The Best Systematic Theologies to Have

I’ve been really, really enjoying John Frame’s new Systematic Theology. It is so clear and it is a joy to read. It is especially helpful (and unique) to see how his thinking on tri-perspectivalism relates to each doctrine.

After I tweeted about Frame’s book, a friend of mine asked me an excellent question: How many systematic theologies should one have? That is, it seems like there are so many coming out these days. Which ones are worth having and which ones aren’t?

Here’s my answer. As you can tell from this, I almost always err on the side of more rather than less. If you can only have (or are only interested in having) one systematic theology, I still recommend Grudem’s as the all around best. But for those interested in knowing the best systematic theologies to own, here’s my suggestion, grouped roughly into two eras.

Older Theologians

Reading these guys takes time and effort, but is well worth it. If you want to go down to the deepest foundations in theology, don’t just read contemporary authors — as helpful and important as they are. Read the giants from generations past.

1. Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (2 Volume Set)

Note: Always get the unabridged. (Never, ever, ever, ever get the abridged version of anything!) This is the translation and edition I recommend.

2. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology

This a link to the first volume in the Kindle edition. It looks like you can get all three volumes on Kindle for $0.99.

3. Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology 3 vol. set

Turretin asks and answers in massive detail almost all of the most difficult and challenging theological questions you can think of. He is simply brilliant.

4. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology

If you only get one systematic from prior generations, Berkhof’s is the one to get. It is incredibly clear, concise, and solid.

Contemporary Theologians

1. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine

Still the best way to get a solid, easy to follow understanding of the doctrinal basics of the faith, in my view. Grudem is so clear, so thorough, and engages very well with differing positions. Especially noteworthy are his chapters on the Trinity, Incarnation, and Providence, which are still the absolute best places to go to get a clear and solid understanding of those three especially important doctrines.

2. Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way

Horton’s systematic is remarkable. It probably interacts the most consistently and substantially with other movements among the systematics I’ve listed here.

3. John Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief

This is what I’ve been enjoying of late and launched this post. Frame is clear, substantial, and incredibly helpful. He even talks about the importance of being a missional church in his chapters on the church. You walk away from each chapter feeling like you have a solid, renewed understanding of each doctrine.

  • mark begemann

    Great list, thanks! Oden and Brunner are also good. If you’re a true Kindle cheapskate you could download the Hodge PDFs from and “Send to Kindle” with the word “convert” in the subject line. YMMV

  • wyclif

    This list is incomplete without Herman Bavinck’s “Reformed Dogmatics.”

    • Matt Perman

      I agree — should have included Bavinck!

  • Jim West

    This list demonstrates the problem with all such ‘best’ lists. It leaves off the best (Brunner and Bavinck not to mention older 17th century theologians and- remarkably, absolutely NOTHING but English renditions- where are the Germans and Swiss and Dutch and Italians?) and is consequently purely subjective- in a bad way.

    • Matt Perman


      Your comment is funny. The subjectivity is part of what makes these lists interesting!


  • stevemccoy

    What? No Louis Sperry Chafer??? 😉

  • BK

    so what’s your opinion on Erickson? :)

    • Matt Perman

      It never drew me in. But maybe in the days before Grudem’s, it was great.

  • Reagan Marsh

    Also very helpful are Witsius’ classic “Economy of the Covenants” and Ames’ excellent “Marrow of Theology.” Witsius, at least, should begin to address Mr. West’s concern as to imbalance.

    • Matt Perman

      I agree very much. Those are both excellent.