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December 24, 2004

3-in-1 Book Review

I wanted to take a minute to review three books I've been reading or finished reading fairly recently. These are Grudem's Systematic Theology, Berkhof's Summary of Christian Doctrine , and Thunder Run, for an interesting mix. I'll take them in the order given above.

Systematic Theology

I finally finished reading Wayne Grudem's excellent book Systematic Theology, and wanted to recommend it to everyone else. For those who don't know, "Systematic Theology" is the term for a particular method of studying theology, where one systematically looks at the teachings of the whole Bible on different categories. Grudem's definition is this: "Systematic theology is any study that answers the question, 'What does the whole Bible teach us today?' about any given topic.' For example, Grudem has chapters on the deity of Christ, on the authority of Scripture, etc. These examine what the whole Bible says about the deity of Christ. This is one method of studying theology; other approaches to theology are, for example, historical theology, which studies what Christians have thought about different topics, and Biblical theology, which traces the historical development of a given doctrine through Scripture.

That said, Grudem's book is an excellent and readable introduction to Systematic Theology from a Reformed perspective. It is quite long (so it took me a long time to slowly read it from cover to cover) but is organized into topical chapters which are essentially stand-alone, so it also makes a great reference and is easy to read in bite-size chunks. It's especially valuable as a reference because it usually presents most of the major views on any given doctrine, including Roman Catholic and other views, as well as the Biblical support for each of these views, if any. Grudem usually closes by arguing from the Bible which view he thinks is correct, but it will be a good reference even if you don't agree with him theologically in every area.

This is a great entry point to this sort of literature because it's really written so that someone with no theological training will have no difficulty in understanding it. When I first became a Christian, I remember someone loaned me a copy so I could read the chapter on baptism to get an idea of why it is so important, and I had no problem understanding it.

One of the other excellent systematic theologies which competes with this is that by Louis Berkhof. I have only read excerpts of this, but find it more technical and somewhat more difficult reading. My church recommends the Grudem theology more highly, partly for this reason, although both are excellent.

The only major doctrinal differences I am aware of between the two is that Grudem believes that baptism is for believers only, while Berkhof includes infant children of believers, and Grudem has a different view on spiritual gifts (believing that they continue today).

Another feature that's especially valuable in Grudem's book is that every chapter concludes with application questions. Some of these are quite practical and have been a great blessing to me in terms of helping me see where the doctrines he covers have practical application in everyday life. Additionally, each chapter includes a short statement of what the doctrine means. For example, the chapter on the authority of scripture states, "The authority of Scripture means that all the words in Scripture are God's words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God." This is really valuable, as well.

I really highly recommend this book. Even if you don't agree with Grudem on everything, it's an excellent introduction to this topic, a great reference, and a good way to learn to apply our minds more fully to the study of the Bible.

Summary of Christian Doctrine

This is a fairly short volume by Louis Berkhof which is actually available for free online in several places (here, for example, or use Google). I've been going through it in a bi-weekly men's breakfast with the small group from my church that I'm in.

This book purports to be a concise summary of key Christian doctrines. I think it is, but I wouldn't really recommend it. While the topics are sensibly chosen, the discussion of each topic really reads more like someone condensed a much longer volume into this short book and chose the material to include somewhat arbitrarily. Key concepts seem to often be discussed only very briefly, while other concepts which seem less important sometimes are discussed at greater length. And it's so concise that it's difficult at times to understand what he means. Nevertheless, it is fairly readable -- but when I really apply my mind to try and understand what points are being made, it can be quite confusing. There are probably better books which do the same thing that this book attempts (let me know if you have any recommendations). R.C. Sproul's Essential Truths of the Christian Faith comes to mind, although I think that's even more concise, but also more consistent in terms of its coverage of different topics. Really, I've been disappointed by this book and am looking forward to moving on to the next one in our men's breakfast, as are most of us attending. I don't recommend it.

Thunder Run

This book is obviously quite different from the two above. I'm somewhat interested in the military and increasingly interested in history, and this is somewhat of a history-in-the-making book. It deals with war in Iraq and the armored strike to capture Baghdad in April of 2003. The story is written by a journalist who was embedded with the 3rd infantry division as their armor moved into Baghdad, capturing the airport, the presidental palaces, and several other key targets, rewriting military tactics in the process. It reads rather like a novel, actually -- it's very fast paced and exciting. It's really amazing how huge a battle it took to capture these locations, and how little I remember hearing about this at the time. Only a few Americans were killed, but this was by no means a cake-walk, but rather a huge battle. If you're interested in this sort of thing, I recommend the book. It's very well written and quite exciting. It also left me a lot more impressed by our army and technology. I read it after reading a recommendation from Phil Carter at Intel Dump some time ago (can't find the link to his review) but waited until it came out on paperback, which it just did. Check out the reviews on Amazon if you want more info.

Posted by David at December 24, 2004 08:22 AM

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