I have several Theological Dictionaries on my shelf. The oldest is the Westminster Dictionary of the Bible published in 1944.
My long time favourite has been IVP’s The Illustrated Bible Dictionary of 1980 which was presented in three volumes in 1994. It is basically the text of the 1962 The New Bible Dictionary with added pictures, maps and illustrations. This is a fantastic resource which I still enjoy using, however, if I must only keep one theological dictionary on my shelf, I think it will be the second edition of Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Here’s why:
When I first bought a copy of the original Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, its main rival was The New Bible Dictionary. I always found it hard to split the two, not because of the articles (which were top shelf in both) but because the authors in each were so good. Which one could possibly claim superiority?
Eventually, I settled on The Illustrated Bible Dictionary as my personal favourite. Why? Because of the illustrations. This book also had an army of respected contributors, but each page was adorned with full colour photographs, diagrams or maps which, to me, were just as interesting as the text.
With editors such as FF Bruce and Donald Guthrie at the helm, I never felt underdone after reading an article and because the illustrations made the experience of reading the book so much more enjoyable, I simply began turning to it first and only afterwards, grabbing the other two. If I was in a really serious mood I might look at the Westminster, but that is so culturally out of touch, it is more of an antique.
In 2001, Baker put out the second edition of its dictionary. Now, ten years after its publication, I think the time is right to give it the number one slot on the shelf. Does it have nice pictures now? No, it does not. Are its articles vastly superior to its predecessor, or those in the other dictionaries? Not really.
So why, given what I have said, am I now going to revert to a non-illustrated dictionary as my primary reference tool? Because of the internet.
That’s right, the internet has made illustrations in books as the ’selling point’ a rather tired argument. Once, we all bought a decent set of Encyclopedias. How else could we do our school assignments? I doubt many purchase them today, at least in hard copy.
Similarly, when I was reading my theological dictionary, I was interested in the pictures because they were not available anywhere else. Now they are. I can get any one of those illustrations on the internet in seconds, so my needs when purchasing such a book are different.
The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology has been greatly expanded in its second edition and I think anyone looking to own such a book, should consider this one. (And no, the articles are not available online so we still have a need for books!)
The first edition of the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology was 1203 pages long and contained 1200 articles from 200 authors. For some strange reason, none of the authors was living, or, to put it more correctly, no one who was living was considered for inclusion in case they changed their opinions before they died, thus making the book obsolete!
In the second edition, the editors have deleted about 100 articles, added 215 new ones and made sure some of the contributors are still alive. At 2.5 kilos and 1312 pages, it is a much bigger volume than its predecessor by about 400 grams and around two centimetres across the spine.
It is very difficult to share in a review such as this, how the two are different, but perhaps a few specific examples will be a good indicator of the changes.
There are several new articles in the second edition which could not really have been written in the original. In some cases, such as the Jesus Seminar they simply had not occurred, but in most cases the issues were just not 'hot potatoes' yet. These include articles like Spiritual Warfare, Feminism or the Inclusive Language Debate.
Some new articles have surprised me. For example, the editors obviously felt the need to include Eugenics, which was partly responsible for the anti-Semitism and pursuit of racial purity in Nazi Germany. But why it has been included here comes down to ethics. The article is not really about the origin of Eugenics at all, but more the challenge which biological technology presents to Christians: mainly the cloning of cells to produce a specific human race. It’s an interesting read.
Eusebius gets his own article for the first time in the second edition. The dictionary was always a good resource for short biographies of famous Christians, but the ‘father of church history’ was left out until now. Oops!
Mostly (and I admit this is a bit of a generalisation), reading articles in the first edition then the second is to take a journey down the morphing landscape of Christianity in the past 30 years. The fact is, our views are changing somewhat and this is reflected in the updated articles which are all through the book.
Take, for example, the entry on Hell. In 1982, RP Lightner wrote a short, succinct piece which gave the standard understanding of the subject. Lightner was called on to update it for the second edition in which he does a cut-and-paste of the original and adds a new introduction and closing.
He is forced to acknowledge our modern anti-supernatural tendency which used to be the basis for a belief in Hell even for non-Christians in the western world. Then, in closing, Lightner mentions some current views on Hell not covered by the first edition: annihilationism or its counterpart universalism and conditional immortality.
It just seems obvious that today, there are so many more views on a subject like Hell that at any other time & this dictionary has tried to keep pace with them.
FF Bruce, naturally, was the author of the Dead Sea Scrolls article in the first edition and the editors obviously would not want to rub him off the page despite his death occurring in between the two editions.
But scholars have enjoyed numerous developments on the subject in recent years, especially in light of the scrolls being made available to the public and then the discovery of some previously unknown fragments. This article obviously needed updating the editors have done so.
George Eldon Ladd’s original article Apocalyptic has almost doubled in size as a new author, JA Rollerson, has been called into add to it. Mostly the additions cover theories of the end times which have captivated Christians through the centuries & I think this has been a helpful step.
Usually, articles have only been updated where new information has become available which made the original article look obsolete. I can't think of an article which has been refreshed which I felt should have been left in its original form.
There are, however, a few cases where updates were needed & have not been done. For example; Homosexuality.
There is no doubt in my mind that we are facing a renewed and robust push to have homosexuality legitimised in the Church. Despite the argument having been around for a while, I have sensed a shift in the global Church towards acceptance of homosexuality which was not there before.
Usually in the past, the argument has been whether homosexuality is a sin or not & to argue the case one way or the other has been reduced to whether or not you accept the Bible as God's inerrant Word.
Today, however, it is much more common to hear the argument in terms of ‘monogamy’ or ‘faithfulness’ as though God is OK with gay sex as long as you are faithful to your partner.
You would think the article on homosexuality would be considered worthy of an update. It is crying out for it, but I’m afraid it has been overlooked here & REO White’s original piece, whilst still very good, remains in tact & falls way short of the mark. I need another reference tool to help me on this subject.
In fact, some of White’s comments show that he is from another era.
But the homosexual condition, until indulged, is innocent and should be cleared of the guilt feeling that may drive into deeper introversion.1
That is called begging the question. The counter argument would be; Why should we not drive someone into something deeper which God has created them for & approves of?
The problem is the article, now almost 30 years old, makes the assumption Christians would not be homosexual, but you can’t assume that today. It is highly likely a Christian will interact with another person who claims to be born again, but who is a practising homosexual. What do you say in such a situation? And what if the person is actually your Bishop? White’s article is of no help here.
All in all, the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology is a fantastic book & I will be turning to it first when I have questions about the people, places & events of our faith. It has hundreds and hundreds of helpful articles which will lead any believer into greater understanding.
It’s one of those books you could buy as a gift for those you love or as a present for a family leaving your Church (sounds odd, I know, but it can be quite difficult to know what gift to give in such a situation!)
The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (2nd Ed.) is available at Koorong Books for the very special price of $39.95 (at the time of writing).
1. White, REO. 1984, 2001, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology 2ND ed., Baker Book House, Grand Rapids MI, p.576
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