Global Dictionary of Theology: A Resource for the Worldwide Church

William A. Dyrness, Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, editors IVP Academic, Downers Grove, IL October 22, 2008
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Two eminent Fuller Theological Seminary professors with significant international experience have organized a theological dictionary that appreciates the shift of Christianity’s center from the North Atlantic to the global South. Widely published editors Dyrness and Kärkkäinen, together with associate editors Juan Francisco Martinez and Simon Chan, have brought together some two hundred contributors from around the world. Names familiar to North American readers include Jonathan Bonk, Ellen Charry, William Lane Craig, Irving Hexham, Robert Letham, Alister McGrath, Donald McKim, Jürgen Moltmann, Terry Muck, Harold Netland, Clark Pinnock, William Taylor, Kevin Vanhoozer, Chris Wright, and many from Fuller Seminary. Articles by non-Western scholars include authors Pablo Deiros, Bertil Ekstrom, Ken Gnanakan, Vinoth Ramachandra, and Anthony and Maryann Shenoda.

The purpose of Global Dictionary of Theology is “to provide a general overview of theological reflection and practice throughout the world” (p. vii). Different from other dictionaries, this work intends “to take the form of a conversation” that includes differing perspectives within a single article. The editors encourage pluralistic methodological approaches within an “evangelical-ecumenical” framework (ibid.). Hans Frei articulates a continuum of approaches to theological method, from the traditional Scripture-alone for universal theology (without regard to context), to the other pole of a context-defined theology (with little regard for biblical and classical Christian faith). Choosing a middle path, the editors acknowledge the authority of Scripture, yet argue that all theology is contextual—consciously or not. Through “multiperspectivalism” (Amos Yong) the insights of all voices are taken seriously, including those who have been marginalized through much of Christian history: the woman, the indigene, the poor. Readers are exhorted to value this demographic pluralism and the reality of a worldwide Christian “macroreformation.”

Many of the topics in the book are innovative and of current relevance. Initial articles indicate the tenor of the work: “Acculturation,” “African Background Theologies in Latin America,” “African Initiated Churches,” “African Theology” (“Evangelical Contextual,” “Protestant,”  “Roman Catholic”), “Anabaptist Theology,” “Ancestors,” “Angels,” and “Animal Rights.” Other entries include “Children at Risk,” “City, Theology of,” “Culture and Society,” “Dance,” “Film,” “Fundamentalism,” “Globalization,” “Guadalupe, Our Lady of,” “Healing and Deliverance,” “Human Rights,” “Islam,” “Justification,” and “Korean Theology.” Hence, while classical categories of theology are addressed, in many respects the work includes issues of international discussion not typically included in older dictionaries. Each article concludes with a brief bibliography. Readers will find helpful the three extensive indexes of Scripture, persons, and subjects.

A straight reading of the Dictionary is immensely rewarding for those interested in global theology. Sometimes articles reflect a global South conservativism; other times they reflect fairly progressive perspectives regarding liberation, feminism, or cultural adaptation. The article “Capitalism,” with a large subsection “Is Capitalism Immoral?” addresses the pros and cons of the economic system while finally directing attention to the deep sinfulness of humankind within any economic structure. The balance of the work is admirable, and the topics are timely for understanding and relating to international Christian theology. The article “Eschatology” divides between two presenters, Robert Chia (Singapore) who presents a standard overview (favoring amillennialism), while Emmanuel Katongole (Duke Divinity School) adds an entire section on an African view that shapes life as an eschatological journey among the living and the living dead. Larger complex topics such as “Latin American Theology” are broken into subsections written by different authors (e.g., General, Indigenous, Protestant, Roman Catholic), thereby enriching the whole.

One of the central entries in the work, “Theological Method” (pp. 889–98), is divided between T. D. Gener and L. Bautista’s overview of global methodologies and Kevin Vanhoozer’s proposal for a theodramatic approach. The two parts do not necessarily complement each other, as the former sweeps through a panorama of global theological methods, whereas Vanhoozer emphasizes that “the Bible is the soul of theology” (p. 894). Vanhoozer addresses objections to traditional theology: (a) it is modern (not postmodern), hence obsolete; (b) theoretical, hence impractical; and (c) Western, hence imperialistic. He sets forth (as he does elsewhere) that the gospel may be seen as divine drama that includes the place of Scripture, the embodiment of its truth, the everyday participation of the players, and the catholic “Pentecostal plurality” of cultural understandings as to what God is saying in Scripture. Another remarkable article “Trinity, Triune God” (pp. 901–13) couples the biblical-historical insights of Robert Letham with an international overview of current thought by Kärkkäinen. Less satisfying was J. A. Manickam’s “Race, Racism and Ethnicity” as polemic in nature and scantily biblically grounded.

This work brings theology into the twenty-first century, challenging and complementing afresh, while also affirming the historic beliefs of the Christian church. Other dictionaries will continue to be needed for particular names and Western theological developments. The book is indeed a conversation of and with global theology, although nearly every one of the contributors was trained or in dialogue with Western ecumenical theology. The work is invaluable for those seeking to be informed as they enter distant cultures to teach, preach, and learn from fellow believers. Among the theological dictionaries this writer has reviewed, several claiming to be international, this is superior to all. 

—J. Scott Horrell

October 1, 2010
 

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Oct-Dec 2010 vol. 167 no. 4 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

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