The Encyclopedia of Christianity

By Erwin Fahlbusch, et al. (editors)
Grand Rapids : Eerdmans (2003). xxix + 894 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Dennis Swanson
15.1 (Spring 2004) : 114-115

This is the third volume of a proposed five-volume English edition of the Evangelisches Kirchenlexikon (Gottingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1986-97). The goal of this series, according to the publisher’s press release, is to “portray[s] Christianity in its widest ecumenical context.”

This reviewer has previously commented on the first two volumes of this set (TMSJ 11/1 [Spring 2000]:124-26, and TMSJ 13/1 [Spring 2002]:124-25), and will not repeat the general comments on formatting and style other than to say that this set represents a paradigm of how a reference work should be designed. The only additional observation would be to hope that as this series is completed that the publishers will include a comprehensive index of the entire set in the last volume.

The content of this volume mirrors the general selection criteria of the previous volumes, and because of its European origination, those articles typically represent a European bordering on Euro-centric viewpoint to the subject matter. For example, the entry on “Justification” (90-99) is so dominated by discussions of Lutheran concepts on the issue that it provides almost no discussion of theological constructs more familiar to those in America, where Lutheranism has never been a dominating force. In dealing with specific books of the Bible and biblical events or personalities, the authors take a decidedly liberal and text-critical approach in their conclusions. For example, the entry for Noah (763-64) refers to him as a “widely attested legendary figure from primeval history of unknown pre-Israelite origin.” Some articles are interesting and quite helpful, particularly “North American Theology” (774-82) and the entries for “Martin Luther” (345-48) and “Luther’s Theology” (370-74).

This volume, as with the previous, is really designed for the seminary and university library. Their price of $100 per volume puts them out of reach of the average college or seminary professor and particularly out of reach of most pastors. The “broadly ecumenical” nature of the articles really means that conservative scholarship is ignored, with Christianity and the church largely presented as a socioeconomic phenomenon rather than “the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15).