The genre of “Systematic Theologies” does not have a long history, relatively speaking. While this fact deserves its own blog post, it was not until post-Reformation that Christians began to publish such works. The closest book we have in the Bible to a systematic theology is undoubtedly the book of Romans. However, I don’t think enough can be said about the value of such works. Every Christian should have at least on (if not many) systematic theologies on their book-shelf.

The following is a list of my most recommended systematic theologies. As you will see there is not much lack for originality in the titles! I am not necessarily saying that these are the “best” (though all qualify), but the most important and highly recommended for all students of theology today.

10.  Institutes of Elenctic Theology (3-Volumes), Francis Turretin

A greatly neglected work from one of the systematizers of Reformed Theology. This served as the standard systematic theology among Reformed thinkers until it was replaced by Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology in the late 19th century. In many ways, including his writing style and precision, I don’t think it would be unfair to call him the St. Thomas Aquinas of Protestantism theology.

9. Systematic Theology, Louis Berkhof

One of the most succinct and to the point Systematic theologies available. Berkhof, who taught at Calvin Theological Seminary from 1906-1944, was a leading thinker of Reformed theology during much of the 20th century. If you are looking for original thought, Berkhof does not qualify. But if you are looking for someone who was an excellent organizer and teacher of Christian theology, he is the man.

8. Systematic Theology (4-Volumes), Lewis Sperry Chafer

Though dated like many of these recommendations, Chafer’s theology stands apart for two reasons. 1) It is immanently readable and pastoral in tone. You do not feel as if you are reading irrelevant theology with these volumes. They serve more like a theological devotional filled with a depth of understanding of the grace of God. 2) In my opinion, it is still the go-to Systematic Theology for reformed-dispensationalism. Yes, it will present a more classical dispensational understanding, yet it captures the essence of the way dispensationalists read Scriptures more than any other work.

7. A Theology Of Lordship (3-Volumes) by John Frame

Frame is one of the leading figures in Reformed theology today. His Theology of Lordship series come in three volumes: 1) The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 2) The Doctrine of God, 3) The Doctrine of the Christian Life. Unlike Berkolf, Frame is very unique in his approach to theological thought, providing it with a interesting, if not persuasive, paradigm of presuppositionalism and “A Theology of Lordship” (which is sometimes hard to follow). Some of the best stuff on the problem of evil and the attributes of God I have ever read. Interestingly, in the last volume on Christian living Frame spends nearly six-hundred pages on the ten commandments alone!

6. Systematic Theology (3-Volumes) Thomas C. Oden

This is not merely a token Arminian contribution, but truly a valuable contribution to the Systematic Theology genre. While I am not crazy about the structure, Oden makes number six due to his clear and consistent explanation of the Christian faith and his draw on the church fathers and all of Church history.

5. Systematic Theology, Charles Hodge

Charles Hodge’s systematic theology has been the standard theology in Reformed circles for much of the twentieth century. Again, dated in much of its polemics (esp contra Roman Catholicism), he writes with great clarity. His systemization of Reformed thought and Evangelical doctrine serves as a sort of ambiance for most of the more modern theological thinkers and discussion. It is hard to overstate the influence of this work.

4. Integrative Theology, Gordon Lewis and Bruce Demarest

This volume (now available as a 3-in-one) serves as a great conservative Evangelical theology. It would be hard to place this strictly in a Reformed camp, even though there is that thought and influence present, therefore I would just call it Evangelical and moderately Reformed. I think I would be safe saying that this is the most neglected modern theology out there. I love the structure and the comprehensiveness of this work. It covers each subject by explaining historically, then biblically, then practically. With this comes extensive dialogue with other positions. The fair and objective treatment of alternatives is what keeps me coming back.

3. Christian Theology, by Millard Erickson

Moderately Calvinistic and thoroughly Evangelical, Millard Erickson, the Baptist Theologian, provides what some would consider the standard Evangelical Systematic Theology of the late 20th century. Erickson has much unique thought, yet is very stable in his Evangelical presentation. I particularly enjoy his balance of thought and his contribution in the area of the constitution of man.

2. Institutes of Christian Religion (2-Volumes), John Calvin

First, get the two volumes set, not the less-expensive one-volume. It may save you money to get the one-volume, but it will be at the expense of your eyes! Whether you are Calvinist or Arminian, one cannot overstate the value that this work has had on Christian thought. I know you are thinking that this is too out of date and ivory tower, but bite your tongue! Reading Calvin is incredible. His thought and his pastoral style are convicting as the are profound which make this hard and easy to read!

1. Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem

This decision was fairly easy. Grudem has been my go-to and send-to systematic theologian for over a decade. Clarity. That is the best way to put it. He writes so clear and makes theology interesting. We have used this text for The Theology Program for years. Students agree…it is fun to read. Calvinistic in his thought, Grudem is very balanced and informed about other options. He gives his opinion with conviction and grace. Great work!

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Find him everywhere: Find him everywhere

    88 replies to "Top Ten Systematic Theologies"

    • Hodge

      ““Why do Calvinists feel this need to bash Arminianism all the time?”

      This really goes both ways.

    • Hodge


      People have critiqued Finney’s theology as really a book of ethics because, as a Pelagian, he places a heavy emphasis on behavior and living right. If you’re studying Finney, then you have to read it; but if you’re looking to understand theology, I would read someone else.

    • mbaker

      “This really goes both ways.”

      Not on this blog! NEVER anywhere on a proclaimed theology blog have I seen anything like the bias here, whether it was intended by CMP or not.

      It’s a real turn off to me.

    • cherylu


      I keep thinking about something you said in comment # 46 where you spoke of keeping a distance between yourself and RMM.

      I don’t think there has been any way for any of us to be aware that you were doing that. After all, this blog has always been listed under the heading of RMM or Credo House. So it is only natural that any of us would assume that the blog is truly part of their ministry and an extension of it and therefore an expression of RMM even if all of you posting there do not agree on everything. (Except of course it was obvious that your personal posts pertained to you only.)

      I think that has probably been something that none of us were aware of before now.

    • Bruce

      Thank you Michael and cherylu for your follow up comments to my question (# 45).

    • Melani Boek

      Wayne Grudem is interesting, because his text helps to identify some of the false teaching in Reformed Theology, and also because he contradicts himself. Since you have selected Wayne Grudem’s text as your number one choice, perhaps you could help explain what appears to be a major inconsistency in his teaching for me. He would not answer my request for clarification.

      Reformed Theology is all about the need of man to be regenerated before he will have the ability to turn to God and express saving faith. If a man has not been regenerated, supposedly it will be impossible for him to have spiritual perception, let alone any faith in God or actions that would please God.

      Yet, when writing his chapter on “Regeneration”, Wayne Grudem states, “This sovereign work of God in regeneration was also PREDICTED in the prophecy of Ezekiel. Through him God promised A TIME IN THE FUTURE when he would give new spiritual life to his people” (pg. 699). Then he quotes Ezekiel 36:26-27, “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you…”

      QUESTION 1: Is regeneration the predicted future event spoken of by Ezekiel?

      If the work of regeneration is a FUTURE work of God PREDICTED by Ezekiel, then neither Ezekiel or any other man prior to Ezekiel was regenerated. This one fact is contradicts essential Reformed presuppositions that there can be no faith without regeneration. Ezekiel lives near the very end of the OT timeline, well after the men of faith listed in Hebrews 11. There were men of faith before Ezekiel predicted the work of God in regeneration would come to men.

      QUESTION 2: How do you reconcile this fact which he states to the tenets of Reformed Doctrine?

    • Melani Boek


      (And on page 973 he states, “Ezekiel here speaks of a “spiritual” washing THAT WILL COME IN THE DAYS OF THE NEW COVENANT when God puts his Spirit within His people”. I would add, Jesus said the New Covenant was “in his blood”. And the writer to the Hebrews speaks often of the New Covenant and contrasts it to the Old.)

      However, in footnote #14 on page 769, Wayne Grudem states,

      “I do not mean to say that believers’ experience of regeneration in the old covenant was exactly the same as that of new covenant believers. While considerations listed in the following discussion indicate a less-powerful work of the Holy Spirit in the old covenant, defining the nature of the differences is difficult, since Scripture gives us little explicit information about it. BUT THE FACT THAT THERE WAS ANY SAVING FAITH AT ALL IN THE OLD COVENANT BELIEVERS REQUIRES US TO THINK THAT THERE WAS SOME KIND OF REGENERATING WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT in them, enabling them to believe.”

      As I heard recently on this website “Calvinism shapes your theology”. I would contend that false presuppositions “require” Mr. Grudem to think that there was “some kind of regenerating work” in the OT to enable men to believe.

      QUESTION 3: How many different kinds of regeneration are there? How many different ways can a man be “made alive with Jesus Christ”?

      QUESTION 4: Can a man be born again through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” before Jesus Christ even is raised from the dead? (1Pet. 1:3)

      Sincerely trying to understand how you would reconcile these discrepancies,

    • Ryan Schatz

      Hi Michael Patton,

      Does any of these systematic theologies (dare I say even the Arminian ones) see the following in Eph 2:1 –

      “And you are (present, active) to trespasses and sins”

      Its not “you were dead in trespasses and sins” – in fact, the unregenerate are alive to trespasses and sins!

