"Concise Dictionary Of Religion," by Irving Hexham (InterVarsity, 252 pp.; $15.99, paper); "Dictionary Of Cults, Sects, Religions And The Occult," George A. Mather and Larry A. Nichols (Zondervan, 384 pp.; $24.99, hardcover). Reviewed by James A. Beverley, professor of theology and ethics, Ontario Theological Seminary, Toronto, Canada.

One of the costs of living in a pluralistic society is facing the responsibility of understanding the beliefs of others. Rather than relying on rumor and half-truth, Christians should have access to reliable and fair information on religious groups, figures, ideas, and rituals. It is helpful to know where to turn when someone asks about William Branham or Eckankar or the life of Buddha. The two dictionaries under review seek to fill that need.

Hexham offers more than 2,000 definitions related to all aspects of religion. Mather and Nichols (with Alvin Schmidt as consulting editor) attempt a larger project, with both brief entries and lengthy descriptive/analytical essays. Anyone interested in religion, in all its diversity, will want both volumes.

Fortunately, brevity has caused little damage in Hexham's work. He provides essential material in the vast majority of entries. Occasionally another sentence or two would help. The entry on "pride" merely states that it is one of the seven deadly sins. Hexham is seldom obtuse, though his definition of "fact" does not help: "any unit of being which is capable of bearing meaning."

Hexham obviously aims at neutrality. This makes his occasional value judgments puzzling. The Children of God and Scientology are described with considerable restraint, yet Hexham calls Christian Science a "confusing synthesis," refers to the Great White Brotherhood ...

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