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This comprehensive systematic theology by a respected theologian covers the whole field of Reformed Christian doctrine from biblical, historical, and theological angles. It seeks to provide a clear and concise articulation of the Reformed faith rooted in the historic creeds while addressing current issues such as feminism, charismatic gifts, sexual ethics, environmentalism, other religions, the nature of truth, and civil liberties. Intended to be used as a textbook, this single-volume systematic theology is well-suited for our world today, interacting not only with the biblical text but also with the history of Christian doctrine, current cultural challenges to the Bible’s teaching, and the daily experiences of regular Christians.
About the Author:
Robert Letham (PhD, University of Aberdeen) is professor of systematic and historical theology at Union School of Theology. A Presbyterian minister with twenty-five years of pastoral experience, he is the author of books such as The Work of Christ; The Holy Trinity; and Union with Christ, and a range of articles published in encyclopedias and journals.
“In this impressive systematic theology, Robert Letham sets before us the ripe fruit of a long career of devoted scholarship. He does so with clarity, confidence, and thoughtful judgment. The result is an elixir drawn from Scripture into which he has carefully stirred ingredients from Patristic orthodoxy, medieval theology, and Reformation and post-Reformation confessionalism. These are judiciously mixed by a theologian conscious that he is writing for the twenty-first century. Systematic Theology is Letham’s personal bequest to the church of Jesus Christ. A magnum opus indeed―which students, ministers, and scholars will find to be a real stimulation to their theological taste buds!”
―Sinclair B. Ferguson, Chancellor’s Professor of Systematic Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary; Teaching Fellow, Ligonier Ministries
“This is a first-class volume, impressively erudite, yet eminently readable. Scrupulously biblical, but at the same time recognizing the value of Christian tradition, it draws extensively, but judiciously, on the insights of the early church fathers, the Reformed confessions, and federal theology, while remaining in constant dialogue with the world of contemporary theological scholarship. The overall organization reflects Letham’s independence of judgment, and the end product is not only a Reformed systematic theology of enduring value but also an encyclopedic reference work for both historical and systematic theology. Unsurpassed in its field.”
―Donald Macleod, Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology, Edinburgh Theological Seminary; author, A Faith to Live By; The Person of Christ; and Christ Crucified
“Robert Letham has blessed us with a systematic theology that is sure to stimulate reflection, discussion, and deeper understanding of both the Holy Scriptures and the church’s interpretations of them to formulate its theology over the last two millennia. One does not need to agree with every detail of Letham’s magnum opus to realize that here is a treasure house of Christian wisdom on the whole counsel of God that will inform your mind and move your heart and affections to serve your Savior and Lord more single-mindedly and zealously than ever before.”
―Joel R. Beeke, President and Professor of Systematic Theology and Homiletics, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary; Pastor, Heritage Reformed Congregation, Grand Rapids, Michigan; author, Reformed Preaching
“Robert Letham writes systematic theology as it should be written. His work is marked by a careful dialogue between the Bible and the great creedal and confessional traditions of the church, always aided and abetted by a panoply of great theologians from the past and the present. This work is marked by clarity of thought and ecumenicity of spirit. Here we have the full fruits of a lifetime of thinking theologically.”
―Carl R. Trueman, Professor of Biblical and Religious Studies, Grove City College
“Robert Letham’s Systematic Theology is located within the great tradition of Christian theology, drawing upon Patristic, medieval, Reformational, and contemporary sources. Letham keeps his focus where it belongs―upon the unfathomable richness of the triune God in his being and works. He expounds difficult topics in simple, concise prose, yet without being simplistic. Where Letham occasionally offers fresh formulations of doctrinal topics, he invariably does so in a way that is respectful toward more traditional treatments. Theologians, students of theology, and church members alike will find Letham’s work a wonderful gift to the church.”
―Cornelis P. Venema, President and Professor of Doctrinal Studies, Mid-America Reformed Seminary; author, The Promise of the Future; Accepted and Renewed in Christ; and Chosen in Christ
“A systematic theology written from a classical Reformed perspective that takes a fresh approach and aims to reach an audience not schooled in the technical terminology of the discipline―it is a tall order, but Robert Letham has triumphed with a text that is both readable and reliable. Not only pastors and students but also ordinary churchgoers will grow in their faith as they study a book with such depth and clarity of vision. A masterpiece.”
