Thursday, October 3, 2019

A Methodology for Evangelical Lutheran Casuistry

LCMS Winkel casuistry sessions often suffer from amnesia. In order to draw on the wisdom of the past as well as of your contemporaries, consider these guidelines when you are confronted by cases of conscience.
1. List the commandments and other biblical precepts that could have a bearing on the question.
  • Commandments.
  • Other biblical precepts (moral Law, not OT ceremonial or civil law).
  • Biblical examples (from narratives) that have God’s judgment expressed with them.
  • Necessary deductions from biblical principles.
  • Natural Law.

2. If necessary, research the state of the question. For example, if it is a question that touches on law or medicine, you should consult experts in these areas.
3. Research the wisdom of the past. Read pastoral theologies and trustworthy casuistry works to see what arguments they bring from Scripture and Natural Law. For example:
  • C. F. W. Walther, American Lutheran Pastoral Theology (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2017).
  • Wilhelm Loehe, The Pastor, ed. Charles P. Schaum (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2015).
  • Ewald M. Plass, ed., What Luther Says (Saint Louis: Concordia Pub. House, 1959). (But don’t treat Luther as equal to the Bible. He has to prove his opinions, just like anyone else.)
  • Martin Luther, Letters of Spiritual Counsel, ed. Theodore G. Tappert (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1955).
  • Fritz, John H. C. Pastoral Theology: A Handbook of Scriptural Principles Written Especially for Pastors of the Lutheran Church (St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House, 1932).
  • Norbert H. Mueller and George Kraus, Pastoral Theology (St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House, 1990) (sometimes lax and permissive).
  • CTCR documents, (sometimes lax and permissive; remember to examine their arguments; do not simply accept their judgments as authorities).
  • “The Doctrinal Resolutions of the National Conventions of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod 1847–2004,” available from .
  • Indices of LCMS seminary journals (e.g.,

German and Latin:
  • Ernst Eckhardt, Homiletisches Reallexikon nebst Index Rerum (St. Louis: Success Printing Co., 1907–17). This is an index to all the theological literature of the early Missouri Synod.
  • Conrad Porta, Pastorale Lutheri, das ist: nützlicher und nötiger Unterricht, von den fürnemsten Stücken zum heiligen Ministerio gehörig (Leipzig : In Verlegung Henningi Grossen, 1586; reprint, Nördlingen: C.H. Beck, 1842). This is one of the first Lutheran casuistry works, drawn from Luther’s writings.
  • Georg Dedekenn and J. E. Gerhard, eds., Thesaurus consiliorum et decisionum, 2nd ed., 4 vols. (Hamburg: Hertel, 1671). This is arguably the greatest work of Lutheran casuistry. For more information, see Benjamin T. G. Mayes, Counsel and Conscience: Lutheran Casuistry and Moral Reasoning after the Reformation (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011).
  • Friedrich Balduin, Tractatus . . . de . . . casibus . . . conscientiae (Wittenberg: Helwig, 1628). One of the first single-author Lutheran casuistries.
  • Consilia theologica witebergensia (Frankfurt am Mäyn: Balthasar Christoph Wust, 1664). A large collection of Wittenberg opinions, with valuable source material on the intra-Lutheran syncretistic controversy.

4. Discuss your findings with peers. Hear their counsel and evaluate it.
5. Make the decision that is least likely to be sinful, that is, safest from externally violating God’s moral Law. I.e., instead of asking how far one might be able to go without violating God’s moral Law, ask how God’s moral Law can most safely be honored and kept. Distinguish between what is objectively right and wrong, realizing that people sometimes do right actions for bad purposes, but wrong actions cannot be done for good purposes.
6. Record the case, the decision, and the arguments that support the decision.
7. Have peace of conscience! Luther: “If such a thoroughly doubtful and rare case occurs, whether in this or other articles and matters, which cannot be decided on the basis of any Scripture or book, then one should have a good pious man or two give advice and speak to the matter; and after they have given advice and spoken, [one should] also remain with their decision and advice without any wavering or doubt. For even if they do not exactly hit the pinnacle of what is right in such obscure matters, yet such a small mistake does not hurt anything, and it is better finally to have peace and calm with disadvantage and less correctness than continuously to seek the most pointed and strictest correctness—which one will never find anyway—with indefinite discord and unrest” (Walther, Pastoral Theology, 300; WA 30/3:222, cf. AE 46:287–88).

