Calvin, Bavinck, and Beeke! Oh My!

I recently wanted to take up reading Bavinck’s Wonderful Works alongside Calvin’s Institutes. I haven’t read either of them, and both are systematic theology staples in reformedom. I had been hoping to find a reading list that matched the authors’ chapters up with their systematic topics sequentially. After not finding anything, I decided to take the plunge and make my own.

However, after starting with the tedious task of building the reading list, I came across another systematic that I’ve dabbled in, but as of yet haven’t read all the way through, Beeke’s Puritan Theology. So… after mulling it over a while, I decided to include it too. Why not right? 

Below you’ll find a reading list for Herman Bavinck’s Wonderful Works of God, John Calvin’s Institutes (final revision), and Joel Beeke’s A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life – ordered sequentially by theological topic. I did my best to get the chapters in order so that one will read each author in the corresponding section back to back to back. Most likely there will be some mistakes, but all in all I think I did a fair job of it. Also, Beeke’s Puritan Theology has several chapters that are practical in nature (There’s an entire section at the end of the book devoted to practical life and sanctification). I evenly distributed these chapters throughout the reading list. I thought this would make for some good breaks from the more heady theological reading. The list below includes the chapter name in the original book, then the author name of that chapter, followed by the chapter number in the original book. Be prepared to have your reading schedule booked out!



  1. Man’s Highest Good Bavinck 1
  2. The Knowledge of God Calvin 1-2
  3. The Knowledge of God Bavinck 2
  4. The Knowledge of God Calvin 3-5
  5. General Revelation Bavinck 3-4
  6. Manner of Special Revelation Bavinck 5
  7. Content of Special Revelation Bavinck 6
  8. Scripture Calvin 6-9
  9. Scripture Bavinck 7-8
  10. Puritans on Nat. & Sup. Rev Beeke 1
  11. Puritan Exegesis Beeke 2
  12. William Ames’ Marrow Beeke 3
  13. Pilgrim Mentality Beeke 52

Theology Proper

  1. The Being of God Calvin 10-12
  2. The Being of God Bavinck 9
  3. Charnock on the Attributes Beeke 4
  4. The Trinity Calvin 13
  5. The Trinity Bavinck 10
  6. Puritans on Trinity Beeke 5
  7. Owen on the Trinity Beeke 6
  8. Creation Calvin 14
  9. Man Calvin 15
  10. Providence Calvin 16
  11. Creation & Providence Bavinck 11
  12. Man Bavinck 12
  13. Godly Home Beeke 53
  14. Puritans on Providence Beeke 10
  15. Angels Beeke 11
  16. Demons Beeke 12

Anthropology & Covenant Theology

  1. Sin Calvin 2.1-3
  2. Sin Bavinck 13
  3. Puritans on Sin Beeke 13
  4. Redemption & the Law Calvin 2.4-8
  5. Puritans on Works Beeke 14
  6. Covenant of Grace Calvin 2.9-11
  7. Covenant of Grace Bavinck 14
  8. Puritans on Redemption Beeke 15
  9. Puritans on Grace Beeke 16
  10. Henry on Prayer Beeke 54
  11. Puritans on Old & New Cov. Beeke 17
  12. Owen on Sinai Beeke 18
  13. Puritans on Cov Cond. Beeke 19
  14. Puritans on Law & Gospel Beeke 20
  15. Christ Mediator Calvin 2.12
  16. Natures of Christ Calvin 2.13-14
  17. Christology Cont. Calvin 2.15-17
  18. Christ Mediator Bavinck 15
  19. Christ’s 2 Natures Bavinck 16
  20. Humiliation of Christ Bavinck 17
  21. Exaltation of Christ Bavinck 18
  22. Puritan Christology Beeke 21
  23. Puritan Meditation Beeke 55
  24. Puritans on the Offices Beeke 22
  25. Blood of Christ Beeke 23
  26. Burgess on Intercession Beeke 24
  27. Goodwin on Christ’s Heart Beeke 25
  28. Promises of God Beeke 26


