Biblical Doctrineby John Macarthur, Richard Mayhue
Length: Approximately 30 hours.
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In Biblical Doctrine, John Macarthur wrote a systematic theology for the no-nonsense reader that just wants to know what the Bible says. It is biblical, comprehensive, and written for the man in the pew and the student in the classroom.
Who should read this?
This book is written primarily for bible college/seminary students, but it is accessible enough and for the layperson that is interested in diving deeper into theology. This book would be ideally suited as an entry-level systematic theology.
Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth is a systematic theology written by John Macarthur and Richard Mayhue. John Macarthur’s ministry has been incredibly fruitful and influential over the course of many decades, so his systematic theology is truly a compendium of his work and thought over a lifetime of faithful ministry of the Word. This book is supplemented with content from the Macarthur Study Bible, the Macarthur Topical Bible, and the Macarthur New Testament Commentary Series.
This systematic theology seeks to be self-consciously biblical, even to the point at which the authors call themselves “biblicists.”1MacArthur, John. Biblical Doctrine: a Systematic Summary of Bible Truth. Crossway, 2017. 26. It has very minimal footnotes, interaction with other scholars, and interaction with church history. Indeed, if the reader is looking for those things, other systematic theology books would probably be of better use than this one. This book is for the no-nonsense reader that just wants to know what the Bible says about a particular subject.
This book is divided into 10 chapters. All of the major divisions that are traditionally covered in systematic theology texts are covered in this book. It is interesting that this systematic theology has 10 chapters, whereas others that are around the same size have many more. Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology has 57 chapters.2 I’m resisting the temptation in this review to simply compare this book with Grudem’s point by point. Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology has been so influential and widely used that it is hard to read a newer systematic theology without comparing them.
These chapters, however, are divided into many smaller sub-sections that cover other topics. Personally, I find this method of dividing the text a bit more frustrating, because it takes longer to find a specific point. However, this method of division in no way changes the actual content of the book. Each chapter ends with a prayer and a hymn. This is done to emphasize that theology is not just to inform the mind, but to engage the heart. According to Macarthur, “Theology is not fully finished until it has warmed the heart (affections) and prompted the volition (will) to act in obedience to its content.”3Ibid, 37.
The subjects covered in this volume include the prolegomena, bibliology, theology proper, Christology, pneumatology, anthropology and hamartiology (man and sin), soteriology, angelology, ecclesiology, and eschatology. Each chapter is a systematic summary of what the Bible teaches on these particular topics, with several subsections discussing the various points in each doctrine.
This systematic theology will be extremely helpful for a particular group of people. This particular group would include bible college students, laypersons that haven’t read much systematic theology but want to grow deeper in their understanding, or those who have been deeply influenced by John Macarthur.
Personally, I found this book to be very useful and enlightening in many ways, and disappointing in other ways. All in all, I believe that this is a very good systematic theology, but not the best that I’ve read. To be perfectly honest, after reading this, I think that I enjoy John Macarthur much more as a preacher and commentator than a theologian. I find his sermons and his commentaries to be his strongest work.
The first and most obvious strength of this book is that it is thoroughly biblical. Nearly every sentence has Scripture references in parentheses. This is very refreshing, because systematic theology has a reputation for being overly philosophical and wandering beyond Scripture into speculation. This book truly seeks to answer the simple question of “what does the Bible say about this?”
This book is very easy to read. Many systematic theologies are clunky and difficult to read, but this one typically avoids using academic language, referencing the original languages, and excessive footnotes. This is what makes this so suitable for a layperson that wants to read their first serious book on theology.
I also found the chapter on Theology Proper to be a massive strength. Theology proper tends to be a weak point in newer reformed systematic theologies, especially considering the recent controversies about EFS (Eternal Functional Subordination) and divine simplicity surrounding James Dolezal’s All that is in God. The chapter on the doctrine of God in this book is refreshingly biblical without compromising essential attributes of God that are often brought into question in these recent controversies.
The first weakness I’d like to highlight is, ironically enough, something that I listed as a strength in the previous section. Yes, this book is thoroughly biblical, but I think that an explicitly Biblicist perspective is limiting to a good systematic theology. I think this volume would have been stronger if it did engage with church history, other scholars, etc. We have much to learn from others, and it can be arrogant and short-sighted to think that we can figure everything about theology out on our own.
Second, the tone and style of argument in this book can be frustrating. Macarthur has never been shy about being controversial, and he’s about as subtle as a machine gun. But gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit, and I would’ve appreciated some of that in places in this book. There are places in this book, particularly in the eschatology section, where a very controversial and disputed text will be cited as a single proof text for a point without any defense.4For example, on page 856, Macarthur cites Galatians 6:16 when saying, “Sometimes the term Israel is used of believing Jews only,” when many, if not most, commentators on Galatians see this as a reference to gentiles as well. Macarthur simply cites this as a proof without any defense or justification. Also, on page 863, Macarthur states that there are “nonglorified saints who bore children with nonglorified bodies during the millennial kingdom” and cites Isaiah 65:20,23 as a proof. Again, that is a controversial interpretation that many scholars would disagree with, and no defense for this interpretation is given.
Also, in the eschatology section, Macarthur repeatedly refers to the amillenial view of the relationship between the church and Israel as “replacement theology” even though this is an unfortunate straw-man that most amllienialists would reject. I knew before reading this book that I would disagree with Macarthur on eschatology. I can’t criticize him for writing what he believes that I disagree with. However, I don’t feel like my position (amillenialism) was treated fairly and represented accurately.
Also, the section on “Inadequacy of the natural proofs” (148-150) for the existence of God is a glaring example of the genetic fallacy. The genetic fallacy essentially says that an argument is wrong because its source is bad. In this section, Macarthur goes through the famous “proofs” and discredits them solely on the grounds that others who were not orthodox Christians have used variations of these arguments. As a presuppositionalist, I agree with Macarthur that the natural proofs are insufficient in themselves to prove the existence of God, but I think his reasoning that leads to this conclusion is very faulty.
The final weakness of this book isn’t really a weakness, but more of a limiting factor. I think this book is limited in its appeal to those who are newer or less experienced with systematic theology because of the limited nature of the content. More experienced readers could use this book for teaching, but would probably find themselves more edified by something else.
This book is a welcome addition to the already wonderful reformed systematic theologies that have been written recently. It is a crowning achievement for a man of God that has been used so profoundly as John Macarthur has. I would gladly recommend this fine volume to any reader of theology that is interested in growing in their knowledge of our great God and His Word. However, as much as I feel that I should avoid unfair comparisons, I can’t help but tell the reader of this review that if you’re looking to read your first systematic theology book, read Grudem’s first. I think that it is just as readable and comprehensive, yet without many of the weaknesses that were mentioned in the review above.
I’d like to thank Crossway for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
- Theology is not fully finished until it has warmed the heart (affections) and prompted the volition (will) to act in obedience to its content.”
- “God is absolutely sovereign, and man is entirely responsible for his actions.”
- “In His death, the Lord Jesus Christ paid the penalty that our sins incurred by suffering vicariously as our substitute.”