Benjamin T. G. Mayes
All Saints’ Day
Nov. 1, 2016 A+D

Organization of Classic Lutheran Casuistry

Early Lutherans had a rich casuistry literature, which gave them guidance on difficult pastoral, moral, and doctrinal questions. Little of this has been translated, so a glance at the contents is useful, showing how they organized their thinking on these cases of conscience. For more on this, see my book:
Mayes, Benjamin T. G. Counsel and Conscience: Lutheran Casuistry and Moral Reasoning after the Reformation. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011.

Georg Dedekenn, Johann Ernst Gerhard, and Christian Grübel, eds., Thesaurus Conciliorum et Decisionum (1671 ed.)[1]

The work is organized around the “Three Estates”: church, civil government, and home (but here dealing just with issues of marriage).
I. Churchly Issues. The organization is somewhat haphazard. Main topics include:
A. Doctrinal matters.
B. Call process.
C. Church fellowship issues.
D. Baptism.
E. Lord’s Supper.
F. Church discipline and rights of pastors (or pastor-hearer relations).
G. Funerals.
II. Political Issues. Much of this would not be relevant for our purposes. It would instead be useful for Lutheran ethics or moral theology.
III. Marital Issues. Here are the issues:
A. Church Marriage Courts
B. Celibacy
C. Concubinage
D. Polygamy
E. Betrothals
F. Consent of Parents, Tutors, and Relatives
G. Sexual Intercourse Between Betrothal and Marriage
H. Prohibited Grades of Relationship
J. Marriage Ceremony (Priestly Blessing)
K. Separation from Bed and Board
L. Divorce (for various causes)
M. Remarriage

Friedrich Balduin, De casibus conscientiae[2]

Book 1. On conscience and its cases in general (pp. 1–44).
Book 2. On actions of man concerning God and religion (pp. 45–532). This section includes issues of doctrine, the use of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and many other topics.
Book 3. On the actions of man concerning heavenly spirits (pp. 533–848). This section also deals with evil spirits, possessed people, melancholy people, wizards and witches, divination, and ghosts.
Book 4. On the actions of man concerning human matters (pp. 849–1281). Topics include the human body, the care of the mind, good fortune, lifestyle (genus vitae), call to the ministry of the Word, ordination of ministers of the Church, preaching duty, administration of Baptism, administration of the Lord’s Supper, use of the keys of the Church, beauty and order in the Church (liturgy and ceremonies), civil government, marriage, duties of parents and children, duties of brothers, sisters, and neighbors, masters and servants, and behavior with one’s neighbor.

Porta, Pastorale Lutheri[3]

1. On the worthiness and highness of the holy preaching office (3–15).
2. On the call of preachers (16–44).
3. On studying (45–56).
4. On the preachers’ gifts, and their manner of teaching, etc. (57–71).
5. On teaching (72–121).
6. On rebuking (122–187).
7. On comforting (188–242).
8. On admonishing and warning (243–281). [Notice the division of pastoral duties according to 2 Tim. 3:16; Rom. 15:4!]
9. On praying (282–298).
10. On the external life and behavior of preachers (299–318).
11. On the marriage of priests, and how they should govern their wives, children, and servants (319–339).
12. On marriage matters in general (340–373).
13. On baptizing (374–386).
14. On matters of confession and on the key of releasing and binding (387–414).
15. On distributing sacraments (415–444).
16. On diligent care of the poor (445–462).
17. On the depressed [Schwermüthigen], afflicted, and possesed: how to deal with them (463–492).
18. On the sick and evildoers who have forfeited their lives, who are to be visited and comforted (493–520).
19. On funerals, or the ceremonies at burials (521–529).
20. On the support and salary of preachers (530–542).
21. On resistance to and cross of genuine preachers (543–552).
22. On the comfort and reward of faithful preachers (552–567).
23. On unfaithful preachers, sectarian spirits, fanatics, their manner and characteristic (568–586).
24. On the punishment and demise of unfaithful and false teachers, heretics, and sectarian spirits (587–598).