  1. Spirit, Faith, Regeneration Calvin 3.1-3
  2. Distortions of the Gospel Calvin 3.4-5
  3. The Christian Life Calvin 3.6-10
  4. The Holy Spirit Bavinck 19
  5. Puritans on the Spirit Beeke 27
  6. Puritan Prep. Grace Beeke 28
  7. Christian Calling Bavinck 20
  8. Puritans on Conscience Beeke 56
  9. Puritans on Regeneration Beeke 29
  10. Justification Calvin 3.11-14
  11. Justification Contd. Calvin 3.15-18
  12. Justification Bavinck 21
  13. Puritans on Justification Beeke 30
  14. Owen on Justification Beeke 31
  15. Puritans on Coming to Christ Beeke 32
  16. Christian Freedom Calvin 3.19
  17. Prayer Calvin 3.20
  18. Sanctification Bavinck 22
  19. Puritans on Living Beeke 33
  20. Puritans on Adoption Beeke 34
  21. Puritan Causistry Beeke 57
  22. Third Use of the Law Beeke 35
  23. Sibbes on Entertain. the Sp. Beeke 36
  24. Perkins Conscience Beeke 37
  25. Eternal Election Calvin 3.21-22
  26. Eternal Election contd. Calvin 3.23-24
  27. Perkins on Predest. Beeke 7
  28. Goodwin on Et. Just. Beeke 8
  29. Goodwin’s Supralapsarianism Beeke 9
  30. Puritans on Perseverance Beeke 38


  1. The Church (1) Calvin 4.1-3
  2. Puritans on Offices Beeke 40
  3. The Church (2) Calvin 4.4-6
  4. Sacrificial Zeal Beeke 58
  5. Church Government Beeke 39
  6. The Church (3) Calvin 4.7-9
  7. Owen on Sabbath Beeke 41
  8. The Church (4) Calvin 4.10-13
  9. Puritan Preaching Beeke 42-43
  10. Bunyan’s Preaching Beeke 44
  11. The Sacraments Calvin 4.14
  12. Baptism Calvin 4.15-16
  13. Puritan Paedo. Beeke 45
  14. Baptism Berkhoff (for us Reformed Baptists)
  15. Baptism Grudem (for extra credit)
  16. Lord’s Supper Calvin 4.17
  17. Practical Lessons Beeke 59
  18. Puritans Lord’s Supper Beeke 46
  19. False Sacraments Calvin 4.18-19
  20. The Church Bavinck 23
  21. Puritan Missions Beeke 47
  22. Civil Government Calvin 4.20


  1. Final Resurrection Calvin 3.25
  2. City on a Hill Beeke 48
  3. Eternal Life Bavinck 24
  4. Manton’s Works Judgment Beeke 49
  5. Goodwin’s Revelation Beeke 50
  6. Love’s Heaven & Hell Beeke 51
  7. Interlude: Beeke 60

Thomas Boston’s Directions on Theological Meditation

These directions on how to meditate are taken from the 18th century Puritan theologian Thomas Boston. The type of meditation Boston is describing is the Puritan practice of meditation by theological subject. In this type of meditation, the topics meditated on were often the attributes of God, or other systematic theological subjects.

How to Meditate

  1. Begin with a short prayer asking God to bless your time in meditation. A good example is David’s prayer in the Psalms, ‘O Lord, open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.”
  2. Be resolute to meditate on this subject and finish. Your mind will be pulled in all kinds of ways. Satan will try to divert you. Do not have it.
  3. Write out a short description of what the subject you have chosen is.
  4. If there are different kinds or categories within your subject list them out and consider the differences.
  5. If possible, consider the causes of your subject and write them out.
  6. Consider the effects of your subject and write them out.
  7. Consider the properties of your subject. Of what does it consist? Write these out.
  8. Consider if there are opposites of your subject. What are they and why are they opposites?
  9. What things can your subject be compared to? Is there anything similar?
  10. Look up and examine all the Scriptural testimony concerning your subject. Does it shed further light for any of the previous? A topical concordance would be good for this.
  11. Think and enlarge on the subject that your heart my be affected and touched with it. Pray that God would give you a suitable relish and affection for the subject at hand.
  12. Mourn the lack of this affection in your soul to God.
  13. Work to deeply desire the affection for this spiritual subject that you lack.
  14. Confess your inability to do for yourself what you lack to God.
  15. Ask God to work in you this desire, and petition him for it dearly.
  16. Believe that God will grant your request.
  17. Conclude all of this with thankfulness to God and commit yourselves to him.

