Despite a stated reliance on the plain meaning of the Bible and the dictates of common sense, antebellum evangelicals required methods to create international consensus in a trans-denominational movement. Buck's Theological Dictionary, first published in London in 1802, sought to provide a textual basis for evangelical community. By combining brief essays on orthodox belief and practice with historical entries on various denominations, Buck provided an interpretive lens that allowed antebellum Protestants to see Christianity's almost two millennia as their own history. American evangelicals rapidly seized on Buck's dictionary, ceding to it an almost canonical status as the textual interpreter of what it meant to be evangelical. Unfortunately Buck's, as well as evangelicalism, echoed aspects of Enlightenment ideas about objectivity and history. Such notions validated the very concept of an evangelical dictionary and the tenets of reasonable Christianity. Ultimately, though, the Dictionary contained its own downfall. Heterodox groups like the Universalists used Buck's to launch a theological assault on evangelicalism. By codifying former heresies and modern sects, Buck's provided a potential voice to those sects, while by reifying evangelical consensus it made the consensus itself fragile.


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pp. 441-473
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