Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem, Part 1
Stu Station is blogging through Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. This is the first systematic theology I’ve read, although I have read numerous other theological books and a few that are basically doctrine-lite textbooks. I’m hoping that through this study I’ll learn a lot and be humble enough to change my views as the Holy Spirit leads. At this point I’m planning on blogging twice a week on Grudem’s Systematic Theology…but don’t hold me to that!
“I am convinced that most Christians are able to understand the doctrinal teachings of the Bible in considerable depth, provided that they are presented clearly and without the use of highly technical language.” Early on in the Preface in Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (pg. 16, to be precise), Grudem ‘tips his hand’ and reveals up front what his beliefs are and where he stands on particular issues; however, he also committs himself to representing other positions fairly and critically. Reading over the list of his own personal beliefs, I find myself in agreement with the majority of them, with only one or two points that I desire him to further clarify, such as the “conserative view of biblical inerrancy, very much in agreement with the “Chicago Statement” of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy” and his position as a premillenial post-tribulationialist. Wayne Grudem is a Reformed Charismatic, a position that intrigues many people including myself, so one of his positions comes as a shock:
“I hold that ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’ is a phrase best applied to conversion, and subsequent experiences are better called ‘being filled with the Holy Spirit’;
That’s shocking to me, and on the surface until I reach those specific chapters, I can only give a resounding AMEN! I realize not all people who hold to a Charismatic theology believe that ‘Baptism in the Holy Spirit’ is a separate, distinct, second work of grace (usually brought on by crisis), but I’ve had many lead me in rhetorical circles about how it’s “one baptism, many fillings”, and then immediately contradict themselves (to those who don’t hold their views) by saying that you first get saved and then you get baptized by the Holy Spirit. But Grudem doesn’t stop there:
“moreover, that all the gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in the New Testament are still valid for today, but that ‘apostle’ is an office, not a gift, and that office does not continue today.”
Right there is where he radically departs from most modern, Third Wave Charismatics, firmly separating the so-called ‘things of the spirit’ and the truth of the Word of God. By this point everyone has seen a modern day “apostle” on the TV or news, and have realized just how corrupt they are. On this point, I am eager to see his reasonings and scriptural arguments, what the Holy Spirit has revealed to him. I won’t let this blog become an anti-Holy Spirit, anti-charismatic blog, nor will I let the conversation be dictated by those who claim that in order to be open to the things of the Spirit you must accept such things as apostles. Hopefully we all, both regular readers and trollers alike, can find some common ground where we can both learn. Encouragement from Wayne Grudem on the importance of theology –
“I do not believe that God intended the study of theology to be dry and boring. Theology is the study of God and all his works! Theology is meant to be lived and prayed and sung! All of the great doctrinal writings of the Bible (such as Paul’s epistle to the Romans) are full of praise to God and personal applications to life.”
Chapter 1 – Introduction to Systematic Theology (What is Systematic Theology? Why Should Christians Study It? How should we study it?)
The definition Wayne Grudem gives for “systematic theology” is “any study that answers the question, ‘What does the whole Bible teach us today?’ about any given topic.” I think this is a pretty good definition. Grudem goes on to explain the differences between systematic theology, historical theology, philosophical theology, apologetics, Old Testament theology, New Testament theology, and biblical theology. Quite a spread of things that could be studied. His example of what is systematic theology (“What does the whole Bible teach us today about prayer?”) provides a good benchmark, as it shows it’s not what an OT book teaches, a NT book teaches, what has the Bible progressively throughout history taught, etc, although there is often some bleed between the distinctives. “Furthermore, systematic theology focuses on summarizing each doctrine as it should be understood by present-day Christians (pg 23)…In fact, every time a Christian says something about what the whole Bible says, he or she is in a sense doing ‘systematic theology’ (pg 24).” Grudem hits an important distinctive right on the head:
It is of utmost importance…that each person person beginning such a course (study of systematic theology) firmly resolve in his or her own mind to abandon as false any idea which is found to be clearly contradicted by the teaching of Scripture. But it is also very important for each person to resolve not to believe any individual doctrine simply because this textbook or some other textbook or teacher says that it is true, unless this book or the instructor in a course can convince the student from the text of Scripture itself. It is Scripture alone, not ‘conservative evangelical tradition’ or any other human authority, that must function as the normative authority for the definition of what we should believe.
That point right there is why many in my generation are lost, hurting, and seeking after truth. We all have so great a crowd of witnesses coming before us that we no longer know what to believe. The church in America has become so established and mired in the certainity of modernism, each absolutely utterly convinced of the TRUTH of the beliefs that a whole generation has imperfectly embraced postmodernism, and are convinced that truth starts with us. As a generation, we’ve been lied to repeatedly by our elders, so it is little wonder that we have rejected the TRUTH of our ancestors and begun the search for God’s Truth. I know full well how easy it is to want to believe something to be true, and to be convinced of the utter truthfulness of a position, all the while having a check in my spirit that something was not quite right.
I recently took a course through the Twin Cities Bible Institute on the Emergent Church, so my mind is thinking about the differences between modernism, postmodernism, the nature of truth and experience, and where the ultimate authority lies. I recognize full well the strands of postmodernism in my thinking, yet I am still historically a modernist. I plan on blogging about the differences between modernism and postmodernism at a later time, and while I was not convinced by all the arguments presented, I still learned a great deal and find myself in agreement with much of it.
Ok, back to Grudem’s Systematic Theology…
Grudem and I are the same page with the two initial assumptions of this book: 1) Bible is true and absolute standard of truth, and 2) “that the God who is spoken of in the Bible exists, and that he is who the Bile says he is: the Creator of heaven and earth and all things in them (pg 26).” The assumption, based in Matt. 28:19-20, is that we are supposed to learn and teach doctrine because it’s commanded, and has numerous benefits to our lives, such as overcoming wrong ideas about God as well as guarding against corrupt teachings. Systematic theology is like a jigsaw puzzle, allowing us to fill in the borders and a few large pieces. His emphasis on both major and minor doctrines is astute; the minors are seldom worth fighting over, but when the majors are threatened or reunderstood, traditionally cries of heresy haven’t been too far behind.
How should Christians study systematic theology? Through prayer and with humility, with reason, with help from others, and thoroughly. “Studying theology is therefore a spiritual activity in which we need the help of the Holy Spirit.” It’s a long dead horse, but I’m so tired of people saying theology is “mental masturbation” or a strictly mind and reason based exercise devoid of emotion and the Holy Spirit. Hardly. Psalm 119:18 refutes that wicked notion, as also does 1 Cor. 2:14. James 1:19-20 is a good reminder of the humility we all need as we study theology.
“We find in the New Testament that Jesus and the New Testament authors will often quote a verse of Scripture and then draw logical conclusions from it. They reason from Scripture. It is therefore not wrong to use human understanding, human logic, and human reason to draw conclusions from the statements of Scripture.”
Wow these chapters are long. Going forward, I may systematically address the text, or I may not. Perhaps I will summarize the whole and point out certain sections that the Lord points out to me as well. We’ll see. I’ll leave this first blog entry with this quote:
“The study of theology is not merely a theoretical exercise of the intellect. It is a study of the living God, and of the wonders of all his works in creation and redemption. We cannot study this subject dispassionately! We must love all that God is, all that he says and all that he does. “You shall love the LORD your God with all your your heart (Deut. 6:5).” Our response to the study of the theology of Scripture should be that of the psalmist who said, “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!” (Ps. 139:17)”