Why You Should Study Systematic Theology

Where Do I Start?

You obviously need to start with knowing the Scripture rather than reading what someone else has said about the Scripture. So first, you should read your Bible. I would also recommend purchasing the Bible on CD. I imported the ESV Bible into my iTunes account and have it on my phone. When I am running, lifting weights or driving for an extended time, I listen to entire books of the Bible to saturate myself continuously with God’s Word.

Next, I recommend beginning with a shorter, popular level book on doctrine. You could read a book like What Every Christian Ought to Know by Adrian Rogers, The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler, or The Gospel by J.D. Greear. While I wouldn’t recommend everything anyone does or writes, these books will get you started.

From there, you can move into the realm of smaller systematic theologies. I would recommend staying away from those that spend much time on philosophical arguments in favor of those that spend more time dealing with Scripture–at least at first. Charles Ryrie’s Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth, James Madison Pendleton’s Christian Doctrine a Compendium of Theology (older but good), Millard Erickson’s Introducing Christian Doctrine, or Wayne Grudem’s Bible Doctrine: Essential Teaching of the Christian Faith are all helpful works.

After familiarizing yourself with main categories and how Scripture fits together, it may be helpful to see what others in the past have said, or to add philosophical argumentation to your knowledge base. I would begin with larger systematic books before taking on a historical theology like Alister McGrath’s. Chart books can also be treasures to help you understand the differences of the various positions. I would recommend the charts series from Zondervan, which includes Charts of Christian Theology and Doctrine. You can move to Grudem’s major systematic work Systematic Theology, Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology, or A Theology for the Church edited by Daniel Akin. Perhaps even Norman Geisler’s four-volume Systematic Theology. Then I would recommend Lewis and Demarest’s Integrative Theology–described as historical, biblical, systematic, apologetic and practical.

After working your way through these books, you should know where you stand and what you want to read next. Pay careful attention to the footnotes as you read. A goldmine of historical authors will usually appear in these notes, which casual readers may skip over. If these books become your favorites, then I suspect God may be calling you to ministry and you may need to pack up and come to seminary or at least visit one while praying for the Lord to show you His will for your life.

Editor's Note: This is post 12 in a series of 12.


  1. My favorite Systematic Theologies in no particular order: Berkhof, Hodge, Bavinck, Grudem, Bray, and Horton. Systematic Theologies make my soul sing in praise, worship, awe, and admiration to God.

    In addition, I think Packer’s classic “Knowing God” or Stott’s “Basic Christianity” serves a great introduction to SysTheos.

    Thank you so much for this series. This was a real treat!

  2. I really enjoyed this series, even where we didn’t see eye to eye. You’re very good at explaining your subject and your views on the subject.

  3. Hit the enter button too quickly.

    I meant to add that I really like Thomas Oden’s Systematic Theology. Barth’s Dogmatics in Outline was okay. His Evangelical Theology was a little better. Tillich so bored me that I could never finish anything he wrote. Calvin’s Institutes of Christian Religion didn’t persuade me, and coupled with a biography of Calving and Ben Lacy Rose’s T.U.L.I.P. The Five Disputed Points of Calvinism, 2nd ed confirmed to me that I am NOT a Calvinist and do not desire to be one.

    I read my way slowly through Aquinas’ Summa Theologica and Summa Contra Gentiles (in English, not Latin 🙂 ). They aren’t light reading; the densely-packed logic in each of his sentences is a workout for the brain! They are worth reading, though, despite the clearly incorrect teaching of salvation through works. The logical exercises Aquinas forces the reader into are wonderful for sharpening the brain’s critical thought paths.

    Grudem’s Systematic Theology is a clear exposition of the faith from a Calvinist perspective. It is interesting, and well worth the time to read, but I am not persuaded of the truth of Calvin’s teachings. At best I am a 2.5-point Calvinist. I have not read Stott’s Basic Christianity, but Packer’s Knowing God is on my list of books to read.

    Again, Thomas, let me just reiterate how much I enjoyed reading this series. I know long series are a chore, but I do look forward to seeing notices of your posts in my inbox because of how much I appreciate your writing.

  4. Joseph, you mention some really good works there. Thanks for the comment.

    Robert, I have really enjoyed our interaction, and I look forward to more of it on future post. Thanks also for listing the additional books. You are definitely swimming in the deep end of the pool…and finally, thank you for the encouragement. I really do appreciate it.

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