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 Protestant understanding of the Bible's overall teaching in a clear and concise way. The fact that Wayne shies away from ambiguous language or the heavy use of theological jargon is a refreshing change from similar efforts. Perhaps the works most rewarding feature is the tone of humility and the ease in which the subject material is presented. This is a feature which hearkens back to what is perhaps 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 studied by all Christians. It is a good book, and I have recommended it in the past to other Christians despite the few areas of disagreement I have with the work.
The contributing influence upon this work is that Wayne is a Calvinist whom is also a Charismatic. Since I am neither of these; I would assign different priorities in the organization of a systematic though 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 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 a person who over the past eight months has spent little more than writing apologetics justifying the doctrine of hell for disbelievers, I am unsatisfied that in this edited version the doctrine of hell is still only given four pages. Again, as in the larger work, the spiritual gifts are given two whole chapters. While I generally agree with Wayne'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 explained fully 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. Because of this we are taught that we need to rely upon the ready and willing hands of textual critics whom would forsake theological considerations to teach us what are the true words of God and which are errors. The failure to acknowledge the doctrine of preservation works to propagate the error of the Nicolaitans: which is the division of the brotherhood of priests into two classes; that of the clergy and that of the laity.
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 do not 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 subjects 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.
Outside of 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 is necessary should the student find himself confronted by heretical 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 very thoroughly exegetically grounded. 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. I like that Grudem affirms the proof-texting approach in his style if not by a direct statement. 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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