On March 4, 2005, I reviewed the Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals for Dr. David Beale’s “History of Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism” course at BJU Seminary, and earlier this week I lightly updated the review.
Timothy T. Larsen, ed. Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003. xvii + 789 pp.
This nearly 800-page tome is a mini-library of condensed biographies. This practical reference tool contains biographical sketches for over four hundred outstanding evangelicals in alphabetical order.
1.1. Theologically, they are part of the identifiable network of evangelicals. Larsen defines an evangelical according to Bebbington and Noll’s standards. In Evangelicalism in Modern Britain, Bebbington proposed that there are four essential characteristics of evangelicals: “conversionism, activism, biblicism, and crucicentrism” (BDE, p. 1). Noll’s Between Faith and Criticism “uses a thoroughgoing descriptive approach, arguing that the evangelical community is a readily identifiable network and that therefore those who can be seen to be a part of that network are the proper subjects of studies in evangelicalism” (BDE, p. 1).
1.2. Denominationally, the evangelicals generally include those with an interdenominational influence.
1.3. Chronologically, they stretch from John Wyclif to those born by 1936. Larsen’s rule of thumb is that it encompasses evangelicals from John Wyclif (ca. 1330-1384) to John Wimber (1934-1997) via John Wesley (1703-1791).
1.4. Geographically, they are generally limited to English-speaking people in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Exceptions include Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Menno Simons, Arminius, and Spener.
1.5. Vocationally, they include pastors, preachers, evangelists, theologians, missionaries, and authors.
1.6. Historically, they include evangelicals who are the most well-known and about whom readers are most likely to seek information (pp. 1-2).
Timothy Larsen is the work’s general editor, and the consulting editors are David Bebbington and Mark Noll. Over two hundred scholars contributed to the work including Sinclair Ferguson, John Frame, Ward Gasque, Timothy George, Michael A. G. Haykin, J. I. Packer, Philip Graham Ryken, and Douglas A. Sweeney.
3. Negative Features
The negative features are relatively minor compared to the positive ones.
3.1. The work includes no pictures. It would be pleasant to see at least one picture of the person by his entry.
3.2. It excludes some people who deserve to be included in a work like this. It omits, for example, Henry Ward Beecher, Andrew Bonar, A. J. Gordon, William Grimshaw, John Henry Jowett, J. B. Lightfoot, Asahel Nettleton, John Paton, and James Stalker.
3.3. Some entries exclude key information. For example, R. W. Dale embraced conditional immortality. John Stott publicly renounced the separatism of Lloyd-Jones on October 18, 1966. Van Til vehemently opposed Gordon Clark’s apologetics.
3.4. Some of the entries are not as up-to-date as the publication. For example, H. M. Jones’s entry on Selina Hastings, the Countess of Huntingdon, mentions “her most recent biographer” as Schlenther, whose work was published in 1997. This overlooks Faith Cook’s excellent work Selina: Countess of Huntingdon: Her Pivotal Role in the 18th Century Evangelical Awakening (Carlisle, Penn.: Banner of Truth, 2001).
4. Positive Features
4.1. It is a handy reference. The last three pages in the book include an index of the 400 articles in alphabetical order with the page number where their entries begin. It is arranged efficiently for pastors and teachers to consult in order to include biographical illustrations in their preaching and teaching. (Even more efficient is the electronic version available from Logos Bible Software.)
4.2. It contains most of the major influential figures in church history from Wyclif to the present. These include Arminius, Bavinck, Baxter, Berkhof, Berkhouwer, Beza, Bonar, Bullinger, Calvin, Carey, Carmichael, Carnell, Chafer, Colson, Cowper, Cranmer, Cromwell, Crosby, Dabney, Dale, Darby, Edwards, Fee, Finney, Fuller, Gaebelein, Gill, Graham, Haldane, Havergal, Henry, Charles and A. A. Hodge, the Countess of Huntingdon, Hus, Ironside, Bob Jones Sr., Kantzer, Knox, Kuyper, Ladd, Latimer, Lindsell, Lloyd-Jones, Luther, McCheyne, Machen, McIntire, McLaren, Martyn, Mather, Melanchthon, Menno Simons, Merle d’Aubigné, Meyer, Moody, Morgan, Henry Morris, Leon Morris, Moule, Müller, Andrew Murray, John Murray, Watchman Nee, Newton, Ockenga, Orr, Owen, Packer, Pierson, Pink, Rice, Riley, Rutherford, Ryle, Ryrie, Sankey, Schaff, Scofield, Scroggie, Shedd, Shields, Simeon, Spener, Spurgeon, Stoddard, Stott, A. H. Strong, Studd, Sunday, W. H. G. Thomas, Torrey, Tozer, Van Til, Vine, Walvoord, Warfield, Watts, John and Charles Wesley, Whitefield, Wilberforce, Wimber, Winthrop, Wyclif, Zinzendorf, and Zwingli.
4.3. It is relatively thorough. Many biographical reference works contain entries that are severely brief containing perhaps one or two small paragraphs. This work, which divides each page into two columns, averages about two large (10 x 6.5 in.) pages per entry. The entries for some of the more prominent evangelicals are three to five pages in length (e.g., John Bunyan, Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, George Whitefield, William Wilberforce, Charles Spurgeon, B. B. Warfield, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Carl Henry, Billy Graham, and J. I. Packer). They survey the person’s life and include the date of major events (birth, death, teaching positions, pastorates, major books, etc.) and key people and places in his life. Each entry ends with a few of the most useful sources for further study.
4.4. It contains interesting facts and anecdotes. For example, Louis Berkhof “is the single most influential theologian within the Christian Reformed Church, having trained virtually all its ministers over a period of nearly forty years” (p. 46). C. I. Scofield and Lewis Sperry Chafer had a father-son relationship: Chafer became a Bible teacher at Scofield’s urging and encouragement; Scofield wrote the foreword to Chafer’s first book in 1915; Chafer dedicated his book Grace to Scofield in 1922 after Scofield’s death; Chafer became the pastor of Scofield’s former church in 1922 and renamed it Scofield Memorial Church in 1923 (pp. 136-137). Chafer “opposed the direct solicitation of funds, insisting that the school live by the ‘faith principle’ of George Müller,” which “resulted in chronic shortages and accumulating debt” (p. 137). Charles Trumbull was Elisabeth Elliot’s great-uncle (p. 207). Both Charles Finney and J. C. Ryle married three times (pp. 226-228, 574). Charles Hodge married Benjamin Franklin’s great-granddaughter (p. 304). Bob Jones Sr. never graduated from college (p. 335). Lloyd-Jones “never gave an altar-call or appeal and refused to cooperate with the evangelist Billy Graham” (p. 373). Neither J. Gresham Machen nor Charles Simeon ever married (pp. 393, 614). G. Campbell Morgan “did not believe in ‘a hell of literal fire’” (p. 442). John Owen’s first work was A Display of Arminianism in 1642 (p. 494). J. I. Packer as a junior librarian “stumbled across the works of John Owen,” and “this discovery of Puritan theology marked a turning-point in his personal and academic life” (p. 497). Packer also has a “lifelong love for Dixieland jazz” (p. 497). Scofield divorced and remarried (p. 589).
The Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals is an unusual, invaluable collection of 400 brief biographies. Pastors, teachers, and lay people will profit immensely by consulting it often.
Andrew David Naselli
March 4, 2005; Greenville, South Carolina
Updated August 27, 2007; Deerfield, Illinois