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January 1976 · Vol. 5 No. 1 · pp. 30–31 

Book Review

The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church

ed. J. D. Douglas. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1974. 1074 pages.

Reviewed by D. Edmond Hiebert

This massive volume of some 4,800 articles written by 182 scholars from various parts of the Christian Church, and comprising more than a million words, presents a wealth of information concerning the Christian Church down through the ages. The term “Church” is used in a broad sense to include various subjects only loosely related to the Christian Church. (It is interesting that no article on “Christendom” as distinguished from the true Church is included.)

The variety and scope of the articles is amazingly comprehensive. There are articles on Judaism and its impact on Christianity; the apostles and other New Testament individuals of prominence; the books of the New Testament in their various groupings; important cities connected with the growth of Christianity during New Testament times and following: various groups, organizations, and movements, both orthodox and heretical, that have marked the history of the Church; the history of various cults and their views throughout the Christian era; various creeds, confessions, and doctrinal views as formulated by councils, assemblies, churches, or groups of professed Christians.

The story of the growth and development of the Church in various countries is given under individual countries or regional designations. The volume is rich and valuable because of the numerous biographical sketches of individuals related to the history of the Church in various capacities and degrees of intimacy. Even accounts of important opponents of Christianity (such as Celsus in the second century and R. G. Ingersoll during the 19th century) appear. Articles on various non-Christian world religions, such as Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, etc., are included, as well as a significant article on Witchcraft.

Articles relate to aspects of New Testament criticism, such as Form Criticism, as well as biblical documents and archaeological discoveries (Dead Sea Scrolls, Nag Hammadi, Chester Beatty Papyri—but no mention is made of the more recently discovered Bodmer papyri). The up-to-date nature of its contents is evident from articles such as “Space exploration,” “Supreme Court Decisions: Religious Liberty,” and “Women in the Church, Place of.”

Most of the articles are of necessity quite short. The longest article occupying eight columns, is that on the “Old Testament,” tracing its interpretation by periods in the Church. “Music, Christian” receives seven columns and “Hymns” nearly five columns. Almost seven columns are devoted to “Education, Christian;” somewhat over six columns are given to “Missions, Christian,” while “Calvinism” and “Roman Catholicism” receive six columns each. An article on “God” receives five columns, and “Jesus Christ” is given six columns of space.

General articles on the “Reformation” and the “Counter-Reformation” are included. The Anabaptists and various leaders of the movement receive able treatment. A general article on the “Mennonites” and their different divisions observes that “all the groups are evangelical and conservative in theology” (p. 649), and delineates their general characteristics. Probably some Mennonite Brethren readers will not readily recognize themselves under the description given. {31}

To turn the pages of this attractively produced volume is constantly to discover subjects about which one knows little or nothing. A generous sampling of its contents impresses this reviewer with the clarity, conciseness, and objective presentation of the material. A sound historical and evangelical perspective prevails throughout. A study of this comprehensive volume is well fitted to “give readers a renewed sense of history; an identification and feeling of fellowship with those who have carried the torch before them” (p. vi).

The price of the volume may look formidable but its purchase will prove to be a lasting investment for a fuller understanding of the Bible and the Christian movement in history. It will be of incalculable value to the busy pastor as well as the Christian reader desiring concise, authoritative information about various aspects of the Christian Church and its history.

D. Edmond Hiebert
Professor of New Testament
Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, Fresno

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