The Best Single-Volume Reformed Systematic Theology You’ve Never Heard Of

The Best Single-Volume Reformed Systematic Theology You’ve Never Heard Of

This devotional aspect is perhaps uncommon in systematic theologies, but it is characteristic of The Wonderful Works of God. Christian families should have some reference work or guide to help make sense of the Bible and theology and to consult when confronted by confusing or difficult matters. Many books provide answers that satisfy the mind; better still is the book that presses those answers into the heart to elicit worship and praise.

Following the watershed publication of his four-volume Reformed Dogmatics in English at the turn of this century, interest in Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck (1854–1921) has sharply increased. Indeed, it almost seems as though Bavinck’s destiny is to influence the 21st century far more than the 19th century, during which he wrote most of his dogmatic work. A steady stream of new translations and editions of his other works has emerged (e.g., Saved by Grace, Essays on Religion, Science, and SocietyThe Christian FamilyOn Preachers and PreachingPhilosophy of Revelation, Reformed Ethics, The Sacrifice of Praise, Christian Worldview).

But there is a book that has almost been forgotten in this flurry of interest and excitement. Translated by Henry Zylstra and originally published by Eerdmans in 1956 under the title Our Reasonable Faith, this single-volume systematic theology represents Bavinck’s own distillation of his four-volume magnum opus. Though available for more than half a century, it has remained fairly obscure outside the walls of Reformed seminaries.

The reasons for this obscurity are mysterious, for the book has a plausible claim of being the best single-volume Reformed systematic theology ever produced. It’s therefore welcome that Westminster Seminary Press has now restored the author’s title (Magnalia Dei, or The Wonderful Works of God), and re-released it in a format worthy of such a book.


By “format” I mean that the volume itself is beautiful, from its richly textured dust cover, to the cloth cover beneath, to its high-quality Smyth-sewn paper. Annotations will resist bleeding through the paper, and the book will lay open on your desk. The aesthetics are impressive.

Inside one finds an attractive new typesetting for Zylstra’s translation, along with much more. Westminster Seminary professor R. Carlton Wynne helpfully introduces Bavinck and the book’s background, and Nathaniel Gray Sutanto translates for the first time Bavinck’s original foreword, which Zylstra had omitted.

Most helpful of all is a massive subject and Scripture index compiled by Charles Williams, which will enhance the book’s usefulness for students and researchers.


As for the content, it is—as already mentioned—Bavinck’s own distillation of his four-volume Reformed Dogmatics into a single volume. But that is actually misleading: it’s not an abridgment of the four volumes. It is, rather, Bavinck’s fresh restatement of his dogmatic work for a lay audience. In 1910, one reviewer put it this way: “None but a learned man could have written this book, but he has hidden his tools.” Bavinck has put aside the kitchen equipment and delivered the meal.

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