[1] Georg Dedekenn and Johann Ernst Gerhard, eds., Thesauri Consiliorum Et Decisionum Volumen Primum, Ecclesiastica Continens, 2nd ed. (Jena: Zacharias Hertel, 1671); See Benjamin T. G. Mayes, Counsel and Conscience: Lutheran Casuistry and Moral Reasoning after the Reformation (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011), 110–14, 143–45.
[2] Friedrich Balduin, Tractatus Luculentus, Posthumus, Toti Reipublicae Christianae Utilissimus, De Materiâ rarissimè antehac enucleatâ, Casibus nimirum Conscientiae (Wittenberg: Paulus Helwigius, 1628).
[3] Conrad Porta, ed., Pastorale Lutheri: Das Ist Nützlicher Und Nöthiger Unterricht von Den Fürnembsten Stücken Zum Hl. Ministerio Gehörig (s.l., 1597); Conrad Porta, Pastorale Lutheri: das ist: Nützlicher und nöthiger Unterricht von den vornehmsten Stücken zum heil. Ministerium gehörig, und richtige Antwort auf mancherlei wichtige Fragen: Für anfangende Prediger und Kirchendiener (Nördlingen: Beck, 1842). I cite the 1842 edition.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Note Card Method of Writing

My main tip for writing is to use a version of the note card method. Here is how I write.

  • Your best thoughts will come to you as you read and interact with texts. So you need to capture those thoughts on paper as you are reading.
  • Write out your thoughts, with one thought or one paragraph per sheet of paper. The benefit of having only one thought or paragraph per sheet of paper is that when it comes time to write, you can easily shuffle your notes into any order you like. If you take all your notes in a word processor document or a notebook, you can't easily shuffle the notes around, and you probably won't remove content that should be removed.
  • I prefer to use half-sheets of paper, three-hole punched, and put into a statement-size binder. Others prefer to use note cards. 
  • At the top of the sheet of paper, write the topic. I use all caps.
  • At the bottom of the sheet of paper, write a footnote if one is needed. This might just be a short reference, like: Mayes, How to Write, p. 42.
  • After you take your first note from a text, type up the bibliography for that text in your computer. This could be done using bibliography software (I use Zotero), or it could just be in a word processor document. Format it for footnotes.
  • In your notes, distinguish somehow between your summary of what the text said, and your own thoughts and reflections. I distinguish between them by writing a footnote with a reference if I am summarizing someone else, and putting curly brackets around, or an eighth-note (musical note) beside, my own thoughts.
  • Early on, think about what the outline for your paper might be. But you don't have to decide this at the beginning. It will become obvious to you as you take notes.
  • Eventually, you will have your notes, and you will have an outline. Now put your notes into order, according to your outline. You will find that you can't use some of your notes because they don't contribute anything to the purpose of the paper. That's to be expected.
  • Type up the notes. You'll have to add some transition sentences. Some of your reflections will serve as the "conclusion" section. 
  • Done! That's your paper.

The method makes writing so much easier, once you implement it. The beauty of it is that you do 90% of the writing while you are engaged with the text, which is when your best thoughts will occur.

Lutheran Theology Reading List


Read through the entire Bible. I prefer NKJV.
Read the entire Book of Concord. I prefer the classic 1921 translation of Dau and Bente (Concordia Triglotta).
Leonard Hutter, Compend of Lutheran Theology. This will put the right theological categories into your mind and help you to make sense of all future theological readings.
August Friedrich Christian Vilmar, The Theology of Facts versus the Theology of Rhetoric: Confession and Defense. Translated by Roy A. Harrisville. Fort Wayne: Lutheran Legacy, 2008.


Cal Newport, Deep Work.
David Allen, Getting Things Done.


