Evangelical Dictionary of Theology

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Editor(s): 
Daniel J. Treier, Walter A. Elwell
  • Ada, MI: 
    Baker Academic
    , November
     2017.
     976 pages.
     $59.99.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780801039461.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology is a longstanding theological resource within evangelical traditions. It has been thoughtfully and meticulously curated by Walter Elwell since 1984. With this, the third edition, Elwell is joined by Daniel Treier, and with a new editor comes a fresh reappraisal of the volume’s aims, arrangement, and contributors. Theology isn’t static, after all, and neither is the study of it. The editors have therefore made several sensible, gentle amendments to the EDT and it remains an important, high-quality resource for anyone with interest in evangelical theology.

The editors have struck an important editorial balance by both retaining the essential substance of the previous edition, as well as revising mostly on narrow, warranted grounds. “The basic editorial task remains the same,” explains Treier: “to represent both the range of evangelical diversity accurately and the center of evangelical consensus winsomely, while making evangelical engagement with wider scholarship accessible” (7). To do that effectively requires some editorial revision, so let me remark on a couple of the more significant, and also commendable, changes to the third edition.

First, the editors have reduced the size of the volume by 30% in order to strengthen the focus on theology proper. Dictionaries are by nature susceptible to sprawl. The index of relevant topics rarely contracts over time, but instead expands. Think of just a few theological developments transpiring between Elwell’s first (1984) and second (2001) editions! With this new edition, the scope is tailored to subjects of essential interest to systematic theology. A difficult editorial decision to make, perhaps, but an important one.

Second, and perhaps most important, the editors have taken special care to diversify the list of contributors. The dictionary, like much evangelical discourse, has historically been disproportionately represented by white male voices. I say “disproportionately” because the global evangelical tradition is in fact wildly, spectacularly diverse. The EDT now begins to reflect more judiciously the shape of the global evangelical church. As the editors point out, “almost half of the new authors are female, ethnic minority, and/or Majority World perspectives, improving our representation of evangelical Christianity’s fullness” (7). In this way, the “evangelical” character of this dictionary is (little-c) catholic, as any genuinely evangelical effort should be. The dictionary is conciliar, drawing scholars broadly from across the tradition, and the editors are to be commended for this effort, especially since women and ethnic minorities remain notably under-represented within evangelical scholarship.

For all of the above reasons, the theological substance of the EDT has been considerably enhanced. The editors show knowledgeable flexibility toward what counts as systematic theology. There are, of course, many standard entries one would rightly expect in a theological dictionary—the trinity, baptism, allegory, Thomas Aquinas, and so forth—but there are also several welcome additions, like political theology, Hinduism, and technology.  The list of contributors and topics is sensible and wide-ranging. 

In what sense, lastly, is the dictionary evangelical? For several obvious reasons, this is an admittedly thorny question for the church today. Even the serviceability of the term itself is everywhere in question. Treier and Elwell have elected here not to formally state what counts as “evangelical” theology and have instead, in my reading, sought to define the evangelical shape of theology through a careful conception of the dictionary’s aim, scope, and method. Evangelical theology is catholic, diverse, eclectic, historically enriched, biblically committed, and, of course, theocentric. Because it is these things, among others, it is also confessional. Evangelical traditions have maintained a commitment to announcing God’s message, and theology is one means of forming and expressing that message. 

Whatever else “evangelical” has come to mean, as a theological concept and as an ecclesial tradition, it did, and perhaps in some places still does, hearken to the “good news” in Jesus Christ. The editors appear to have that thought in mind for the EDT. It is subtly infused with an evangelical spirit of sorts. Jumping from entry to entry, one begins to detect something of a theme: God still speaks. This God that Christians say speaks has a message the church is empowered to convey.

The EDT is an excellent theological resource. Entries are wisely curated, accessible to wider reading audiences (even undergraduates), and seem always to strike just the right balance between rigor and concision. One of the first books my father ever purchased when he entered seminary many decades ago was the EDT. His copy sits beside my new one on the bookshelf. The volume has been an admired resource for nearly forty years, and this new edition will only broaden its appeal.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Matthew Arbo is Assistant Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies at Oklahoma Baptist University.

Date of Review: 
June 7, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Daniel J. Treier is Knoedler professor of theology at Wheaton College Graduate School in Wheaton, Illinois. He is the author of Introducing Theological Interpretation of Scripture and the coeditor of several books, including The Cambridge Companion to Evangelical Theologyand the award-winning Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible.

Walter A. Elwell is emeritus professor of biblical and theological studies at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, where he taught for nearly thirty years. He is the coauthor of Encountering the New Testament and the editor of numerous reference works.

Keywords: 

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