Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism

By Randall Balmer
Louisville, KY : Westminster/John Knox (2002). viii + 654 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Dennis Swanson
13.2 (Fall 2002) : 267-268

 The evangelical movement has, in recent years, struggled with its identity, to the point that the theme of the 2002 annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society was “Evangelical Boundaries.” Even the most recent edition of the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology notes, “The very nature of evangelicalism never was a unified movement but a collection of emphases based on a common core of belief— a core that itself is now under discussion” (Dictionary of Evangelical Theology, Walter A. Elwell, ed., 2nd ed. [Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001] 409).

Seeking to detail those various “emphases” the author of Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism admits to a “quixotic venture” in which he attempts to “provide a sense of both the history and the extraordinary breadth of this popular movement” (vii). And while parts of his effort are admirable, on the whole his work is a disappointing muddle that confuses rather than clarifies the nature of evangelicalism.

Properly speaking the muddle begins with the title. The work is not properly an “encyclopedia” as the author admits when acknowledging that he alone is responsible for all of the articles (although he discloses receiving assistance from several individuals). Nor is it “encyclopedic” in nature; the articles often reflect outdated or incorrect information and the bibliographic well from which the articles draw is very limited.

The problems with this work range from typographical to methodological, but clearly the underlying problem is the author’s inability to define accurately the evangelical movement. More articles relate to American fundamentalism than to evangelicalism. Though the two are related, they are not identical movements.

In terms of layout the book lacks both indexes and useful bibliographies. Articles often have no bibliographic support, and others have only a single reference. The proofreading and editing are also problematic. Charles H. Spurgeon’s named is rendered “Surgeon” (177) and Alva J. McClain is rendered “McLain” (249). Some articles reflect incomplete or outdated information, such as the entry for the Evangelical Theological Society (201-2) in which the quotation of the doctrinal statement omits the affirmation of the Trinity added several years ago. When references are cited, they are usually dated; for instance, the entry for Grace Theological Seminary (249) cites the catalogue for 1995. The entry for Jack Hayford (274) makes no mention of the creation of a seminary under his leadership, although this occurred over five years ago. In fact, except for repeated references to another book by the author (Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory, 2000), only a few bibliographic references are dated after 1995. Theological omissions also occur. In the entry for T. D. Jakes (300), his anti-trinitarianism and other non-evangelical theology are unmentioned.

Beyond these issues, some of the entry selections almost defy explanation. For example, there is an entry for Trent Dilfer (176) containing a nice recitation of his career in the National Football League along with a rather innocuous quotation related to Christianity. Interestingly enough, the entry for Dilfer has more space than that for the Second Coming of Christ (515). The entry on the Overhead Projector (432) is one of the more odd inclusions of this work. Lengthy entries are reserved for several Christian rock bands such as Third Day (576), Stryper (55 8), Newsboys (408-9), and Jars of Clay (301-2).

This work cannot be recommended as reference for evangelicalism. It is an eclectic and non-cohesive collection of one author’s idiosyncratic caricature of evangelicalism, poorly crafted and even more poorly executed.