Book Review: A Concise Dictionary of Theological Terms

by | Apr 28, 2020 | Book Review

Pastors, students, theologians, and scholars rely upon reference works—big heavy ones and handy little concise ones. But pastors, students, and theologians aren’t the only ones who should own some helpful books for understanding God’s Word. What about Sunday school teachers, small group leaders, and church members? Why don’t more Christians own a volume of systematic theology? Shouldn’t more of our personal libraries include some decent commentaries and a theological dictionary? If our collective task is to understand and apply Scripture, good tools should be a priority. Whether you’re teaching a Sunday school class or you just need to look up something quick, there’s more out there than the free stuff you find on the Internet. There’s some really good stuff, like A Concise Dictionary of Theological Terms by Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson. This is a useful tool for better understanding what the Bible teaches—from Abrahamic covenant to Zwinglian view of the Lord’s Supper. Morgan is professor of theology and dean of the School of Christian Ministries at California Baptist University. Peterson is a writer, theologian, and former professor of theology. 

So how is this dictionary useful? This morning my ten-year-old daughter asked me the question all children eventually ask their parents: What’s an Episcopalian? Thanks to having this book at hand, I was able to give her a clear answer. What are Episcopalians?

Episcopalians—Protestant Christians who belong to the Episcopal Church, an American member of the worldwide Anglican Church. It began when it separated from the Church of England after the Revolutionary War. It is called “Episcopal” after the Greek word for “bishop” or “overseer” because it appoints bishops for regional oversight of the churches. Its Book of Common Prayer is central to all Anglican worship. It holds to baptismal regeneration and the Holy Eucharist as it’s principal acts of worship. The Episcopal Church has moved in a liberal direction since the 1960s and today promotes same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBT people. It has declined in membership and attendance since 2000. See also Anglicans; church, government; Eastern Orthodoxy; evangelicalism. 

That’s what a dictionary does. It defines terms. And this dictionary performs its task well. Many a time I’ve flipped to the glossary at the back of Charles Ryrie’s Basic Theology for a quick lookup, but he doesn’t always have what I need. This short dictionary covers a lot. There are a few points to be aware of. First, this is a companion to Christian Theology: The Biblical Story and Our Faith. The authors felt tacking keyword definitions onto the end of each chapter made their volume of systematic theology clumsy, so they compiled those keywords and more into a separate book. But this book stands on its own as a dictionary. You can get just as much out of it without having Morgan and Peterson’s systematic theology. Second, it’s evangelical. B&H Academic is a Southern Baptist publisher. Morgan teaches at a Baptist school. Peterson taught at both a Presbyterian and an interdenominational school. 

Another positive of this new dictionary is that it’s up-to-date on its coverage of contemporary theological issues. For instance, here’s the entry on intersectionality

intersectionality—a term originating in black feminist theory, that has become a framework for analyzing various forms of social stratification that can cause discrimination. It highlights how power and social categories (ethnicity, class gender, age, etc.) interrelate and affect the treatment of individuals and groups. Positively, aspects of the theory can help Christians better understand those marginalized, address personal and structural sin, and promote thoughtful social justice. However, negatively, the theory of intersectionality is usually associated with proponents of relativism and liberation theology, who oppose Christian perspectives on truth, identity, gender, sexuality, and more. See also liberation theology; relativism.

I also like how the authors included Scripture references to direct the reader’s study. And they did an excellent job of packing a lot of information into a small amount of space. (The book only has 179 pages.)

In conclusion, this little book is well written, helpful, and easy to understand. It would benefit the layperson who wants to understand theological terms. It would benefit Christians serving the church who want to teach others. It would help benefit pastors and students who need a go-to for a quick reference. Morgan and Peterson have achieved their goal of producing a resource that will help Christians serve the Lord better.

Special thanks to B&H Academic for providing me with a copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

If you’re looking for other concise reference works, there are two I’ve found particularly helpful. I really like Matthew S. DeMoss’s Pocket Dictionary for the Study of New Testament Greek and Huey and Corley’s A Student’s Dictionary for Biblical and Theological Studies.

Brent Niedergall

Pastor, Grammarian, Runner

Brent Niedergall, MDiv, is Chief Editor at Positive Action for Christ in Whitakers, North Carolina. He’s gone to war in Afghanistan, felled towering trees, and parsed Greek verbs.


Brent Niedergall