What is Systematic Theology?
- Louis Berkhof (1873–1957) said that systematic theology “seeks to give a systematic presentation of all the doctrinal truths of the Christian religion.”
Five Reasons to Study Systematic Theology
- Systematic theology helps us love and worship God.
- Systematic theology helps us interpret our life experiences.
- Systematic theology helps us counter challenges against God’s truth.
- Systematic theology helps us disciple and teach others.
- Systematic theology helps us depend on God.
To help you begin to study systematic theology, here are the five top systematic theologies for Christians today.
1. R.C. Sproul — Everybody's a Theologian (2014)
- For a modern, easy to read overview of systematic theology in the Reformed faith, I recommend all Christians to start with R.C. Sproul's Everybody's a Theologian. Contributors to the endorsement page of this book include Joel R. Beeke, Sinclair Ferguson, John MacArthur, and Douglas F. Kelly.
- "[R.C. Sproul] tackles every major category of systematic theology in a succint, lucid, evenhanded fashion. This is a tremendously valuable resource for everyone from the newest believer to the most seasoned pastor." (John MacArthur)
2. Wayne Grudem — Systematic Theology (1994, second edition in 2020)
- Many Bible college and seminary professors, for good reasons, use Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology as their primary textbook for an overview Christian doctrine. For those who want a well organized one-volume systematic theology that is both comprehensive and up to date on the most important modern doctrinal issues, consider Grudem's volume.
- 25 years after its initial publication, a second revised edition was released. It is updated, well organized, and balanced. The completely updated bibliography is extremely helpful for further study on the various categories presented.
3. Louis Berkhof — Systematic Theology (1938)
- Although Berkhof's Systematic Theology was written nearly 100 years ago, it is still one of the most clear volumes on the most important doctrines of the Christian faith. Berkhof covers just six major categories: Doctrine of God (Theology Proper), Doctrine of Man (Anthrology and Hamartiology), Doctrine of Christ (Christology), Doctrine of Salvation (Soteriology), Doctrine of the Church (Ecclesiology), and the Doctrine of the Last Things (Eschatology).
- Like many in the Reformed tradition, Berkhof argues for paedobaptism.
- A shorter, abridged version of Berkhof's systematic theology, similar to R.C. Sproul's Everybody's a Theologian, is also excellent. It is called a Manual of Doctrine.
4. Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley — Reformed Systematic Theology (2019–2024)
- Beeke and Smalley have already released their first three volumes of their Reformed Systematic Theology, and their fourth and final volume is scheduled to be published in 2024. Each volume covers two major categories of systematic theology.
- Volume One covers Prolegomena (Introduction to Theology and the Doctrine of Revelation) and Theology Proper (Doctrine of God).
- Volume Two covers Anthropology (Doctrine of Man) and Christology (Doctrine of Christ)
- Volume Three covers Pneumatology and Soteriology (Doctrine of Salvation Applied by the Holy Spirit)
- Volume Four will cover Ecclesiology (Doctrine of the Church) and Eschatology (Doctrine of Last Things)
- Like Grudem's second edition, Beeke and Smalley's four-volume systematic theology is comprehesive and up-to-date. Given the greater space allowed by having four volumes instead of one, this systematic theology can have a greater depth of discussion and give explanation on the practical implications to the Christian life.
- "[Reformed Systematic Theology] is a virtual gold mine of biblical doctrine that is systematically arranged, carefully analyzed, historically scrutinized, and partorally applied. I am not aware of another book quite like this invaluable work." (Steven Lawson)
5. John Calvin — Institute of the Christian Religion (1541 and 1559)
- John Calvin wrote several editions of his Institutes of the Christine Religion both in Latin and in French (for the common people). Calvin's Institutes can be read devotionally or studied systematically.
- Most refer to the definitive English edition as the edition published by Westminter John Knox Press in 1960.
- My personal recommendation and the most readable version that can be enjoyed cover-to-cover by everyday Christians is his 1541 version translated by Robert White published by Banner of Truth.
A. Classic Reformed Systematic Theologies
- Geerhardus Vos — Reformed Dogmatics (1896)
- Herman Bavinck — Reformed Dogmatics (1906–1911)
- Petrus van Mastricht — Theoretical-Practical Theology (1698)
- Francis Turretin — Institutes of Elenctic Theology (1679–1685)
B. Modern Systematic Theologies: The Next Five
1. John Frame — Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (2013)
2. Michael Horton — The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (2011)
3. Robert Letham — Systematic Theology (2019)
4. John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue — Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (2017)
5. Robert Reymond — A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (2020)
C. Other Systematic Theologies
Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley, Reformed Systematic Theology: Revelation and God, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), 48. ↩︎