Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for reviewing it.
Biblical Doctrine is John MacArthur’s (along with Richard Mayhue) overview of systematic theology, written from one of the masters of biblical exposition. The work begins with theological foundation (Prolegomena), building on the foundation with a survey of the major doctrines of the Christian faith (Bibliology, Theology Proper, Christology, Pneumatology, Anthropology and Hamartiology, Soteriology, Angelology, Ecclesiology, and Eschatology). Each treatment of the major doctrines provides ample substance to be used in graduate and master-level systematic theology courses, and this resource will likely become the next gold-standard of general systematic theologies due to its current scholarship, its respected authorship, and its conservative, evangelical position.
Chapters begin and end with a hymn (generally one of the traditional hymns of the faith) and conclude with a prayer related to each major doctrine, allowing readers to appreciate the worship aspect of the study of biblical doctrine. Each chapter also concludes with detailed bibliographies containing both primary systematic theologies and specific works with regard to each doctrine, valuable additions to students involved in research on theological topics. The overall structure of the resource is more teachable and flows more easily than other major systematic theologies (such as Erickson and Grudem), and the depth of the topics presents compares or exceeds comparable systematic theologies.
MacArthur writes Biblical Doctrine from a conservative, evangelical standpoint (while also affirming a Calvinist Soteriology). Concerning Bibliology, the verbal, plenary inspiration of the Bible is affirmed, as is the inerrancy of Scripture and the preservation of Scripture (including a brief discussion on textual criticism). In terms of Soteriology, MacArthur offers an extended treatment on the doctrine of election from a Calvinist position. When it comes to Ecclesiology, the distinction between the church and Israel is presented as the biblical view in contrast to supersessionism. On Eschatology, the view of Futuristic Premillennialism and a pre-tribulation rapture are discussed as the most biblical views.
In general, Biblical Doctrine is a solid, current, conservative, and evangelical general systematic theology. The work provides a solid foundation and overview of the major doctrines of the Christian faith. However, there are select portions of the resource that some theologians will be in serious disagreement with. One portion of the resource which will bring the most variance among theologians is MacArthur’s view on Soteriology. While adherents to a Calvinist soteriology will appreciate MacArthur’s extensive treatment on the doctrine of election, theologians against a Calvinist soteriology will take issue with MacArthur’s position on the subject. Such portions of the work should not prevent the resource from being widely used in academic settings, as the work overall presents a solid and biblically sound presentation of doctrine. In the select portions in which theologians are in disagreement with MacArthur, supplementing these with readings from additional systematic theologies or a professor’s own lecture notes provides sufficient balance on the subjects while still providing students with the benefit from this well-designed overview of systematic theology.
Graduate and master-level students will benefit the most from the resource, although students involved in more in-depth research projects concerning systematic theology will benefit from reading the surveys of biblical doctrine in each chapter while diving into the bibliographies at the end of each chapter. The additional touches with the hymns and prayers allow students to pause and reflect on the study of doctrine as a means to worship God and not merely a formal academic exercise.
While Biblical Doctrine has a few areas of issue (especially among non-Calvinist theologians), MacArthur has blessed the church and the academy with a solid presentation outlining the major doctrines of the Christian faith. It is a resource that will likely become one of the most widely-used general systematic theologies for graduate and master-level courses, and that will continue to reward students for years to come.