Francis Schaeffer urged followers of Jesus to “think Christianly.” This discipline requires us to think theologically. John MacArthur urges, “The evangelical church . . . no longer has the ability to fight error because it doesn’t know the truth.” When we think theologically, we grow in discipleship and obedience to Christ and apply God’s truth to everyday life. When believers move in this Godward direction, they begin to develop an insatiable appetite for God’s Word.
Paul’s prayer for the believers in the Colossian church reflects this very mindset: “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:9–10). Theology helps us worship God correctly. Sinclair Ferguson writes, “The goal of theology is the worship of God. The posture of theology is on one’s knees. The mode of theology is repentance.”
One of the tools that the church has benefited from over the years is systematic theology. We are blessed with several noteworthy volumes, a few of which are described below in the order that they have significantly influenced my Christian thinking and life.
Top 7 Systematic Theology Books
1. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief by John Frame
How does one review a systematic theology by one of the leading minds of the evangelical world? How does one summarize the thoughts of a 1,100-page book that towers with truth; a book that takes readers to the top of the “theological mountain?”
Anyone who attempts to read and devour Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief by John Frame will be faced with such questions. Indeed, while the oxygen is scarce at the top of this theological peak, readers will enjoy the view that Dr. Frame presents. As one might expect, every branch of systematic theology is explored. The author invites readers on a journey which introduces them to God who relates to creatures as their covenant Lord. The three lordship attributes are articulated throughout the book – control, authority, and presence.
Several thoughts help capture the essence of this incredible book. While some will be put off by such thoughts, my hope is that a majority of readers will be motivated and inspired to pick up Dr. Frame’s work. This powerful book is marked by at least ten features. It is:
- Unashamedly Calvinistic
- Leads readers to worship God
- Exposes liberal scholarship and lays bare its erroneous presuppositions
John Frame’s Systematic Theology is a theological tour de force. This weighty volume is drenched with Scripture and is drowning with biblical wisdom. I cannot think of any other writer who has influenced my thinking more, outside of Jonathan Edwards himself. This work is a true labor of love, a gift to the church, and a tool that will sharpen the minds of Christ-followers and serve as a heart-tenderizer for many years to come!
Related: Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology by John Frame
2. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine by Wayne Grudem
The forthcoming revised edition of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology is generating excitement – and for good reason. Dr. Grudem’s excellent work is one of the best-selling systematics of our generation, with over 750,000 copies sold since 1994.
One of the most enduring qualities of Grudem’s offering is its readability. He writes with clarity and biblical fidelity. Guided by the presuppositions of Reformed theology, Grudem guides readers on a journey that will benefit them for many years to come.
Related: Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know by Wayne Grudem; Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith by Wayne Grudem
3. Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof
I cut my teeth as a young Seminarian on Systematic Theology by Lewis Berkhof almost thirty years ago. I was instantly struck with Berkhof’s reverence for God. The first two sections, which outline the doctrine of God and the works of God are worth the price of the book. Highly recommended.
4. Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth by John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue
A theological tour masterpiece. A magnum opus. A breath-taking panorama that leaves the reader in awe. These are only a few descriptions of Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth by John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue.
Several terms characterize Biblical Doctrine. These terms will either attract or repel readers, but will nonetheless provide a helpful template for evaluating the prospect of plopping down almost $40.00 for a book!
Biblical: This book is literally drowning in Scripture. Anyone familiar with MacArthur’s writing, in particular, will not be surprised to find a dogmatic edge. But dogmatism undergirded by humility and informed by Scripture is surely a path worth tracing out.
Evangelical: This book is guided by a commitment to the gospel. Look elsewhere for a pragmatic approach. Readers will be blessed by the relentless pursuit of Jesus and his resplendent glory.
Orthodox: This book is committed to historic orthodoxy, which is grounded by a literal, grammatical hermeneutic. Liberalism is soundly defeated and relegated to the ash heap.
A Reformed Bent: Although there are some views held in this volume that do not neatly conform to traditional aspects of Reformed theology (e.g., baptism, church government, etc.) this book nonetheless is informed by the infrastructure of the Reformers of the sixteenth century. Weaving throughout this volume is a commitment to grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, Scripture alone, and to God alone be the glory.
John MacArthur helpfully sums up the essence of the Reformed faith:
“It is the marvel of marvels that the King of kings, whose glory is exalted above the heavens, should lift a finger to rescue even one of such vile traitors as the sons of Adam. Then to learn that this infinitely worthy King has purposed to redeem not one but countless multitudes at the cost of the life of his own dear Son bows the sinner’s heart in humble wonder.”
