Best Books in Systematic Theology

Everyone should read some Christian theology. And the first thing to read is a systematic theology, that is, a work that treats all the major doctrines of Christian theology in systematic fashion. (This used to be called “Dogmatic Theology.”)

Recently I’ve been reading E. A. Litton’s 19th-century volume Introduction to Dogmatic Theology. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Litton to any serious reader who has time or shelf space for only one volume of systematic theology.

Here are my recommendations for different categories.

The three best—those very few books that I treasure most for their theological insight and literary value—listed in order of preference:

  • Edward Arthur Litton, Introduction to Dogmatic Theology (1882, 1892)
  • John Miley, Systematic Theology, 2 volumes (1892-1894)
  • W. H. Griffith Thomas, The Principles of Theology: An Introduction to the Thirty-Nine Articles (1930)

Classics of the first millennium:

  • John of Damascus, De Fide Orthodoxa (AD 730)

Classics of the 13th century:

  • Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica

Classics of the 16th century:

  • John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559; McNeill translation, in two volumes, 1960)
  • Jacobus Arminius, The Works of James Arminius (2009 ed.)
  • Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology (Giger translation, edited by Dennison, 1997)

Favorite classics from the late 19th century to the middle 20th century (in chronological order):

  • Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (1871-1873)
  • Robert L. Dabney, Systematic Theology (1878; reprint, 1985)
  • A. A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology
  • William G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 3 volumes (1889; reprint, 1979)
  • Augustus H. Strong, Systematic Theology (1907)
  • Edgar Young Mullins, The Christian Religion in Its Doctrinal Expression (1917)
  • James Oliver Buswell, Jr., A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion (1962-1963)

Best recent works (in alphabetical order by author name):

  • Millard Erickson, Christian Theology (1985)
  • Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, 4 volumes (2002-2005)
  • Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (1994)
  • Gordon R. Lewis and Bruce Demarest, Integrative Theology, 3 volumes (1987-1994)

Here are Amazon links to those that are currently in print: Griffith Thomas; John of Damascus; Thomas Aquinas (5 volumes); Calvin; Arminius, 2nd of 3 volumes; Turretin; A. A. Hodge; Shedd; Strong; Mullins; Erickson; Geisler, vol. 1; Grudem; Lewis & Demarest. Click here for the “systematic theology” listings at Amazon.

Used books available at Amazon: Buswell, and others.

Online sources at the Christian Ethereal Library:

Note: This post is dynamic and subject to revision.

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About Doug Geivett
University Professor; PhD in philosophy; author; conference speaker. Hobbies include motorcycling, travel, kayaking, sailing.

8 Responses to Best Books in Systematic Theology

  1. Thank you for the information. I have Geisler’s Systematic Theology, 4 volumes; and highly recommend the purchase.

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  2. Steven says:

    I certainly have nothing against a broadly Evangelical listing. And despite my sympathy I concede that “ease of exposition” would likely exclude Pannenberg (and of course Barth).

    My current readings and thoughts have led me to really reconsider what it is to be Evangelical or Conservative and why they were portrayed in my childhood as standing virtuously in opposition to the “Others”. All of this to say, Pannenberg (whom I’m most familiar with of the above theologians I suggested) arrives at relatively “Conservative” or “Orthodox” conclusion, albeit by a more than slightly non-traditional approach. Thus, it seems as if anyone who takes up a systematic approach to theology with some novel methodology, yet comes out the other side very much affirming the historic creeds of the church, is seemingly quite Conservative to me.

    In defense of Pannenberg’s clarity, I think his 2 volume “Basic Questions” series, which is a collection of previously published articles semi-redacted is actually a far simpler read than his systematic volumes. Though, this does come at the expense of being (only in some areas) outdated expressions of his thought.

    Moltmann, however, I am not so sure I can even creatively defend him being “Conservative”. Although, I am not sure he would want me to!

    Also, is it wrong (please read that as a genuine question and not with a satirical flair!) to consider Barth “Conservative” because of his large influence on the Reformed church? I suppose I am also guilty of conflating Reformed with Conservative, although that does not mean I conflate Conservative into Reformed.

    Finally, do you think Hodge’s systematic work is important for its historical contribution to Conservative theology, or its continued veracity regarding its argumentation?

    As an aspiring theologian/philosopher, I greatly appreciate the fast response!!

    Blessings.

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  3. Doug Geivett says:

    Steven, thanks for your question. Maybe I should have indicated the general theological orientation for each of these theologies. I’m not a Calvinist, myself, and so I haven’t intentionally loaded the deck on behalf of Calvinism.

    Miley and Griffith-Thomas, among the best (for present purposes), are Arminian and Anglican, respectively. The two Hodges and Shedd are unequivocally Calvinist. Mullins and Buswell are also Calvinist. Dabney and Strong are Baptist.

    The authors mentioned in the last group are all Evangelical. My original purpose was to suggest titles, from different periods of Christian history, that are theologically conservative. A list of “most influential theologians” would look different than this one. It would certainly include Karl Barth (1886-1968), Wolfhart Pannenberg (b. 1928), and Jürgen Moltmann (b. 1926). Robert Jensen is less influential than these three, but definitely contemporary and important. On this point, see Pannenberg’s review of Jenson here.

    I also have favored relative brevity (disqualifying Barth) and ease of exposition (Barth and Pannenberg). Jenson is ecumenical, but moderately conservative on some points, though not altogether systematic. I mean that his range of topics is not as broad as is typical of systematic theology, and hence, not as systematic in relating branches of theology to each other.

    I suppose this is all very contentious. I hope you’ve opened the door to further discussion!

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  4. Steven says:

    While this is certainly a good list, it seems pretty narrow sighted. The ultra-modern, ultra-conservative tradition is well represented above. I would say outside of Arminius it is basically a list of Calvin’s theological kin. Which again, does not make it a bad list at all.

    Where are folks like Pannenberg, Barth, and Jenson? Or Moltmann? Surely if the superlative “best” is being used they ought to be in the conversation. Or was the purpose of this list just to edifying those of a particular theological persuasion already? If it was, I clearly missed that point and feel free to completely disregard what I’ve said!

    Having said all of that, I enjoy your work! Keep at it, sir!

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  5. Doug Geivett says:

    And why is that, skjou?

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  6. skjou says:

    Anyone by the name of Norman, Millard or Wayne should not be included in the best modern systematics.

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  7. Pingback: Doug Geivett’s Theology Reading Suggestions « SUMMA PHILOSOPHIAE

  8. Thanks for this comprehensive list. I have Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. I would certainly reccomend it as an easily digestable read.

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