Tuesday 31 August 2021

Robert Letham: Systematic Theology, Crossway, 2019

This tome will undoubtedly enrich the theology and ministry of the church for years to come. In what could be considered a magnum opus by Letham, his work spans 1072 pages including indexes. The most striking feature is the accessibility of the writing style of this work; something not easy to achieve for this kind of book. Yet, the style is free-flowing, easy to read and highly enjoyable. Structured with eight parts, it covers all the usual systematic headings, but I will elaborate upon two sections which I deem to be particular highlights. The divisions of subjects or parts are: The Triune God, the Word of God, the Works of God, the Image of God, the Covenant of God, Christ the Son of God, the Spirit of God and the People of God, and the Ultimate Purposes of God. What strikes you when you begin to read the first few pages is that Letham comes quickly to the doctrine of God, without what has become a typical and sometimes a cumbersome elaboration of the existence of God. Letham argues that the “Bible does not follow this method” (43); he then proceeds to introduce general revelation followed by special revelation (what the Bible reveals). In addition, for ease of reading, the chosen style leads to a sense of worship of the majesty of the triune God throughout. The opening first chapter concludes: “However, special revelation comes to its highest expression as God reveals himself to be Trinity (Matt. 28:19-20). This is the apex of covenant history. It is the supreme revelation of God’s name. It is the theme of the next three chapters” (65). Part 1 the Triune God is a particularly exciting series of writings. This is the clearest exposition of the Trinity as the doctrine of God and vice versa among other books in the same category of writing. This is enriching for theology in the season ahead, one which breaks the mould of handling God, followed by a thin small chapter on the Trinity. God himself is triune and this is how the subject is helpfully handled. The proceeding chapter is equally helpful, not least in that the author is anchored within the Westminster Confession of Faith and its unyielding doctrine of inerrancy and the scripture’s sufficiency. Chapter 8 on the interpretation of scripture is noteworthy and should be read by all. Part 6 Christ, the Son of God focusses entirely upon the incarnation of the Son of God. There are three sub-headings to structure the flow of material which are biblical teaching (incarnation 1), church formulations (incarnation 2) and ongoing questions (incarnation 3). This whole panorama of theological teaching is most excellent. All I can say at this point is: “take up and read”. Letham clearly believes the two high points of redemptive revelation are the incarnation of Christ and His resurrection. While I loved the writing on the incarnation, I would have equally enjoyed the same depth of treatment to be given to the resurrection. Perhaps a future writer of a systematic theology could do that. There is so much I could say to commend this volume for theological seminaries, pastors and elders, Christians who want to understand their faith better and missionaries. I hope that I have whetted your appetite enough for you to cross the bridge to fathom the unfathomable which is the knowledge of God. May this book aid you in that endeavour on this side of eternity. Kevin Bidwell, Sheffield, December 2020