Grudem's Bible Doctrine Book Review
By Eric Landstrom ©2001
These days it would be difficult to write a systematic theology which would make a significant contribution to the field of study. While breaking no new ground, Wayne Grudem has succeeded in providing a clear presentation of the Reformed understanding of the Bible's overall teaching in a clear and concise way. The fact that Grudem shies away from ambiguous language or the heavy use of theological jargon is a refreshing change from similar efforts. Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of this systematic is the tone of humility and the ease in which the subject material is presented. This is a feature that hearkens back to how the original audience received the seminal Reformed theological textbook: Calvin's Institutes.
Overall this book makes for an enjoyable and interesting read. Throughout its pages Grudem strikes me as a genuine and a sincere Christian who wants theology to be appreciated and applied by all Christians. It is a good book, and I have recommended it in the past to those who are interested in an introductory text on Reformed systematic theology.
The contributing influence upon this work is that Grudem is a Calvinist who holds the charismatic gifts are for today. Although I would assign different priorities in the organization of a systematic, I have no problem with Charismatic Calvinists unless they are hard determinists or "hyper" in the application of spiritual gifts. Interestingly enough, the founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, Matt Slick, also happens to be a Charismatic Calvinist and this is a segment of Christian belief that I have noticed resent growth.
Wayne Grudem's "little" version of his larger systematic work, An introduction to Biblical Doctrine, offers a solid doctrinal study and teaching aid that is geared primarily for undergraduate studies and layman. As one who over the past eight months has spent little more than writing apologetics justifying the doctrine of hell for disbelievers and universalists, I am unsatisfied that in this edited version the doctrine of hell is treated in only four pages. Again, as in the larger work, the spiritual gifts are given two complete chapters. While I generally agree with Grudem's conclusions regarding 1 Corinthians 13 (excepting his description of tongues as a prayer language and not a genuine dialect), the continuation or cessation of the spiritual gifts are a peripheral doctrine and should be treated as such in such limited space. In comparison, the doctrine of hell--which is under heavy attack in all quarters--is referenced almost as a footnote. Regardless whether the occupants of hell are subjugated to a physical or metaphysical punishment, there is a literal hell and this doctrine should be fully explained rather than down played or delegated to what equates to an "oh by the way" statement near the end of a volume.
Another point I personally have against Grudem's work is that it doesn't clearly affirm the preservation of Scripture. Every faithful Christian must reckon seriously with the teaching of Christ concerning the providential preservation of Scripture. As our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ taught in Matt. 5:18 and Luke 16:17; there is greater stability of the Scriptures than to the heavens and earth. Grudem tends to affirm this, but he skirts the issue that most Christians today are taught that only the original autographs are inspired (true) but that the words of these inspired texts were not providentially preserved through history.
Aside from that, Grudem's little systematic offers the strengths of: (1) It is very readable and is written in a very clear and precise style. (2) Grudem interacts well with most of the trends in modern evangelicalism. (3) Grudem summarizes a lot of his own research in the chapters and sections on inerrancy, gender issues, the descent of Christ into hades, church polity, and spiritual gifts. A lot of this is material that you cannot readily find anywhere else. (4) In the tradition of "knowing what and why you believe" begun by Paul Little, Grudem provides strong scriptural support for his positions. (6) Grudem covers a wider range of subject material than most systematics. (7) There is a good emphasis on application and because of that the work can be used in Bible studies and sermon preparation.
Apart from the specific criticisms I outlined earlier, general weaknesses of the work are: (1) There is almost a total lack of historical theology and interaction with non-evangelical theologians which I believe is necessary to prepare the student should he or she find himself confronted by contradictory world views or teachings. (2) Grudem spends relatively little time doing exegesis. Too often he makes a statement and then places a verse reference in parenthesis. This is sufficient, but not thorough exegetically. By choosing this method he fails to "warm up" students to the art and science of hermeneutics, a subject that he barely offers one page to. In this Grudem has apparently opted for the wider rather than deeper study and there is something that can be said for that. (3) The heavy emphasis on charismatic theology in a couple of chapters is likely to make the book offensive to people who could benefit from the rest of the chapters. (5) The chapter on the atonement lacks the kind of synthesis that you find, for example, in Erickson's systematic, Christian Theology, published 1998.
Recently there has been a call for evangelical theology to move away from the "proof-texting" approach to be taken seriously by non-evangelical theologians and belief systems. While I like that Grudem affirms the proof-texting approach in his style if not by a direct statement I would have preferred that he also include exegetical work in each area he covers. I also like that Grudem refuses to divorce theological considerations from the philosophy of reason. In this regard Grudem takes the traditional approach to explaining and justifying Scripture, yet at the same time, he takes effort to be doxological and that is refreshing.
Since I am currently contending for the Trinity against several heretical groups I should point out that Grudem does a sufficient job of discussing the doctrine of the Trinity but he does not give it the depth that Louis Berkhof gives the doctrine in his Systematic Theology, published in 1996. At the same time Grudem affirms the Nicene creed unlike his well read and current competitor Dr. Reymond's work entitled, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, in which Reymond calls for reformed Christians to abandon Nicene trinitarianism in favor of what he thinks is "Reformed" trinitarianism.
All in all, as I said in the beginning, I like this work and have recommended it from time to time to other Christians. As the Bible affirms in Hosea 4:6, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge." In the field of apologetics I am exposed on a daily basis as to the truthfulness of this statement. As such, I would hope that all Christians would take a serious interest in the learning and study of our Lord. If they did, people like myself would have a lot less people to take issue with and that would please Christians the world over.
The book, Bible Doctrine, subtitled: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith, Zondervan Publishing House; is available at any bookstore.
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