Thoughts on “Reformed Systematic Theology” by Beeke/Smalley

  I’ve always enjoyed reading various Systematic Theologies (STs). Whether in the Reformed tradition (e.g. Berkhof or Bavinck) or in the evangelical tradition (e.g. Grudem or Bird), I like to see how various theologians summarize the Bible’s various doctrines.

I recently took time to read various parts of Joel Beeke and Paul Smalley’s new Reformed Systematic Theology (volume one).  To be sure, it is solid, biblical, and well-written in a clear manner.  It is a bit wordy in places, however; this is not a concise or short ST written for average laypeople.  Reformed Systematic Theology is structured and edited to be exactly like Grudem’s systematics: a point by point outline followed by a hymn/psalm and some questions for reflection (as a side, I admit I never read the questions!).

Reformed Systematic Theology is built upon solid theologians in the past, from Augustine to Luther to Calvin to Ames to Owen to Boston to Bavinck. It’s Reformed and confessional, not calvinistic and baptistic like various evangelical STs.  There are also points of application after different doctrines. For example, one section says that since God has spoken, we must hear him, obey him, teach others about him, and glorify him. To be honest,  sometimes the application seemed a little dry and tacked on in my opinion: “Because of this truth, you must do this or be like that.”

One reason I’m not overly excited about this ST is that it’s not really a needed contribution in the area of Reformed systematics.  There are so many Reformed STs: Berkhof, Bavinck, Vos, Hodge, Turretin, Van Mastricht, Heppe, Brakel, Watson, Shedd, Boston, and newer ones like Horton, Frame, Boice, Reymond, Kelly, and so on.  Beeke and Smalley’s contribution overlaps with those by around 85%.  Granted, Beeke and Smalley do interact with some issues of the day (like Pentecostalism and open theism), but the substance of the theology is nearly the same as the prior Reformed systematics before. Again, this is a solid ST, but as I was reading parts of it I thought: I’ve read this material before. In fact, several times I found myself skimming for this reason.

It’s also worth mentioning that Reformed Systematic Theology has little to no interaction with Biblical Theology (BT) and it doesn’t have a BT or redemptive-historical perspective. I always like it when newer STs overlap and interact with BT (e.g. like Horton).  One other thing: I was surprised that the KJV was used as the primary Bible translation in this book. To me, it doesn’t make sense to use an archaic Bible translation in a modern ST.

Anyway, again, much of the content of Reformed Systematic Theology is five bright stars. It’s solid and in the line of other solid Reformed STs. But many other STs on my shelves contain the same information so I don’t necessarily need this one.  In my opinion, it doesn’t fill a gap in the area of systematic theologies.  However, if you are in need of a new, longer, and more detailed Reformed ST, this is one to check out for sure.

Joel Beeke and Paul Smalley, Reformed Systematic Theology (Crossway: Wheaton, IL, 2019).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

2 thoughts on “Thoughts on “Reformed Systematic Theology” by Beeke/Smalley”

  1. I’m looking forward to it. Yes, his insistence on using the KJV is annoying, but I’ll survive (heh.) This is only the first volume of a 4-volume series, so I guess he plans to be pretty thorough.

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