      But Ephesians is talking about the present state of believers: they are dead to sin and alive to Christ. In fact, it is only when they became dead to sin that they could be made alive to Christ (ref Rom 7).

    • Dr Michael

      Melani, OT believers were regenerated by the Holy Spirit through their faith in God’s promises of a coming Messiah. Your questions for Grudem are fair, but I think you are taking his Ezekiel example out of context. You will not find any better answers on how OT believers were saved, Arminian or otherwise, unless you claim the unorthodox belief that none were saved (or saved outside of Christ).

    • Melani Boek

      I almost agree with Ryan, but I think the passage is more definitive than that.

      Paul is praying that the Ephesians would know about the power that God worked in them (Eph. 1:18). This was the same power that God worked in Jesus Christ when he raised Him from the dead and seated him in the heavenly (Eph. 2:20). Every man was born “in sins”, and he lives “in sin”, and is defiled by sin. When a man puts his trust in Jesus Christ, he is baptized by Jesus, baptized into the likeness of His death (Rom. 6:5).

      (Wayne Grudem writes about our death with Jesus Christ: “It is as if the Holy Spirit REPRODUCES JESUS’ DEATH and resurrection in our lives WHEN WE BELIEVE IN CHRIST” (pg. 842).

      Paul continues giving us incredible detail. The body, where sin dwells, is crucified with Christ, as itemized by Paul in Romans 6:6. In Colossians, Paul states that the man is now “dead being in his sins and the UNCIRCUMCISION OF HIS FLESH” (Col 3:13). This is the point where Paul picks up in Ephesians 2:1. “And you, dead being, the sins and the transgressions of you”. Formerly, before his death together with Jesus Christ, he was living and walking in the lusts of his flesh (Eph. 2:3), then the flesh with its passions and lusts was crucified (Gal. 5:24). Paul adds one more critical detail in Col. 2:11, “And in Him you were CIRCUMCISED with a CIRCUMCISION MADE WITHOUT HANDS, in the removal of the body of flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism” (Col. 2:11, 12). (The body of flesh was put to death by crucifixion and then removed by circumcision.) Now we pick up in Eph. 2:4—“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, made us alive together with Jesus Christ… raised us up with Christ and seated us in the heavenly with Christ.” (Eph. 2:4-6). The same power that raised up Christ, and seated Him in the heavenly, worked in us to bring us back to life, thereby saving us (Eph. 2:5). (See also Rom. 6:4; Gal. 2:20; Col. 3:3, 7)

    • Melani Boek

      Dear Dr. Michael,
      Do you really believe that OT believers were regenerated by the Holy Spirit THROUGH THEIR FAITH in God’s promises? Or do you mean some OT individuals were regenerated by the Holy Spirit so that they would be ENABLED TO BELIEVE in God’s promises? Do you believe that faith precedes regeneration?

      You stated, “Your questions for Grudem are fair, but I think you are taking his Ezekiel example out of context.”

      I do not see how you can say that I am taking Wayne Grudem’s quote out of context. He begins by pointing out NT passages which refer to the new birth, and then he states, “This sovereign work of God in regeneration WAS also PREDICTED in the prophecy of Ezekiel. Through him God PROMISED A TIME IN THE FUTURE WHEN HE WOULD GIVE NEW SPIRITUAL LIFE TO HIS PEOPLE.” (pg. 699).

      To place regeneration in the Old Testament indicates that you believe that men were being born again through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead before Jesus Christ ever rose from the dead (1Pet.1:3). How can that be?

    • Melani Boek

      Dr. Michael,
      You stated, “You will not find any better answers on how OT believers were saved, Arminian or otherwise, unless you claim the unorthodox belief that none were saved (or saved outside of Christ).”

      I believe that the Bible teaches OT believers were awaiting redemption of their SOULS from Sheol /death (Ps. 49:15; Hos. 13:14). God kept them safe from the place of torment, “because in His forbearance He passed over the sins previously committed” (Rom 3:25). However of Christ it was predicted, “Thou wilt not Abandon my SOUL to Hades” (Ps:16:10; Acts 2:27). Instead we see the veil was rent in two, which signified that the way into the Holy Place had been disclosed, and Jesus Christ, declared High Priest with an oath, entered the tabernacle made without hands, through His own blood, and obtained eternal redemption (Heb. 9:8, 11, 12). “… having been made perfect, Jesus BECAME the source of eternal salvation (Heb. 5:9). Only Jesus blood could take away sin (Heb. 10:4). OT believer’s redemption was in Christ’s blood, which would take away their sins too. They too were justified (rendered innocent) in Christ’s blood (Rom 5:9). Baptized by Christ, into Christ’s body, they were cleansed and purified so they too could be indwelt by Christ (giving them the gift of eternal life – 1Jn 5:11, 12), clothed with Christ, and made priests by Jesus the High Priest. At this time OT believers were saved by His life (Rom. 5:10), made alive with Jesus Christ and saved (Eph. 2:5), saved by regeneration (Titus 3:5) when they received their new eternal life source.

