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GUIDE: Systematic Theology Books13 min read

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Last Update: 12.9.2021
Changes: Added Grenz

As a Master’s student in theology, I have had to take a class in Systematic Theology. I wanted to find a nice overview of the landscape of ST, but found only bits and pieces. Here’s my more comprehensive overview for budding theologians like myself.

I have been researching other ST volumes besides Grudem, as well as books on dogmatics (related, see my discussion at Biblical Theology: An Overview)

1. Antiquity / Early Church

The early fathers were too close the organization of the canon to write Systematics, but they did write foundational theological treatises.

  1. Athanasius (297-373): A father of the Eastern Church, his most influential work is the short booklet On the Incarnation of the Word of God. For a decent academic commentary on Athanasius, try Liethart’s work.
  2. Augustine (354-430): A father of the Western Church, Augustine is a theological giant. You can buy collections of Augustine’s complete works (42 volumes!), or you can start with the four volume (short volumes!) On Christian Doctrine. For a decent intro to Augustine’s theology (but not to his actual works) try Levering.
  3. Cyril of Alexandria (376-444): In the 4th century, Cyril tried to quell heresy in Christology with his On the Unity of Christ.
  4. Gregory Nazianzus (329-390): A father of the Eastern Church, he is recognized among the Cappadocian Fathers (along with Gregory of Nyssa and St. Basil the Great), his Five Theological Orations are good reading.
  5. Gregory of Nyssa (335-395): A father of the Eastern Church and Cappodocian father (along with Basil and Gregory Nazaianzus) Gregory left us a nice short catechism.
  6. Iranaeus (130-202): Often published as 5 books, you can get them all in Saint Irenaeus of Lyons: Against Heresies. Enjoy.
  7. Origen (184-253): On First Principles is perhaps as close as Origen gets to a systematic theology.

2. Medieval Church

  1. Anselm (1033-1109): A Benedictine monk and Archbishop of Canterbury, his writings are very philosophical. Although he did not write a formal ST, his works and thoughts therein are significant, not least of which is the formation of the Ontological Argument for the existence of God.
  2. Aquinas (1225-1274): Another theological giant, his Summa Theologiae will run you around $180 or more. However, you can get a very good abridged version edited by McDermott instead.
  3. Bonaventure (1221-1274): An Italian Franciscan, his Breviloquium is a classic Catholic dogma, though hard to find in print.
  4. John of Damascus (675-749): was a Byzantine monk and polymath in the late 7th century. Although he defended the Catholic use of icons, he did write a formative dogmatic, On the Orthodox Faith.
  5. Lombard * (1096-1160):  (The Sentences) This truly unique four volume set by the Catholic Bishop of Paris is translated from the original Latin. Lombard was trying to harmonize the Bible with the doctrines of the Church. A rare gem available to us English speakers.

3. Reformation

  1. Arminius (1560-1609): This Dutch Theologian is perhaps best known for his approach to salvation, that is, Arminianism, which emphasizes free will in salvation, as opposed to the predestination views of the other Reformers. In fact, he split off from the reformers in the Remonstrants movement. The excellent works of Jacobus Arminius are available in three inexpensive ebooks (Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3)
  2. Bucer (1491-1551): Martin Bucer was a German Protestant reformer. His On the Kingdom of Christ, as well as Melancthon’s Loci Communes can be found in Melancthon and Bucer.
  3. Calvin (1509-1564): John Calvin’s Institutes are legendary and online for free. However, they are also available on Kindle and in affordable paperback.
  4. Luther (1483-1546): Martin Luther’s Large Catechism is not quite a systematic theology, but his works are all available online. You could also buy the Lutheran Book of Concord, containing the catechisms written by Luther, Melancthon, and other reformers.
  5. Melancthon (1497-1560): Phillip Melanchton was a contemporary and colleague of Luther, you can read his important work Loci Communes in Melancthon and Bucer.

4. Modern Systematic Theologies

My favorites have a * next to the author’s name. Note that this does not mean they are the best, just my favorites. I have not read all of these. Some are excellent, I am sure, I just don’t know them yet.