―Gerald Bray, Research Professor of Divinity, History, and Doctrine, Beeson Divinity School; author, God Is Love and God Has Spoken
“Robert Letham has produced a substantial Reformed systematic theology which is not so much multum in parvo as multum in magno. He starts with the doctrine of God and the Holy Trinity rather than with the necessity and sufficiency of special revelation. In this sense it may be said that he stresses the catholicity of Reformed doctrine and does justice to the place of natural theology in it, reflecting his own Trinitarian expertise. Letham’s style is not only clear but also fair-minded, giving space to alternative views. Letham is good at the big doctrinal pictures and sensitive to the need to drill down at particular points. He judges between central and peripheral issues. He is to be warmly congratulated on this new book.”
―Paul Helm, Professor of Theology and Religious Studies Emeritus, King’s College, London
“Robert Letham writes as no novitiate but as one who has given his life to understanding and explaining the Christian faith, addressing not only theologians and pastors but also the intelligent man and woman in the pew. I appreciate his contextualized treatment of topics, particularly his appropriation of historical figures often absent in confessionally Reformed approaches to theology. One may differ with him here or there, but I appreciate what he brings to many difficult matters, offering correctives to certain tendencies that even good Reformed thinkers might indulge. It is good to have one so thoroughly conversant with the history of the church, as well as the Bible, to write a systematic theology that resonates for our times as does this one. I heartily commend this new work to all. Tolle lege!”
―Alan D. Strange, Professor of Church History, Mid-America Reformed Seminary; author, The Doctrine of the Spirituality of the Church in the Ecclesiology of Charles Hodge and The Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ in the Westminster Standards
“Robert Letham’s Systematic Theology is the fruit of demanding exegetical work wrapped in a deep appreciation for all the great theology that God has provided for his people through ecumenical creeds and doctrinal standards. It is meant to be faithful to the past and grandly succeeds in that intention. While Letham clearly embeds his theology in properly understood church tradition, he is not afraid to address current theological trends. The text is exceptionally well written, easily comprehended, massively researched, and a drink of cool water for those thirsting for more of God and his word.”
―Richard C. Gamble, Professor of Systematic Theology, Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary
“Systematic Theology tells the story of the gospel and brings it to bear on Christian faith and life. This fresh approach is catholic in its scope and distinctly Reformed in its teaching. It is refreshingly nonpolemic, taking the best of the entire Christian tradition with great charity and deep discernment. The fact that I do not agree with everything in the book is part of what makes studying a systematic theology like this so humbling. We are pilgrims on the path to glory, walking in communion with the triune God and longing to see Christ as he is. Letham’s work persuasively and winsomely helps us along this path.”
―Ryan M. McGraw, Morton H. Smith Professor of Systematic Theology, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary
“I enthusiastically welcome the publication of this volume by Robert Letham. Keenly informed by the richness of his own Reformed tradition, Systematic Theology engages the best of Christian thought―Patristic, medieval, Reformation, modern, and contemporary―on a deep and fruitful level. There is nothing parochial about this book; reading it will be a joyous education for students and pastors. It deserves a wide audience among Reformed Christians and beyond.”
―William B. Evans, Younts Professor of Bible and Religion, Erskine College; author, Imputation and Impartation and A Companion to the Mercersburg Theology
“Robert Letham writes with a teacher’s knack for illustration, a preacher’s liveliness and warmth, and a scholar’s breadth―all of these in exemplary service to what certain Reformers called ‘prophecy’: the powerful conveyance of the word of God that enlivens and purifies the saints’ worship. Extended throughout these chapters is the doctrine of union with Christ. Letham’s Protestant account of theosis near the end of the volume, articulated as a perfecting of this union, not only culminates his book-long engagement with Eastern Orthodox authors and traditions but also goes a long way in addressing the need felt by many young evangelicals for thicker connection to early-church formulations and writings. Avoiding easy answers at every turn, Letham’s contagious enthusiasm for the simple genius of the Christian tradition will inspire readers to live, believe, and preach Scripture more earnestly and fully.”
―Andrew Keuer, Professor of Theology and Ethics, Greek Bible College
How long have you been working on this project, and why does the church need another Systematic Theology?
Letham: It took about five or six years to write but it was the product of thought and work over several decades.
