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Discussion in 'General discussions' started by bookslover, Dec 3, 2018.
Generally speaking, what do you think is the best one-volume ST?
See the poll above.
Berkhof is the most widely read among Reformed seminaries for a reason.
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Still hard to beat Berkhof.
If you had to force me to have one, I would choose Berkhof.
Berkhof, like others have already said, is a classic standard. However, despite this, I find Berkhof to be very, very dry reading. I use Berkhof more as a reference text than as an enjoyable read. Plus, his one-volume Systematic Theology lacks a section on methodology and bibliology (unless you get the combined edition which includes his Introductory Volume to Systematic Theology). However, as one other has said above, it is "hard to beat" Berkhof when it comes to standard Reformed orthodoxy. He is great.
Reymond is, in my opinion, a much more enjoyable read than Berkhof and has the advantage of including a good prolegomena section on the nature of Scripture and revelation. I also love the fact that Reymond is one of the few who writes from an explicitly presuppositional perspective, albeit Clarkian. [EDIT: I ended up voting for this one because I think Reymond is at the same time in-depth, comprehensive, and easy/enjoyable to read. I know some folks here have a problem with his Trinitarian theology, and I understand that. However, he is up front in the preface of the book about where and how he differs with the Reformed populous. He is not, in my opinion, trying to deceive anyone.]
I have not read van Genderen and Velema, so I cannot comment on it, although I have heard really good things about it.
Grudem is by far the most accessible of your list. Despite his views on the charismata (which, frankly, I don't find to be as bad as many make it out to be, even though I am in general a cessationists), this would be the first systematics text I would give to a lay person, almost without exception. I remember thoroughly enjoying reading it in college.
I hate saying this, but I do not think Horton is a good writer at all. Others my disagree, but I found his systematics text to be very cumbersome, lengthy, and written way too much like a novel. Now, I felt this way when I had to use it my very first semester of seminary, so my opinions may change if I decide to read it again now that I have finished seminary four years later. However, I have close friends who share the same opinion of his writing.
Frame is fantastic when it comes to prolegomena and theology proper. He also has the advantage of writing from an explicitly Van Tilian presuppositional perspective (as he studied with and was close friends with Van Til). Frame is also a great writer who really has a gift of making difficult concepts fairly easy to grasp. However, the main issue I have with his Systematic Theology is its severe imbalance. Namely, if you look at the text, his prolegomena is 768 pages long, taking up a whopping 69% of the entire work! By comparison, his section on the Holy Spirit gets only 11 pages. This, in my opinion, is not good. Again, Frame is excellent when it comes to prolegomena, theology proper, and philosophy, but I would not necessarily recommend his Systematic Theology for anything else beyond that, if only because he doesn't write at length on any other topic.
Others I would recommend...
Robert Duncan Culver has written an excellent systematics work. Culver is mildly Dispensational, but he is quite reasonable, in my opinion, in that he interacts and describes many viewpoints with clarity and fairness. The advantage of Culver is twofold. First, he is very easy to read; he reads almost like a conversation. Second, Culver is extremely comprehensive. At nearly 1,000,000 words, his Systematic Theology covers almost everything there is to cover, and with depth. Were it not for the girth of this one-volume book (and it is huge), I would recommend this work most to everyone—lay person or seminary student.
Robert Lewis Dabney is difficult to describe with enough praise. I remember the first time I discovered Dabney, I thought his Systematic Theology was kind of strange in the way it was set up (i.e., as lectures). However, I think Dabney is one of the most comprehensive and powerful thinkers in American Presbyterianism. His breadth of knowledge—from theology, to languages, to politics, to economics, to architecture, etc.—is just so incredible it is mind-blowing. What's more is that often when I have been frustrated by the fact that other theologians do not answer a question I have adequately or very well, I have found Dabney to be more than satisfactory both in the length of his explanation but also in the profundity and clarity of his writing (he was a great writer, in my opinion). A lot of evangelicals do not like Dabney because, unlike them, he was a sinner, but they can go pound sand, as far as I am concerned.
Benedict Pictet, nephew of the great Francis Turretin, also wrote an excellent little book called Christian Theology. The advantage of this book is, first, that it is fairly comprehensive for its size, covering every major loci of systematic theology, and second, that it is short and cuts right to the point of each doctrine. There is a chance I might be teaching theology at a small Bible college in the next few years. If that, Lord willing, be the case, I have strongly considered using this as my text for its faithfulness and its brevity. It is a great primer on Christian doctrine.
I hesitated including W. G. T. Shedd in this list because his Dogmatic Theology was not originally one volume, but three. But, since it has been combined recently into a very nicely edited edition by Presbyterian & Reformed, I will include it. Shedd is probably the best writer in this list. He is quite a good read, if only for his literary quality. Like many systematics texts, Shedd is missing some loci, such as a discussion of ecclesiology, but his work is still fantastic. He was a penetrating thinker and, as I said, a great writer. His work, however, should be reserved for more advanced readers in theology. In my opinion, this is not a good systematics for lay people or beginners.
