I really like an introduction like this:
The psychiatrist…not only disavows God’s hand in the matter, he also disregards, in his long list of character types and somatotypes, the existence of a homo religious circumscribed and proved not necessarily by signs and miracles, but by the inner logic of his way of life, by the logic of his working gifts, and by the logic of his effect on society. To study and formulate this logic seems to me to constitute the task at hand.
-Erik Erikson, Young Man Luther, p.34
I love an introduction where the author, whoever they may be, is up front about defining the scope of what they are dealing with AND the limitations of their own tools. This quote alone doesn’t exactly capture the attitude he takes toword this, but here is a secular psychologist who says, right at the beginning, something like:
We are going to try to do the best we can to understand Luther’s thinking without considering the hand of God. If you believe in God, I’m sure you think that he played a big part. If you don’t believe in God, you probably think nothing of the sort. I’m no expert in diving the hand of God, so I’m only going to apply the tools I have as best I can. Take it or leave it.
I’m sick of books where the author provides no qualifications – as if he is the de facto expert on EVERY FREAKING THING you can imagine. Christian authors who pontificate about theology, economics, education, micro-biology, tort law, history, and robotics, all in the same chapter without providing any footnotes…sigh. Maybe they are really smart and have great things to say about these things. Nevertheless, I really appreciate it when they say, up front, that they are only approaching a subject from one particular angle. It’s a form of humility and intellectual honesty that is NOT difficult to bring into the conversation (about one page somewhere in the first chapter will do) but goes a LONG way in presenting your ideas in a way that other thinking people (including non-Christian thinking people!) can take much more seriously.
To be fair, most of our contemporary obnoxious atheists haven’t gotten the memo either.
N.T. Wright and Thomas Merton are two people that come to mind that do a really good job of defining the scope of their writing from the get-go.