By Robert L. Reymond (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998), xxxvi + 1210pp.,
hbk., $AU75 approx.
Considering that some 60 systematic theologies have been published in the last 20 years, another volume is not surprising. However, this book is both substantial in size and orthodox Reformed in content. Reymond taught theology at Covenant Seminary, St Louis for more than 20 years and more recently at Knox Seminary in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Reymond’s work challenges the market niche occupied for more than a generation by Louis Berkhof. Berkhof’s work is now about 65 years old and perhaps due for retirement. Reymond gives us both warmth and exegesis, elements not so prominent in Berkhof’s work. In this regard he begs comparison with Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (1994). Grudem is Baptistic, moderately charismatic and pre-millennial, although he writes with a view to the whole spectrum of the evangelical community, so the market is not quite the same as for Reymond’s book. Reymond, as perhaps befits a Presbyterian enthusiast, largely follows the structure of the Westminster Confession and is post-millennial. Both books run to more than 500,000 words plus indices.
Reymond’s work is characterised by extensive exegesis of key passages. A 128 page introduction is followed by over 300 pages on God and his works of creation and providence, a similar number on election, covenant and the work of Christ, some 170 on the Church and the means of grace, and over 100 on eschatology. There are good indices.
First, the book is orthodox and Calvinistic. It involves much direct interaction with the text of Scripture. For example, the discussion of Romans 1:3-4 in the context of the Trinity occupies 8 pages (pp.238-245). He advocates the two natures view rather than two successive stages in the history of the eternal Son. He makes the case with clarity and grace although not convincing this reviewer. His discussion on Philippians 2:6-11 extends to 11 pages.
Second, it has an American orientation. It most frequently cites theologians in the Princeton and Southern Presbyterian tradition, although it breaks with the Princeton evidentialist whilst also criticising Cornelius Van Til, and, like Gruden too, has relatively less interest in European and British theological thinkers. You won’t find Moltmann mentioned and Pannenberg receives only several passing references. Similarly, subjects like dispensationalism, still influential in the US context, receive considerable attention.
Third, the work reflects independence of judgment and some indiosyncracies. For example, Reymond, while recognising infra and supra-lapsarian views of the order of divine decrees are defensible, argues for a modified supralapsarian order. His extended discussion of Philippians 2:6-11 seeks to remove the difficulties he perceives in explaining the kenosis by positing a movement in Christ’s self-emptying beginning not from the Son pre-incarnate in eternity but from the already incarnate Son. This is surprising exposition, to put it very mildly. A comment (p.417) that ‘breath of life’ in Genesis 7:21-22 applies only to humans is interesting and grammatically possible, I would say, but has minimal support among the commentators as the meaning in the context.
Fourth, Reymond interacts with some current issues rather unevenly. For example, the question of human freedom as raised by Clark Pinnock, is covered extensively on pp. 346-381. However, the important subject of the image of God is covered briefly and rather inadequately on pages 427-429. Summaries of the positions of influential modem thinkers lile Moltmann and Pannenberg would have been very helpful.
Unquestionably the book is a useful resource, but I could have wished it were better. It is overly long, which may reflect its origin as class lectures. Its emphasis on exegesis is a good step although the execution could be improved. Personally I would have been more succinct in the exegesis, citing standard commentaries for much of the detail and concentrating on the significance of the conclusions. I would also provide some kind of historical framework to help the student appreciate past approaches and current views in context. On the whole Grudem’s work will appeal more to the average student as it is more user friendly and has a more pronounced devotional tone. Unhappily, given the price of either book, few students will buy both.