I cannot recommend Biblical Doctrine highly enough. It is an outstanding addition to the growing number of books committed to teaching systematic theology. Students will be challenged and stretched; spiritual growth will no doubt occur as they pour over the many pages of this tome. But most significantly, their hearts and minds will be drawn to worship and glorify the Triune God.
5. Systematic Theology by Charles Hodge
Charles Hodge’s contribution to systematic theology can hardly be overstated. For me personally, Hodge had a significant contribution in Seminary days and continues to wield a mighty force. His treatment of God’s decrees are a great boon for the soul. Hodge states emphatically that:
“The reason, therefore, why any event occurs, or, that it passes from the category of the possible into that of the actual, is that God has so decreed. The decrees of God, therefore, are not many, but one purpose. They are not successively formed as the emergency arises, but are all parts of one all-comprehending plan … If he has not absolutely determined on what is to occur, but waits until an undetermined condition is or is not fulfilled, then his decrees can neither be eternal or immutable.”
I urge readers to pick up Hodge’s three-volume set.
6. Reformed Systematic Theology: Volume 1: Revelation and God by Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley
Our generation is fraught with challenges that militate against the Christian faith. We are constantly battling heresy, both inside and outside the church. The propagation of lies is commonplace and the repudiation of truth is part of the fabric of contemporary culture.
Thankfully, we are blessed with many resources that help encourage and equip us for living the Christian life, even in the midst of the rising tide of apostasy. One of the most recent works is a labor of love from Joel Beeke and Paul Smalley. Reformed Systematic Theology: Revelation and God is the first volume and includes an extended prolegomena, the doctrine of revelation, and the doctrine of God. Each major section introduces readers to the biblical fundamentals and critical areas of concern.
What makes this work special is the emphasis on what key thinkers in church history have said about a given doctrinal reality. The authors have done their homework and have done the “heavy lifting,” which enable students to focus in on the subject at hand. But make no mistake: While the authors lean on writers from another generation, it is never done in a way that overshadows the authority of Scripture. Sacred Scripture has the first and last word on every subject.
Frankly, I found this volume enthralling. While it weighs in at over 1,200 pages, I found the reading to be engaging, illuminating, and educational. But more than anything, Reformed Systematic Theology points readers to the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ and his life, death, resurrection, ascension, and exaltation. This work succeeds in leading readers to the cross of Christ. It is here that we are humbled and challenged to worship before his majesty.
Related: Reformed Systematic Theology: Volume 2: Man and Christ by Joel Beeke and Paul Smalley
7. Systematic Theology by Robert Letham
Systematic Theology by Robert Letham is a solid work designed to fit within the framework of Reformed confessionalism. This volume is unique in that is begins with a treatment on the triune God. Dr. Letham begins by offered the dominant arguments for God’s existence and proceeds to show how the doctrine of the Trinity unfolding in church history and redemptive history, respectively.
The remaining sections appear as one might expect – the doctrine of the Word of God, the works of God, the image of God, the covenant of God, Christ, the Son of God, the Spirit of God and the people of God, and the ultimate purposes of God.
Letham draws on a wide range of evangelical writers as he articulates each doctrine – biblically, historical, and always in the conservative evangelical stream. This work is unusually objective. That is, while the author does not hide his doctrinal pre-commitments, he is eager to fairly represent his opponents.
As with any work of systematic theology, readers will likely not agree with everything. Some readers, like me, will need to look elsewhere on matters that pertain to baptism and eschatology. Nonetheless, Systematic Theology makes a noteworthy contribution to a growing list of solid offerings. I will turn to this volume often and use it as a solid resource for theological study and reflection.
More Systematic Theology Books
Of course, there are many other fine volumes that could be discussed and explored.
Other notable works include:
- Dogmatic Theology by William G.T. Shedd
- Reformed Dogmatics by Herman Bavinck
- The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way by Michael Horton
- A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith by Robert Reymond
- Christian Theology by Millard Erickson.
For younger students or for those just getting started, I recommend Concise Theology by J.I. Packer and Everyone’s a Theologian by R.C. Sproul. Another one-volume Systematic Theology to consider is The Wonderful Works of God by Herman Bavinck. Finally, for those of you looking for something advanced, you may want to consider Francis Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology.
Other Book Lists
Here are some other book lists to consider checking out:
7 Best Theology Books for Beginners. Seven books to get you started, for those just starting out in the discipline and practice of studying Christian theology.
Seminary Books: A Complete List of Required Reading for my MDiv Studies. If you want to know what kinds of books seminary students are required to read, you can in this post.
30 Books Every Christian Should Read Before Turning 30. Christian books to consider reading before turning 30.
 John MacArthur, The Master’s Seminary Mantle (Winter 2001, Vol. 8:1), 1.
 Sinclair B. Ferguson cited in James W. Boice and Philip G. Ryken, The Doctrines of Grace (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2002), 179.