Benjamin T. G. Mayes, ed., Martin Luther on Holy Baptism: Sermons to the People (1523-39).
Johann Gerhard, On Interpreting Sacred Scripture and Method of Theological Study, Theological Commonplaces I-II.
The Brotherhood Prayer Book.
Concordia Commentary Series. Galatians recommended as the first purchase.
Bengt Hägglund, History of Theology.
Augustine, On Christian Teaching. (Excellent handbook on biblical interpretation and preaching.)
Michael W. Holmes, trans., The Apostolic Fathers
Timothy Schmeling, ed., Lives & Writings of the Great Fathers of the Lutheran Church.
Johann Gerhard, Commentary on 1 and 2 Timothy.
Valerius Herberger, The Great Works of God: Genesis
Valerius Herberger, The Great Works of God: Exodus.
Luther’s Works (series). Especially suggested are the volumes on Church Postil (LW 75-79).
Theodore G. Tappert, ed., Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel.
Paul Althaus, The Ethics of Martin Luther.
Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther.
Johann Gerhard, Schola Pietatis (Series). This is Gerhard's moral theology.
Werner Elert, Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries.
Hermann Sasse, Letters to Lutheran Pastors (Series).
Gerhard, On Christ, Theological Commonplaces Exegesis IV.
Gerhard, On the Church, Theological Commonplace XXV.
CFW Walther, Pastoral Theology.
Peter C. Bender, Lutheran Catechesis: A comprehensive guide to Catechesis for a Lutheran Congregation.
Paul H. D. Lang, Ceremony and Celebration.
Pastoral Care Companion (CPH).
Tom G. A. Hardt, On the Sacrament of the Altar: A Book of the Lutheran Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper (Concordia Theological Seminary Press).

Bible Treasury Table of Contents

You can make your own collection of treasures from Sacred Scripture!  Simply: 1) get a blank book, 2) as you read the Scriptures or hear sermons and notice things you want to remember, figure out what topic your discovery belongs to, 3) write the verse reference, the verse, and/or your notes on the page of your book dedicated to that topic.  Limit one topic per page.  If you fill up a page, note at the bottom right-hand corner of the page where you are continuing this topic.  4) Use this index to note the pages where your topics can be found, so that you can come back to your notes later.  This index is organized according to the Ten Commandments (for the Christian life, love, and morality), and the Apostles’ Creed (for the Christian faith and doctrine).  Feel free to add to or subtract from this list, according to your own needs. 

1st Chief Part (10 Commandments)
The Law
              Moral Law
              Ceremonial Law
              Civil Law

1st Commandment
Promises of the 1st Commandment
Threats of the 1st Commandment

Virtues and Vices:
Knowledge of God from His Word
Ignorance or false views of God
Pagan Philosophy
Fear of God
Love toward God
Trust in God
False Worship of the True God
Idolatry (worshipping other gods, especially images)
Trust in Created Things
Fleshly Security toward God
Hate of God
Hypocritical Love of God
Loving Self or Created Things above God
Doubting God
Pride and Presumption (sense of entitlement)
Impatience and Grumbling Toward God

2nd Commandment
Promises of the 2nd Commandment
Threats of the 2nd Commandment

Virtues and Vices:

Worship and Invocation of God’s Name
Neglecting to Use God’s Name
Neglecting to Invoke God’s Name and Worship Him
Blasphemy (speech against God and His Word)

Invocation of the Saints

Neglecting to Thank God

Confession of the Faith and Witnessing to Others
Neglecting to Confess the Faith

God-Pleasing Oaths/Vows
God-Displeasing Oaths/Vows
Breaking Oaths/Vows
Lying by God’s Name

Cursing (when permitted/commanded)
Cursing (when forbidden)
Wishing Others Evil

3rd Commandment
Promises of the 3rd Commandment
Threats of the 3rd Commandment
Church Year

Gathering for Divine Service
Church Duties: Preachers
              Preaching and Teaching
              Impart Sacraments
              Shepherding / Guidance
Church Duties: Hearers
Hearing Preaching
Use of the Holy Sacraments
Monetary Contributions to Preserve the Preaching Office and Congregation

Neglecting/despising the Visible Church
Neglecting/despising the Ministry
Neglecting/despising the Word
Neglecting/despising the Sacraments
False Preaching or Imparting of Sacraments

4th Commandment
Promises of the 4th Commandment
Threats of the 4th Commandment

Family Duties: Parents
              Christian Instruction in the Home
Family Duties: Children
Civil Government
Civic Duties: Rulers
Civic Duties: Subjects

5th Commandment
Promises of the 5th Commandment
Threats of the 5th Commandment
Killing Animals Permitted
The Sword
              Capital Punishment
Patience Toward Enemies
Preserving the Lives of Others