I voted Berkhof with Dabney closing in second. Berkhof is quite a dry read. I like to revisit Thomas Watson's Body of Divinity if there is a correlating topic to add some warmth. I also thoroughly enjoy the one volume 1541 French edition of Calvin's Institutes published by the Banner. Shedd has also been on my list for a while.
I was not aware of this volume. I am going to check it out. Thanks for sharing.
I also don't think one would be at a loss of time if they read John Brown of Haddington's Systematic Theology. This volume is saturated in Scripture and strong on Covenant Theology. He includes "26,000 proof texts." The weaknesses of it are that he doesn't interact with others and it is not the most penetrating but it is solid. It is hard to turn down such a work that is beautifully published for only $15.
I second this, for sure.
Vos's Reformed Dogmatics was originally one volume, and has been translated into 5 rather short volumes. I like Vos better than Berkhof, but Berkhof would have to be the best of the ones on your list.
Culver, then maybe Vos.
Berkhof is good for basic view.
Shedd is great, but woefully unbalanced (one page on heaven, not really any analysis on the church).
I used to love Horton, but I think Horton took the "overcoming onto-theology" paradigm in an unhelpful direction.
Culver is also one of my favorites. Berkhof remains my first choice.
Thanks for all these opinions, guys. I wish I'd remembered Shedd and Culver when I was putting the poll together. For what it's worth, Reformed author and educator Ryan McGraw thinks that the van Genderen and Velema volume is the best 1-volume ST these days.
Added to the poll.
As just an aside, I read and went by Systemats when I was a lay-person before I had training the the languages and such. Then when I got there and Biblical theology I had to unlearn much. Cart before the horse idea.
My two cents worth.
What does it take to be a Puritan Board Doctor?
I will second (or third) Robert on John Brown of Haddington. His and Dabney's are the only one volume STs that I regularly return to. Berkhof is great but it's ultimately more a distillation of other STs that I would tend to go to instead.
The "rankings" under our usernames are based on the number of posts we have. I am not sure what the mark is for becoming a "Doctor." I hit 500 not too long ago and it made me a "Sophomore." I think 1,000 may be a "Junior." I'm not sure after that. That is in @Ask Mr. Religion's department.
Puritan Board Freshman 0
Puritan Board Sophomore 500 posts
Puritan Board Junior 1000 posts
Puritan Board Senior 2000 posts
Puritan Board Graduate 3000 posts
Puritan Board Post-Graduate 4000 posts
Puritan Board Professor 5000 posts
Puritan Board Doctor 6000 posts
I have no idea how any of that works. I've been on the board for 14 years, though.
Added Dabney, Vos to poll.
Grudem has his ESS issues in addition to his charismatic beliefs.
Lane, in terms of one volume works, what do you think of Bavinck's "Our reasonable faith" or his one volume "Reformed dogmatics"?
What, no Baptists ST? I guess for obvious reasons. LOL!
Well, I am a Baptist and have Gill and Boyce that I have consulted regularly over the last few months and honestly, they just don't hold up to the others.
Grudem is a Baptist.
Culver and Grudem are Baptist. I was going to add Gill, but this thread is about one-volume systematics texts, and his is two volumes.
Thanks for those additions, though it must be said that Vos is 5 volumes, not 1. (Am I being cranky?) LOL
I’m curious: Why do you rank Culver first? I certainly don’t disagree, I’m just curious as to your personal reasoning.
Of the ones listed, I voted for Geerhardus Vos. I have never been that big a fan of Vos's other writings, but I really enjoyed the Reformed Dogmatics. Perhaps it is because they were translated out of Dutch into English? Now someone needs to translate his English writings into English.
Louis Berkhof - Generally good, but not the most pleasant to read. Given the price of the Vos volumes (if only they had been published as one volume), it will probably remain the standard relatively modern Reformed ST.
Robert Reymond - I cannot recommend it owing to the errors on Christology and the Trinity. I also disagree with the presuppositionalism.
J. van Genderen and W. H. Velema - That is one that I have not read as of yet, but maybe next year (dv).
Wayne Grudem - Stylistically the best modern ST, but suffers from various theological problems discussed by others above.
Michael Horton - As I have said before, it reads like a theological novel. It is very good on the whole, but it is never going to be a standard ST.
John Frame - I have not read it, nor do I ever intend to do so. Even though I read STs for fun, I have no desire to read so much by someone as blatantly odd as John Frame.
Robert D. Culver - I recently acquired a copy and I hope to read it next year.
W.G.T. Shedd - I own an original 19th-century edition. It is actually the best one on the list. However, it should not be there as it is a two-volume work.
Robert L. Dabney - I thought it was pretty good, though he is not the best on the Lord's Supper.