In my last post, I suggested that critical thinking is “a complex process of deliberation which involves a wide range of skills and attitudes,” and that it requires effort and patience, but improves with practice. In other words, it is an important set of skills that can be learned.
Good critical thinking skills are an asset in most areas of business and professional life. They are also invaluable in academic life, especially the kind of learning required in theological studies. Critical thinking skills are also very useful for excellence in many sports and leisure activities.
In an academic environment, you will find that critical thinking skills can be easily applied to the experience of preparing for and listening to lectures, conducting research for essays and seminar presentations, engaging in group work and other practical tasks, and especially the research and writing involved in the preparation of a thesis or dissertation. You may also apply critical thinking skills to how you interpret new situations and events inside and outside the classroom, and your own learning and professional practice.
An important benefit of developing good critical thinking skills is a growing awareness of the complex and nuanced nature of the world, and the world of ideas, and a deeper understanding of your own convictions and opinions. John Chaffee notes that:
By thinking critically about your perceptions, by seeking to view the world from perspectives other than your own and to comprehend the reasons that support these perspectives, your understanding of the world should become increasingly more accurate and complete … Much of your knowledge of the world begins with perceiving. But to develop knowledge and understanding, you must use your thinking abilities to examine this experience critically. Increased understanding of the way the world operates thus increases the accuracy and completeness of your perceptions and leads you to informed beliefs about what is happening.
In her student handbook, Critical Thinking Skills, Stella Cottrell provides two self-assessment forms to help students evaluate how confident they feel about their critical thinking skills, and identify areas for growth. The book has sold over a million copies and is available for sale online or for perusal or loan at Moore Theological College Library (call no. 153.42 COT).
Another resource you may find helpful is John Chaffee’s critical thinking/reasoning model, presented with examples based on the question, “Are people capable of choosing freely?” on pages 498-503 of his book, Thinking Critically, now in its 12th edition (call no. 121 CHA). His nine steps are as follows:
- What is my initial point of view?
- How can I define my point of view more clearly?
- What is an example of my point of view?
- What is the origin of my point of view?
- What are my assumptions?
- What reasons, evidence, and arguments support my point of view?
- What are other points of view on this issue?
- What is my conclusion, decision, solution, or prediction?
- What are the consequences?
What other resources or techniques have you found helpful in developing your critical thinking skills?
This post was written by Rod Benson for The Theology Whisperer, a series of short blog posts on theology and theological education. Leave a comment in the box below, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
 Stella Cottrell, Critical Thinking Skills: Effective Analysis, Argument and Reflection (London: red Globe Press, 2017), 2.
 Ibid., ix.
 John Chaffee, Thinking Critically (12th edition; Boston: Cengage Learning, 2019), 196.
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