6th Commandment
Promises of the 6th Commandment
Threats of the 6th Commandment
Holy Marriage
              Definition of marriage
              Persons qualified for marriage
              How to enter marriage
              Purpose of marriage
Family Duties: Men
Family Duties: Women
Unchaste Touching
Unchaste Speech
Unchaste Clothing
Sins of the Eyes
Polygamy (Plural Marriage)

Drugs and Alcohol
Sloth (Over-eating)

7th Commandment
Promises of the 7th Commandment
Threats of the 7th Commandment
Cheating in Business
Unfair Pricing
Show of Right
Love of Money

8th Commandment
Promises of the 8th Commandment
Threats of the 8th Commandment
Protecting Reputation

9th and 10th Commandments
Promises of the 9th and 10th Commandments
Threats of the 9th and 10th Commandments
Coveting / Lust / Concupiscence

What Does God Say About All These Commandments?
Fulfillment of the Law
Use of the Law: Curb, Rule, and Mirror
Original Sin
Actual Sin (Sins of Action: Commission or Omission)
Mortal and Venial Sins (Ruling and Non-Ruling Sins)
“Sin against the Holy Spirit”
Sins that cry out
Approving of the Sins of Others
Repentance & Confessing our Sins
Good Works

2nd Chief Part (Creed)

1) I believe
In God the Father
Plurality of Persons
Unity of Substance
Attributes of God
Maker of heaven and earth
Humanity is Male or Female
Image of God in Man
Providence and Preservation of Creatures
2) And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord
              Divinity of Christ
3) Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary
Humanity of Christ
Unity of Christ
Communication of Attributes
Virgin Mary
4) Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried,
Offices of Christ: Prophet
Offices of Christ: Priest
State of Humiliation
5) He descended into hell;  The third day He rose again from the dead;
State of Exaltation
6) He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty.
Offices of Christ: King
7) From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.
Last Judgment
8) I believe in the Holy Spirit,
Holy Spirit’s Divinity
Holy Spirit a person
Holy Scripture
              Rules of Interpreting Scripture
9) The holy Christian Church, the communion of Saints,
Church Councils
Call Process for Preachers
Church Government
Holy Sacrament of the Altar
10) The forgiveness of sins,
Holy Baptism
Holy Absolution
Free Will
Justification by Faith
11) The resurrection of the body
              Mystical Union with God
12) And the life everlasting.  Amen.
Eternal Life
Predestination (Election) unto Eternal Life

3rd Chief Part (Prayer) See 2nd Commandment.
4th, 5th, and 6th Chief Parts (Baptism, Absolution, and Sacrament of the Altar): See Creed

How to Write a Research Paper in Historical Theology

The Parts of a Research Paper

A research paper in historical theology has three parts: 
  1. The thesis and state of the question, which summarizes and categorizes the secondary sources. 
  2. Body, which includes your arguments based on the primary sources. 
  3. The conclusion, which situates your findings in the state of the question.

Thesis and State of the Question

Forget a cute literary hook to grab the reader. This is OK for a speech, though. You should catch your reader by showing that you have something to say.

Thesis. The paper should not be “exploring” or “examining” a topic, but rather “demonstrating” or “proving” a thesis. You may not know exactly what the thesis is until you are half-way through taking notes.

State of the Question. Give the state of the question. This is a paradigmatic analysis of what has been done, with notation of the materials which are to be used.
  1. Ask, “What are the secondary writers saying about the primary sources?”
  2. Discuss the status controversiae. Which of the secondary sources are correct?
  3. Say, “I have something to say that others haven’t done.”

Do this in about two or three paragraphs. This gives a “warrant for starting” your essay. It shows that you have something to say, and that you know what has been said. You have to cover the secondary sources, but it can’t overwhelm your essay. It should be about 10% of the essay.


The body of the research paper focuses predominantly on analysis of primary texts. Nevertheless, it can have dialogue with secondary sources. Names of other scholars can be included there in the body text. Sometimes this is helpful to make points over against someone else.


A conclusion must conclude. It should not introduce new evidence. It cannot state more than what you set out at the beginning to prove. It must stay within the boundaries established by the materials you have examined. The conclusion should show that you have advanced the state of the question to a new position.

