MASTER'S SEMINARY JOURNAL

BOOK REVIEW

The Encyclopedia of Christianity. Vol. 2 (E-I)


By Erwin Fahlbusch, et al., eds.
Grand Rapids : Eerdmans (2001). xxx + 787 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Dennis Swanson
13.1 (Spring 2002) : 124-125

 This volume represents the second installment of a massive theological reference project, bringing the Evangelisches Kirchenlexikon (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1986-97) into the English language.

The reviewer previously commented on Volume One (TMSJ 11/1 [Spring 2000] 124-26). In that review all features related to this series in terms of style and formatting were noted. This series represents what should be regarded as a tem plate for biblical and theological reference works. The editors have included all the most useful access points for the reader. There is a detailed explanation of how the articles are formatted and how to use the work. There is a “List of Entries,” a listing of contributors with the articles they contributed, and a lengthy and well-conceived list of abbreviations. The articles themselves have excellent bibliographies and a liberal use of “see also” references. All publishers and editors of reference works would serve their readers well if they invested the same extra effort put forth in this volume.

This set is designed to “describe Christianity both broadly and deeply, taking full account of its varied global, ecumenical, sociocultural, and historical contexts” (x). The editor’s goal to provide scholarly reference in such a context is accomplished more than adequately. However, despite the stated goal, the articles in this volume, as in the first, reflect a decided Euro-centricity in both authors and viewpoints expressed. With that understood, the articles on “Europe” (184-93) and “European Theology in the Modern Period” (193-208) are informative and useful, although one wonders why only the theology of the modern period receives a specific entry and why there is no entry on the European Union. In fact while EU statistics are cited frequently, the EU as an entity is almost absent from the article on Europe as a whole.

Why some articles were included is a mystery, the same as in the earlier volume. Articles on subjects such as “Energy” (94-95), “Environment” (99), “Eugenics” (183), and “Information” (699-703) have no real connection to the subject of Christianity. Along with the article on “Environmental Ethics” (99-101), those on “Energy” and “Environment” are decidedly slanted toward the political and environmental views of the European Green Parties. A few of the articles, such as the lengthy entry for “Everyday Life” (221-26), have vague and somewhat questionable entry points in terms of utility. Theological liberalism , and to a lesser degree elitism, is thoroughly entrenched in this work. To have the Bible described in the article on “Inspiration” (713-15) as a “Word from elsewhere” (715) is certainly disappointing. James Barr’s article on “Fundamentalism” (363-65) is highly pejorative, characterizing the majority of fundamentalists as “populist, ignorant, and hostile to intellectual theology” (364). The article on “Incarnation” (673-79) is a morass of incoherent historical-philosophical speculations in which the text of Scripture is never explicitly mentioned and the deity of Christ, as historically understood, is implicitly rejected.

There are some outstanding informational articles in this volume. The articles on “Greek Philosophy” (463-67), “Historiography” (553-58), the “Holiness Movement” (566-76), and “Ethics” (138-56) are extremely thorough and useful. As one of the main features of the work, the articles and statistical information on individual countries are also quite valuable. Taken as a whole, when completed, this set will undoubtedly become a reference staple in university and seminary libraries. However, in terms of both utility and high price, it should not be a first choice for individuals.