Culver's Systematic Theology

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JM

Puritan Board Doctor
Never heard of Robert Duncan Culver but I found his Systematics at a local shop for $20 bucks. It's a heavy volume with tiny print.

Was he a Baptist?

Thanks,

jm
 

Taylor Sexton

Puritan Board Senior
Robert Duncan Culver was a Calvinistic Baptist. He was Dispensational, but as far as I can gather, he was Progressive Dispensational before it became the thing that it is today. I have had his ST for a while now, and it is very, very good. It is very readable, and ridiculously comprehensive. You bought it for a steal.

An interview with Culver about this volume (and his life) can be found here.
 

bookslover

Puritan Board Doctor
Robert Duncan Culver was a Calvinistic Baptist. He was Dispensational, but as far as I can gather, he was Progressive Dispensational before it became the thing that it is today. I have had his ST for a while now, and it is very, very good. It is very readable, and ridiculously comprehensive. You bought it for a steal.

An interview with Culver about this volume (and his life) can be found here.

I have it, also. The print is frighteningly tiny, as if the publisher was absolutely determined to get it all into one volume, no matter what. (He lived from 1916-2015, when he died at 98.)
 

Taylor Sexton

Puritan Board Senior
I have it, also. The print is frighteningly tiny.
It really should have been a multi-volume set. And not only this, but, even though the print is tiny, the book is still huge. Any other publisher would have immediately said, "This needs to be divided up." Just as a comparison, I have in my Google Docs a list of all my systematic theological works organized by estimated word count. Here is where Culver falls:
  1. Morecraft - Authentic Christianity: 1,580,000
  2. Turretin - Institutes of Elenctic Theology: 1,203,000
  3. Brakel - The Christian’s Reasonable Service: 1,107,000
  4. Bavinck - Reformed Dogmatics: 1,077,000
  5. Dwight - Theology Explained and Defended: 1,050,000
  6. Ridgley - A Body of Divinity: 1,005,000
  7. Charles Hodge - Systematic Theology: 935,000
  8. Culver - Systematic Theology: 841,000
  9. Various - Contours of Christian Theology: 813,000
  10. Dick - Lectures on Theology: 734,000
  11. Oden - Systematic Theology: 643,000
Culver is the only one of this top 11 in my list that is not multi-volume. It really is, in my opinion, a publishing mistake. Even Thomas Oden's work, which is 23.5% smaller, was published in three volumes originally!
 
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JM

Puritan Board Doctor
Well, I'm happy to have picked it up for $20 bucks. Amazon.ca has it listed for just over $70!
 

bookslover

Puritan Board Doctor
It really should have been a multi-volume set. And not only this, but, even though the print is tiny, the book is still huge. Any other publisher would have immediately said, "This needs to be divided up." Just as a comparison, I have in my Google Docs a list of all my systematic theological works organized by estimated word count. Here is where Culver falls:
  1. Morecraft - Authentic Christianity: 1,580,000
  2. Turretin - Institutes of Elenctic Theology: 1,203,000
  3. Brakel - The Christian’s Reasonable Service: 1,107,000
  4. Bavinck - Reformed Dogmatics: 1,077,000
  5. Dwight - Theology Explained and Defended: 1,050,000
  6. Ridgley - A Body of Divinity: 1,005,000
  7. Charles Hodge - Systematic Theology: 935,000
  8. Culver - Systematic Theology: 841,000
  9. Various - Contours of Christian Theology: 813,000
  10. Dick - Lectures on Theology: 734,000
  11. Oden - Systematic Theology: 643,000
Culver is the only one of this top 11 in my list that is not multi-volume. It really is, in my opinion, a publishing mistake. Even Thomas Oden's work, which is 23.5% smaller, was published in three volumes originally!

I read Dick's Lectures some years ago. Did you know he allows for the possibility of conscious life existing elsewhere in the universe? As far as I know, his is the only ST that mentions that topic. Especially interesting, considering his time period (1st quarter of the 19th century, if memory serves.
 

Reformed Covenanter

Puritanboard Commissioner
I read Dick's Lectures some years ago. Did you know he allows for the possibility of conscious life existing elsewhere in the universe? As far as I know, his is the only ST that mentions that topic. Especially interesting, considering his time period (1st quarter of the 19th century, if memory serves.

A friend of mine once read out a section from Archibald Alexander's Thoughts on Religious Experience wherein the same idea was propounded. I missed it when I read that volume about 18 years ago, so I would have to check it again.
 

C. M. Sheffield

Puritan Board Senior
I saw Culver's work several years on the shelf at LifeWay (before it closed) but didn't know anything about him, so I never purchased a copy. This thread is the first and only time I have ever heard him discussed. And so far, I'm not tore up about not buying a copy. Not that it's bad, but with my limited budget, there are simply better things to spend my money on.
 

toledomudhen

Puritan Board Freshman
Robert Duncan Culver was a Calvinistic Baptist. He was Dispensational, but as far as I can gather, he was Progressive Dispensational before it became the thing that it is today. I have had his ST for a while now, and it is very, very good. It is very readable, and ridiculously comprehensive. You bought it for a steal.

