Theology Does Not Stand Still: 'The New Dictionary of Theology: Historical and Systematic'

by Thomas Creedy

Date added: 17/05/2016

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Theology Does Not Stand Still – The New Dictionary of Theology: Historical and Systematic

Theology Does Not Stand Still – The New Dictionary of Theology: Historical and Systematic

"This Dictionary is intended to provide the enquiring reader with a basic introduction to the world of theology—its themes, both majestic and minor, its famous formulations and its important historical moments, its distinguished—and notorious—exponents, past as well as present, its sources, disciplines and styles, its technical vocabulary, its ebb and flow in movements, schools and traditions, and its interaction with other currents of thought and religion"[i]

In 1988, this introduction comprised the first words that discerning readers may have consumed from the early pages of what would become a standard reference work for evangelical students of theology, the first New Dictionary of Theology (NDT:1). The range of topics and contributors reflected the state of theological discourse at the time, and at first glance is not regular fare for the MTA website or constituency. This year, however, IVP have released the second edition, with additions and permutations, resulting in a new title: New Dictionary of Theology: Historical and Systematic (NDT:HS). This completely revised edition features 400 new articles to contribute to the new total of 800, scores of new contributors, and updated bibliographies and footnotes for the legacy content that remains in modified form from the first edition.

As the collected editors of the new edition comment in their preface;

“Many students and readers have expressed their appreciation for the New Dictionary of Theology (1988). As the second of the dictionaries produced by IVP (the first being the New Bible Dictionary in 1962), it has been a trustworthy and informative guide. After almost thirty years, however, there are many new writers, issues and themes on the agenda, for Theology does not stand still.”[ii]

At the heart of the Mission Theology project is the recognition that God is on the move outside the traditional and historical centres of Christianity, hence the projects emphasis on the theologies and theologians of Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America. It is therefore encouraging to see this shift reflected in the theological resources still produced in the West, with IVP's reference works being a fascinating bell-weather for theological conversation with an evangelical basis. The increase in engagement and content embodied in this new dictionary, though, is arguably of interest to theologians globally. Again, the editors of the new edition note: "The editors have tried to give more attention in this mainly British publication to theological writers and themes in North America and around the world". To this reader, at least, this is an encouraging and clear step forward.

Whilst the number of contributors has increased, so too has their geographical, cultural and no doubt confessional diversity. It is fascinating to note that historical denominations and theologians are still very much present, but there are new articles and contributors which echo the theological and missiological shifts of the last thirty years. For example, the Consulting Editors for the new Dictionary include Roland Chia of Trinity Theological College, Singapore; and David Emmanuel Singh, of the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies where he is Research Tutor in Islamic Studies. This breadth and growth of engagement is brought into particular focus with the introduction of new entries on global theologians and theologies, including highlights such as: African Christian Theology by Kwame Bediako, African Theology: Recent Developments by G Mtukwa, Ethiopian Orthodox Theology by R. W. Cowley and Chinese Theology by C. T. Yu, to reference only a few of the articles of interest to readers of the Mission Theology website.

There are some notable absences, particularly in the field of World Mission, though the editors would likely argue that this is beyond the scope of this Dictionary in its present incarnation. For example, there is an excellent article on Leslie Newbign, but no entry on Max Warren, to focus solely on Western missiologists with significant international experience. It is heartening, however, to see an increase in discussion of regional, continental and national theologies, with Chow’s comments in ‘Asian Christian Theology’ covering a range of identities including Minjung theology from South Korea, and dalit theology in India, which ‘spoke to the disadvantages experienced by the dalit people, the outcasts and untouchables under the Hindu caste system’[iii].

In the intervening 30 years since the first edition of this dictionary, Lausanne has arisen as a serious movement for discussion of world mission, and the entry in this new edition recognizes that, with Lausanne’s fingerprints being visible throughout the dictionary. It may seem strange to identify this dictionary, in either edition, as something of a 'bell-weather' of theological discourse, but evangelicalism as a broad and open movement has had an effect on theological education and mission on a global level, even when that affect has not always been positive. I discuss some of this in my previous article on this website, 'Reflections on the Water'. It is appropriate to thus give the final word to the editors themselves:

“Nevertheless, the editors aspire to that degree of objectivity which begins with an acknowledgment of our own perspective, and therefore every care has been taken throughout the Dictionary to give a fair and accurate account not only of every tradition of evangelical theology, but of every Christian, and indeed every non-Christian, stance.”[iv]

[i] Eds. Sinclair B. Ferguson, David F. Wright, J. I. Packer, New Dictionary of Theology, Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988.

[ii] Eds. Martin Davie, Tim Grass, John McDowell, T. A. Noble, New Dictionary of Theology: Historical and Systematic, Second Edition, London: Inter-Varsity Press, 2016

[iii] W. Chow, ‘Asian Christian Theology’, p. 71

[iv] New Dictionary of Theology: Historical and Systematic, preface, ix.

Thomas Creedy

Thomas Creedy



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