Monday, March 16, 2009

A Survey of Systematic Theology Books

There are a number of choices of systematic theology books for the interested Christian or the beginning Bible college or seminary student. Some schools use specific systematics like the reformed Systematic Theology set by Charles Hodge. Others prefer one from a Dispensational viewpoint, such as Lewis Sperry Chafer's eight volume set or Charles Ryrie's Basic Theology. Most conservative seminaries, however, are using books by one of three authors, Millard Erickson, Wayne Grudem, or Norman Geisler. I will give a (very) brief overview of the positions of each author and an even briefer review of Erickson's and Grudem's works.

1) Millard Erickson -- Millard Erickson was a professor of theology and academic dean at Bethel University in my native Minnesota. He now serves as Distinguished Professor of Theology at Western Seminary in Portland, OR. Erickson is a Baptist, semi-Calvinistic, and an Egalitarian. He attempts to write with a fair and balanced approach in his Christian Theology, although his somewhat Arminian and Egalitarian views do come across. This book is extremely easy to read, and I often recommend it or its abridged version, Christian Doctrine, to beginning readers. For those who are conservative Evangelicals but are unconvinced of the usefulness of Calvinism, this may be the systematic theology book for you.

2) Wayne Grudem -- Wayne Grudem was a professor and Chair of Biblical and Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Now Trinity International University) for many years. He is now the Research Professor of Bible and Theology at Phoenix Seminary. Grudem writes from a solidly Reformed (read, Calvinistic) viewpoint and holds a Complementarian viewpoint on women in the home and the Church. While not quite as simple as Erickson's work, his Systematic Theology is not a difficult read. He also adds interest to the theology by quoting psalms and hymns and listing memory verses at the end of each chapter. These additions help to solidify and contextualize the theology. I am currently reading through this book again, partly for personal growth and partly for some church projects. I personally enjoy this book very much. For those who are solidly Reformed and Complementarian, this is likely the systematic theology book for you.

3) Norman Geisler -- Norm Geisler is retired, but still authors books. He was the co-founder of and professor at Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, NC. Norm Geisler is focused on evangelism and on peace within the Church. He lables himself a moderate Calvinist, but tends to ride the fence between Arminianism and Calvinism. This tends to come out in his writing. I have not read any of his four-volume Systematic Theology set, but I hear that it is a) laid-out very well, and b) written in a rather dry way. Without reading these volumes myself, however, I could not recommend or critique them.

I hope that you find these brief reviews helpful in selecting a systematic theology book. Below are links to the books on, just in case you would like to purchase one through my affiliate program.


Timothy L. Decker said...

I would label Geisler Semi-Pelagian not Arminian. And he is very philosphical in his systematics (pros and cons). He also lays out the historicity of a doctrine which is convenient. He takes a Dispensational approach on Ecclesiology and Eschatology. Volume 1 is very apologetical in nature. This fits into Geisler's seminary though. It makes for a good resource.

I am amazed at the popularity that Grudem is having. I have a prof that cites him a lot. What do you think about A. Strong, L. Berkhoff, Buswell, Enns, Theissen, & Shedd?

Ps - I love to read Chafer. He was a great writer. If you need a good quote (especially when you are writing an intro or conclusion to a paper), he is a good source. He writes in ways that is all but gone in modern times.

Ryrie's my old standby though. I bought my dad this book a while back. Sharin' the wealth ;-).

Steven Douglas said...

I hope that Geisler might disagree with you (although I got a similar impression from reading some of his books). I have only read parts of Strong and Berkhoff, and don't remember much of them at all (its been a long time). I have not read anything by the other authors. I agree that Chafer was an excellent writer. I just don't agree on the theology.

Thanks for the helpful and instructive comments and the encouraging e-mail.

Jerald said...

Thanks for the list.

Timothy L. Decker said...

Dr. Rodney Decker (no relation that I am aware of, but all Deckers are alike ;-) ) made me aware of a new Syst Theo coming out by Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary by Dr. McCune. Check it out: