For decades, Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology has remained one of the most important and widely-used systematic theologies. It provides the clearest and most succinct articulation of Reformed theology. From its first publication in 1932, Berkhof’s work was revised, reprinted, and translated into Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, and Portuguese, and it had become a standard theological text by 1950. It has gained near-universal use in seminaries and Bible colleges across the world, and is widely cited and used by pastors, theologians, and students of nearly all denominational affiliations.
Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology was first published by Eerdmans in 1932 as a three-volume set: an introductory volume, plus two volumes entitled Reformed Dogmatics. Much of the material in these volumes was transcribed from his lectures at Calvin Theology Seminary between 1926 and 1928. In 1938, Berkhof revised the 2-volume Reformed Dogmatics, and it was published in smaller type by Eerdmans as a single volume entitled Systematic Theology. Berkhof’s Introductory Volume to Systematic Theology was published separately. For decades, both the Systematic Theology and its introductory volume have been reprinted as two-volume sets or combined one-volume editions.
Louis Berkhof was born in 1873 in the Netherlands, and immigrated with his family to West Michigan in 1882. In 1893, he began attending the Theological School of the Christian Reformed Church (now Calvin Theological Seminary), where he studied under Hendericus Beuker and was influenced by the writings of Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck. Berkhof graduated from Calvin Theological Seminary in 1900 and became the pastor of First Christian Reformed Church in Allendale, Michigan. He attended Princeton Theological Seminary from 1902 to 1904, where he studied under B.B. Warfield and Geerhardus Vos. H. Henry Meeter, a friend of Berkhof, remarked that “Berkhof frequently said that he owed more to Vos than anyone else for his insights into Reformed theology” (Reformed Theology in America, 156).
Berkfhof returned to Michigan in 1904 and became pastor of Oakdale Park Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids. In 1906, he was appointed professor of exegetical theology at Calvin Theological Seminary, and in 1926, became professor of dogmatic theology. He also delivered the Stone Lectures at Princeton in 1921. On September 9, 1931, Berkhof became president of Calvin Theological Seminary, where he served until his retirement in 1944. During his lifetime, he wrote prolifically, including numerous volumes on theology, social issues, politics, education, and missions. In addition to his books, he also published countless articles in Reformed periodicals, such as The Banner, De Wachter, and the Calvin Forum. He also served as the first president of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod in 1946.
Louis Berkhof died in 1957.