You have been assigned a critical reading review. Why? What does that entail? How is it organized? What are the specific requirements?
Why has a critical reading review been assigned?
Summarizing is an essential skill for building a scholarly and critical understanding of new material. Given that scholarship means “a thorough understanding of concrete fact,” critical thinking carries the difference, added value, responsibility, and weight of exploring beyond the facts into the ideas that drive or create them. Therefore, a critical summary is one that demonstrates a scholarly understanding of the information, understands the theories and ideas driving the text, and synthesizes the two.
Your instructors would be remiss if they did not teach you to follow a line of thought through to its end. As seminary students, you are neither vessels to be filled with information nor theocrats here to confirm what you already know. You are here to equip yourself to sometimes care for, sometimes lead, and sometimes teach others. You are here to learn new ideas and to question old assumptions. You can certainly develop your own spirituality in the years you are here—that is one of the wonderful functions of the seminary community at large—but your professors hope that you will use the special environment of the scholarly classroom to practice reflective learning that will help you later in your larger mission. That’s why “reflection” and “responses” aren’t supposed to be particularly testimonial in nature. They might be described as personal, meaning something only you could think, but they should be purposeful as well, however it is you conceive of that greater purpose.
What does a critical review entail?
Think of it this way, exegesis is a scholarly skill and theology is the critical synthesis of your scholastic study leading to an organized body of thought that has practical applications to your professional or pastoral obligations. Thus, a critical review is more like theology than exegesis—you look beyond the words on the page.
The key word here is critical, meaning evaluating and analyzing. You are to “take apart” the book, not just summarize it. You should provide an analysis of your own understanding, not just a reiteration of the author’s ideas. You should identify critical issues raised by the text, look at how the ideas are expressed, and comment on the significance of what is said.
How is a critical review organized?
1. The first paragraph should give the author’s name and the title of the book. Additionally, the first paragraph should include the main issues presented in the book, and, if you can determine, the author’s purpose for writing.
2. The middle part of the paper (approximately ¾ of the review) should critically analyze the text.
There are many areas that you should/could cover in this section
A. You should have some information about the author’s background and credibility.
B. Since this reading has been assigned for this specific class, you should incorporate a brief statement saying how the issues discussed in the text relate to your course.
C. The body of the review should also discuss the main topics addressed in the reading and how these relate to the practice of family therapy. Do you have new insights because of this reading?
D. This section should also evaluate whether or not the author is successful. Does the author give enough evidence to support the thesis? Is the evidence convincing, controversial, or one-sided?
E. What are the pastoral counseling, educational, and/or theological implications of this work?
F. Is this work so significant that it has/will change thinking and praxis in your profession?
3. The conclusion should state your overall evaluation and bring the paper to a logical close. You have already evaluated specific aspects of the reading, now evaluate the work as a whole. Does the author achieve the stated purpose? What impact has this work had on you, as a scholar, pastoral counselor, and Christian educator?