December 12, 2014
In analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of this book, both in its style and its content, it is imperative that one does this according to the intent of the book. In other words, this book will be judged according to its own standards. At the outset, Grudem is clear that: "I have not written this book for other teachers of theology...I have written it for students". Indeed, the subtitle of the book is "An introduction to biblical doctrine". Therefore, we may conclude that this is a Systematic Theology (hereafter "ST") written at a more lay level than some of the other ST's that one may be used to (Berkhof, Hodge, Calvin) and therefore should not be directly compared to them.
As to the position of this Analysis, it will not be strictly from a reformed view (keeping in mind that "reformed" means doctrinally consistent with the historic reformed creeds/confessions), or from the viewpoint of the book (Charismatic Baptist), or from the viewpoint of Reformation Bible College. Instead the Analysis of this book, when analyzed for truth (which is only partially the purpose of the review) will be according to what the biblical truth of the matter is according to the author. However, the reader will notice that the author will make various comparisons to other works and authors. While it is a prudent measure to perform when analyzing an ST to compare it with other ST's in terms of form and style, note that in terms of theological positions, Systematic Theology will be compared with the truth as the author sees it, and insofar as he uses these other books to do so he is doing so because he thinks they have arrived at truth, not because he trusts them inherently.
The methodology of this review will be as follows: First, general information about the book will be given. Second, the structure/organizing rubric will be reviewed, both by comparing it to other ST's and comparing it to the authors preferences. Third, its influence, theological or otherwise, will be assessed. Fourthly, it's strengths and weaknesses, both structurally and theologically, will be enunciated. A recapitulatory conclusion will follow, thus concluding the review.
Wayne Arden Grudem is the Research professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary in Phoenix, Arizona. Before taking his position at Phoenix, he taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School for 20 years. He has received a B.A. from Harvard University, an M.Div. and D.D. from Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia, and a Ph.D. (In New Testament) from Cambridge University. He has published 20 books, and was the General Editor for The ESV Study Bible
His theological position is, broadly speaking, that of a Charismatic Baptist. To sample some of his theological positions, he holds to a calvinistic soteriology, the inerrancy of the Bible, elder-led congregationalism, a neocharismatic ("Third wave") view of spiritual gifts, and a post-tribulation premillennialist view of the end times. Though most (perhaps including the author himself), would consider him to be generally reformed with some exceptions, the author thinks that it should be the other way around–he is an evangelical Baptist who nonetheless holds to many of the positions that characterize the Reformed.
Since the edition of Systematic Theology that is under scrutiny was published in 2009, and the reviewer knows of no discrepancies between the theological position of that edition and it's author, he will assume that they are the same. Thus what has been covered on the section about the author is relevant here as well. As to more meta-analysis, a short coverage will be given. Systematic Theology was first published in 1994 by Zondervan and Intervasity Press. As mentioned before, it is and was intended by its author to be a substantive work of Systematic Theology that is aimed at the Christian who does not have any formal theological training. In pursuit of that purpose, Grudem has made special attempts to eschew technical jargon and to generally write at a more "readable" level than other ST's would.
Like most Systematic Theologies, Grudem's seminal work is a hefty tome, adding up to 7 parts, 57 chapters, and 1,290 pages. This may be compared with Louis Berkhof's combined edition of his Systematic Theology with 973 pages, R.C. Sproul's Everyone's a Theologian with 357 pages, Charles Hodges 3 volume edition of Systematic Theology with a total of 2,260 pages, and John Calvin's (Hendrickson edition) Institutes of the Christian Religion at 1,059 pages. Grudem organizes his work around 7 doctrines, in the following order:
The doctrine of the Word of God
The doctrine of God
The doctrine of man
The doctrine of Christ and the Holy Spirit
The doctrine of the application of redemption
The doctrine of the Church
The doctrine of the future
Firstly, one can here see Grudem choosing not to employ the use of technical theological language; for instance, writing "doctrine of Christ" for "Christology", "doctrine of the application of redemption" for "soteriology" and "doctrine of the future" for "eschatology". Overall, Grudem structures his work similarly to many other ST's, where the typical practice is to organize them according to these basic "doctrines" of theology: Theology proper, Man, Christ, Salvation, Church, and Last Things. Another "doctrine" which is included in many, if not most, ST's is an introductory section, usually called "Prolegomena". The purpose of this section is to set out the presuppositions the rest of the work will build on, to set out the methodology of the work, and define the purpose of theology. While Grudem does not include this section the way most other ST's do, he does include some of the same topics. For instance, the first part is "the Doctrine of the Word of God". Normally, discussions about the Bible would be categorized under what would be "Introduction" or "prolegomena" in other ST's, such as Sproul or Berkhof, the latter appending a separate work to deal with such matters. Grudem also includes a chapter at the beginning entitled "Introduction to Systematic Theology", which serves part of the purpose of a prolegomena section. However, one gets the feeling that there should be more said by way of introduction/prolegomena at the outset of the book.
