From the start, you need to know that I like to read from a diversity of theologians because good theology is about investigation not indoctrination. Reading theologians from different traditions helps me better compare and contrast my own thinking with the Scripture; the ultimate book of theology. So all that to say, the following selection represents thinkers who are, for the most part, Orthodox in their theology, but not all agree on every issue of importance.
This is one of the best single-volume theologies integrating solid exegesis, practical application, and plenty of helpful indices. Grudem’s volume is weak on the Holy Spirit, but he has a good treatment of creation and a solid ecclesiology. Grudem’s theology is compatible with the baptistic tradition and written with a high view of Scripture’s authority for the life of the believer. His work has a devotional quality, ending chapters with selected hymns, and his tone is one of genuine love for God and for people.
BIO: Wayne Grudem, research professor of theology and biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary, received his A.B. from Harvard, M.Div. and honorary D.D. from Westminster Seminary-Philadelphia, and Ph.D. in New Testament from the University of Cambridge. He is a board member of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, a past president of the Evangelical Theological Society, and the author of twenty books. He was the general editor of the ESV Study Bible, and is a member of the Translation Oversight Committee for the English Standard Version Bible.
In this single volume, Berkhof presents a strongly Reformed-Presbyterian view of the Doctrines of God, Man, the Person and Work of Christ, the Application of the Work of Redemption, the Church and the Means of Grace, and the Last Things. His treatment of the Trinity is thorough but his doctrine of God is less complete. Berkhof’s chapter on Last-Things presents the classic reformed view of Amillennialism while presenting argument against both Historic and Dispensational Premillennialism. If you are looking to undertand Dispensationalism from a positive perspective, then you will need to read “Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth” by Charles C. Ryrie.
BIO: Berkhof graduated from Calvin Theological Seminary in 1900 and accepted the call to be the pastor of the Allendale, Michigan First Christian Reformed Church. In 1902 he went to Princeton Theological Seminary for two years earning a B.D. degree. In 1906 he was appointed to the faculty of Calvin Theological Seminary. He assumed the presidency of the seminary in 1931,
This three volume set is a wonderful expression of Wesleyan theology, but what I like best is the organization of the series. Each volume is a very thorough treatment and interacts with the Early Church Fathers, Medieval theologians, Contemporary thinkers, and the European Reformers. Most readers will find value in Oden’s discussions of Free Will and the Holy Spirit.
BIO: Thomas Clark Oden is an American United Methodist theologian. He is the Henry Anson Buttz Professor of Theology and Ethics at Drew University in New Jersey. He was born in Altus, Oklahoma. He has a B.A. degree from the University of Oklahoma (1953), a B.D from Southern Methodist University (1956), an M.A. from Yale University (1958), and a Ph.D. from Yale University (1960).
Without equal, this is my favorite multi-volume systematic theology. I love Henry’s clarity of thought along with his astute observations regarding the interplay between culture, reason, philosophy, and theology. Considered the primary architect of American Evangelicalism, his theology is important to every Christian who wants to understand the makeup of the contemporary church. Henry’s work also provides a vigorous critique of Barth’s Dogmatics (see below) that you need to read.
BIO: Carl F.H. Henry is widely recognized as a foremost thinker, educator, author, and theologian. He holds the ThD from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, and the PhD from Boston University. He was the founding editor of Christianity Today, the Chairman of the World Congress on Evangelism in Berlin in 1966, and the Program Chairman for the Jerusalem Conference on Biblical Prophecy in 1970. He is the author of some thirty-five volumes, a number of which have had a decisive influence on the shape of Christianity in America, including The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (1948), Evangelicals at the Brink of Crisis (1967), and the monumental six-volume work God, Revelation, and Authority (1976-1983). In addition, he has taught and lectured around the world at major universities on every continent.
Barth’s influence on modern theology is almost without equal and so this work is an important primary source for every theologian. While I appreciate some of Barth’s insight, his theology eventually led him to embrace the heresy of Universlaism. Despite his failure to remain orthodox, Barth’s work should be standard reading in every Seminary.
If you are a bit overwhelmed by Barth’s Church Dogmatics, and at 9,233 pages who isn’t, you may find these options helpful:
- Dogmatics in Outline by Karl Barth: Barth never intended this as a short-cut to his Dogmatics, but in the age of Cliff-notes, it is the best thing you will find.
- Christian Theology by Millard J. Erickson: In addition to Henry’s theology mentioned above, this is another solid single-volume theology that is sometimes Calvinist, but offers regular interaction with Barth from an Evangelical perspective.
- My Own Analysis: Some time ago I spent an entire year reading through Barth and interacting with his theology on my blog. These posts may be of some help in understanding his writing.
BIO: Karl Barth was a Swiss Reformed theologian. Barth is often regarded as the greatest Protestant theologian of the twentieth century. His influence expanded well beyond the academic realm to mainstream culture, leading him to be featured on the cover of Time on April 20, 1962. Beginning with his experience as a pastor, Barth rejected his training in the predominant liberal theology typical of 19th-century European Protestantism as well conservative Christian fundamentalism. Instead he embarked on a new theological path initially called dialectical theology, due to its stress on the paradoxical nature of divine truth (e.g., God’s relationship to humanity embodies both grace and judgment).
Dr. Joe Miller (aka JR) is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. In addition, he is a church planter and coach for emerging leaders. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.