Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology: dead orthodoxy, door stopper or devotional discipleship? (From the Archives)

I just stumbled upon the following ‘review’ of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology on an old data stick. It seems I wrote this in 2008. 

Ok, so it is a fairly large book, it has a title that would cause the average Christian to yawn, and yes it is full of big words and it is all about theology. However is it useful for more than door stopping and sending people to sleep? Absolutely!

I bought this book a couple of years ago, and although I’ve dipped into parts of it here and there, after what I read last night I plan to spend a heck of a lot more time in it. Last night I read the introduction, the introduction spent some time defining what exactly systematic theology is, looking at why it is so important and explaining what the benefits are for the average Christian? After reading the introduction I came away with two things 1) I appreciate the real need for systematic theology today 2) In a sense, I have doing a form of Systematic Theology ever since I got saved.

Wayne Grudem defines Systematic theology as:-

“Any study that answers the question, ‘what does the whole bible teach us today?’ about any given topic?”

Now most Christians switch off when they hear the term theology never mind systematic theology!  However in the light of Grudem’s definition should systematic theology not be the desire and practice of every Christian? Assuming that every Christian desires to know God’s will and carry it out in every area of their lives this should be the case.

Grudem goes on to show, how most Christians do a type of systematic theology, or at least make systematic theology statements.

“Most Christians actually do systematic theology (or at least make systematic theological statements) many times a week. For example: ‘The Bible says that everyone who believes in Jesus Christ will be saved.’‘The Bible says that Jesus Christ is the only way to God.’ The Bible says that Jesus is coming again.’ These are all summaries of what scripture says and, as such, they are systematic theological statements. Infact every time a Christian says something about what the whole bible says, he or she is in a sense doing ‘systematic theology’- according to our definition- by thinking about various topics and answering the question ‘what does the whole bible teach us today’”

Grudem goes on to show that the difference between his book and what the average Christian does is that in his book-or in systematic theology- the theology  is a) more organised and b) more detailed.

Grudem goes on to argue that the reason that Christians should study systematic theology is that it is in line with fulfilling the great commission. Jesus calls us to make disciples and to ‘teach them to observe all that I have commanded you’ Matt 28:19-20.

“The task of fulfilling the great commission includes therefore not only evangelism but also teaching. And the task of teaching all that Jesus commanded us, is, in a broad sense, the task of teaching what the whole bible says to us today.”

I think this is an essential issue for believers today, for too long we have been spoon fed sermonettes. Too few of us know enough of God’s Holy word to be as faithful as the Lord would have us to be.

Grudem, in his introduction, goes on to describe some of the benefits of a personal study of systematic theology.

“Studying theology helps us overcome our wrong ideas…with sin in our hearts we retain some rebelliousness against God. At various points there are- for all of us- biblical teachings which for one reason or another we do not want to accept. The study of systematic theology is of help in overcoming those rebellious ideas.”

“Studying systematic theology will help us grow as Christians. The more we know about God, about His Word, about His relationships to the world and mankind, the better we will trust him, the more fully we will praise him, and the more readily we will obey him.”

Regarding some of the topics and doctrines covered in systematic theology, such as baptism in the Holy Spirit, women’s role in ministry, church government etc Grudem justifies the need to take a systematic theological approach to these topics by showing the dangers of the alternative in the following statement.

.“The only alternative-for we will think something about those subjects- is to form our opinions haphazardly from a general impression of what we feel to be ‘biblical’ position on each subject, or perhaps to buttress our positions with careful analysis of one or two relevant texts, yet with no guarantee that those texts present a balanced view of ‘the whole counsel of God’ (Acts 20:27) on the subject being considered. Infact this approach-one all too common-could, I suppose be called ‘unsystematic theology’ or even ‘disorderly and random theology’! Such an alternative is too subjective and too subject to cultural pressures. It tends towards doctrinal fragmentation and widespread doctrinal uncertainty, leaving the church theologically immature, like ‘children, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine’ (Eph 4:14).”

How true is this statement? How many individual Christians, or Church movements and denominations, base their theology on a couple of proof texts or even cultural pressure? You only have to think about the influence of humanism, feminism and postmodernism, to name a few, in today’s church. Most Christians don’t know it but many of their ideas about God are shaped more by these secular philosophies than they are the Word of God.

Many Christians assume that systematic theology is so far removed from the reality of life and Christian experience. I love this quote from Grudem as it shows the potential power that theological study has to transform.

“Students of systematic theology should resolve at the beginning to keep their lives free from any disobedience to God or any known sin that would disrupt their relationship with him.”

In other words; obedience and study go hand in hand!

Originally written 3/122008


One thought on “Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology: dead orthodoxy, door stopper or devotional discipleship? (From the Archives)

  1. Nice to have you back 😉 We’ve been using the cut-down “Christian Beliefs”, which is a distillation of Systematic Theology into 20 short chapters, as the basis of a small group I have been leading. I was trying to read the full ST alongside it but haven’t managed to keep up 😦 But it’s a lot more readable than people realise, and the study of theology in general is a lot more important than many people understand.


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