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After Tuesday’s post about why study systematic theology, I thought it might be helpful to explore what systematic theologies are worth using. In the last few years a number of significant systematic textbooks have been released as well as a host of stand alone volumes on different topics with in systematic theology. I can’t begin to mention them all. And once we get outside of Reformed-Evangelical circles, my knowledge becomes much more limited. So rather than attempting a survey of the field, let me mention ten systematic theology resources I come back to again and again.

In no particular order:

1. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559). Historians would argue it’s not exactly a systematic theology, but it is theology at its best. It’s the one I read first and have read most. Much more readable than you might think, and filled with beautiful passages that will inspire as well as inform.

 

 

2. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (1938). Still hard to beat for order, precision, and (relative) brevity. Is there a better one-volume systematic theology in the Reformed tradition?

 

 

 

3. Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics (1906-1911). What a tremendous gift it was when Bavinck’s magnum opus began to be published in English–only a little more than a decade ago. Berkhof is basically a summary of Bavinck, so if you want to go deeper and wider and fuller, you need these four volumes. Also check out Bavinck’s smaller work Our Reasonable Faith.

 

4. Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology (1679-1685). This was the textbook at Old Princeton until Hodge’s own Systematic Theology was released. It’s hard to overstate the influence Turretin has had on the development and transmission of Reformed theology in the English speaking world. Get these three volumes. Yes, they use the scholastic method. Yes, some of the debates will seem overly philosophical and arcane. But for comprehensiveness and careful delineation of categories, you will not find anything better.

 

5. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (1994). An unlikely bestseller, but if you find a college student reading systematic theology for fun, he’s probably reading Grudem. As a Presbyterian I don’t agree with all of Grudem’s conclusions, but he’s hard to beat for clarity, accessibility, and readability. You may also want to use Bible Doctrine or Christian Beliefs.

 

6. R.C. Sproul, Everyone’s a Theologian (2014). I’m always on the look out for introductory volumes that we can use with elders or in our leadership training course. This book fits the bill nicely. We’ve also used John Frame’s Salvation Belongs to the Lord before.

 

 

7. Chad Van Dixhoorn, Confessing the Faith: A Reader’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith (2014). It would be a mistake to dive into systematic theology without paying attention to the great theological statements which have stood the test of time. For a lot of folks, that means the Westminster Confession of Faith, and this is the best, most use-able commentary out there. I wrote a popular-level commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism that may also interest some people.

 

8. Michael Horton, The Christian Faith (2011). Not as user-friendly as Grudem, but more sophisticated–theology for theologians. Horton is especially good if you want a reliable contemporary writer who is very conversant with the history of theology and with the best theologians from other traditions.

 

9. Anthony Hoekema, Created in God’s Image (1986), Saved by Grace (1989), The Bible and the Future (1979). I’ve always found the structure in these volumes very intuitive and the exegesis particularly careful. Excellent and easy to use in pieces if you don’t want to read the whole thing.

 

 

10. Contours of Christian Theology (1993-2002). This series, edited by Gerald Bray, is one of the best things IVP ever published. Each volume tackles a single loci in 250-300 pages: the doctrine of God (Gerald Bray), the work of Christ (Robert Letham), the providence of God (Paul Helm), the doctrine of humanity (Charles Sherlock), the Holy Spirit (Sinclair Ferguson), the person of Christ (Donal MacLeod), the revelation of God (Peter Jensen), the church (Edmund Clowney). Every pastor should have these on his shelf. I use them often.


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35 thoughts on “Ten Systematic Theology Resources”

  1. Wim says:

    Thanks! How about “Concise Reformed Dogmatics” by J. Van Genderen and W. H. Velema (2008)? There’s a lot of interaction with Dutch and other European theologians but it’s written in the tradition of Bavinck. It also offers a contemporary version of Reformed thinking while at the same time providing mild critique of Bavinck here and there.

  2. Greg says:

    Dude! You left out the best one: Christian Dogmatics by Franz Pieper.

  3. Dan says:

    “The doctrine of humanity” by Sherlock in the Contours series is easily one of the worst books I have ever read on the subject. I’m glad you recommended Hoekema’s book to supplement that.

  4. Hamish says:

    I’d throw in “A Faith to Live By” by Donald Macleod (who also wrote the volume on the person of Christ in the Contours series above); he writes with both precision and devotion, and so both educates and draws the reader to worship. It would be a good complement to the Van Dixhoorn book.

  5. Ron says:

    How does John Frame not make this list?

  6. Mac says:

    Why only “high Calvinist” resources? There are other great systematic theology works by Tom Oden, John Miley, William Burton Pope, and Arminius.

  7. Paulo Moreira says:

    I wonder why John Frame didn’t make the list (same question as Ron)?

  8. Stephen Welch says:

    Dr. Robert Raymond’s A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith should be on the list. It is one of the best contemporary systematics.