An interview with Culver about this volume (and his life) can be found here.
For what it's worth, that article was the reason I bought the book. And from what I have read so far, your assessment of his theology and the contents of the book are correct.
 

Pilgrim

Puritanboard Commissioner
He has been discussed here in the past several times. What Taylor says is basically correct.

Culver was a minister in the Evangelical Free Church of America, so his ecclesiology is a little “loose” compared to traditional Baptists. He was an ardent premillennialist, but sort of somewhere between the older type of historic premil espoused by men like Spurgeon and Ryle (i.e. Zionist) and progressive dispensationalism. Before the publication of his ST, he was perhaps most widely known for his writings on the book of Daniel. He took no firm position on the timing of the rapture and also thought that the kingdom (and the new covenant) has been inaugurated, contra traditional dispensationalism. He said that he did not accept Alva McClain’s teaching on the postponed kingdom even when he was sitting in his class in Grace Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. (McClain was one of the chief proponents of the dispensational teaching of the postponed kingdom and a perennial sparring partner of George Eldon Ladd on that subject.) Culver was sharply critical of millennial sensationalism and rapture fiction.

He was Calvinistic in his soteriology. On some things, he was heavily influenced by Shedd. Shedd may be his single biggest influence although they had obvious differences regarding ecclesiology and eschatology. Where Shedd and Hodge differ, Culver typically goes with Shedd.

Culver did not like covenant theology at all, so that is probably the thing that most people here will find the most objectionable. And that’s where maybe he is a bit closer to progressive dispensationalism since those older premils tended to be covenantal. He does seem to have been an admirer of Robert Saucy’s views of the church and Israel, generally speaking.

Another thing would be his apparent opposition to young earth creationism, which wasn’t uncommon among men of his generation who came of age decades before YEC’s revival in the 60s. But he does not spend much time on that. He also spends very little time on charismaticism.

Despite its massive size, there are things that are conspicuous by their absence or that are scattered throughout the book instead of being dealt with in one place, such as a doctrine of scripture, apologetics, hermeneutics, and maybe a few other things. I wanted him to go into more detail in some other areas, such as baptism. But he includes some material on things such as church architecture that you don’t typically see in systematic theology texts.

It took him 30 years to complete the book, which he started after retiring from TEDS in the mid 70s. Some parts seem to be 30 years old (which makes them 45 at this point) and some seem to be rather new or revised based on the citations.

Interestingly he does not refer to Grudem anywhere even though Grudem taught at TEDS for a time years after Culver left. Yet he refers to Reymond’s ST many times even though Reymond was published later. Maybe that’s because Reymond was older and Culver was acquainted with him. Or maybe there’s another reason. I do think that the lack of interaction with charismatics like Grudem and Storms is an example of the book being dated at the time that it was published in 2005. But it is still useful nonetheless.

Some find this book to be particularly endearing. I haven’t looked at it in a while to remember exactly why, but I think he occasionally makes statements of a nature that it almost feels like he is there looking over your shoulder. It is not as dry as some theology books are, which is maybe why the small print isn’t as big of a deal as it might seem, at least to me, and I usually cannot abide small print. I do think it has good paper, which helps.


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Reformed Covenanter

Puritanboard Commissioner
I am increasingly of the opinion that it is a waste of time for me to read yet another modern systematic theology. I recently sold Robert Letham's as I was thoroughly unimpressed by it. R. D. Culver's is the only one that I own which I have not read. Similar to Wayne Grudem's ST, it seems like a useful source to have in order both to see a defence of his positions and his areas of agreement with Reformed theology.
 

Taylor Sexton

Puritan Board Senior
I am increasingly of the opinion that it is a waste of time for me to read yet another modern systematic theology. I recently sold Robert Letham's as I was thoroughly unimpressed by it. R. D. Culver's is the only one that I own which I have not read. Similar to Wayne Grudem's ST, it seems like a useful source to have in order both to see a defence of his positions and his areas of agreement with Reformed theology.
Which ones do you most recommed?
 

Pilgrim

Puritanboard Commissioner
I am increasingly of the opinion that it is a waste of time for me to read yet another modern systematic theology. I recently sold Robert Letham's as I was thoroughly unimpressed by it. R. D. Culver's is the only one that I own which I have not read. Similar to Wayne Grudem's ST, it seems like a useful source to have in order both to see a defence of his positions and his areas of agreement with Reformed theology.

One benefit of Culver is that he interacts with a broader range of writers and theological camps than most books of this type do, and probably largely due to his age, he references some older writers that contemporary writers don’t mention if they are even aware of them at all. So it is an interesting book to have for that if nothing else. If someone is looking for something distinctly Reformed though, he probably doesn’t even belong on the list, especially not after the plethora of volumes that has been published in the last decade or two.

Other than his questionable teachings, I’m not sure what is really distinctive about Grudem other than its organization and accessibility. Maybe it is simply the fact that there was such a paucity of baptistic Systematic Theology works at the time. You had Erickson and what else? Ryrie? Strong? (who is pretty weak on some things.)

The dispensationalist Paul Martin Henebury wrote a review of this work that some might find helpful, at least with regard to where Culver is most thorough https://drreluctant.wordpress.com/2011/04/26/robert-culvers-systematic-theology-an-overdue-review/


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