As we move through the individual chapters of the book, again, Grudem includes most of what would be found in other ST's. However, in chapter 9, in part 2 "The doctrine of God", Grudem only gives the subject matter of "The existence of God" a mere cursory glance (8 pages). Though it needs to be mentioned that a Systematic Theology needs not be primarily tasked with seeking to prove the existence of God or of the truthfulness of the Christian faith (which is part of the task of apologetics) it is something that should be, in the authors opinion, given a more detailed look. However, Grudem is in good company, for a glance at other Systematic works shows a divided opinion on the issue: Sproul does not address the topic at all, Berkhof gives a cursory look, and John Reymond, in his A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith only spends about 5 pages on the subject. However, Hodge gives about 50 pages to discussing the existence of God and the various theistic proofs, and subsequently about 100 pages to explaining and refuting "Anti-Theistic theories".
In terms of the overall organizing schematic of the book, it is very neat, visually pleasing, and helpful. Grudem includes many of the extras that are typically found in other ST's such as
A thorough table of contents, though not outlined as, for example, Berkhof and Hodge
A listing of abbreviations
A reproduction of 9 popular creeds and confessions
An extensive bibliography, including a separate one listing representative ST's from other strains of Christianity
An author, scripture, and subject index
However, Grudem also includes some other "extras" that are a nice touch and definitely improve the overall studying experience of the reader: At the end of each chapter, he lists several "questions for personal application", a passage of scripture germane to the topic of the chapter, listed for memorization, and a Hymn/worship song that pertains to the the subject matter, with a master index of both the memorization passages and songs in the back of the book. Also, there is listed in each chapter a short bibliography/index of terms and books/ST's referenced in the chapter.
As the most important stylistic strengths/weaknesses have already been pointed out, so in the following sections only the theological issues will be discussed.
Grudem's theological position is hard to categorize. He is not reformed, as has already been noted, but he is not a representative baptist either, both because of his neo-charismatic view of gifts of the holy spirit or because of his robustly reformed stance on Scripture and Soteriology in general. This means that this book, which is an accurate representation of his theology, does not fit neatly into a denominational mold and would be viewed as "off" by reformed presbyterians/baptists, evangelical dispensationalists, and pentecostals, etc, even though in some ways he shares some of their views. For that reason and reasons mentioned earlier, if a theological position is deemed errant it will be done so because it is simply viewed as untrue and unbiblical by the reviewer, even when other ST's are brought it to assist in criticizing it. Having said this, it is necessary to mention that not every quibble will be fussed over, only what is deemed as the most important theological strengths/errors.
There are many doctrines in the Bible where it is perfectly fine to provide both sides of the issue as alternative interpretations, and Grudem does this well. However, there are some issues that should be explained and defended without even discussion about the possibility of another position. For instance, it is perfectly fine and to the benefit of the reader that Grudem presents the differing views of the end times. One is not required to be dogmatic or "take a stand" on every issue of scripture, because we are sinful, finite creatures and there are issues in the Bible that we cannot understand until Glory, and even then we will not know everything. However, There is another extreme to this sliding scale, and the reviewer thinks Grudem goes too far on the side of ambivalence. Sometimes, you have to pick a side and stay there. In several places but most notably in chapter 15 (Creation), Grudem discusses the very controversial issues of the age of the earth, the creation of man, and evolution, etc. Overall, he does a masterful job juggling these heated arguments, and he is to be applauded for affirming that belief in theistic evolution is contradictory with the teachings of scripture, but he still leaves the issue of the direct creation of Adam and the age of the earth as debatable issues, which the reviewer thinks is going too far for the sake of "balance". These are issues where, to disagree about the direct creation of Adam, or to affirm that the earth is billions of years old, is to position oneself in opposition to the teaching of scripture, in the same way as (as Grudem points out) believing in theistic evolution is to be in opposition to scripture. Much more can be said on this subject, and the reviewer admits that this is only his opinion on the matter, but for purposes of conciseness we must move on.