  9. Zach says:

    I will third the John Frame question. One of the best theologians and writers of our day. Complete snub!

  10. Steve says:

    Thanks for this excellent list of resources! I would also join the chorus in support of the works of John Frame.

  11. Herman AG says:

    For the people complaining…”So rather than attempting a survey of the field, let me mention ten systematic theology resources I come back to again and again.”

    Understood?

  12. suffenus says:

    Ah yes….people already complaining their guy didn’t make your ‘Top 10′ list. C’mon, people….just because they are your favs doesn’t mean they have to be someone else’s fav!

  13. Cris Dickason says:

    Admire Frame, profited from his courses at WTS Philly, but his Systematic Theology is not balanced in covering all topics or branches.

  14. Neville Briggs says:

    And if you find any theology books difficult there is one book that can clear up any misunderstandings, it’s called…The Bible.

  15. David Charles says:

    Frame will not stand the test of time. This is a good list, but Grudem will also be forgotten in time.

  16. Thom Bullock says:

    Grudem has some helpful sections, but I have trouble reconciling that with the fact that he also wrote the truly awful “Politics According to the Bible”

  17. Christian says:

    These are wonderfull recourses. Good list. I’m from the Netherlands, so Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics has been for a long time one of my favorite theological writings on dogmatics. The depth of knowlegde you can get from reading Bavinck is unmatched by most other works. Although I don’t agree on everything with, but still Bavinck is my favourite source for dogmatics.
    Van Genderen & Velema is usefull, but indeed as the title says “Concise”. It is written with that purpose, but sometimes is a little to concise for in-depht study. But very usefull and indeed as Wim says sometimes critical of Bavinck. Good source for everyone interested in reformed dogmatics. But Van Genderen & Velema is not very well-known in the USA.

    Turretin’s Institutes are great. For me at the same level as Bavinck. But of course very different from Bavinck. Turretin is one of the great systematic -theologians of reformed theology. I think it is only for those with certain amount of theological knowledge because of it’s complexity.

    Besides ofcourse Calvins Institues, I’m not that familiar with the other books. I know that Grudem and Berkhof are populair in the USA, but in Europe they are only known by theologians. And I think that they don’t use them. And most of the other authors are ofcourse famous, but I haven’t read those particular books. Until recent times theology, certainly liberal theology, in continental Europe was more focussed on German theology. Only in recent decades the focus shifted to the Anglo-Saxon world. So at the bookshelves of older pastors so you see many German commentary’s and books, because German theology was the mainline at universities at the time they study. Younger pastors almost entirely shift to Englisch commentary’s and books, both liberal and orthodox. A other point is, that continental-European theology is almost totally liberal. So their are not that many real theological works like dogmatics textbooks and commentary’s written and published from a orthodox-reformed point of view. Most of this kind of books have to come from the Anglo-Saxon world. And I’m glad that in the USA so much is written from a orthodox-reformed standpoint. Know that your books are not only read in the USA, but also in Europe. I’m very thankfull for your work as American theologians. Keep those books coming!

    The new-calvinism movement is becoming more and more well-known in reformed churches in the Netherlands. So I think books as Grudem’s Systematic Theology will become better known here also. But for not-theologians, the languagebarrier is to great, certainly for the older generation. The younger generation speaks much better English. At least, all the books of Tim Keller are translated and they are immensly populair here. Also most of John Pipers books are translated. Also some books from D.A. Carson.

    Kevin, I can recommend you one book, which has been recently translated in English. Unfortunately, due to another publisher the book is much more expensive in translation than the dutch version. Maybe you can review it for some journal or so. But is a really good study in the topic of sanctification. It’s written by Wim van Vlastuin, Professor in Reformed Theology at VU University, Amsterdam. You will see in this a typical Dutch vision on sanctification, although, ofcourse, certainly not he only view. But I think on the point of sanctification there are little differences between American and Dutch Calvinists. But Van Vlastuin presents a real nuanced vision on sanctification. One interesting point is that for example H.F. Kohlbrugge is a well-know theologian under Dutch Calvinists, but almost totally unknown in the USA. This interesting theologian has a important place in this book. I can highly recommend this book!

    The book: Willem van Vlastuin, Be Renewed. a Theology of Personal Renewal, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2014.

  18. David Hey says:

    It would be helpful to list them in order of difficulty. I am surprised Packer’s Concise Theology did not get a mention. Hodge has also stood the test of time.

  19. Zachary says:

    For those of a Reformed Baptist stripe (or merely curious about that particular path), Boyce’s Abstract of Systematic Theology is available for around $20, or free online:
    http://founders.org/library/boyce1/ch1/

  20. Andrzej says:

    Zachary – Boyce was very influenced by Charles Hodge and his systematic theology is not really distinctive from those who are paedobaptist. From my own research I cannot recommend anything better than John Gill and his “A Body of Practical Divinity” – that’s Reformed Baptist systematic theology at it’s best! Grudem is OK, but I’m at odds with him sometimes, while with Gill don’t have that problem. By the way – as a Reformed Baptist I understand somebody, who is confessional and subscribes to 1689 London Baptis Confession.

