Reflections on Systematics

Active reading is a necessity in theological reflection. In order to make sure that we are being faithful to the Scriptures we must make sure that we are not allowing our predilection for a certain theological system dictate how we read the Bible. Active reading requires us to think deep and hard about doctrines, to move beyond mere formulations and to wrestle with the matters of the text and of tension. With that in mind, then, I think it is important to make sure that our study of theology is not confined to only those authors we most agree with. If all the books on your shelf are from the same publishers and generally the same authors then you may not be thinking critically about what you believe. It is important and helpful to read widely and diversely on theology. So to help you in that endeavor I have reflected here on a number of different systematic theology texts.

Not all texts are created equal, to be sure, and this list contains some authors who I think have major flaws, and yet where I think they are valuable to read I say so. I have most definitely not exhausted each of the volumes on this list. I’ve read all of some, and selections from others. But I encourage you to check out these texts. They are helpful if you are doing some in-depth study on theology, and differing viewpoints can help to sharpen your own.

Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem

Grudem has to be on this list because he is easily the most accessible systematician to date. His work is certainly comprehensive, though he has referred to it as an introduction. He touches on all the major doctrines and interacts with most of the major critiques of his position. He speaks from the Reformed and Charismatic perspective, but few other theology texts have been as easy to read and as devotionally oriented.

Christian Theology by Millard Erickson

While both Erickson and Grudem come from the Baptist perspective, their volumes are quite distinct. Erickson’s text is much more philosophically and apologetically oriented than Grudem. He makes strong defenses for the faith and interacts heavily with non-evangelical viewpoints on doctrines. He is particularly noted for his interaction with 20th Century Neo-Orthodox theologian Karl Barth. Erickson is very fair in his representations of his opponents and is therefore appreciated by both moderates and conservatives.

Systematic Theology, 3 vol.s by Wolfhart Pannenberg

There are, in my opinion, many defects in Pannenberg’s approach to theology. His methodology is not Evangelical, and his view of Scripture is seriously flawed. But in some ways Pannenberg provides us with some useful tools. For starters he writes with a heavy emphasis on historical theology and so he is useful in understanding the developments of doctrines. His defense of the historicity of the resurrection too is surprisingly helpful in that he speaks from outside the Evangelical community writing against the liberal scholars of his own circles. In some ways his defenses can be deficient but he helps us understand clearly the failure of the liberal position. His Christology also offers us some helpful ways to think about the divinity of Christ, even if I am inclined to follow the approach of other theologians. Pannenberg is one of the most important non-evangelical theologians of the century. His work was ground breaking and celebrated by a wide swath of theologians. It is useful for no other reason in that it challenges us to articulate more carefully our Orthodoxy.

Systematic Theology, 4 vols. by Norman Geisler

Geisler is an apologist at heart and the best part about this set is volume 1, in which Geisler deals with the preconditions for doing theology. His treatment of the inerrancy of Scripture alone is worth the price of the volume as he deals with the historical debate over the Bible’s inspiration and authority. As with all volumes there are things I like and don’t like about Geisler, but this is a great asset to pastoral ministry.

A Theology of Lordship, 4 vols. by John M. Frame

No single theologian has been as influential and useful to me as has John Frame. Dr. Frame’s four volume series is the best tool I own for developing an Orthodox theological methodology. The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God gives us just such a methodology. Frame’s four volumes are exceptionally accessible, interdisciplinary, and grounded in Scripture. Though volume 4 is his treatment of the Doctrine of the Word of God, from Frame’s perspective (and mine) the whole set is essentially a doctrine of the Word of God. This is a set well worth your time.

Renewal Theology by J. Rodman Williams

Williams volume is a rare one. Writing from a Reformed Charismatic perspective Williams deals with the traditional doctrines of Systematics, but has quite a different perspective on the Holy Spirit than other Evangelical texts. Whether you are a Charismatic or not you will find much that you can glean from Williams’ development of a full Charismatic Theology (a rare thing to find in and of itself).

I could, of course, list countless other volumes from which I have learned valuable expressions, formulations, and insights. I could speak to Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics, or Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics, or James P. Boyce’s Abstract of Systematic Theology. I could also talk about the frustration I experience when reading Paul Tillich’s Systematic Theology and how that shapes my own clarifying of doctrines, etc. But, needless to say, this list is already long enough. I encourage theologians to read widely and diversely in hopes that they may reflect seriously on their beliefs and the articulation of those beliefs.

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  1. […] for a good Systematic Theology textbook?  David Dunham offers a quick description of several leading systematic texts.  David also began a new series this week entitled, “Godliness and […]

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