Conclusions of historical papers are usually generalizations. We then question these generalizations. No generalization ever quite fits, but you need to do it. For example, I wrote on Luther on marriage and sexuality. At the end I generalized to depict Luther (on the basis of my analysis of his writings) as a champion of chastity rather than a liberator in sexual matters.

The conclusion should be short.

The conclusion must not go beyond your primary sources! For example, if you have analyzed five books by Luther, you cannot say that Luther never says X. You can say that Luther does not say X in these five books!

The conclusion must take what you have proved in the body and situate it with reference to the previous state of the question. This could be: (1) Confirming the position of some previous researchers by finding the same thing in hitherto unresearched primary sources. (2) Challenging the position of other previous researchers by a new examination of previously researched primary sources. (3) Challenging the position of other previous researchers by an examination of previously unresearched primary sources.
It should not: (4) Simply confirm the position of some previous researchers on the basis of previously researched primary sources. (5) It should not ever make conclusions on the basis of secondary sources.


Footnotes will be longest and most plentiful in the beginning state-of-the-question section, perhaps up to 2/3 of the page. The body will have consistent footnotes, but usually taking up less than 1/4 of the page, since your analysis will be focused on one document at a time. The conclusion is where you can say what you think. You don’t need any footnotes here.

Do not put excursûs in footnotes.

A research paper that uses the notes-bibliography style actually does not need a bibliography. A thesis with several chapters does.

How to Do the Research

In any given field there are tools. Never assume that you’re the first one to ask a question. Most tools have a text history.
  1. Get a quick overview of the topic by using a theological encyclopedia.
  2. Read both primary and secondary sources, going back and forth from one to the other.
  3. Ask, “What are the secondary sources saying about the primary sources?”
  4. Figure out the state of the question. Which of the secondary sources are correct?
  5. Figure out what you have to say that that others haven’t said.
  6. Start framing the introductory paragraph at the beginning of your research. Ask, “Where am I going with this essay? What is my topic? How does my topic construe? How will I go about it?”

Secondary sources are what scholars are saying about your topic. Primary sources are historical documents closest to what you’re researching. For example, if you are writing an article about Luther, an article in the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation is a secondary source; a sermon by Luther is a primary source.

Primary sources have the most proximate relationship to the topic you are studying. These are in three forms:
  1. From the era itself, either published or in manuscript. (Example: a 1529 printing of the Small Catechism.)
  2. Critical editions. These add biblical allusions and sources. (Example: the Small Catechism in the Weimar edition of Luther's works.)
  3. Translations. Be sure to check the reliability of these. Be careful, sometimes they add Scripture references that the original author did not include, and sometimes the editors are not careful to note their additions (e.g., by using square brackets). Also, the footnotes referring to scholastics may not have been read by the original author (Luther). The editorial references may not be helpful. So try also to use the original.

Secondary sources are more distant, and base themselves on an analysis of the primary sources. Secondary sources may never be used to fill up gaps in your knowledge.

Do not cite tertiary sources (i.e., sources that base themselves or summarize secondary sources, like Luther Digest, Lutheran Cyclopedia, or Wikipedia). But you can use the tertiary sources to find the secondary and primary sources. Then disregard whatever you read in the tertiary source.

What is the requisite level of detail for this paper? It depends on the level of detail in the primary and secondary sources. Never thin it out. Either take a bigger or smaller topic. Either pare it down or bulk it up with real material.

How to approach documents from the past? It should usually bother you intellectually. Don’t write about that, but use it. Notice the differences between then and now. What does this tell me about his context? Hold the dissonance in methodological abeyance. How do you use your subjectivity? Let the difference between you and the text drive you to understand why, what is it out there that’s generating this? Don’t get into correctness.

Once you have the topic, you still have to be tentative about its shape. Don’t prejudge the boundaries, shape, and conclusion.

Also, you cannot ignore secondary literature. Questions to ask of the documents: Is it a topic at all? Is it new, or just new to me? You need to know the state of the question, which is the history of scholarship. This shows you what has been said before.