  21. Ross Riggan says:

    I give a hearty second to John Gill and his commentaries. Matthew Henry has his moments as well.

  22. Garrett Siemsen says:

    I am a Lutheran who has thoroughly enjoyed (and been greatly edified by) many Reformed writings, including especially Calvin’s Institutes. In the spirit of mutual edification, I thought I’d offer a recommendation from the Lutheran fold: Robert Jenson’s two-volume Systematic Theology, which is an excellent read. I will add to that The Book of Concord, which is foundational for all confessional Lutherans. Thank you for the post!

  23. Neville Briggs says:

    “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world, rather than on Christ ”

    Paul ( the apostle )

  24. Ross Riggan says:

    Neville, you must not be clear on the meaning of Col. 2:8 because the passage is clearly defending the Gospel against competing philosophies and traditions… not warning us against the use of systematic theologies or commentaries which serve the purpose of helping us understand the Gospel as described in the Bible. So for your reading pleasure, I’ve included this passage from Gill on the latter half of the verse to help clarify this passage for you:

    after the rudiments of the world,
    or “the elements of the world”; not the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water; or the worship of the sun, moon, and stars among the idolatrous Gentiles, but the ceremonial laws of the Jews; see ( Galatians 4:8 Galatians 4:9 ) ; which were that to them in religion, as the A B C, or letters, are in grammar, the elements and rudiments of it; and though these were to them, when children, useful, but now under the Gospel dispensation are weak, beggarly, and useless, and not to be attended to:

    and not after Christ;
    what he has taught and prescribed, the doctrines and commandments of Christ, the treasures of wisdom and knowledge which are in him; and therefore all such vain and deceitful philosophy, human traditions, and worldly rudiments, are to be rejected; Christ and his Gospel, the revelation he has made, are the standard of doctrine and worship; he only is to be heard and attended to, and whatever it contrary thereunto is to be guarded against.

  25. anaquaduck says:

    Neville,

    There is an academic side to the gospel of grace. Its why science & universities blossomed in harmony with the Bible until Darwinian thought & the enlightenment with its hollowness & emptiness took hold.

    Being academic is consistant humanity being intelligent but also needing redemption& defending the truth. Personally it is over the top at times for me but it also sharpens me & helps me see Scripture from another angle or perspective.

    I have a Berkoff minus its jacket because it was on special & helped me explore topics but I mostly use it now to press small flowers. The Bible, although Gods Word isnt all that clear at times, when I get stuck I ask a minister or read around on difficult passages or meanings.

    The academic side doesnt cancel out our actions & words, it assists us through learning & teaching as we hold onto the truth & God holds onto us.

  26. Neville Briggs says:

    The warning from Paul puts me in mind of the fault of reading about the Bible rather than reading the Bible itself. A fault that I confess I have indulged in.
    I have read many commentaries, but I have been drawn back to the conviction that it is more profitable to study the Bible direct with a minimum of other references.
    In that part I have quoted from Colossians, Paul goes on to say that the truth of scripture is spiritually discerned. I take it that means God is perfectly able to speak to us direct and meaningfully from His own word if we are in the right relationship with Him.
    I have had a go at reading systematic theology, I found it too heavy and seemingly philosophical rather than relational.

    I believe that the message of the Bible and the ” God story ” is not philosophy but a message about the coming of the Kingdom of God ( The new Eden ? ). Speaking for myself, I must find a way to live my life as a citizen of the Kingdom of God in a practical way, because it appears that the Kingdom is a life not just a world of the mind, no matter how well informed that mind might be.

    I’ve still got a long way to go. Not much time or ability, and a long way.

  27. David Bugbee says:

    There are some very interesting recommendations on this list. But what about Charles Hodge’s “Systematic Theology”?

  28. dennis mullen says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with those who wonder how you would not include John Frame’s Systematic and Robert Reymond’s Systematic. Both are exceptional.

  29. anaquaduck says:

    Neville,
    In Eph 4:1-16 we see the Spirit & the Word but also teachers etc. God is pleased for us to learn from others. If ever there was someone inspired by the Spirit, Paul would fit that description.

    This doesnt cancel out personal learning nor does it mean we all become Theologians (thankfully). A mechanic or cleaner can bring just as much glory to God as a professor or pastor.

    We only see so much anyhow, like a mirror (of the day) dimly as we walk by faith.

  30. Sean McCausland says:

    Robert Reymond’s A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith is very underrated, as is Bruce Milne’s Know the Truth (though this is more of a beginner-intermediate level).

  31. Don Haflich says:

    I’m wondering if you have an updated list since the release of the Systematic Theologlies of Geerhardus Vos and Douglas Kelly?

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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