Oct 15

Systematic Theology, new Combined Edition, by Louis Berkhof ?????

I had to read portions of Berkhof’s Systematic Theology with a class that I took from JI Packer. The other systematic theology text was Grudem’s Systematic Theology, which had been reviewed previously. Packer contended that Berkhof indeed was the best available systematic theology text, though he says “there is no God in Berkhof”. Since I’ve read Grudem cover to cover, I felt it was now time to do the same with Berkhof, using the combined edition that includes the discussion of the possibility and legitimacy of systematic theology, arguing in defense of the text of Scripture itself. Certainly, both Berkhof and Grudem have their strengths and weaknesses, but I preferred Berkhof over Grudem in most aspects. Yet, there are problems with Berkhof that I would briefly mention.

  1. Many topics are missing, including
    1. Development of the theology of the Holy Spirit. He has a very short section on the Holy Spirit in discussing the topic of soteriology.
    2. Discussion of pertinent aspects of the history of certain doctrines, such as the development of the theology of the trinity, and the Christology controversies
    3. Ethics is an aspect of systematic theology yet is completely missing.
  2. Berkhof spends much time in discussing certain aspects of science and theology, yet is completely outdated. As one example among many, he mentions his continued belief in the ether theory.
  3. Berkhof often belabors topics without reasonable scriptural clarity, leaving a bit of a muddle. One topic was a lengthy discussion of the covenants, which I believe he could have done much better at. His discussion of paedobaptism is ponderous at 10 pages, not well referenced scripturally, and doesn’t accomplish much. It would have been better for him to defer to scriptural silence and leave the practice to best interpretation of what one feels the scripture is saying.

In spite of the above complaints, Berkhof remains an extremely readable text, most conforming to how I see the scriptures. His text remains publicly as the best Reformed theology text available, and is the standard that all subsequent systematic theology texts will have to rise to.

The Addition of the Introductory Volume to the text was a very appropriate addition and well worth reading. In it, Berkhof argues for the rationality for Scripture in opposition of the new liberalism. I had a very strong feeling as though I was reading Francis Schaeffer. I am quite sure that it was from Berkhof that Schaeffer (and VanTil) received their greatest arguments in their apologetic structure for Scripture. Without hesitation, I contend that it would be of value for any and every serious minded Christian in today’s world to take time at some point in their life to work their way through Berkhof. It will be worth the time and most rewarding.

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One Response to “Berkhof’s Systematic Theology”

  1. Uncle Dennis says:

    Berkhof’s Systematic Theology is one of the better of that genre, for sure, and it has a rigorous yet boring style. Berkhof seems to feel that he must tell us everyone’s opinion in the past about every idea in theology. A historically-oriented approach to theology would not only be more in the biblical (rather than the Greek) tradition, it would also put many of the doctrinal matters in a fuller perspective. Berkhof’s companion book, The History of Christian Doctrines (Baker), rectifies this in part, yet mainly feeds us the papal emphasis on church history. In this regard, Benjamin G. Wilkinson’s Truth Triumphant provides a much-needed corrective.

    Despite this, it is a book to have on reference. It is a “legacy” work and deserves an enduring readership, if only to look up specific issues on occasion.

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