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Global Dictionary of Theology: A Resource for the Worldwide Church

by William A. Dyrness and Veli-Matti Karkkainen, eds.

The Global Dictionary of Theology is a magnificent source packing almost one thousand pages between two covers of one volume.

Juan Francisco Martinez and Simon Chan, eds. InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL  60515-1426, 2008, 996 pages, $50.00.

Reviewed by Michael Pocock, chair and senior professor of world missions and intercultural studies, Dallas Theological Seminary.

The reality of global Christianity has become abundantly clear in recent years. Global conferences of Christian leaders increasingly show the presence and vitality of the Christian faith on all continents, and to varying degrees, in all nations. The fulcrum of the faith has quietly moved through the last two thousand years from the Middle East and North Africa, to Western Europe, Central Asia, North America, and now to what Philip Jenkins terms “the global South,” including Sub-Sahara Africa, Latin America, and Asia. But do those of us in one part of the globe know and appreciate the theological perspectives and contributions of our brothers and sisters on other continents? And if we wish to be better informed, how can we go about it?

The Global Dictionary of Theology is a magnificent source packing almost one thousand pages between two covers of one volume. Some 196 contributors from all continents have made this work of editors Dyrness, Karkkainen, Martinez, and Chan a truly global sourcebook. Although 110 authors are North American (both Canadian and U.S.), eighty-six are from other continents: thirty-three from Asia, twenty-two Europeans, thirteen Latin Americans, thirteen Africans, two Middle Easterners, and three from Australia and New Zealand. Although the largest contingent of contributors is from Fuller Seminary in North America, other writers hail from a wide variety of Christian traditions and schools across North America and the world. It is an ecumenical volume in the best sense of the word.

The Dictionary sets forth, in an alphabetical arrangement of the whole, regional overviews of the theological contribution of each continent, and individual articles on almost every conceivable theological rubric or issue. It includes theological overviews of major world religions and of many indigenous Christian and, in some cases, marginally Christian movements. The underlying conviction of the editors is that “theology is by nature contextual, whether or not theological movements acknowledge it” (p. viii). There has been a tendency, particularly among European and North American theologians, to consider that any “truly Christian theology” is by nature universal. The editors contend that while Christian theology has to grow from the authority of scripture and the growing consensus of Christian thought through the ages (tradition), it must nevertheless be “multiperspectival, multidisciplinary, and multicultural” (p. ix). Lay people and theologians from distinct cultures are seeking to answer questions that differ from those asked in other cultures, or which are colored by their experience of Christ and God’s word in their particular contexts. As vast numbers of people move in global migration, Christians encounter each other outside their original homelands. Those of us in nations where we can interact with Christians and non-Christians from other cultures are called upon to understand and appreciate the opportunity to be blessed by their presence and vitality. The Global Dictionary of Theology goes a long way toward advancing that aim.

Every article is balanced in its presentation of issues, well-researched, and accompanied by a short bibliography for further study. The practical value of the Dictionary is that it presents perspectives from many areas and Christian movements around the globe in a single volume. The downside is that it is large and heavy. Perhaps the publishers of the volume will follow the example of some of the other weighty dictionaries and make it available on CD.

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