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Encyclopaedia of the Reformed Faith.


Edited by Donald K. McKim. Saint Andrew Press and Westminster/John Knox Press. 119.95.[pounds]

This book is what the film industry would call a Scots-American co-production. Its Edinburgh publisher is an arm of the Church of Scotland, best known for its series of popular New Testament commentaries by the late William Barclay. Its Louisville one, despite the Anglo-Scottish name, emerged from the reunion of Northern and Southern Presbyterianism in the USA. It tries to cover the history, theology, and continuing experience of the sector of Protestant Christianity which, sometimes more obviously in church order than strict doctrine, follows the Calvinist tradition.

But the emphasis is more American than European, and most of the theology and sociology is seen through American lenses. The editor and begetter of the book, Donald McKim, is a Pennsylvania Presbyterian, and the great majority of contributors belong to American colleges and seminaries, from Princeton to Dallas. Much of its strength, for European readers, will come from the coverage of American themes and insights into historical experience and contemporary thinking across the Atlantic. However David Wright, an English-born layman who is Dean of Divinity at Edinburgh, served as |consulting editor' and presumably takes credit for mustering most of the European contributors, among whom the Scots historian Professor Alec Cheyne has an exemplary terseness of style and crispness of judgement.

The book has limitations. Its editor modifies the idea of an encyclopaedia into |a circle of knowledge', from Calvin's concept of accommodation to Zwingli's view of the Lord's Supper; and this recognition of the Zurich reformer wisely qualifies the assumption that the Reformed tradition owes everything to Calvin's Geneva and Scots Presbyterianism.

But some less acknowledged difficulties arise from seeking historical detachment and topicality at the same time. The essay on federal theology, for example, is in a very different mood from the immediately subsequent one on feminism, while changes in Eastern Europe and even South Africa have altered some perspectives. Obvious examples are the entries on the anti-apartheid campaigner Allan Boesak and the Czech theologian Josef Hromadka. It is a pity that no modern Landor could summon them for an imaginary (and uncomfortably rigorous) conversation with Calvin. Some of the problems, however, stem from uncertainty about what is |Reformed' and what merely reformed, as well as from changes in the pattern of Christianity. There may now be more Presbyterians in Korea than in Scotland or even the United States.

The Scots influence on the book has secured a good showing for the Kirk and the influence of the Scottish diaspora, and there is much to emphasise the Reformed Dutch, German, and Swiss contribution to |Anglo-Saxon' Protestantism in America. But the treatment of England, Ireland and Wales is a bit cursory, even allowing for the editor's understandable uncertainty about how far to weave strands of Anglicanism into a |Reformed' pattern. Archbishop Ussher scrapes in, though his biblical chronology hardly matches (say) Archbishop Temple's social conscience as an influence on recent Presbyterianism. And Billy Graham, despite his close Presbyterian connections and world-wide influence, has been shut out, though many Baptists, even those of less ecumenical inclinations, see themselves in the Reformed tradition.

Even the excellent essay on infant baptism, which mentions Karl Barth's doubts about the practice in the conditions of his time, seems to show unawareness of some modern European challenges to the traditional Reformed view. It also avoids discussion of the implications for Protestantism of the way that in various parts of the world Baptist and Pentecostalist Churches seem to offer the main channels for the spirit of Reformation.
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Author:Kernohan, R.D.
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1992
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