest moment of frustration with my thesis can cause me to veer off into the unproductive world of the web. Though I eventually recover, the detour wastes time. I then feel guilty. Pomodoro simply gave me a tool that I could use to measure my use of time, and this fact made me feel strangely liberated. I still made use of the internet, but I only did so during the scheduled breaks. I no longer left the office worried that I had spent too much time away from my thesis. My overly active Southern conscience was satisfied. 

What tools to you use to stay on task? Do you use the Pomodoro Technique? If so, how do you find it?

For those interested in more information, you can see these resources:

1). The app I use on my Mac and iOS devices as a Pomodoro timer: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/be-focused-pro-focus-timer/id961632517?mt=12

2) Official website: http://pomodorotechnique.com

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Parkinson’s Law and the PhD Student: An Important Rule for Perfectionists

Parkinson’s Law 

Parkinson’s law originally described the phenomenon that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” So, for example, if you schedule an entire day to clean out your toolshed, it will probably take you the entire day to clean out your toolshed. You typically work at the pace required to get the job done in the the time that you have allotted.

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Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Perfectionism 

While not foolproof, I have seen the truthfulness of this adage come to pass more than I would like. I am a perfectionist. I can stare at the computer screen for far too long searching my mind for just the right word to use in my thesis. I can dig around for what seems like forever in journals and books to ensure that I have made use of the right resources. With no firm deadline in sight, my perfectionist tendencies can lead me to spend unnecessary—and unhealthy!—amounts of time on work that is in the end trivial.

Such behavior obviously hinders productivity. My goal is not just to create a quality thesis, it is to create a quality thesis on time. I cannot spend forever wrestling with my “inner critic.”

Protecting Yourself

The solution, I have found, is to impose strict deadlines on myself to prevent the sort of task expansion that Parkinson’s law describes. If I am doing a book review for a journal I will give myself a set amount of hours to complete it. Leaving the work with no firm deadline will cause me to spend far too long on it. If I am typing a rough draft on my thesis then I will make sure that it truly is a rough draft. I will keep my time limited so that I will not go back and unnecessarily edit; the point of the rough draft is just to get as many words as possible on the page.

Now, make no mistake. I am not calling for a lackadaisical approach to research. Also, what I am saying will certainly not apply to everyone. However, those of us who are perfectionists and who have seen precious hours slip by whilst we struggle with even the smallest of tasks will do well to remember Parkinson’s law. We must produce quality work, and we must discipline ourselves to produce it in a reasonable amount of time.

Has anyone else experienced similar struggles? What do you do to combat your inner perfectionist demons? Do feel free to comment.

 

 

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How a Former Hippie Is Helping Me Write My PhD Thesis

Who is David Allen?

Allen seems to have spent much of his early years floating through life with little purpose. He started a PhD at UC Berkley but did not finish. He held 35 different jobs before he reached the age of 35. He has even stated openly that during that time he struggled with drug abuse.

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David Allen, the man Wired Magazine labeled the leader of the “Cult of Hyperefficiency” (Photo Credit: The Art Of)

After he sorted himself out, Allen was hired to advise employees at Lockheed on productivity and efficiency. The training program he devised there was revolutionary. Allen entitled his system Getting Things Done (GTD), and he went on to market it through a very successful book and later a consulting company.

Context is King: How Getting Things Done Helps Me to Get Things Done

Allen saw the value in organizing tasks not just according to their priority or their due date but also according to the context in which one must complete them. Following his method, I have created context categories such as St Andrews, Office, Home, and Internet. My St Andrews list comprises all of the tasks I need to perform whilst in the center of town: pick up toothpaste, buy a present for someone from the gift shop, and meet such and such person for coffee, for example. My office list features tasks I wish to complete at my desk in the coming days: write a book report, edit a section of a chapter, print out certain papers, etc. My Internet list, the list that I actually use the most, contains any actions that I can perform with an Internet connection. I include in it such items as responding to emails, writing a blog post, and reading a small section of an e-book.

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Action Shot of Me “Getting Things Done” (Photo Credit: Online Health)

I realize this all sounds boring and mundane, but it is actually tremendously helpful. While I am waiting for a haircut at the barber, for example, I can pull up my Internet list on my iPhone and receive a reminder of all of the emails to which I need to respond. I can quickly type out responses whilst waiting for my haircut, freeing up valuable time later at my desk for thesis work. I can pull up my St Andrews list before I leave for home to see all of the errands that I need to run that day. Doing so helps me not to forget the small tasks that need attention in the midst of my busy schedule. I can even easily bifurcate my home and office life. Separating Office and Home lists keeps office life at the office and my time at home devoted to my family.

I have also noticed that I procrastinate much less when I make use of Allen’s focus on context. I once avoided mundane tasks because I perceived them as not as important as the pressing, immediate jobs in front of me. The problem, of course, is that seemingly mundane tasks can quickly become important when they are neglected. Now that I am on GTD, though, when we are sitting at home and there is little going on I can pull up my Home list and complete such seemingly small jobs as fixing the rattle in the dryer, cleaning out the family car, and washing and storing my hiking boots. Whereas before I would simply relax at home in front of the Internet and leave such things undone, now I have a clear reminder to do them. Our house is so much more organized now, and I am much more on top of things! In the end, that makes me a researcher with more focus and less stress.

Resources

There is of course much more to the GTD than I describe here. I might in the future describe the program in more detail. For now, though, if you are interested you can consult the following resources:

  • Matt Perman’s book published by Zondervan combines much of the GTD methodology with Perman’s theological reflections on busyness and productivity: http://www.whatsbestnext.com (link to Perman’s site which features the book)
  • Michael Hyatt’s website is always interesting. Hyatt was once in the publishing industry. He now writes on productivity and a range of other helpful issues. He is a big fan of Allen’s GTD: http://michaelhyatt.com

 

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