Maybe the Worst Top 10 List Ever

Most top 10 lists are subjective.  They just mean “favorite” and not necessarily “best” (unless of course they’re based on some kind of objective data like sales or something like that) but Michael Patton has posted perhaps the worst top 10 list I’ve ever seen with regard to systematic theology texts.  Atop his list at #1 is Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine!  What?!!  How?!!  I’ll also note that this seems like a re-post of some older material (something that is very common on the P&P blog) [edit: Michael informed me in a comment that he wrote this today] since Patton says Frame’s Theology of Lordship series is only three volumes (he also says that Geisler’s set is three volumes in the comments but that’s probably just a mistake, although it’s not a mistake when he says that Geisler isn’t really worth referencing) when, in fact, it has recently been completed with its fourth volume.

One thing is clear, Patton favors Calvinistic STs (although not strictly Reformed volumes).  Jenson and Pannenberg don’t get nary a mention and Oden is the lone non-Calvinist on the list, which is cool, but c’mon, would Chafer make anyone else’s top 10 and would Grudem come in at #1 anywhere else?  I doubt it.  He said he thought about Bavinck in the comments but didn’t include it because it wasn’t practical.  From my reading of volume 1 I’d place it head and shoulders above 7 out of his 10 picks (I’d put Van Genderen & Velema’s recent Concise Reformed Dogmatics in the same category, i.e., it’s better from what I’ve read so far than most of his picks).  I think Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics would make my list over most of what made Patton’s as well.

But let me just once again mention was makes this list so horrible: he puts Grudem at #1!!!


34 thoughts on “Maybe the Worst Top 10 List Ever

  1. Honestly, I was bracing myself for when Grudem would appear on his list. As I made it down to number five, I thought Grudem wouldn’t make the list. After all, who would put him in the top 5? And then, when I reached number two, I thought: hmm. Someone did better than Calvin? And then my jaw dropped.

    It’s got clarity and breadth, but not depth.

  2. I read Grudem’s text when I was in seminary (the first time) and didn’t find it so bad. But I also don’t enjoy reading systematic theologies. Perhaps one day I’ll happen upon one that is actually enjoyable!

  3. I have a friend who read Grudem while in public high school in the CD of Seattle, not known as the mecca of public schools. He didn’t have any trouble understanding it. So perhaps there is a place for Grudem in the intercity.

    I gave away a full vintage set of Chafer without reading it. A friend of mine at Warrenton Baptist on the OR North Coast was really excited about getting it. I didn’t say anything to discourage him. He was a good friend and self taught.

    Any mention Paul Tillich, he would make my top ten worst theologians list. The best thing about Paul Tillich was his conversations with James Pike from the grave. Read about it in The Other Side. I really like reading about folks like Pike and Tillich.

  4. I just looked at Grudem in the public library and found a book I didn’t know about.

    Evangelical feminism : a new path to liberalism? / Grudem, Wayne A

    This is a favorite topic of mine so I think I will read it and do a blog critique. One thing Grudem does well is get blood pressure up in certain feminists. I will not mention any names but she teaches NT in Canada and is a personal friend of Karen Jobes. We have talked about feminism on and off in friendly way. I collect [real] feminists. I have a first edition of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas 1933 Gertrude Stein’s memoirs. Have read “To the Lighthouse” Virginia Woolf at least a dozen times.

    Grudem is going to be fun to critique on this topic. I suspect he is rather clueless about feminism but will hold my guns until I see what he has to say.

  5. “I am not necessarily saying that these are the “best” (though all qualify), but the most important and highly recommended for all students of theology today.”

    Oh. My. Goodness. Where is Barth? Where is Brunner? Where are so many other giants? This is a perfect example of the problem of the evangelical ghetto: throw out thousands pages of some of the best stuff written because you disagree with five of them.

  6. In CMP’s defense, he did say:

    The following is a list of my most recommended systematic theologies.

    Though I’d quibble with the choice of title and some of the hyperbole used, it is merely his opinion. If your personal favourite isn’t in there (mine isn’t – Robert Reymond’s A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith), it’s hardly the end of the world.

    My two pence worth (I’m British so we don’t do cents :P)

  7. I’d have placed Church Dogmatics in mine. Whether you agree or not, its really a systematic theology (just lighter on the systematic side).

  8. Erickson and Schafer are not Calvinists either. I really like Jenson (not so much Pannenberg). I would have included Bavinck and Barth over a couple of the contributions (Erickson for instance). Calvin behind Grudem? I’m pretty sure that Grudem would disagree. I would hope so at least, because there is no comparison.

  9. Honestly, I think you have to consider Michael’s mission. His mission is to bring theology, in an understandable way, to the lay person. He is not necessarily recommending these ST’s to seminary students. As he said himself, it’s not an extensive Seminary list. Maybe you should challenge him to follow this post up with a recommended “deeper studies” list.
    Like C. S. Bartholomew said just above, Grudem is easy reading even for inner city kids to understand. If you’re going to do an “introduction to theology” class at your church for a bunch of people who have never engaged the idea of studying theology in depth, and your own personal beliefs are reformed/Calvinistic, Grudem is an excellent choice.

