Berkhof’s Systematic Theology was my first book on Christian theology. Its unique cover design still reminds me of my first days with it. I would stay in my room to study, making repeated visits to the Bible close by to look up his numerous references. I loved the book (and still do.) It opened up the world of Christian truth to me like never before. I had come to know some biblical truths, which much of the contemporary church had forgotten, but Berkhof helped clarify and solidify this growing awareness.
The book discusses the major areas of Christian belief from a classic Reformed perspective. He covers areas like Theology proper, Anthropology, Christology, Soteriology, Ecclesiology, and Eschatology (such strange but essential terms!) And for each topic discussed there is a historical overview. Thus one gets a good dose of historical theology along with systematic theology. I found his definitions quite helpful in crystallizing a doctrine and making it sink in. Consider, for instance, his definition of God’s holiness: “That perfection of God, in virtue of which He eternally wills and maintains His own moral excellence, abhors sin, and demands purity in his moral creatures.” Concise. Clear. Powerful.
I believe it is a weak Christianity which does not take theology seriously or find it boring. Yes, Berkhof can be difficult at some points. Some discussions can actually be too abstract and dry. And some ideas may be more dependent on philosophy than on scripture. However, the conciseness and clarity which theology provides is not a hindrance but a help to faith and a stimulus to true devotion.
And for that, I believe this book should be on every Christian’s bookshelf.