For further reading see The Whole Works of Thomas Boston, Volume 4, p. 453. The Duty of Solemn Meditation. For help in which subjects to consider, Thomas Watson (a contemporary of Boston), offers an abundance of different topics for this type of meditation in his classic treatise on meditation titled, ‘The Christian on the Mount.’

Finding the Right Hills to Die On: The Case for Theological Triage

by Gavin Ortlund

A Short Review

by Liam Walsh

This book will be a paradigm changer for many. It is an absolutely excellent work. Ortlund is navigating the question of what issues are worth drawing dividing lines between Christian groups. One of Jesus’ prayers before going to the cross – and one of the longest prayers in Scripture – (the high priestly prayer) was for the unity of his followers. The unity of the church matters greatly to Jesus. However – Christians have many different views on many things and doctrines. How are Christians to navigate these differences? And if we are to divide, in what way should we divide? 

Ortlund develops a four tiered system for navigating the importance of disagreements between Christians in their doctrinal convictions. All four also have differing ways Christians should divide as well. His four tiered system is as follows:

1. Doctrines which are essential to the Gospel
2. Doctrines which are essential for the health of the church and practice
3. Important doctrines theologically – but not enough to justify separation between Christian groups
4. Issues unimportant to gospel witness and ministry collaboration 

Ortlund has created a very nuanced approach, and has spent much time thinking on and developing his system. Not only do these four tiers contain different theological beliefs, but Ortlund also details 4 ways in which believers are to ‘divide’ over these issues. 

Tier one constitutes a division between Christian believers and unbelievers. It includes issues such as the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the bodily resurrection of Christ, and justification in Christ’s death through faith. Tier one is also the most drastic of all the dividing lines. These issues should be stood and fought for – albeit in a loving, humble, and Christ honoring way. Ortlund also helpfully emphasizes that there are many Christians who hold errant views in this category who are just ignorant of the details – or just haven’t studied these issues yet. He also highlighted the difference in the way one approaches a doctrinal difference as a large indicator as well – humbly, or in an arrogant and prideful way. 

Tier two is a tier for extremely important issues, but not issues that should divide between whether we consider someone a Christian or not. However these issues are the ones that affect much of a persons Christian life. Prayer or sacraments are often greatly affected. 1st tier doctrines which are essential to the gospel can also be affected by these 2nd tier doctrinal beliefs. These issues, he argues, are usually grounds for switching churches or organizations over. Issues that fall in this category for Ortlund are baptism, the lords supper, Calvinism/Arminianism, strong cessationism/strong continuationism, and some nuances in justification (double vs single imputation) for example. However, in saying that a difference in these views can lead to dividing churches, he emphasized that it should not lead to a relational divide between Christians. Our desire to uphold the love and unity of the church should match our desire for truth. As Ortlund puts it, ‘gospel doctrine, and gospel culture should both be upheld equally.’

Third Tier issues were issues which have some importance – but don’t affect the more important doctrines and don’t affect life and practice of believers. Ortlund argues that though these are important issues, Christians should not divide over them. He places in this category the old vs young earth creation debate and some of the end times chronology controversies. Preferences of alcohol consumption he also places here. I personally would also place politics in this category – as something that,  while it is important, it’s not something which Christians need divide over. 

The fourth tier issues are those that are unimportant for life and ministry in the church, and are more simply preference issues. In this category Ortlund places worship styles and other more outward stylistic preferences. 

Reading this, it seemed right on target to me. Granted, my theology lines up with Ortlund extremely closely – but, even so, I’m amazed at the things Christians divide over. Even entire denominations often, divide over very minor theological preference points such as end times views, creation day lengths, or alcohol consumption stipulations. This book was a breath of fresh air – and contains much wisdom in how Christians should approach theological differences. 

In our current climate, with so many churches splitting or dividing over politics, I would have appreciated more conversation on politics and how Ortlund would fit them into this system. However – the book is really one about theology, not politics. So I suppose it’s fitting that it addresses only the former. [Speaking of politics, I couldn’t help thinking that a system like this would be a step forward for any system of beliefs – especially the polarized state of American politics right now. This would allow polarized groups to work together on the issues they agree on even when they have significant disagreements in other areas.]

I enjoyed this very much. This should be read by any Christian who ever wonders which issues they need to take a stand for and which ones to not let divide, but rather make their stand for unity – often in the face of opposition from both sides. It also had me checking my own heart on some particular doctrinal nuances I hold – that I’m particularly proud of – in a not good way..