    • Luke Geraty

      Great recommendations. I own each of these and have found each of them to be helpful in certain ways. Grudem is probably closest to the theological convictions I have (Reformed, Continuationist, Baptistic, Classic Premill), but I’ve gained a lot from the other works.

      I have to second Lisa’s recommendation about Robert D. Culver’s “Systematic Theology.” It’s excellent! Plus, he’s one of the kindest men I have met…

      Calvin, of course, is great too… I’m still working through Barth, so, I’ll have to reserve my opinion until I finish more…

    • Hodge


      Although you’ve apparently ignored what I’ve said to you about the Greek, I would just like to know if you take the same phrase in v. 5 as a simple dative “being dead to sin,” and if so, how kai is meant to function here in this context?

    • Michael, would you recommend systematic theologies which are products of collaboration– each chapter is written by a different author like “A Theology for the Church” (ed. Daniel Akin?

      I think Swindoll and Zuck edited one too (Understanding Christian Theology).

    • Hodge

      I thought I’d also mention that Michael Horton just came out with a SysTheo called “The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way.”

    • tim prussic

      I really only have extensive experience with Calvin, Hodge, Turretin, and (to a lesser degree) Berkhof. I have recently been reading some Bavinck – he’s wonderful. He takes the time to write beautifully and thoroughly. It seems like beauty and thoroughness are too often jettisoned for the sake of brevity. Theology ought to be beautiful, reflecting his ultimate subject.

    • David T.

      Hodge you said earler:
      “Well, to be fair, I’d have to think about that, as the many Arminian churches to which I’ve belonged tend to have a lack of interest in theology, and more of an interest either in getting people saved, in a revivalistic sense, or in doing social work (although the latter group might be classified as full blown Pelagian or semi-Pelagian).”

      Without a doubt feeding the hungry and clothing the needy are direct commands from Jesus, in fact according to Jesus not doing so will cause him to say depart from me. So you’re saying that following the words and direct commands of Jesus himself is classified as full blown Pelagianism? Do we read the same bible?

    • Hodge


      Huh? I’m talking about the churches that I’ve gone to that were heavily involved in social work as a replacement to teaching people theology. The assumption is that everyone will eventually learn on their own, having natural revelation and their own consciences as their guide. Hence, church became a social meeting where we discussed what projects we should be doing within the community rather than solidifying our works in the faith. And that’s the point. Our works are to testify of the truth, not against it (i.e., we don’t need to know God in truth as long as we clothe and feed the poor). A good work points to Christ through the truths being taught. To take Christ’s commands out of their context (i.e., one that assumes the faith community and truths being taught already) and say that this is the primary work of the church is to ignore the rest of the Gospels, NT, canon that tells us that we need faith in the truth and the works that it produces, not just the latter.

    • Ryan Schatz

      @Hodge #20: I agree with you.

      I noticed that I missed your prior question from #15:

      …I would just like to know if you take the same phrase in v. 5 as a simple dative “being dead to sin,” and if so, how kai is meant to function here in this context?

      Yes, I see Eph 2:5 reflecting the same idea as Eph 2:1, “dead to sin.” I think I agree with T.K. Abbott’s comments from the International Critical Commentary on Ephesians & Colossions where he writes:

      The true answer is found in the position of the verb. “Gave life even to the dead” would not be a natural mode of expression, but “Even the dead He restored to life” is perfectly natural. The καὶ ὄντας, κ.τ.λ., attracts the reader’s attention to some striking instance of God’s love about to be mentioned.

      I would read it as follows: “…even we being dead to sin, He made us alive…”

    • Ryan Schatz

      @Hodge (cont’d…)

      Is not it a necessity that we become dead to sin (thus we died with Christ) so that then we can be resurrected with Christ? It is a normal progression and the consistent message of the Scriptures that we are BOTH to die with Christ (and the death is always TO sin and to the law) so that we can be raised with Christ. If there is not first a death to sin there cannot be a resurrection.

      Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. (Rom 7:4, NASB)

      What consistently comes first? It is death to sin, to transgression, to the law. This is so that we can be joined to another. We are joined to Christ as He is raised from the dead.

