About Providence, Divine Action and the Church

In this blog, Terry J. Wright posts thoughts and shares research on the Christian doctrine of providence. This doctrine testifies to God’s provision for all things through creation’s high priest, the man Christ Jesus. However, the precise meaning and manner of this provision is a perpetually open question, and this blog is a forum for discussion of the many issues relating to providence and the place of the Church within God’s action.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Book Review: The Cambridge Dictionary of Christian Theology [1]

Ian A. McFarland, David A. S. Fergusson, Karen Kilby and Iain R. Torrance (eds.), The Cambridge Dictionary of Christian Theology (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011)

ISBN: 978-0-521-88092-3
Price: £130.00 / US$ 199.00

I am grateful to Cambridge University Press for the review copy.

The Cambridge Dictionary of Christian Theology contains over 550 entries from ‘Abba’ to ‘Zwingli’, written by 307 contributors (including the four editors). Entries vary in length; some entries have as few as 250 words, but others – the core entries – have around 2000 words. These core entries act as frameworks for understanding the place of shorter entries, and cover traditional doctrinal topics (e.g. ‘Trinity’, ‘Ecclesiology’); confessional approaches (e.g. ‘Reformed Theology’, ‘Lutheran Theology’); theological styles (e.g. ‘Feminist Theology’, ‘Evangelical Theology’); Christianity’s relation to other religions (e.g. ‘Islam and Christianity’, ‘Hinduism and Christianity’); and academic disciplines (e.g. ‘Systematic Theology’, ‘Biblical Theology’). So, to illustrate, there is no substantial entry for ‘God’; the reader is advised to turn instead to ‘Trinity’. This subsuming of ‘God’ into the entry on ‘Trinity’ reveals something of the editors’ theological orientation. Whereas an earlier theological dictionary – Alan Richardson and John Bowden’s A New Dictionary of Christian Theology (London: SCM Press, 1983) – had lengthy entries for both ‘God’ and ‘Trinity, Doctrine of the’, perhaps McFarland et al. are championing the conviction that a properly Christian account of God can only be constructed while attending to the trinitarian dynamics at play. Is this a self-consciously confessional dictionary?

So what of the non-core entries? There are entries on new religious movements such as ‘Latter-Day Saints, The Church of Jesus Christ of’ and ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’. One can read about ‘Korean Theology’ and ‘Syriac Christian Theology’. ‘Platonism’, ‘Thomism’ and ‘Aristotelianism’ are represented. In many respects, the Cambridge Dictionary covers familiar ground. But there are other articles that I would not necessarily have expected to find, articles on things such as ‘Extra-Terrestrial Life’, ‘Dulia’, ‘Caesaropapism’, ‘Job’, ‘Trauma, Theology of’, and so on. And the Cambridge Dictionary has a good number of biographical entries, too, ranging from the obligatory (e.g. ‘Barth, Karl’, ‘Calvin, John’) to the obscure (e.g. ‘Las Casas, Bartolom√© de’, ‘Mechthild of Magdeburg’).

In the second part of my review, I shall explore the various entries that refer to providence.

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