Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem, part 7
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 8 – The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (4) Sufficiency
I was really encouraged by reading this chapter of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology…which of course meant that something bad had to happen. Satan and sin couldn’t let that stand. God may not be the architect of sin, but I firmly believe that he allows it and manages it according to his purposes and plans. What that means, practically, is that God may allow you to continue sinning for many years until you learn the exact specific lesson (or lessons, sometimes) that God wants you to learn from your sin. (I’d argue this idea is entirely Bible.) God knows that you will never be cleaned up or righteous enough in his eyes to merit anything, so what does it matter if you stop sinning today or tomorrow? Not one bit, since you are still a sinner, and only Jesus can declare otherwise. In no way are we not fully responsible for our own sins and actions, but God is still Lord and in charge of it all.
I also, perhaps superstitiously, believe in the “other foot syndrome”, as it seems to occur time and time again in my life. Something good happens, something bad must happen. Rarely am I conscious of it being the other way, but it must be. Anyways, God was convicting me today while I was at the gym. There are a few people in my life that I am cold and standoffish to, for a number of reasons…and there is no reason for that. I may not ever be truly friends with these people, but there is no reason not to be friendly. My conscience would be clear, and the worse that could happen is I’m friendly with someone who isn’t. So God was convicting me and I had to repent while at the gym, changing my attitude toward these people. And I hope to make amends the next time I see them.
Which, in a roundabout way, brings me to the current chapter of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, dealing with the sufficiency of Scripture. This is a touchy subject for me. In my Christian walk, I’ve listened to preachers and fools alike who err on either side of the sufficiency of Scripture, where either Scripture is sufficient for EVERYTHING in life and nothing else can be allowed to have an opinion, or the flipside where lipservice is made to the suffiency of Scripture, but then there are some things that are MORE sufficient than Scripture. I firmly believe in the sufficiency of Scripture, and yet this will always get me in trouble.
“We can define the sufficiency of Scripture as follows: The sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture contained all the words of God he intended his people to have at each stage of of redemptive history, and that it now contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly (pg 127).”
Grudem’s next line is key – “This definition emphasizes that it is in SCRIPTURE ALONE that we are to search for God’s words to us.” Amen. Now, Grudem, as a charismatic, goes on to look at what this means in light of modern day prophecy, and him and I firmly inline with many of the more historic and sane understandings of prophecy, even within the charismatic movement. Grudem is careful to remind us that this doesn’t mean that subjective impressions of God’s will are useless, but that these subjective impressions can only remind us of moral commands that are already in Scripture. These will never add to or replace Scripture. Ever. Grudem includes a quote he heard that I especially am now fond of:
“The degree of certainty we have with regard to God’s will in a situation is directly proportional to the degree of clarity we have as to how the Word of God applies to the situation.” – Edmund Clowney
That right there cuts off the majority of attempts from many to discern God’s will in their lives. It automatically cuts off as unBiblical the idea of waiting for a word from the Lord before undertaking an action. It presupposes that we already have the Word from the Lord in Scripture, and that we study the Word of the Lord in Scripture, and then we pray and proceed. That’s it. In my own life, I’ve heard peoples’ testimonies change radically over a period of years, from being active decisions to passive receptions of some vague and subjective “word of knowledge” from the Lord. That right there is one of the greatest factors in my rejection of what most people define modern day prophecy to be, because it has been demonstrated to be false and subjective 100% of the time, without fail. Plus, Scripture condemns it.
Like Wayne Grudem, I accept true modern day prophecy, since it’s built firmly on Scripture. But Old Testament “thus saith the Lord” prophecy is dead and done with. And if modern day understandings of prophecy is actually real, then I wholeheartedly renounce Christ, embrace atheism, and choose hell. But I’m betting on it not being real. I guess that means faith.
We Can Find All That God Has Said On Particular Topics, and We Can Find Answers To Our Questions. Definitely true. I’ve often said that the problem with the Bible being true is that if the Bible is true then the entire Bible is true. This of course causes problems when looking at those particular topics and questions we all want answers to. It’s easy to find answers based on faulty knowledge or an incomplete study of the Scriptures. “But the truth of the sufficiency of Scripture is of great significance for our Christian lives, for it enables us to focus our search for God’s words to us on the Bible alone and can save us from the endless task of searching gthrough all the writings of Christians throughout history, or through all the teachings of the church, or through all the subjective feelings and impressions that come to our minds from day to day, in order to find what God requires of us (pg 128).” Which is a great relief and source of encouragement.
Most of this chapter on the sufficiency of Scripture is all stuff I passively agree with, so I was encouraged but don’t feel the need to rehash it in this blog. One section in particular jumped out to me: “With regard to living the Christian life, the sufficiency of Scripture reminds us that nothing is sin that is not forbidden by Scripture either explicitly or by implication (pg 132).” Having grown up in a legalistic church setting, this was highly encouraging to read. People often accuse me of bitterness when certain issues are more important to me than others, such as this one. Imagine being gifted by God with an ability to be a great swimmer, and then abruptly finding out from your leaders that God abhors swimming with a vengeance, only the wicked do it, and if you want to please God you will never swim again, and in fact, if you ever do swim again after accepting God, He won’t even allow you into his presence if you swim again. Now, imagine that you broke free from this influence, and began swimming again, and found great joy and delight and worship to God in it, but still, there is still that nagging voice in your head condemning you. Would you not be a little “bitter” and angry toward that thinking? You can easily forgive the persons who told you such lies, but why would you ever “forgive” or “accept” those teachings, except renounce them as the evil, wicked, and perverse teachings they are, and do all that you can to encourage others away from those teachings? But this is all just imagination, isn’t it. Hypothetical thinking. If I’m bitter, God doesn’t need to use you to pronounce it.
This whole section by Wayne Grudem is putting words to the thoughts I’ve had for decades.
“Furthermore, whenever we add to the list of sins that are prohibited by Scripture itself, there will be harm to the church to the lives of individual believers. The Holy Spirit will not empower obedience to rules that do not have God’s approval from Scripture, nor will believers generally find delight in obedience to commandments that do not accord with the laws of God written on their hearts. In some cases, Christians may repeatedly and earnestly plead with God for “victory” over supposed sins that are in fact no sins at all, yet no “victory” will be given, for the attitude or action in question is in fact not a sin and is not displeasing to God. Great discouragement in prayer and frustration in the Christian life generally may be the outcome (pg 133).”
Grudem’s subpoint is also poignant, using a simple example:
“Children in this family may not watch television on weeknights.” – Good, solid, applicable to human societies as a rule for their own affairs. No such rule can be found in Scripture, but falls under obedience to governing authorities.
“No member of our church should watch TV on weeknights” or “No Christian should watch TV on weeknights.” – Evil, wicked, unBiblical, a denial of the sufficiency of Scripture, more than a rule for conduct in one specific situation but now a moral command apparently intended to apply to all Christians no matter what their situation. Adding rules such as this is wrong and unBiblical. (See most churches stance on alcohol, for instance.)
“The sufficiency of Scripture also tells us that nothing is required of us by God that is not commanded in Scripture either explicitly or by implication.” This is one of the key reasons why I’m not hard on so-called “nominal Christians”. Most are simply following the Bible’s commandments to shut up, work hard, be faithful, and love God and each other. Oh if more of my generation would do just that.
All in all, a great chapter. And with that, we move from looking at systematic theology regarding the Bible, and begin to focus on God himself. Should be fun!