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  • The Encyclopedia of Christian Literature, Vol. 1: Genres and Types/Biographies A-G; Vol. 2: Biographies H-Z
  • Kevin Hart
The Encyclopedia of Christian Literature, Vol. 1: Genres and Types/Biographies A-G; Vol. 2: Biographies H-Z. Edited by George Thomas Kurian; James D. Smith III, coeditor. (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press. 2010. Pp. xvi, 347; iv, 349-711. $180.00. ISBN 978-0-810-86987-5.)

"Literature" in this encyclopedia is understood very broadly indeed. It is not a gathering of articles on literature in the romantic sense—poetry, fiction, and the drama—but rather in the preromantic and postmodern sense of "writing." That it aims to be encyclopedic is admirable, although potential readers should be warned that it has a heavy bias toward the United States.

The encyclopedia has two volumes. The first begins with the genres and types of Christian writing, and here one finds useful entries ranging from apocalyptic literature to women's literature. Thereafter, both volumes are devoted to a wide range of authors, entries on whom are arranged alphabetically. The editor rightly distinguishes "Christian writers" from "writers who are Christians" (1:xxi), as well as notes the inclusion "for the most part" of "writers who are professing Christians" (1:xxi) and the exclusion of "works by authors whose philosophy is in open conflict with Christianity" (1:xxi). The last criterion must be laxly held, since there is an entry on John Hick who, we are told, rejects the claim that Jesus is God incarnate and advises that an afterlife is improbable (2:364).

Potential readers drawn to "religion and literature" will find pieces on G.K. Chesterton, T. S. Eliot, George Herbert, G. M. Hopkins, Flannery O'Connor, R. S. Thomas, and many other rightly expected literary figures. They will not find anything on William Wordsworth, however, and will look in vain for Frederich Hölderlin, Aurelius Clemens Prudentius, Angelus Silesius, and Marco Girolamo Vida. Some choices make the American flavor of the venture intense. There is a long entry on the younger American poet Scott Cairns and a shorter one on Luci Shaw; yet in an anthology that seeks to be global, one would expect articles on two important Australian Catholic poets: James McAuley and Francis Webb. The British poet Geoffrey Hill certainly deserves an entry. One might reasonably have expected an article on Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye.

Looking outside the fields of creative writing and literary criticism, readers will be enriched by familiarizing themselves with great Christian writers: [End Page 737] Ss. John Chrysostom and Gregory of Nazianzus, for instance. There is an outstanding entry on Hugh of St. Victor. Why some important figures—St. Gregory of Nyssa, for example—are mentioned in several entries but have no article devoted to them must be due to oversight or to lack of space. Yet space could have been saved by eliminating entries on some of the many American evangelicals who are better known for their energy than their literary excellence.

The game of finding odd inclusions and unacceptable exclusions is one that no editor of an encyclopedia likes a reviewer to play. Yet blind spots need to be identified in a large-scale reference work. Alvin Plantinga is a fine philosopher, but does his writing fall in any significant sense under "literature"? If it does, why is there no entry on Alasdair MacIntyre or Jean-Luc Marion? Ludwig Wittgenstein is a groundbreaking philosopher, to be sure, but is the information that he "has had a major influence on Christian thinkers" (2:649) sufficient to warrant inclusion? There is far more reason to include Immanuel Kant and J.G. Fichte, although neither appears in the encyclopedia.

Reference works need to be proofread to a very high standard; they may be read and cited by many students over many years. We are told that Simone Weil converted to Catholicism (1:122); later, we are correctly informed that she might have been baptized on her deathbed (2:635). There is a world of difference between the two statements. We are told that Karl Barth "began producing" the Church Dogmatics in 1919 (1:158), yet he did so only after finding the first volume...


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