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Summer reading for systematic theologians (Matthew Barrett)

Summer is here! If you are anything like me, then summer is a great opportunity to read all those books you’ve been putting off. Since I wear many hats (professor and pastor), I will be recommending books for the pastor, systematic theologian, church historian, biblical scholar, and Christian philosopher in the weeks to come. (So far you can read Part 1  and Part 2 of Summer reading for pastors.) Today let’s focus on systematic theologians out there. What books should you read this summer?

51GGOPSGqJL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Kevin J. Vanhoozer. Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine. Lousiville: Westminster John Knox, 2014.

As you can tell from the title, Vanhoozer continues to press home his approach to theology through the lens of a drama. This new volume builds off of his previous bestselling work, The Drama of Doctrine, which set forth his theological model as a theodrama. You will notice, however, that in this new work Vanhoozer gives considerable attention to the gospel and its place in the church. Like his previous work, this volume will no doubt be at the center of theological dialogue in the years to come. Here is praise for the book:

“Rooted in acute theological intelligence, pervaded by a conviction that faith and the practices of faith are inseparable, and written with verve, Faith Speaking Understanding is a work of alert and engaged Christian reflection which will attract wide consideration.”
–John Webster, Chair of Divinity, St. Mary’s College, University of St Andrews, Scotland

“This book is a model of doing theology in the service of the church. Building on his well-known construal of theology as theodrama, Vanhoozer presents the church as the theater of the gospel, a place where observers are participants and where theology and ethics, contemplation and action, surrender and obedience, and James and Paul are no longer enemies but allies. A wonderful theological essay by a brilliant evangelical thinker.”
—Timothy George, founding Dean, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University

9781441220417Michael Allen and Scott R. Swain. Reformed Catholicity: The Promise of Retrieval for Theology and Biblical Interpretation. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015.

What is Reformed Catholicity? Allen and Swain say it is not a system, nor is this new work its manifesto or a full-blown theological method. Instead, it is more a program of retrieval, particularly for those in the Reformed tradition. Allen and Swain write: “Our thesis is that there are Reformed theological and ecclesiological warrants for pursuing a program of retrieval, that we can and should pursue catholicity on Protestant principles, and that pursuing this path holds promise for theological and spiritual retrieval.” Drawing from previous published articles, each chapter takes a different angle to highlight how such a retrieval might take place. I particularly benefitted from their chapters on sola scriptura and found them a helpful correction to evangelicals who might dismiss the importance of theological tradition which serves a ministerial role to Scripture itself.

Here are two commendations:

“Allen and Swain here blaze an old trail in helpful new ways, correcting misinterpretations of what it means to be Reformed and in the process indicating a vital way forward for biblical interpretation and theology. I particularly appreciate the way they appeal to properly Protestant principles, like sola Scriptura, even as they urge us to thoughtfully retrieve and appropriate catholic tradition.”
Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

“The notion of Scripture alone has come to be used in recent decades as a means of cutting off Protestantism from its own theological and ecclesiological history. The result is a faith that has too often proved fatally vulnerable to critique from Roman Catholics or degenerated into a theologically thin and ahistorical biblicism. In this densely argued but fascinating book, Scott Swain and Michael Allen demonstrate that classic Reformed Protestantism has an understanding of Scripture, of tradition, and of ecclesiology that anchors the Christian faith in biblical exegesis and at the same time provides the framework and the classical categories for avoiding both the Roman and biblicist options. Drawing on recent historical scholarship and engaging with contemporary Christian thought across the confessional spectrum, this is a bracing manifesto that sets out a clear pathway for the future of Protestantism.”
Carl R. Trueman, Westminster Theological Seminary, Pennsylvania

514Ug1CSGuL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Kelly M. Kaptic, ed. Sanctification: Explorations in Theology and Practice. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2014.

Kapic has put together a diverse group of scholars to contribute to the doctrine of sanctification, including Richard Lints, Derek Tidball, Henri Blocher, Michael Horton, and many others. For example, Tidball’s chapter is a homily on Colossians 3:5-17, Lints’ chapter looks at Reformed responses to Antinomianism, and Horton’s chapter explores the relationship between the Spirit and the believer in the process of sanctification. Many other chapters could be mentioned.

You can read a sample of the book here.

9781433532573mRobert Peterson. Salvation Applied by the Spirit: Union with Christ. Wheaton, IL: Crosway, 2015.

Peterson continues his voluminous tour through the doctrine of salvation accomplished and applied. As with the previous volumes, this one is biblically focused in its structure, transitioning from OT to NT. However, it also includes (Part Two) a theological section, looking at union with Christ, especially in relation to other key doctrines such as the ordo salutis, the person of Christ, Church and Sacraments, as well as the Christian life.  You will want to read this tour through Scripture with Bible in hand!

9781433526947mGerald Bray. God Has Spoken: A History of Christian Theology. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015.

While this massive tome is in the field of historical theology, every systematic theologian must bring historical theology to bear on his theology. And who better to learn from than Gerald Bray! This large volume is an impressive accomplishment on Bray’s part. The entire work is structured around the three persons of the Trinity. This book is a must read for every theological student. Here is what Fesko and Finnn have to say about Bray’s work:

“Despite its breadth, one that covers the centuries, God Has Spoken also plumbs the depths of numerous doctrines throughout the church’s last two thousand years. This volume is an excellent resource for students, pastors, and scholars, and for anyone who wants to study the organic development of the church’s theology. This will prove to be an invaluable resource for generations to come.”
– J. V. Fesko, Academic Dean and Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology, Westminster Seminary California

“Under Gerald Bray’s able pen, the history of Christian thought comes to life. Bray’s Trinitarian way of framing the story of Christian doctrine is a creative and helpful contribution to the discipline. His familiarity with the sources from every branch of the Christian tree is refreshing—and enviable! His evenhanded narrative—mixed with periodic personal commentary that is often witty, always insightful, and occasionally provocative—makes this book a delight to read. God Has Spoken will be essential reading for scholars and students for years to come. Highly recommended.”
– Nathan A. Finn, Associate Professor of Historical Theology and Baptist Studies, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

Matthew Barrett (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at California Baptist University, as well as the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine. Barrett is also Senior Pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church. He is the author and editor of several books, including Salvation by Grace: The Case for Effectual Calling and Regeneration. Two forthcoming books include, Owen on the Christian Life and God’s Word Alone: The Authority of Scripture. You can read about Barrett’s other publications at

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