  1. Anderson (Renewing Christian Theology): This newly published ST is interesting because it (a) is written from a pentecostal perspective, and (b) considers world christianity, not just western. Definitely not reformed, However, I did not find this comprehensive enough, and a little narrow.
  2. Barth (Church Dogmatics): Barth is a significant modern theologian, but his Church Dogmatics is long and expensive ($500). However, you can buy a nice precis version.
  3. Bird (Evangelical Theology): Organized around the gospel, this ST does not follow the typical three part (God, Man, Jesus) ST formula. If you want a gospel-oriented ST, this may be your baby.
  4. Bavinck (Reformed Dogmatics): A Dutch Reformed masterpiece in four volumes. You can also purchase a cheaper, abridged one volume Bavinck.
  5. Boice (Foundations of the Christian Faith) Although I suspect this to be another Reformed standard, it is very tempting, Boice was brilliant.
  6. Bray (God is Love): I didn’t consider any ST books under 800 pages, and this one, though it has a less than academic title, is still a well regarded ST, respectably over 800 pages, and written “to reach those who would not normally find systematic theology appealing or even comprehensible.” Not for me, but maybe you.
  7. Burkof * (Systematic Theology): Published in the 1930’s, this is a gem, if for no other reason that it has a 200 page introductory book on the history of systematic theology, with a really nice discussion of terms and topics of relevance. Plus, being from another time period, valuable. I will be using. Also free online PDF.
  8. Erickson * (Christian Theology): I have the 1993 first edition, they released a 3rd edition in 2013 which I am sorely tempted to get. He includes more philosophical and historical points, as well as discussions of the different types of theology. I really enjoy this book, and will be using it. One of my top 2.
  9. Finger (Christian Theology): This is a two volume ST from an Anabaptist point of view.
  10. Frame (Systematic Theology): This is an incredibly concise and readable book, with more accolades than you can believe, but peculiar in that the author leverages his tri-perspectivism throughout, which is both helpful and limiting. I also found his theology very standard Reformed, with poor consideration of alternative views on controversial issues. Interestingly, he includes review questions and memory verses after each chapter. Also free online PDF.
  11. Geisler (Systematic Theology): Geisler is well known as an apologist, especially his book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, but this Arminian may have a unique ST. He’s certainly intelligent enough to do a great job. Have to check out.
  12. Grenz (Theology for the Community of God): somatic theology through the lens of God creating community.
  13. Grudem * (Systematic Theology): Probably the most popular modern Reformed Evangelical ST, with over 500,000 sold, this is required reading at most Baptist and other reformed seminaries, including mine. Writing is accessible but deep, does not indulge in too many technical terms where they are not needed (e.g. “perspicuity”), but does mention them in footnotes, and the desktop publishing of this book is very pleasing with two colors in multiple size fonts, decent size margins for breathing room, and other nice touches. Really nicely done book.
  14. Heppe (Reformed Dogmatics): Heinrich Heppe was an influential German Reformed theologian from the early 19th century. Hard to find his works in print.
  15. Hodge (Systematic Theology): Charles Hodge represents the distillation of reformed doctrine in the 19 century, opposing Schleiermacher. His three volume work can be bought cheaply from CBD for $20, or you can get the Kindle version for $2 from amazon. I will be using this.
  16. Horton (A Christian Faith): This systematic theology is quickly becoming the new standard for reformed seminaries, and may replace Grudem eventually. It is highly regarded but I don’t have it yet.
  17. Jensen (Systematic Theology): This two volume set is pricey, but his commitment to a truly catholic view (spanning Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant) is admirable, if not a tough but rewarding read. For more serious students. However, this comes from the more liberal Lutheran tradition, and verges on heresy at times.
  18. Kärkkäinen (Systematic Theology): Professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, this “constructive Christology” approach is a great 5 volume set if you can afford it. You can instead buy his shorter summary in Christian Theology in a Pluralistic World.
  19. Letham (Systematic Theology): Another Reformed theology (the reformed love to systematize!), I am going to pass on this for a couple reasons. First, we already have Grudem, and second, this may have the same issue that I had with Frame, in that he starts with Reformed theology more than the bible, in that he may take a self-avowed “confessional ” approach as one reviewer put it. I need something less credal and more full-orbed.
  20. Oden * (Classic Christianity): This one promises to not be partisan or Reformed, but largely historical in nature, quoting the fathers. Looks like a must have. And the price is reasonable. I’m gonna have it.
  21. Ott (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma): This influential theologian and philosopher captures theology from a Roman Catholic perspective.
  22. Pannenberg (Systematic Theology): This two volume set is another that provides plenty of historical theology across the entire theological spectrum, not just within a single dogmatic stream. Smart. On my wish list,
  23. Reymond (A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 2nd Ed): Heck, this one isn’t even out yet, why are you looking at it? Another Reformed confessional, probably updated with lots of good arguments. But not for me.
  24. Thiselton (Systematic Theology): This brief (500 page) ST is thought provoking and digs into the philosophical and translation issues with respect to ST. On my list.
  25. Tillich (Systematic Theology): This 3 volume series looks above my pay grade for now. Tillich was a colleague of Reformed Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, and was known as an “existentialist” theologian. I’m not even sure what that means.
  26. Turretin (Institutes of Elentic Theology): This three volume set, oddly named, is a classic in Reformed Cavlinistic theology, probably only superceded in reputation by Calvin’s Institutes. (“elentic” means an indirect, rather than direct proof).
  27. Schleiermacher * (Christian Faith): Friedrich Schleiermacher represents the distillation of liberal theology of the 19th century. I am looking into it. It’s pricey.
  28. Schmid (The Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church): This 19th century Dutch theologian spells out the dogma of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Hard to get in print, but easy and cheap on Kindle.
  29. Shedd (Dogmatic Theology): An important American Calvinist Presbyterian of the 19th century. Worth having. You can also get a more expensive three volume set.
  30. Strong * (Systematic Theology): Augustus Strong was a mainstay of Baptist theology at the turn of the previous century, a mainstay for many. Heard of Strong’s Concordance? He’s not that guy, that was Methodist James Strong. Very affordable, and also available in a cheap Kindle edition. Free online PDF.
  31. Vos * (Reformed Dogmatics): This 4 volume set, recently translated from Dutch, looks great. But I’m not ready for this yet. But Vos is a giant from the early 20th century.
  32. Wiley (Christian Theology): This early 20th Century, 3-volume set is a standard in Wesleyan/Arminian theology. A little pricey.
  33. Williams (Renewal Theology): This 1996 book from a Regent University professor is almost 1500 pages. Well regarded.