Steal bibliographies from others. They cannot be copyrighted. Ask, “Is there something they have found that I have missed?” But you can’t steal footnotes. You can, however, use their footnotes to find spots in the primary sources and add “cf. Somebody” or “contra Somebody.” The most recent resources should have the best bibliography. Make a hierarchy of sources and ask, “What’s more important?” “By their footnotes ye shall know them.” Look at a good article’s footnotes to see how to do your own.

Keep a good balance between primary and secondary sources. You have to say something new and different based on the old texts. Is there something missing in the secondary sources?

Sometimes you have to write with the risk of ignorance. As your bibliography gets better you know your weaknesses better. To handle ignorance, you should use the standard references (e.g., Quasten for patristics; Althaus and OER for Luther).

Bibliography Software

Software like Zotero (, free) will save you a lot of time. They do several things to help you:
  1. Store the bibliographical data.
  2. Format it automatically, for either footnotes or a bibliography.
  3. Insert footnotes with a few clicks.
  4. Import bibliographical data straight from the internet. For example, you can add books straight from the CTS library website, or from ATLA Religion Index. Why type it out when you don’t have to?

The other way is to have a master bibliography file for each project. Enter the full bibliographical data right after you take your first note.

Computerized Searches

Start with the big databases. There has been a proliferation of digital resources since 2000. Nowadays 16th-century and 17th-century texts from Germany have been scanned and are available for reading, free online, and often for download as PDF. One of the best gateways to this material is
Through CTS students have access to:
  • ATLA Religion Database, which indexes journal articles and chapters of multi-author books. (But limited scope. For example, it handles religion, but not historiography.)
  • The Chicago Manual of Style (the same as Turabian, but more detailed).
  • Oxford Reference. (A source for short articles on many topics, with recent research and bibliographies.)
  • Theological Research Exchange Network. (An index of dissertations and theses. Be sure to check the option “exact phrase.”)

“Index Theologicus” from the University of Tübingen is a valuable search engine for historical theology and church history:

Google Book Search can be a great way to search for discussions on an obscure phrase. Simply place the phrase in quote marks. Another option is to limit the search to a specific time period.

When using search engines, be sure to use “and” and “not,” and, if necessary, the option for an “exact phrase.”

Know the limitations of each database. (1) Scope. (2) Search oddities and user-friendliness. (3) Realize that you have to search on all synonyms.


Stay away from general encyclopedias. Specialist ones are OK, if articles are signed and written by a specialist. Never cite a one-volume encyclopedia (like Lutheran Cyclopedia). Yet you may use these to get a quick overview of a topic.

Taking Notes

Leave yourself a paper trail. My main tip is to use a version of the note card method of writing. Here is how I write.
  • Your best thoughts will come to you as you read and interact with texts. So you need to capture those thoughts on paper as you are reading.
  • For secondary sources, I take quick notes on separate pieces of paper for each book or article that you read. What I do is this: I use half-sheets of paper, 3-hole punched and put into a binder. I write the name of the book or article at the top of the sheet. Then I take notes on the book by basically making an index with page numbers, so that I can easily find a place in the book or article later on. Finally, after reading the book or article, I write a short summary of it in only one or two sentences.
  • For primary sources, write out your thoughts, with one thought or one paragraph per sheet of paper. The benefit of having only one thought or paragraph per sheet of paper is that when it comes time to write, you can easily shuffle your notes into any order you like. (If you take all your notes in a word processor document, you can't easily shuffle the notes around.)
  • I prefer to use half-sheets of paper, three-hole punched, and put into a statement-size binder. Others prefer to use note cards.
  • At the top of the sheet of paper, write the topic. I use all caps.
  • At the bottom of the sheet of paper, write a footnote. Don’t do partial footnotes, even if you plan to add it later. You will forget where you got this. Don’t take notes without citing your source. Devise a short title. This might just be a short reference, like: Mayes, How to Write, p. 42. Each paragraph should be footnoted. There should be at least one footnote per paragraph, usually on the last sentence, and after every closed quote. Use a new footnote when the page or paragraph of the source changes.
  • After you take your first note from a text, type up the bibliography for that text in your computer. This could be done using bibliography software, or it could just be in a word processor document. Format it for footnotes.
  • Are you quoting, paraphrasing, or analyzing? If it’s a quote, use quotation marks and a footnote. If it’s a paraphrase, just foonote it. If it’s your own analysis, use some sort of mark to yourself so that you remember that you wrote that. (I use musical eighth-notes.) When taking notes, should you copy or paraphrase? You should usually paraphrase analytically. A short, ten-page essay needs no large quotations. A thirty-page essay can have a few. You may quote phrases, but most of the words should be yours.
  • Early on, think about what the outline for your paper might be. But you don't have to decide this at the beginning. It will become obvious to you as you take notes.
  • Eventually, you will have your notes, and you will have an outline. Now put your notes into order, according to your outline. You will find that you can't use some of your notes because they don't contribute anything to the purpose of the paper. That's to be expected.

