Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem, part 3
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!
Chapter 4 – The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (1) Authority
Continuing Wayne Grudem’s study about Scripture and the Bible itself. You know the Bible, right? That book that roughly half of all Christians either worship (“Father, Son, and the Holy Bible”), and roughly the other half ignore completely (“You just need love, bro, love and the Spirit!”). Forgive my cynicism and playful fun, but at times that is what it truly feels like. The Bible is an extremely important book in the Christian’s life, and all too often it feels people either overemphasize it or utterly deemphasize it. I realize there are plenty of Christians who somehow manage to strike a balance between the two extremes, but I’ve only ever known a scant few. And this extremity with the Bible is hardly anything new; we all tend to emphasize one thing over another, or fail to emphasize something enough. I’m guilty of this as much as anybody.
“In the previous chapter our goal was to determine which writings belong in the Bible and which writings do not. But once we have determined what the BIble is, our next step is to ask what it is like. What does the whole Bible teach us about itself?”
Here is Wayne Grudem’s working definition: “The authority of Scripture means that all the words in Scripture are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God.” This is obviously a very clearcut, very cut and dry, very black and white definition. One that frankly sucks and that the majority of us dislike but choose to accept. The emphasis then is on how Scripture should be interpreted, and what constitutes the “correct, authoritive, true for all and for all time, everyone else is utterly wrong” understanding of Scripture.
First, Grudem points out that the Bible itself claims that all the words in it are God’s words. This goes closely along with his second point that “we are convinced of the Bible’s claims to be God’s words as we read the Bible.” Thirdly, he points out that other evidence is useful but not finally convincing, and concludes with the point that the words of Scripture are self-attesting. At this point Grudem wisely points out the objection that this is a circular argument. He freely admits it.
“It should be admitted that this is a kind of circular argument. However, that does not make its use invalid, for all arguments for an absolute authority must ultimately appeal to that authority for proof: otherwise the authority would not be an absolute or highest authority. This problem is not unique to the Christian who is arguing for the authority of the Bible. Everyone either implicitely or explicitly uses some kind of circular argument while defending his or her ultimate authority for belief (pg 79).”
Well said, and Grudem spends considerable time developing this view and defending it. And as a survivor of the KJV-Only camp, I appreciate Grudem taking the time to clarify that “the fact that all the words of Scripture are God’s words should not lead us to think that God dictated every word of Scripture to the human authors (pg 80).” Dictation from God is not the sole means of communications. I’ll admit one of my frustrations (or maybe just an observation) of Christianity as a whole (including all beliefs about the existence of a God and Jesus and the Bible as true) is that it is an incredibly neat and tidy package. All objections are answered in some form or another. It is a nearly perfect closed system of belief. I imagine this is true of other religions as well, but from an insider’s view trying to look at it all from the outside, it is incredibly cohesive.
Grudem now moves on to the second assertion, that to disbelieve or disobey any word from Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God. I’m grateful that he points out that the greatest preachers the Church has ever known are those who recognize that “they have no authority in themselves and have seen their task as being to explain the words of Scripture and apply them clearly to the lives of their hearers.” I’ve heard many pastors speak to their followers the vain philosophies of men, with out of context Scriptural references to justify whatever they feel like saying. And it’s especially sad when this happens in the midst of expository preaching. I probably wouldn’t be a Christian today if I hadn’t gotten plugged in to preachers who faithfully removed themselves from the equation and preached just the word of God.
But what of the truthfulness of Scripture? Christians assert that God cannot lie or speak falsely, which therefore means that all the words of Scripture are completely true and without error in any part. God’s words are the ultimate standard of truth. We will never discover some new fact that contradicts the Bible; if in fact some fact shows up that claims to contradict the Bible, then really it’s simply our misunderstanding of Scripture that is in error, and not the fact or the Bible itself. That is why I don’t get too caught up in the whole Young Earth Creationism/Evolution debate. Sure there are facts and those facts are being interpreted, but all too often those on one side or another have utterly misinterpreted the Bible itself. It’s scary when people are willing to die on a particular interpretation of Scripture without even considering if that interpretation is flawed.
It’s refreshing to realize that Wayne Grudem is a “theological liberal” and that I am becoming a “theological liberal” by willfully exposing myself to his lies:
“Nevertheless, it must be remembered that scientific or historical study (as well as other kinds of study of creation) can cause us to reexamine Scripture to see if it really teaches what we thought it taught. The Bible certainly does not teach that the earth was created in the year 4004 B.C., as some once thought (for the genealogical lists in Scripture have gaps in them). Yet it was in part historical, archaeological, astronomical, and geological study that caused Christians to reexamine Scripture to see if it really taught such a recent origin for the earth. Careful analysis of the biblical text showed that it did not teach this (pg 84).”
This whole section has been incredibly refreshing and comforting to me. Helps me realize I’m not as crazy for using my brain as I’ve been led to believe. “We should never fear but always welcome any new facts that may be discovered in any legitimate area of human research or study…No true fact will ever contradict the words of the God who knows all facts and who never lies (pg 84).”