Have you ever read an entire systematic theology book cover to cover?
It's not easy. Reading theology is wholly different from reading a novel, a mystery, or even a devotional book. It can be tedious, and detail-oriented. But in my view, it is an amazing journey.
A "systematic theology" is a book or series that attempts to discuss the entire gamut of primary doctrinal headings between two covers. Many come in one volume (Berkhof, Frame). But others come in sets (Gamble, Hodge, Bavinck).
Typically all systematic theologies attempt to cover similar ground: the nature of God, creation, anthropology, the fall into sin, redemption in Christ, and the persons and work of the Trinity. They also tend to delve deeply into ecclesiology, the sacraments, and the end times. Sometimes these headings are divided into ten, twelve, or even more groupings of doctrines and sub-categories. It depends on how exhaustive each writer attempts to be.
By definition, they are reference works. Most often, we use them exactly that way. We consult them to look up things, reading only the sections that are pertinent. Let's say the doctrine of limited atonement for instance or the so-called "three uses" of the Law. But every once in a while an individual grows so eager and brave that he or she attempts to read an entire systematic theology from preface to index.
I have done that a few times and always to great benefit. Though it can be exhausting and require great initiative, the treasure we gain is inestimable. We have the opportunity to study Scripture in a cross-sectional manner, gain a new perspective on a certain theological tradition, and even place ourselves at the conversation table with some of Christian history's greatest thinkers.
In this video, I will share with you at least a half-dozen incomparable benefits to reading an entire systematic theology straight through. Whether you choose Berkhof, Bavinck, Calvin, Gamble, or Frame, I am sure you will be incredibly blessed.