Although The reviewer heartily agrees with Grudem on his firm stance that, in the chapter on church government (chapter 47) women should not be elders/pastors, he leaves open the issue about whether they should be deacons, stating that "The biblical teaching regarding the office of deacon is much less extensive than that regarding the office of elder, and what is involved in the office of deacon varies considerably from church to church." The reviewer agrees that the biblical teaching is indeed less extensive, but it is extensive enough to form a firm conclusion that is the same as the one regarding elders/pastors: Woman should not be deacons. We will not delve into an exegesis of the main passage on this subject (1 Timothy 3:8–13) or argue about whether the office of deacon is an ordained office or not; we will have to content ourselves with saying that it is the reviewers position not only that woman should not be elders but that this is a clear enough teaching in scripture that it should be affirmed without question. Again, this is unlike a discussion about end-time positions, where opposing sides can faithfully hold to the inerrancy of scripture and be attempting to interpret it correctly. The author is not saying that those who don't hold this position are unbelievers or that they have a low view of the Bible, just that they are wrong and wrong on a position that is clear in scripture.
In chapters 52 and 53 Grudem discusses gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is worth noting the spaces he gives to this issue in comparison to the space he gives other topics, and what it implies about the importance he places on these issues. He spends two chapters and 72 pages on "Gifts of the Holy Spirit", while only giving 14 pages to the topic of justification, 36 pages to the topic of the trinity (!), and 10 pages to "The Offices of Christ". It's not as if he is is condensing all his treatment on the Holy Spirit into those two chapters, because he has another chapter for that– chapter 30 "The Work of the Holy Spirit"! In regards to the charismatic position that he espouses in these chapters with regards to continuationism, suffice it to say that the author disagrees with Grudem here, but believes that there is room among true believers to disagree, in the same manner as described for the women–deacon issue mentioned earlier.
Again, it is hardly worth mentioning this quibble, but since there are an abundance of them and all cannot be represented in this analysis, better some than all. Grudem is a historic-premillennialist, and because of this he would find an opponent in the reviewer as well as many other evangelicals, but at least he affirms a post-tribulational view, instead of the dispensationalist pre-tribulation view.
Among the various strengths that Grudem exhibits in writing this book, one of them is apparent after reading only a few chapters–and that is his superb ability to represent both sides of every issue fairly and clearly. Although it has been noted where the author thinks he has gone too far, overall, it is a definite strength of his.
In the era Grudem was writing in, which is also the present era, the doctrine of scripture has come under great attack within evangelicalism. Grudem has included a thorough and cogent defense of the verbal plenary inerrancy of Scripture, and he is to be lauded for this. Especially considering that this particular book will find its way into the hands of many who initially do not hold this position on Scripture, this is a boon for Christ's kingdom on earth and should be rejoiced over.
Also rampant in contemporary evangelicalism is the egalitarian movement, evinced, among other things, by the revision of the NIV Bible in 2011. Apart from his weak stance on the women/deacon issue, he has been steadfastly strong in this work throughout in expressing a biblical complementerianism, and again, should be praised for it.
This book has received numerous endorsements from many reputable scholars of many different denominations, including John Piper, J.I. Packer, Roger Nicole, Gerald Bray, and Vern S. Poythress, who have all hailed it as a solid and readable entry–level Systematic Theology. Conspicuously absent is an endorsement from John Frame, an old teacher of Grudem's whom he joint-dedicates the book to, but perhaps Grudem was not reformed enough for Frame. However one may fault the contents or the form of Systematic Theology, it has sold over 500,000 copies, which is quite a number for a 1,200+ page theological work. A glance on the internet, such as on goodreads, amazon, or puritanboard, confirms that Systematic Theology is the go-to ST that gets recommended to other christians who are young in the faith, yet is still lauded by seasoned pastors. It is in a field of its own, being one of the only ST's that is considered to be both thorough and "readable" by a wide audience. The reviewer would disagree with that statement, especially since the publication of R.C. Sproul's Introduction to Systematic Theology Everyone's a Theologian, but nevertheless that seems to be the evangelical consensus.
In conclusion, Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology is a well written, and well organized book, though it contains some structural missteps and theological errors.