      The dative reflects that we are made to be dead to sin by Jesus’ death.

    • Donnie Manuel

      I wonder why Dr. Robert Duncan Culver’s “Systematic theology: Biblical and Historical” is not included.

      I thought it would be placed somewhere between Grudem’s and Erickson’s.

    • […] together a list of recommended systematic theologies.  By and large, I also liked the list that C. Michael Patton put together as […]

    • […] Grudem’s Systematic Theology is my least favourite book.  Indeed, several weeks ago, when Parchment and Pen posted their list of top ten theology books, the blogosphere cried out in horror that they had made […]

    • Paul

      Just to jump in here concerning top systematic Arminian theologies…

      I second Oden’s primary status and at the current price for the three volume set it is definitely worth getting.

      H. Ray Dunning’s “Grace Faith and Holiness” is considered a standard now by Wesleyan-Arminians (replacing Wiley which served a previous generation).

      I would also recommend Roger Olson’s “The Mosaic of Christian Belief.” Although not strictly an Arminian systematic theology…Olson certainly approaches theology from an Arminian perspective.

      Lastly, for those Arminians out there who want a good systematic theology from a Calvinistic perspective I would recommend Erickson’s. He is great at showing multiple sides to issues. As for Berkhoff…well, I would have to say that I haven’t read him since my first year of sys theo at Moody many years ago (I actually preferred Hodge’s three volume work which it was meant to replace.)

    • Mark

      How could you not include Herman Bavinck’s four volume “Reformed Dogmatics”?? Bavinck’s work is one of the BEST systematics ever produced not only within the Reformed camp, but conservative evangelicalism in general.

    • Bill

      To mbaker:

      I have never met a Calvist (or an Arminian) who considers belonging to a specific Calvinist (or Arminian) camp as essential to salvation. The issue is not about what is essential to salvation, but about important doctrines.

      I grew up in an Arminian environment, and started attending a Presbyterian church in my 20’s based on my admiration for the writings of Francis Schaeffer and the work of L’Abri Fellowship. It was another 10 years before I actually became a Calvinist. For me it was a profound experience, as I learned to appreciate more about God’s sovereignty and what Christ accomplished for me on the cross. It was both humbling and comforting to learn that God chose me despite my sin, and is committed to transforming me into the image of his son. So for me, urging an Arminian to consider a Calvinist position is about trying to share the joy and security and worship that comes with a recognition that my salvation is completely in God’s hands.

      I don’t feel the need to debate the point with every Arminian I meet. I’m happy to meet another believer and to share the things we have in common. I also think that we’ll all find the many problems in our theological systems (Calvinish and Arminian) when we get to heaven. But if the discussion does come up, I would urge the Arminian to consider the implications of the total sovereignty of God for salvation and security, and worship, among other things.

    • Bill

      Great list, and I second the comments about adding Bavink to the list! :0)

    • tracy

      Does anyone have an opinion on Thiessen’s Lectures on Systematic Theology? Which camp does his work fall in – Calvinist or Arminian? Thanks

    • Jimmy L Lang

      I realize this thread/post is really old. But, I thought I would comment on the Arminian side perhaps it will help someone. I do not understand why no one has mentioned Wiley’s 3 volume set on Christian Theology. I see some referenced his intro to CT. Yet the complete set is like 1500 pages. It surprisingly is available on amazon currently for 30 dollars a volume. Also, why is there criticism of Geisler for being just a philosopher, yet Frame is in the top ten? Looking at the other comments it appears Geisler’s problem is rather he is too Arminian. Anyway, all should check out Wiley. He is known for being too intellectual for people to read. Just saying that to say he is no slouch, though it is dated being 70 years old.

    • SDCampbell

      To be fair, you should really tell people that Grudem is a charismatic. Saying that he is “Calvinistic in his thought” might lead people to think they are getting something very different.

    • Andrew Koerner

      Although it is true that the Reformation began the tradition of systematic theologies, I think it could be argued that the first attempt at such a thing was the Enchiridion of Augustine. It is nothing compared to the works of Calvin, Turretin, or Bavinck, of course, but Augustine’s work stands head and shoulders above anything of his time. He was easily the greatest theologian in the Church’s history prior to the Reformation.

    • David

      Thank you so much for assembling this list! This is extremely helpful. Merry Christmas 🙂

    • Bill

      Does not Mr. Grudem, incredibly stand for eternal subordination and also leaning favorably towards non-cessation? We must be very careful today – learning while discerning.

    • jeff

      hey there,

      i was wondering where brunner and barth are in this list? if not then why? thx much

    • […] Top Ten Systematic Theologies – Credo House Ministries […]

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