The RATIONALE FOR THIS
The goal of the Cambridge Dictionary of Christianity is to make understandable the complexity of present-day Christianity by clarifying the contextual character of Christian theological views, practices and movements through history and cultures.
Intended for for students and scholars, clergy and laity, believers and agnostics--in short, anyone who needs a full and accurate picture of the world’s largest organized religion, the CDC will be an A to Z dictionary in one volume (similar to the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy; more than 900 pp., 2 col., 875,000 words). Besides “methodological entries” that explain the critical approaches it uses, the CDC offers two types of entries:
The CDC’s contextual entries present concise and up-to-date overviews of the status of Christianity as a contextual reality that includes all the believers and communities that identify themselves as Christians throughout the world today—1.178 billion in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Oceania, 661 million in Western Europe and North-America and 158 million in Orthodox Eastern Europe and the Middle East (statistics from Barrett, Kurian, and Johnson's World Christian Encyclopedia. 2nd Ed., 2001). Dealing with Christianity in each context (nation or region), these entries present:
· Statistics about the place of Christianity and its denominations in this society;
· A sketch of the main periods of the history of Christianity and its denominations and identification of significant figures and events;
· A systematic overview of the distinctive, contextually-marked features of Christianity and its denominations, including: ritual practices; communal practices; bases for beliefs and actions (scriptures, creeds, as well as religious experiences and events); practices in society (praxis); interactions with other religions and ideologies.
· Central theological and ethical issues.
This presentation illumines the shape and contours of present-day Christianity, even as it documents its great diversity that needs to be made understandable.
The CDC’s conceptual-theological and historical entries make understandable this complex contextual reality of present-day Christianity by underscoring that through history one finds several understandings of:
· Each theological concept;
· Each ritual or communal practice;
· Each social practice (praxis);
· What are the authoritative bases for beliefs and actions;
· What are particularly significant events or religious experiences; and
· What are appropriate interactions with other religions and ideologies.
Several clearly distinguishable understandings of each of the main features of Christianity are presented as they are found at various stages of the history of each Christian movement (church or denomination) and as they are exemplified by the views and the lives of authoritative figures in particular historical contexts. In this way, the CDC clarifies the choices that each group of Christians have implicitly or explicitly made among several plausible understandings of each of these features in and for a particular social, cultural, and religious context. Each form of Christianity is the set of beliefs and practices that certain Christians have interpreted to constitute following Jesus.
With these two kinds of information, the users of the CDC will be less perplexed by the diversity of contemporary Christianity. They can recognize that each manifestation of Christianity represents a particular interpretation of what constitutes following Jesus in a particular context. In each case, believers have made a choice among several possible understandings of theological concepts and Christian practices. They have implicitly assessed the relative value of existing understandings of these concepts and practices, and at times developed new ones that, they believe, better account for particular issues, events, or religious experiences in their context. By documenting the range of understandings of theological concepts and practices, the CDC gives to its users the possibility to recognize the range of these choices and their contextual and religious character.