Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem

READER ASSESSMENT – Six characteristics describe Professor Grudem’s writing and teaching style in this book, and perhaps in general as well; solidly biblical, clear, evangelical, irenic, relevant and pastoral. Let me elaborate on these. First, I greatly appreciate that in the Introduction, Grudem advises students to approach the study of systematic theology with humility, prayer, reason, as well as through others qualified to teach, by a careful collection and examination of all related passages of Scriptures on any topic, and finally with rejoicing and praise. These points are necessary to keep in mind to ensure a right motive, a teachable heart and dependence on the Holy Spirit to direct the study and make the overall process not merely an intellectual exercise, but more importantly, to have doxology as the goal displayed particularly through the transformation of life into a greater Christ-likeness.

Second, there is a wide margin on the sides of each page and plenty of space at the end of each chapter to allow students to make notes. I made a great use of these for writing important points and summary of Scriptural passages, as well as answering the questions at the end of the chapter.

Third, Grudem cares more about the heart than the head though by no means he neglects the element of reason in the study of God’s Word. In fact, he works very hard to explain each topic logically as much as possible. The reason I said as much as possible is there are cases where you can only go so far before you seem to arrive at a dead end yet with awe and wonder at the glory of the mysteries of God in such cases as the doctrines of the Trinity, hypostatic union of the humanity and divinity of Christ, the exhaustive foreknowledge of God and human responsibility, the aseity, eternality, and omnipresence of God. Though unquestionably there are mysteries in these, yet I should say they are beautiful mysteries, that cause the heart to stand in awe and bow in worship to the majesty, the greatness, the brilliance, the unsearchableness of the God of the Bible.

The fact Grudem’s chief aim is the heart with the head being the means to reach out to the heart is clearly seen in the type of questions he asks at the end of each chapter. Instead of asking, “What is Apollonarianism? How is it different from Nestorianism?” or “List the passages of Scriptures that talk about regeneration,” he asks the students questions like, “How can a clearer understanding of Jesus’ humanity help you face temptation? How can it help you to pray? What are the most difficult situations in your life right now? Can you think of any similar situations that Jesus might have faced? Does that encourage you to pray confidently to Him?” (p. 563) or “Have you been born again? Is there evidence of the new birth in your life?” (p. 706). No wonder the heading of these questions is “Questions for Personal Application” not “Questions for Exam Preparation.” I do not neglect the importance of understanding technical terms, but I agree with Grudem that it is more important to ask the question what these terms mean for me or how they would help me to know God deeper and in a more personal way and to savor Him more in my heart.

Fourth, Grudem is sensitive enough to care about the issues and challenges being faced today by the Church. He covers the topics of evolution, the age of the universe, and the age of the human race (p.275-309) with a solid grip on the Bible and a commendable wisdom. He also includes the discussions on a seemingly perennial debate between Arminians and Calvinists, Continualists and Cessationists, and answers to the modern challenges to the roles of man and woman (p.456-467), the penal-substitutionary atonement of Christ, specifically the moral-influence theory and the example theory (p. 581-582) as well as the doctrine of hell (p.1150-1153) commonly advocated by the emergent church.

Fifth, the fact Grudem does his best to teach from what he believes the Bible teaches can be seen in that he does not simply carry the fundamental pre-suppositions from his denomination or his mentors or almamaters. It means that just because he is a Baptist doesn’t mean he has to teach Cessationism or Pre-millenialism, or because he went to school at Westminster doesn’t mean he has to be a Paedobaptist or a Calvinist. He is a Calvinist, Pre-millenialist, Credobaptist, and Continualist because he firmly believes the Bible teaches so and he does an excellent job laying out the biblical arguments as the basis of his views.

Sixth, the manner he handles doctrinal differences is respectful and irenic, but not wishy-washy. For example, rather than inciting hostility between Continualists and Cessationists with inflammatory words, Grudem pointed out both camps need each other. This is indeed something to learn for Christians who delight in controversies, divisions, and squabbling over matters of secondary importance. The argument I often hear is that Jesus was harsh against the Pharisees, so were the reformers toward their opponents and therefore, we have to be like them right? No, we don’t. First, we are not Jesus. Second, the so-called opponents we tend to butt heads with in our case are often fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, not unbelievers. Third, the reformers were not infallible. Just because they did something, it doesn’t mean they did the right thing. Fourth, Paul warns severely against divisive people (e.g., Titus 3:9-10, Rom 16:17). Fifth, Paul on the contrary, appeals for unity (e.g., Eph 4:3, 1 Cor 1:10, Phil 2:2) among believers, while not tolerating false teaching in direct opposition to cardinal Christian doctrines (e.g., Gal 1:8).

I am greatly benefited not only through the technical content of the book, but also more importantly from the way Grudem makes it deeply personal. I studied it for 8 months and it was an unforgettably rich and blessed experience. It is my prayer that the Lord would bless the readers with the same.