I haven’t seen the hard data to support this, but I get the sense that many a pastor hasn’t spent much time in a volume of systematic theology since graduating seminary. Maybe I’m wrong. Hopefully so, because reading theology is a valuable use of the pastor’s time. And with Thanksgiving this week, this is what I’m highlighting when it comes to something I’m thankful for. Written works of theology, specifically the systematic variety. Why books of systematic theology? Because this is a subject that engages the mind with deep thoughts of the faith. It challenges Christians to live out the implications of the truth we profess to believe. And it provides ample material for the preacher to work into the application portion of his sermons. For these three reasons alone, every pastor would profit from reading at least a few pages of theology each week. So maybe adding this necessary kind of reading to your to-do list if this isn’t something you can express thankfulness. And on this theme, here are three works on the subject I’m thankful for.
Robert Duncan Culver, Systematic Theology: Biblical and Historical
A friend from seminary recommended this one to me, and I’ve never regretted ordering my copy. Maybe Culver is an unfamiliar name to you as it was to me. But, in my opinion, this book ranks towards the top. I consult Culver all the time. This is admittedly strange, but I even like how this book smells. It reminds me of my old elementary school. Even without the smell, though, this book is immensely enjoyable to read. Culver is always throwing in little comments and adding his personal touch to the pages. And he covers a lot of ground. There’s even a brief presentation of a theology of church architecture. You don’t see that very often. With this tremendous scope of material, the extensive index is helpful for navigating. I’ll do this for each of these theologians; here’s a quote from Culver at his finest:
On a summer day I put down a sick kitten with a blow to the back of the head in the sight of my late wife. She wept profusely. In a few weeks she also died and I wept. In a short time you and I shall shut down all operations and leave behind all our possessions. They place that knew us shall show us no more. Those who love us shall weep. Tragic, is it not (1025).
What I’m thankful for: CULVER IS COMPREHENSIVE.
Rolland McCune, A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity (3 vols.)
I almost went to Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, where Dr. McCune taught. I didn’t end up attending, but I have appreciated his three-volume paperback set on systematic theology. He writes clearly, concisely, and dispensationally. While it can be basic in some of its treatments, there are some detailed excursuses that treat important issues in greater depth. Juggling three little volumes and searching three indices isn’t ideal, so it would be nice if the publisher were to combine these into a single hardback volume. This is good stuff, though. Think of it as an upgrade to Charles Ryrie’s Basic Theology. Here’s a representative quote from McCune:
God’s ultimate purpose and the unifying principle of His activity is to glorify Himself by establishing a rule of loving sovereignty and fellowship with human beings in His image and dwelling with them forever (1:137).
What I’m thankful for: MCCUNE IS DISPENSATIONAL.
John Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief
I was hesitant to embrace Frame initially. For one thing, I’m not reformed. But boy, am I glad I started reading his work. His big push is to connect theology to life. And it works. You could almost read his book of systematic theology for your devotions. Every page magnifies God and challenges the reader to live a humble life of submission before Him. What also comes across is that Frame is an extremely balanced thinker. He attempts to anchor his stated positions with Scripture, and he always comes across in a gracious manner. This is an important work to read. You would also do well to start working your way through his four-part Theology of Lordship series. Here’s a quote from Frame to challenge you:
We need more Christians who will lead lives of repentance. For repentance always challenges pride. If you’re coming to God daily to confess to him how much you have sinned, you will find it hard to pretend you are holier than everybody else. You’ll find it hard to put on heirs, to pose as the perfect Christian….If we are able to humble ourselves before God, we will be humble before men as well. And the church will be far better off if there are more of us like that (960).
What I’m thankful for: FRAME IS APPLICATIONAL AND BALANCED.
So yes, I’m thankful for theologians. We would all do well to read them more often instead of allowing their work to develop a musty smell on our shelves. And we should engage a broader set of these theologians. Not just to listen to voices that agree with us, but to hear intelligent and godly voices that will challenge and grow us.