Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Which Experts?

Do you ever find yourself needing the input of an expert? The reality is that we all do, if we are honest, if we are wise. Which experts though? There are so many and when it comes to issues of faith and theology, at times the experts seem to contradict each other massively. Who can you trust? Which expert(s) do you go to? Do you just 'Google' your question and hope some blogger or website might solve everything for you? How though can you trust the website or the blog? Do you just get a book from the library or buy one on Amazon? Which book though there are thousands?

One man's expert is another man's fool.

Here is how I do my best to find expert input that I feel I can trust. I write in relation to issues of theology, Christian faith, biblical interpretation, Christian ministry etc, but I guess my method would work across disciplines.

First, I contact the most knowledgeable person in regards to whatever this particular area of enquiry is that I know personally and trust openly. Who in my world would I perceive to know or understand the most about this issue at stake? Who is my expert? I approach this person and ask them what they think about the issue at stake and learn from them.

Second, I ask them who they would trust as an expert that I could glean more information from, either through personal contact or through a book or paper that they might have written. I'm trusting this person in regards to their own thoughts and also in regards to who they would trust and look to as an expert on the topic at hand. Normally my expert has two or three experts to recommend.

Third, I make contact with the expert(s) that my expert has recommended. This contact is most often via a book or a paper they have written rather than personal contact. At times though I have contacted a recommended expert personally. When and if I can make successful contact with this next level of expert I again ask their opinion (or read it in a book) and also ask who they would recommend looking for input from (usually you can do this by reading footnotes or the bibliography in their book). E-mail some authors though and they'll happily e-mail you their recommended reading if you approach them.

Fourth, I have another level or layer of opinion I can now look to if I still feel I don't have satisfactory answers, insight, opinion and perspective on an issue at hand.

I've found that this method of research I guess you could call it, yields a wealth of wisdom but at the same time wisdom that I feel I can trust.

I receive the input of someone that I personally know and trust.

I receive the input of experts that they respect and trust.

I receive the input and advice of a third level of expertise, my expert's expert's experts!

In reality though I don't often have to go that far. Normally the 2-3 resources that my expert recommends will be all the help I need.

Sound reasonable?

The only catch is that everything really hinges on your expert, the person that you know and respect personally, that points you in the right (hopefully!) direction right at the start. You want to make sure you have people in your world that are genuinely wise and knowledgeable (not comparatively to your indoor cricket buddies) but actually respected in their field.

Get that right and away you go, get that wrong and away you go as well, only potentially in the wrong direction.


Shifter said...

I like the thought that you finish with "...Get that right and away you go, get that wrong and away you go as well, only potentially in the wrong direction".
Knowing who to listen too can be a very challenging task but I think the Psalmist has some answers for us. Psalms 1 describes two paths with the eventual end following on from one's present lifestyle. If we listen only to what feels good and right we would most likely end up as all of humanity who follow their natural desires even those who believe they are on the right track. Yet as the psalmist informs us we must be in the word, and therefore not dependent on human intellect or advice. It is through growing wisdom through scripture that we are able to determine what is right or wrong counsel, be that a life of relationship with God or one without him.
I see Psalm 1 as a definer of fools and wise men and the different paths they take, for example; if you open that gate you may end up down that path.
Who do you want to be like? What gates did they open and shut?
With you in Christ,
Nathan Cunliffe

Joseph McAuley said...

Good thoughts Nathan, cheers.