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.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Book Review: The Cambridge Dictionary of Christian Theology [3]

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.

I hope I have given an idea of the organisation of The Cambridge Dictionary of Christian Theology, and a flavour of its content as it pertains to the doctrine of providence and related concepts. In this final post, I shall outline what I believe are the pros and cons of the Cambridge Dictionary.

I find the Cambridge Dictionary to be very well designed. Each entry is clearly identifiable (that is, the entries do not seem to ‘run into’ one another, as in some dictionaries). There is plenty of ‘white space’ around the entries, and a vertical line down the middle of each page, separating the columns – all of which help to create an impression of space. These features make the Cambridge Dictionary attractive to look at and easy to read.

Concerning content: the Cambridge Dictionary contains almost everything a researcher needs in a dictionary to point him or her in the right direction for further study. I am especially pleased that there are separate entries on ‘Conservatio’, ‘Concursus’ and ‘Gubernatio’, for example; it suggests to me that the editors were keen to ensure that such things not be omitted or relegated to a single line in a longer entry. I expect that other sub-topics (if it be fair to describe conservatio, etc., as ‘sub-topics’) in other areas have received similar treatment, though it would be up to other readers of the Cambridge Dictionary to confirm my suspicion.

It is to be expected that editors contribute to whatever they are editing, and the Cambridge Dictionary is no exception. But Ian McFarland has gone beyond the call of duty in providing many, many entries here. There are 74 entries in total in the ‘A’ section; 12 of these are cross references (e.g., ‘Anabaptists: see Mennonite Theology’); and 25 have been supplied by McFarland. So a third of the ‘A’ entries are written by one person; and, probing further, McFarland has written 16% of the entries for ‘O’ and ‘H’, 17% of ‘C’, and 25% of ‘M’. To me, this seems disproportionality high; in these five sections alone, McFarland has written almost 20% of the total entries. I do not know how dictionaries such as the Cambridge Dictionary are put together, but I do wonder why McFarland’s name is attached to so much. Please note: I am not disparaging the quality of McFarland’s entries, just querying why he needed, or was required, to produce so many.

Probably the most important and obvious drawback to the Cambridge Dictionary, though, is its price: £130.00 or $199.00. I dare say that the primary market for this dictionary is theological colleges, but the Cambridge Dictionary is still too expensive. Hopefully, a paperback edition will be produced soon, and at a reasonable price, because I do think that every serious researcher of theology and related disciplines ought to own a personal copy. This final clause, in itself, should be a final indicator of the value I ascribe to this volume.

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