Why does the church need another Systematic Theology? One could ask, why does it need another sermon, another Biblical commentary, or even another prayer? From one perspective, it helps to see different approaches to theology; it adds fresh perspectives. In a more focused way, there is an urgent need for the Reformed church to rediscover its roots in the one holy catholic and apostolic church. It has become increasingly turned in on itself and that can breed sterility and a sectarian outlook. Many recent systematic theologies concentrate on Biblical exposition but few, Douglas Kelly’s is an exception, are clearly rooted in informed historical conversation.
Who did you have in mind when you wrote your Systematic Theology, and how do you hope they approach using it?
Letham: I was thinking in terms of a spectrum, from scholars, students and ministers to laypeople who think and read. I ran draft chapters by other scholars but also by some ministers; the one person who read the entire manuscript before the editorial stage teaches physics here in Wales and has not had a formal theological education. I wanted to ensure that what I wrote and the way I wrote it is intelligible to as wide a range of readers as possible. That is because I maintain that the Bible was given to the church, not to the University, and so theology should be as accessible as possible.
You mention in your Systematic Theology that instead of dealing first with Scripture, you deal with God. Why do this, and why does the way we order a Systematic Theology matter?
Letham: This is because God is prior to the Bible. He is eternal, he was and is and ever shall be. He chose freely to create, to redeem, to reveal himself to us. Consequently, the drift of the book is from attention to the triune God, the living God who is life itself, to his Word, his works, humanity made in his image, and onwards.
WCF 1:1 speaks of God revealing himself and his will to the church and afterwards “for the better preserving and propagating of the truth and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church … to commit the same wholly unto writing.” Hence, Scripture followed the works of God in revelation and redemption, although it is record of the same.
Since the rise of higher criticism, the church was forced on to the defensive and has felt the need to establish epistemological foundations for its testimony but this can tend to obscure the vital point that the works of God are subsequent to God. Moreover, in today’s world, when we say that the Bible is the Word of God we are begging the question of the identity of the God whose Word it is.
This order reflects the argument that God is life, evidenced by the eternal generation of the Son and the procession of the Holy Spirit. He gave humanity contingent life but Adam opted for death. Redemption entails our being given to share in Christ in the life of God, sin and its consequences having been conquered.
One of the ways your work is unique is how you think about the connection between salvation and the doctrine of the church. Why is this a neglected theme in other theology texts and why does it need to be recovered?
Letham: I think it is the result of the individualism in the West, induced by the Enlightenment but evident in some ways before that. As a consequence, this has seeped into the church and so in Protestantism individual salvation comes first with the church, its preaching, and the sacraments tacked on afterwards. In contrast Rome, in the Catechism as one example, works in reverse; things like justification are not nearly as significant for it as they are for Protestants and it is those elements that are tacked on later. The genius of Reformed Christianity, seen in its doctrine of the covenant, is that the church and the individual go together. In the Bible a person is seen in relation to their connections – A the son of B the son of C of the tribe of D and so forth. The preaching of the Word and the sacraments are integral to the application of redemption and so I have long thought that they should be considered together – as the apostles did when they included baptism in their evangelistic appeals.
Much of your theology also makes use of historical figures in the history of the church. What makes your theology “systematic” and how is it different from doing a historical project?
Letham: It’s not an historical theology, since the organization is clearly systematic. It follows a logical and theological order rather than an historical one. It’s more an exercise in ressourcement, a retrieval of the sources. Theology should not be simply an exercise in Biblical exegesis, although that is a crucial and foundational part of it. It is, in effect, the inter-relationship of the collective entailments of Scripture, in its whole as well as its parts, considered on theoretical and meta-theoretical levels, in interaction with the collective wisdom of other voices, past and present. Calvin constantly backed up his comments with reference to the Fathers and medievals. The debates at the Westminster Assembly, pervaded by exegesis of Biblical texts, were also replete with copious references to leading figures, patristic, medieval and recent. It is futile to try to reinvent the wheel. We build on the heritage of the church, critically but appreciatively. The ways the Spirit has enlightened others must not be neglected.
What were some of your favorite theological texts that have shaped your ministry as a pastor, author, and teacher?
Letham: There are far too many to note here. The Bible, Calvin’s Institutes (never leave home without a copy), I could go on and on …
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SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY, by Robert Letham