Posted by: Tim | November 3, 2008

Wayne Grudem: Systematic Theology for Everyone

Soteriology. I remember hearing the prof use that word in my Systematic Theology class in seminary. I had no idea what it meant. Turns out it is just the study of salvation (soter = save, logy = word, ie words about salvation). If you study theology you will find that it is full of words like that – where the meaning is simple but the word itself is complicated (consider even the word ‘theology’ (theo=God, logy=word) – the study of God.)

Some subjects are genuinely confusing to many people (abstract math or advanced chemistry for example), but some subjects are not that hard to understand, unless confusing terminology gets in the way. If there is any subject that we should want to make accessible to everyone, it is theology, yet too often words that are unknown to most people (like ‘soteriology’) make it difficult to understand.

Regrettably, I came away from seminary without a very good grip on systematic theology, nor a very good impression of the subject (I should note that one of my systematic theology profs was quite good and he worked hard to get us to apply it to our lives, so all was not lost!).

Then I was introduced to Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. It is a 1200+ page theology book that has now sold over 250,000 copies (rare for this type of book!). Grudem found a way to write a first-rate theology book that is accessible to people beyond those trained in theology. I have been personally blessed by his clear, biblically saturated approach to explaining the great themes of the Bible. I refer to it regularly in sermon preparation, as he often has a great summary or helpful insight on an issue that comes up in the passage I am preaching (most recently in preaching John 1:14 “The Word Became Flesh…”, I found his chapter on the human and divine nature of Jesus most helpful. A quote even made it into the sermon notes).

I am planning a morning men’s group studying Grudem’s Systematic Theology, starting next week. I recently browsed through the preface and thought I would share some key statements, that I think explain why Grudem’s work is so good, not to mention so popular. I hope you will find the extended quote below to be encouraging:

“I have not written this book for other teachers of theology (though I hope many of them will read it). I have written it for students – and not only for students, but also for every Christian who has a hunger to know the central doctrines of the Bible in greater depth…

I have tried to make it understandable even for Christians who have never studied theology before. I have avoided using technical terms without first explaining them…

Introductory studies do not have to be shallow or simplistic. I am convinced that most Christians are able to understand the doctrinal teachings of the Bible in considerable depth, provided that they are presented clearly and without the use of highly technical language…

The following six distinctive features of this book grow out of my convictions about what systematic theology is and how it should be taught:

1. A Clear Biblical Basis for Doctrines

…because I believe that the words of Scripture themselves have power and authority greater than any human words, I have not just given BIble references; I have frequently quoted Bible passages at length so that readers can easily examine for themselves the scriptural evidence…

2. Clarity in the Explanation of the Doctrines.

I do not believe that God intended the study of theology to result in confusion and frustration…

Therefore I have tried to state the doctrinal positions of this book clearly and to show where in Scripture I find convincing evidence for those positions.

3. Application to Life

I do not believe that God intended the study of theology to be dry and boring. Theology is the study of God and all his works! Theology is meant to be lived and prayed and sung! All of the great doctrinal writings of the Bible (such as Paul’s epistle to the Romans) are full of praise to God and personal application to life. For this reason I have incorporated notes on application from time to time in the text, and have added “Questions for Personal Application” at the end of each chapter, as well as a hymn related to the topic of the chapter. True theology is “teaching which accords with godliness” (1 Tim. 6:3), and theology when studied rightly will lead to growth in our Christian lives, and to worship.

4. Focus on the Evangelical World

I do not think that a true system of theology can be constructed from within what we may call the “liberal” theological tradition – that is, by people who deny the absolute truthfulness of the Bible, or who do not think the words of the Bible to be God’s very words (see chapter 4, on the authority of Scripture). For this reason, the other writers I interact with in this book are mostly within what is today called the larger “conservative evangelical” tradition…

5. Hope for Progress in Doctrinal Unity in the Church

I believe that there is still much hope for the church to attain a deeper and purer doctrinal understanding, and to overcome old barriers, even those that have persisted for centuries…

Therefore, in this book I have not hesitated to raise again some of the old differences (over baptism, the Lord’s Supper, church government, the millennium and the tribulation, and predestination, for example) in hope that, in some cases at least, a fresh look at Scripture may provoke a new examination of these doctrines and may perhaps prompt some movement not just toward greater understanding and tolerance of otehr view points, but even toward greater doctrinal consensus in the church.

6. A Sense of the Urgent Need for Greater Doctrinal Understanding in the Whole Church.

I am convinced that there is an urgent need in the church today for much greater understanding of Christian doctrine, or systematic theology. Not only pastors and teachers need to understand theology in greater depth – the whole church does as well. One day by God’s grace we may have churches full of Christians who can discuss, apply, and live the doctrinal teachings of the Bible as readily as they can discuss the details of their own jobs or hobbies – or the fortunes of their favourite sports team or television program. It is not that Christians lack the ability to understand doctrine; i tis just that they must have access to it in an understandable form. Once that happens, I think that many Christians will find that understanding (and living) the doctrines of Scripture is one of their greatest joys.”

(quoted from Grudem, Wayne, Systematic Theology, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1994, pp15-18)

You can purchase Systematic Theology from chapters.ca, by clicking here. I am happy to recommend it to you. This is not to say that I agree with Grudem on every detail, but I do think this book is very good and well worth your time and study.

Writing this post gets me excited about the upcoming group study I am leading, using Systematic Theology!

Feel free to share some comments about your experience with Grudem’s Systematic Theology in the comments below.

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Responses

  1. No particular comments about Grudem’s _Systematic Theology_. Overall I think he’s fine though Millard Erickson’s systematic theology text is also good. I don’t have a problem with a congregation having some men’s only groups or with a systematic theology group, but I do have an objection with having a systematic theology group for men only! UGH!

  2. Hey Steve,
    What little I’ve read of Erickson (the thick edition, I haven’t read much if any of the thin one) I found to be too philosophical for my taste and difficult to follow. But to be fair I’ve only read a bit of him, so maybe I happened to hit a difficult section.

    And…what could be better than a bunch of guys learning systematic theology together? … How about a bunch of women learning systematic theology together? Any takers out there?


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