  10. I couldn’t believe he put Grudem above real thinkers and Biblical researchers. Kind of dirties the list IMO to put Grudem as no. 1.

  11. Well, at least Oden made the list as did Lewis and Demarest – the list will proably change once he reads Horton’s new Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way…..

  12. Jason: If you liked systematic theologies then you’d know that Grudem’s was that bad!

    Esteban: I welcome your protest and hereby join you in it!

    C. Stirling: Grudem’s volume may have a place in inner-city high school propping up desks or lunch tables but that’s it. As far as Tillich goes, he’s one of those authors/theologians I have no interest in whatsoever.

    Sean: Exactly! But the more important point is that Grudem ended up at #1! That’s inexcusable!

    Douglas: There is no defending recommending Grudem’s volume over all others; none! I think you fail to realize the gravity of Patton’s offense here. ;-)

    Michael: It would probably make mine as well, but I suppose one could argue that it was never really finished so they’d prefer something that was. Whatever the case may be with regard to Barth, he’s certainly better than Grudem!

    Kyle: Erickson is “moderately Calvinistic” (note the “ic” at the end) according to Patton and I tend to agree. Schafer’s Lutheran though, right? And you are certainly correct, there is no comparison!

    Crazy JB: I don’t care what CMP’s mission was, is, or will be; I cannot sit by idly as Grudem tops any list of systematic theology texts that are being recommended! It would violate my morals!

    Greg: Sure — 1. Not Grudem, 2. Not Grudem, 3. Not Grudem, 4. Not Grudem, 5. Not Grudem, 6. Not Grudem, 7. Not Grudem, 8. Not Grudem, 9., Not Grudem, 10. Not Grudem.

    TL: Your opinion is objectively correct!

    Brian: Possibly, but it should change now since Grudem is on top!

    Note to all: I am of course being facetious and hyperbolic in my anti-Grudem vitriol. No need to defend the book or Patton’s list if you disagree with me. I can only say that I wouldn’t put Grudem on my list and that’s only because his book isn’t as good as so many others.

  13. the fact that he left brunner off says all that needs to be said. grudem? he couldn’t wash brunners feet much less tie his sandals or carry his water.

    kids these days- they spend their time reading absolute crap and then feel as though they’ve managed some great accomplishment and want the world to know of their absurd ‘fantastic discovery’. lord, take me now.

  14. “Jason: If you liked systematic theologies then you’d know that Grudem’s was that bad!”

    I loved and still love Berkhof’s Systematic Theology. At least he was on the list. Perhaps, Michael Patton’s criteria for the list was not what is the best but what is easiest to read for the average believer or some such.

  15. Ok, so you SysThe guys have strong opinions about who you like and dislike. I can understand. It irritates you that there are thousands of students reading this guy and liking him when you can see so much wrong with what he is doing. Hey, I’ve been there, ask me about Dan Wallace and GGBB [no please don’t ask!]. Anyway, I have a question for the group. Why are you still reading SysThe? I was told by two K.Barth Phd’s Byran Burton and Marty Folsom way back in early 90s that SysThe was old school and nobody serious was doing that anymore. When I mentioned John Frame and Paul Helm the both got scowls on their faces like “you just don’t understand”.

  16. Jim: My sentiments exactly!

    TL: It’s a list of books he recommends to people looking to get into the subject. I think it criminal to recommend Grudem to anyone!

    C. Stirling: Your friends misinformed you. Systematic theology is alive and well. Perhaps there was a resurgence between the early 90s and now. If you happen to speak to them again then mention George Hunsinger, Bruce McCormack, Paul Molnar, and Edwin Chr. van Driel and see what they say.

  17. Checking out that thread (which is rare; I don’t visit P&P hardly at all), I’m starting to feel sorry for CMP. People are jumping in, “Where are the Arminian theologies? Why just Calvinists?” Good question with an easy answer: Calvinists write most of the systematic theologies. I’m a pretty staunch Arminian, but most of my favorites are in the reformed camp. When introducing the SysTheo section of the library to students, I say, “This one is Arminian, this one Lutheran, that one Catholic. All the rest are reformed.” It’s simply the way it is.

    My greater problem with the list is that it’s basically limited to the spectrum of theology from Westminster to Dallas, and there’s a whole lot more out there than that. One’s theology is really impoverished if one never goes out of the circle of neo-evangelical-approved theology. Some of the top works have come from perspectives outside that circle and are worthy of being given a hearing. One might be surprised to learn that they love Jesus and believe the Bible too.

    As a teacher of systematics, I would have concur somewhat with C. Sterling’s friends that much of academic theology outside of evangelicalism has “moved on” from doing systematics, and we don’t have the giants now that we had last century. (In my view Moltmann and Pannenberg are two of the biggest remaining, and they’re really getting up there. And Moltmann didn’t exactly do a systematics.) The general trend has been towards more particularized “people’s” theologies–liberation, contextual, etc. Some of the work done there has been quite significant. (A large portion of it has been quite the opposite.) I think the pendulum might be starting to swing back towards systematics, but in many sections, it’s still far away.

