Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem, part 6
Chapter 7 – The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (3) Necessity
Wayne Grudem gets right to the heart of the matter with his opening paragraph:
Do we need to have a Bible or to have someone tell us what the Bible says in order to know that God exists? Or that we are sinners needing to be saved? Or to know how to find salvation? Or to know God’s will for our lives? These are the kinds of questions which an investigation of the necessity of Scripture is intended to answer.
Let me try to answer this with my initial thoughts: no, no, no, maybe, (definitely) no (kinda sorta). “The necessity of Scripture means that the Bible is necessary for knowing the gospel, for maintaining spiritual life, and for knowing God’s will, but is not necessary for knowing that God exists or for knowing something about God’s character and moral laws.” You know, I agree with that. Do Christians need a Bible? Not necessarily, since for centuries no one, or very few, had a Bible, and did just fine before God. The Bible does say that people can know God exists apart from the Bible just from looking at nature and this world, and I’d say that should also apply to the idea that people are sinners (albeit, that knowledge would be faulty, but then again, to many Christians it’s still faulty). The Bible is definitely critical for maintaining spiritual life, and for finding out God’s general will for our lives (not specific will, avoid that heresy).
The Bible Is Necessary for Knowledge of the Gospel. Well, for the gospel, sure. But this is where I go soft universalist and wonder outloud if maybe people from other religions can find God apart from hearing and knowing the actual name of Jesus. I really don’t have any solid theological backing, just fanciful thinking, but I tend to agree in part with CS Lewis’ view that people from other religions, those who earnestly seek God with a pure heart, will make it into heaven somehow. I don’t seriously struggle with the idea that the majority of mankind is going to hell because they were either not Jews or haven’t heard about Jesus, but certain doctrines tend to lean that way. Rachel Held Evans raised an interesting point in a recent blog post about how the true reason she is a Christian is because she just happened to be born at a certain time to a certain group of parents who believed in Jesus. This is not her arguing that she’s a Christian because she was born to Christian parents, as I’ve heard many of my friends and fellow students at the university testify as their salvation testimony, but it’s simply a matter of chance and God’s will. Combining that thought with the idea of “the elect” really does severely limit whom God chooses to be Christians; it practically guarantees that the majority of people born in certain countries, such as Muslim countries, won’t ever have the opportunity to accept Christ except to deny Him automatically because they have been programmed by their religion to do so. God can work miracles, certainly, but it’s still a tough pill to swallow. “The implication seems to be that without hearing the preaching of the gospel of Christ, no one can be saved (pg 117).”
Fun question – If it’s by the name of “Jesus Christ” that people are saved, then are Christians who have only heard the English name “Jesus Christ” and not the original Hebrew name of Jesus truly saved? Just playing devil’s advocate…moving on…
Wayne Grudem’s defense of the idea that the Bible is necessary for maintaining spiritual life is short but solid. Scripture is both the meat and the milk to Christians growing in faith. One of the greatest dangers of the Christian life is forgetting to or neglecting to study Scripture; this is going to be particularly tough as we move into this postmodern world where people both don’t trust learning from knowledgable people (with reason, at times) as well as not being readers naturally. I feel sorry for most of my friends already who don’t read because they are missing out on so much. I admit freely that I no longer read my Bible daily as well, mostly because I noticed it started to become a choir and I began treating it as a magical object, that if I just read my Bible then God would bless me and give me all these great and wonderful things. I still have that legalistic kneejerk tendency that when I’m feeling depressed or even feeling physically ill, that if I just read my Bible and pray, then God will heal me magically.
I don’t agree with the rhetoric that says that because we have the Bible, we are so blessed beyond measure and we should be reading it every day, because so many Christians throughout history didn’t have access to the Bible and would have died for the chance to be able to read it every day. Maybe, perhaps, but that still seems false. The rapid spread of the Bible in print has been a tremendous blessing indeed, but also at a great cost. It was Socrates who warned us all ago that writing would cause us to lose something as humans, and while his suggestion to ban writing was a little foolish, he was still right in his base warning. The Bible in print caused the Protestant Reformation (possibly a good thing), but has also created numerous cults and heretical splinter groups, leading to much error and broken lives. Every man could read the Bible for himself, while at the same time believing that only the Holy Spirit will lead them into truth, so of course error would befall a sizable minority. In this sense I think the postmodernists are just being honest when they say truth starts with them; postmodernism is just being honest about what modernity is, at times.
Is the Bible necessary for certain knowledge of God’s will? Yes, because the Bible has the Ten Commandments, numerous proverbs, the examples and parables of Jesus, and much more. Yet will it tell you which job to take, who to marry, or where to invest your stocks? No, not really, and that’s not the Holy Spirit’s job either. The Bible “gives us clear and definite statements about God’s will (pg 119).” Wayne Grudem gets really philosophical in this section, arguing at times that only the Bible can give us certain knowledge about anything at all. He engages in a form of mental gymnastics that I’m not entirely prepared for, but he does so gracefully it seems. But he ends up affirming that everyone can know something about God and this world apart from the Bible due to general revelation.
The rest of the chapter focuses on how we can know things about the moral law and God’s character apart from the Bible. I’ve never really heard anyone argue around this point in apologetics, so it must not be one of those points that people bring up to debate Christians. Still, it was a good refresher.
Now I need to buckle down and read ahead a few more chapters. I apologize for the rambling nature of these blog posts, but I’m not really certain how to address the chapters at times. I either agree or don’t, and where I agree, I don’t see much point in discussing it or reexplaining it. Read along if you truly want to know what Wayne Grudem says!