Big fat theology words: Help!

RACHAEL ASKS:

(After trying to explore Reformed theology via Facebook): I do not understand many terms used, such as dispensationalism, cessationism, amillennialism, and many more. Is there a Reformed dictionary you know of or should I resort to brief Internet searches?

THE GUY ANSWERS:

To explore those big fat words The Guy suggests buying a theological dictionary that covers all of Christianity, not just Reformed/Calvinist Protestantism, which will treat the major terms though probably not every esoteric one you’ll come across. (The Guy avoids recommendations among the inexpensive paperback and used-book options on sale.) Major theological items are also included in the excellent “Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church,” but alas it costs $175 new and not much less than that used. However this and other reference works are available for free at a well-stocked church or school or public library, and libraries can also access resources for you online.

For handy home reference there’s the Internet. Rules of thumb online: Consult a variety of postings and if possible compare them with standard books. Be aware of ideological ax-grinding. Shun sites that conceal the sponsor’s address, authorship, and outlook. Doublecheck anything on wikipedia.org, a popular starting place but with unknown authors.

In searching for detailed articles to compare, note the “Catholic Encyclopedia” at www.newadvent.org/cathen. It’s authoritative and thorough on many classic topics, though grumpy and spotty regarding Protestantism and dated on Catholicism since it was written a century ago. So best also consult the “New Catholic Encyclopedia” and other modern reference works at libraries.

There are brief definitions at the comprehensive theological dictionary from Idaho’s small Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (which is conservative Protestant): http://carm.org/dictionary-theology-intro. A spot check finds it’s reliable if very bare-bones. Yes it lists your cessationism, dispensationalism, and amillennialism. Also in the A’s we find anhypostasis, amyraldianism, anthropocentrism, arianism, arminianism, apollinarianism, annihilationism, and acosmism. Whew. Similar brief definitions of many doctrinal terms are posted at the non-religious www.wordnik.com from San Mateo, Calif.

Now you Calvinists can resume that debate between infralapsarianism and supralapsarianism, while others explore whether pretribulationism, midtribulationism, or posttribulationism is the proper variant of the dispensationalist school within premillennialism, as opposed to postmillennialism, partial preterism,  full preterism…

 

 

 

About Richard Ostling

Richard N. Ostling, a religion writer for the Associated Press, was formerly senior correspondent for Time magazine, where he wrote twenty-three cover stories and was the religion writer for many years. He has also covered religion for the CBS Radio Network and the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS-TV.


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