Rowman & Littlefield ISBN 9781442244313
Advanced Interest Rating: 4
Reviewing a multi-volume reference work such as the Encyclopedia of Christianity in the United States means examining the introduction(s), the contributor and editor lists, and select articles. Here they are, in turn:
The two primary editors, George Thomas Kurian and Mark A. Lamport, have extensive experience in editing such works and show every evidence that they performed their task with professionalism and according to the methods standard for such volumes. They assembled a highly educated crew of editors and contributors.
Their overall introduction to this five-volume encyclopedia gives guidance to its structure and insights into its purpose. Importantly, they write that the contributors were purposefully selected from across the Christian theological spectrum and yet that “this Encyclopedia aims to present Christianity in the United States from a neutral perspective.” (xxviii) As children of particular Christian traditions themselves, however, Kurian and Lamport admit to necessarily using “emic” and “etic” anthropological perspectives—in other words, they are not neutral but are still trying to be. The reference is scholarly but is written by professors with genuine personal connections to the Christian faith.
(The editors also relate that a full 1800 of the 2825 entries are biographies.)
Contributors and Editors
Credentials are given for each contributor, and their qualifications are far from lacking. Few “big names” are listed—exceptions include David Dockery, John Fea, Nathan Finn, Michael A.G. Haykin, H. Wayne House, Timothy Larsen, David Naugle, Ron Sider, A.J. Swoboda, and Kenneth Taylor. Of course, Martin Marty wrote the foreword. The list of contributors has a notable but not overwhelming evangelical flavor.
Among the editorial advisory board are some prominentnames as well, including Ken Minkema and Doug Sweeney, both noted as experts in the work of Jonathan Edwards. Garth Rosell, Kate Bowler, Christopher Evans, and Justo González also appear.
A Sampling of Articles
Sampling articles throughout the volumes led this reviewer to one conclusion: aside from special introductory articles that were intended to be lengthy, the entries are admirably short, as are the bibliographies. “Word of Life,” for example, listed relevant dates and names and provided little in the way of interpretation. “Ladd, George Eldon” did give some interpretation, explaining briefly some of the major contributions Ladd made to 20th century theology. (1306) Michael A. G. Haykin’s article on “Packer, J.I.” is similarly not dry: it uses the “neutral” language of an encyclopedia entry, but anyone who knows the theological back stories will hear Haykin’s “emic” perspective underneath the surface. (1733) An entry on “Parochial Schools” offers—again, with admirable brevity—key history, some interpretation, current statistics, and even a section on “future challenges.” (1744)
A few oddities—topics left out, topics included—will occur in any such large-scale work, but this reviewer thought it odd that Christians for Biblical Equality had an entry (528) while its counterpart the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood did not. The Acts 29 church planting network was included (17), but there was no entry for Bob Jones University, whose story lasts a good deal longer and weaves in and out of American presidential politics and even Supreme Court Decisions.
Mark L. Ward, Jr., CLJ