5. Other ST-Related Books

Here are related books, not ST per se, but intros and overviews:

  1. An Introduction to Christian Theology (Plantinga, Thompson, Lundberg): A great overview of ST.
  2. Christian Theology: An Introduction, 6th ed. * (McGrath): the BEST overview of Historical and Systematic Theology. A true gem.
  3. Christian Theology in a Pluralistic World (Kärkkäinen): A nice summary of his five volume ST, this Fuller professor is cutting edge evangelical center.
  4. Everyone’s A Theologian (Sproul): I find Sproul as dry as toast, but this book comes highly recommended as an intro.
  5. Introduction to Systematic Theology (Van Til): At a mere 400 pages, this is not a complete ST, but an introduction to it from a smart and influential Christian. If you are a student of presuppositional apologetics, you should look into this.
  6. Invitation to Dogmatic Theology (McGlasson): I have this one, and am really enjoying it for the background and history of ST it gives. It has less accolades than others, but it does have one from Michael Horton. What I like about it is that it discusses the extremes of “liberal and evangelical” theology, and how both lean towards unhealthy, even heretical extremes. I love this theme. If you feel that even the reliable Reformed view has become too narrow in places, you may like this.
  7. The Orthodox Church (Ware): Not quite a systematic theology, this is still one of the most complete dogmatic volumes out of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

6. Other Resources

  1. Best Modern Systematic Theologies
  2. Systematic Theology Review
  3. The Top 25 (Or So) Books for a Young Theologian to Own (And Read)