In 1988, IVP published its New Dictionary of Theology edited by Sinclair Ferguson and David F. Wright. That volume has provided pastors, students and scholars with a handy and reliable introductory guide to questions of theology, from a conservative evangelical perspective, for nearly thirty years. IVP have now produced a second edition with different editors having, it is said, over four hundred new articles as well as revised versions of the existing articles and additional bibliographic information. The material on biblical theology has been removed, as IVP in 2000 published the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, leaving the present volume to focus on questions of a more historical and systematic nature. This review is not based on a complete reading of the book, but on selected articles from it.
The index of articles at the end of the book indicates that there are over 800 articles in total. These have been produced by over 150 contributors, the great majority of whom are from English-speaking parts of the world, though some are from continental Europe and a few are from Africa or south-east Asia. There is a useful index of subjects also.
The articles fall into a variety of categories. Some cover individuals who have made a significant contribution to theology, from Irenaeus and Origen to Colin Gunton and Clark Pinnock. A few living theologians are the subject of articles, including J. I. Packer and N.T. Wright. The focus is on those belonging to the western tradition, but there is room for some Orthodox representatives, including John of Damascus and Gregory Palamas, as well as more recent theologians such as Sergei Bulgakov, Dumitru Staniloae and John Zizioulas. There is an article on Martyn Lloyd-Jones but none on John Stott. J. I. Packer has the (deserved) honour of being both an author of articles and the subject of an article. A few women have articles of their own, including Phoebe Palmer, Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza and Hildegard of Bingen. The great founders of German pietism are notable omissions.
Theological topics make up another category of article, covering the principal subjects of systematic theology. These are addressed historically, showing the development of the relevant teaching over the centuries, often with considerable focus on contemporary issues. Then there are articles on events and movements of theological significance, ranging from the early councils of the church through to the charismatic movement. There are articles on theology in different parts of the world – African, Chinese, Indian – as well as articles on feminist theology, gender and queer theology. Then there are articles on subjects of a more general theological nature, such as catechisms, Jewish-Christian relations and stewardship. On the whole, the coverage is thorough without being overwhelming in its detail.
The articles themselves are succinct, as becomes a dictionary, and address the principal points of interest or concern on the topic in question. Each article is followed by a list of some key works (in the case of biographical articles) and a short further reading list.
There are some excellent articles, for example those on the resurrection, the ascension, substitution, guilt and forgiveness, covenant theology, Scripture and the Holy Spirit. These encapsulate orthodox evangelical doctrine and demonstrate its vital and continuing significance.
However, the Dictionary also reflects contemporary emphases in areas where some evangelicals have begun to drift from historic orthodoxy. The article on Adam leaves considerable room for a generic rather than an individual Adam in an imperfect not a perfect creation, in the opening chapters of Genesis. There is no clear rejection of evolutionary theory in the article on creation. In the article on sin, significant doubt is cast on the classic Reformed doctrines of original sin and of imputation.
In some other articles, a generous amount of space is given uncritically to non-evangelical ideas. The article on Christology describes without adverse comment heterodox views emanating from German higher criticism and contemporary feminism. Tendencies away from historic evangelicalism are encountered in the articles on judgment and on annihilationalism. The article on justification suggests that recent ecumenical dialogue may have brought about some genuine reconciliation of historically opposing positions on the subject. ‘Gospel’ is said to relate to social concerns as well as to salvation.
In these areas, the new edition of the Dictionary compares unfavourably, in my view, with the original edition, which generally articulates a stronger affirmation of historic evangelical doctrine while not ignoring contemporary developments. The new edition displays a tendency to dilute the former and accentuate the latter. On the other hand, it is by definition more up-to-date in its account of contemporary theological developments.
This new edition of a standard work thus reflects the current theological perspectives of evangelicalism; it remains a valuable reference volume for busy pastors and scholars.