  18. Jason: In the immortal words of Shaggy, “It wasn’t me!”

    Sean: Right you are about the overwhelming majority of STs being on the Reformed side. I don’t have a problem with that. On of the commentators over there said something (in much too snarky a manner in my opinion) about if Arminians want more STs then they need to get their people more interested in theology. Even though he was a jerk about it he’s right. But I really don’t even care if a ST is written from an Arminian, Calvinist, Lutheran, Catholic, or Orthodox perspective; I can read any of them with profit without fear of being converted to something I’m not. It seems like people are afraid of Reformed theology because they think they might end up believing it!

    I’d question why we’d have to look outside of any particular camp for systematic theology and also note that we need to give some folks a little time to grow into giants; the century is still young. If we’re measuring systematic theology by people who produce ST sets then it would appear to be dwindling, but how many times can the wheel be reinvented? I think there’s still plenty of people engaged in the field (like some of the names I mentioned above which could be multiplied exponentially) who are making solid contributions.

  19. First, Grudem’s book is an abomination — one of the few books I know that actually makes one stupider. One can spot errors on most pages, and Grudem’s writing style seems to be modeled on junior high school textbooks.

    Second, Crazy JB’s defense that “I think you have to consider Michael’s mission. His mission is to bring theology, in an understandable way, to the lay person” is not adequate. Several of the books on the list are demanding. His list shows no sensitivity to the reading level or the audience. (I further find it offensive to assume that to assume that some readers are not capable of working through difficult texts.)

    Third, there are quite a few non-Reformed — and indeed, pre-Protestant (or non-Protestant) systematic theologies. Six of top systematic theologies I have read that I can recommend are (in alphabetic order): Aquinas (Summa Theologiae), Augustine (De Civitate Dei), von Balthasar (Trilogy), Karl Barth (Kirchliche Dogmatik), Calvin (Institutio Christianae Religionis), and Tillich (Systematic Theology). (Caveat: I read the Latin and English works in the original, but I used an English translation of von Balthasar and Barth.) These works are of interest not only to a Christian audience, but to a wider intellectual audience: these works include fundamental contributions to philosophy and the history of thought. They are thrilling to read.

  20. This has been a really enlightening thread, BTW, this is a discussion forum right? Nick is the moderator. I admit to not having read much of Grudem. But J I Packer wrote a little paper back on basic theology, the title escapes me, and it was even easier to read than Grudem. So what are we going to do, start bashing Packer? It was a wonderful little book which had a target audience wider than Grudem’s. Granted, Paker isn’t the same sort of author. He is a pleasure to read.

    I suspect someone who actually likes to read Tillich (Systematic Theology) is sort of out there in third standard deviation from mainstream orthodoxy. I have never learned at thing from reading Tillich, nothing, zero, zip, null set. My young friend from downtown learned quite a bit from reading Grudem. What I can believe is that some seminaries are using it as text book. That is a little hard to fathom.

    Anyway, just getting to know you guys. Sort of fun actually. Like the old days when my colleagues were reading Jürgen Moltmann and Wolfhart Pannenberg while I was plowing through Jonathan Edwards and Calvin’s Institutes which I read front to back once and never again. Gave my Jonathan Edwards and Calvin’s Institutes to ever ones favorite preacher before he was famous, will not mention his name but he preaches in Ballard.

  21. Theophrastus: As usual, you are a voice of reason, and I wholeheartedly agree with most of what you’ve said. I still haven’t had a chance to von Balthasar and I have no interest at all in Tillich, but Aquinas and Augustine are fine examples. And your disdain for Grudem’s book is most welcomed and appreciated!

    C. Stirling: Yes, discussion is the main reason that I blog. My “real life” friends aren’t interested in this kind of stuff for the most part so I get to talk about it with my blogging buddies. I have no problem with writing accessible books; I think the an Genderen & Velema volume I mention in the post is some of the easiest reading I’ve done in systematic theology in a long time. But it’s quite good as well. And I’d much prefer Calvin and Edwards to Moltmann and Pannenberg. For some reason or another German theologians just don’t write incredibly well. Maybe something is lost in translation, I don’t know. Moltmann annoys me to no end and Pannenberg takes a great deal of time to digest (but I’ll take him over Moltmann any day of the week).

  22. Ha. Nick, I second just about everything you say about German theologians and their writing styles. I don’t know if any of them can actually summarize something and say, “My points are X, Y, and Z; now here’s why.” Brunner I would put as an exception; he’s quite readable, and his Dogmatics I’d actually use as a text for a class if the occasion arose. (The poor man was actually great but constantly overshadowed by Barth.) Barth is way too wordy, but he does have a rhythm once you get used to it.

    In general, I would say that American theologians are much better at actually _explaining_ things, if not all that innovative. (Sure, I’m biased a bit, but not all that much.) I would also say that evangelicals/conservatives are better at explaining things and making them practical than ecumenical/liberal theologians. Again, that’s something unfortunate but just seems to be the way it is.

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