As a post-evangelical, I still admire the theological conservatism that underlies evangelical theology. By this, I of course mean a strict adherence to the traditional, foundational doctrines of the church catholic. This dictionary, particularly the third edition, is a cornerstone for the evangelical wing of the church as it distills modern evangelical scholarship by topic into palatable language for the everyday believer.
The preface emphasizes the clear changes made in this edition:
1. Its volume has been shortened by 30 percent to focus on theology per se. This actually limits the political bias of the 1984 text by cutting out any room for rambling or preaching.
2. One hundred and fifty thousand words of new content based on modern scholarship were added, which compensates for the truncation of the previous edition.
3. Fresh academic subtleties are included in updated prose.
4. Updated bibliographies
Also, about half of the new authors include female, ethnic minority, and/or Majority World perspectives. This was great news to me as a white male ashamed of the white male slant in Evangelical Theology historically.
The articles that particularly interested me here were: Liberation Theology, Feminism, Black Theology, Latin American Theology, and Gender.
The articles, although I disagreed with their assessments and conclusions, were charitable and had every book and more that I would recommend in the bibliographies.
Here is an excerpt from the appraisal section in the article on Black Theology:
“Black theology is one of the few authentically indigenous North American theological movements. It will undergo ongoing revision as the result of internal dialogue and continuing research into such areas as its African roots. Confrontation with adversaries and dialogue with other liberation movements (e.g., feminist theology) are further influences.
As a result of such dialogue, the entire church may discover that ‘the Lord has more light and truth to break forth out of his holy Word,’ with black theology serving as in important catalyst (note B. Reist’s exploration of mutual openness in Theology in Red, White, and Black). The primary focus of black theology remains a biblically mandated message of liberation. While acknowledging that blacks as well as whites are sinners, in the contemporary social setting particularly whites must be called to repentance–not only relinquishing racial intolerance but also identifying with blackness. The sociological work of Michael Emerson, Christian Smith, and others has shown how deeply evangelicals are affected by and contribute to ‘racialization’ continuing in society.”
This confession of evangelical fault in the racialization in society was shocking and would not have appeared in the original edition. This, and the highly charitable appraisal taken as a whole, shows me that progress is being made in the right direction in evangelical scholarship.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is engaged in systematic theology and particularly to anyone practicing progressive theologizing, as we cannot critique the tradition of the American church if we do not know its stance on and appraisal of doctrine and praxis.
That is one thing missing from the articles in this text: praxis. That is to be expected with evangelical theology, with such a heavy focus on doctrine. But it is truly disappointing for progressivists who believe there is no doctrine that can stand alone without praxis attached to its hip.
By praxis here, I mean the application of these doctrines and how they are to be lived out in the global, cosmopolitan reality in which we live. That aspect is completely missing from the text; but, granted, its inclusion would sacrifice key and current discussions in evangelical scholarship.
That said, if someone is looking for a theological dictionary that represents the evangelical church’s current milieu, this is the text to which we should turn.