How to adapt your method to the computer? Always take notes the same way. You have to be able to put all your notes together and see them. Never take notes in more than two ways, e.g., hardcopy and computer. On computer, keep separate files for each source. When you copy a paragraph of notes for use in your paper, then mark in your notes where you used it. Footnote carefully!

What I sometimes do is to use a computer document to hold the quotations I plan to use, footnoted. In the paper notes, I include the beginning and end of the quote, footnoted, plus whatever analysis I have. This way I can tell where the quote belongs in the essay.

How do I go about arguing the case? Establish a narrative shape. (Tell a story.) Ask, “How does this stuff flow? Chronologically? Topically? Subsets of the controversy? Examining commentaries? Don’t follow the outlines of secondary sources.

Typing it Up

  • Type up the notes.
  • Standardize your formatting. Make a style sheet and use paragraph styles. Always use the same styles.
  • You'll have to add some transition sentences. Don’t write unfootnoted transition paragraphs, though. How to do a major transition? Just throw in a subheading.
  • Some of your reflections will serve as the "conclusion" section.
  • Never use “ibid.” If you move text in a word processor, you’re in trouble.
  • Make sure your work is being backed up after every work session. I use Google Drive, and then my computer does weekly backups, and then from time to time I do yet another backup, to an external drive that I keep somewhere else. (I should really keep this offsite.)
  • No one writes books; you can only write articles. Put enough articles together, and you have a book. Also, no one, in fact, writes whole papers. We can only write sentences and paragraphs, and then ask, “Where does this fit?” “What is the shape of this essay?”

Done! That's your paper. If I didn't use this process, there would be no way I could write the kinds of articles and books that I have written. The method makes it so much easier, once you implement it. The beauty of it is that you do 90% of the writing while you are engaged with the text, which is when your best thoughts will occur.

How to Read the Bible the First Time

If you've never read the Bible before, don't just start at the beginning and read straight through. Here's my advice. Go in this order.

  • Genesis (all)
  • Exodus 1-20
  • Numbers 11-27
  • Psalms: 1, 18, 22, 23, 32, 34, 36, 42-43, 45-46, 51, 69, 70, 72, 87, 93, 95, 98, 10, 110-134
  • Isaiah: 4-9, 14, 25-26, 40, 42, 49-56, 59-66
  • Matthew through Jude
  • The rest of the Old Testament
  • Revelation
  • Apocrypha (optional)

My reasoning is that for someone to understand the full significance of Jesus as the fulfillment of the OT Scriptures, as well as the solution to man's predicament of sin and God's wrath, the parts of the OT need to be read first which deal with creation, sin, God's law, and who the people of Israel is. Then we also need to get some of the clearest prophecies of Christ from the Psalms and Isaiah. After that, the Gospels bring you to the heart of the matter--Jesus Christ and His work for us. Acts and the epistles then unpack this truth and life. After that, you can finish up the OT, knowing now what all the sacrifices and prophecies are pointing forward to. Finally, read Revelation, which I think is best understood after you have the entire context of the Bible in your mind. Finally, reading the Apocrypha (books between the Old and New Testaments)--which Martin Luther considered not equal to the Holy Scriptures but nevertheless useful and good to read--is helpful for understanding the background of the New Testament, and the culture of the church.

The four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are the heart of the Bible. The prophets and apostles did not just write about God, they wrote about "God with us" (which in Hebrew is "Immanuel"), that is, about how God created us and interacts with us, condemning sin, but also sending His own Son to save us, and bring us back to Himself.