Thursday, 24 July 2008

Gleanings from a Study Week with Wayne Grudem's "Systematic Theology"

I'm supposed to take a couple of study weeks a year. This year I decided to take one to read Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology: an Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Zondervan, 1994). I chose this book because it has been recommended by some people I admire, because I'm intrigued by the fact that someone described Grudem as the Vineyard's official theologian ( I find the idea of a charismatic systematic theology appealling) and because it is a serious work worthy of study.

Yesterday I read the first 260 pages which covered Part 1: The Doctrine of the Word of God and half of Part 2: The Doctrine of God. Here are some things that caught my eye (the numbers at the end of each paragraph are page numbers):

The Christian Liberal-Conservative Debate

First, an insight on why dialogue between liberal and conservative Christians is so difficult:
I do not think 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. 17

This does not mean that those in the liberal tradition have nothing valuable to say; it simply means that differences with them almost always boil down to differences over the nature of the Bible and its authority. 17
…which is the exact situation in which we Anglicans find ourselves these days.

On understanding Scripture properly

…when we are unable to understand some passage or some doctrine of Scripture,…pray for God’s help. Often what we need is not more data but more insight into the data we already have available. 33

…our ability to reason and draw conclusions is not the ultimate standard of truth—only Scripture is. 34
On the Authority of Scripture

A definition:
The authority of Scripture means that all the words in Scripture are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God. 73

It is helpful for us to learn that the Bible is historically accurate, that it is internally consistent that it contains prophecies that have been fulfilled hundreds of years later, that it has influenced the course of human history more than any other book, that it has continued changing the lives of millions of individuals throughout its history, that through it people come to find salvation, that it has a majestic beauty and a profound depth of teaching unmatched by any other book, and that it claims hundreds of times over to be God’s very words. 78

On the Truthfulness of Scripture:

  • God Cannot Lie or Speak Falsely

  • Therefore All the Words in Scripture Are Completely True and Without Error in Any Part

  • God’s Words are the Ultimate Standard of Truth
And, based on John 17.17, "“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth,” because “truth” here is a noun, not an adjective:
The Bible is God’s Word, and God’s Word is the ultimate definition of what is true and what is not true: God’s Word is itself truth. Thus we are to think of the Bible as the ultimate standard of truth, the reference point by which every other claim to truthfulness is to be measured. Those assertions that conform with Scripture are “true” while those that do not conform with Scripture are not true.

What then is truth? Truth is what God says, and we have what God says (accurately but not exhaustively) in the Bible. 83
On the Inerrancy of Scripture

Grudem shares his idea of inerrancy with the likes of JI Packer. A definition and some comments:
The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact. 90

This definition does not mean that the Bible tells us every fact there is to know about any one subject, but it affirms that what it does say about any subject is true. 91

…biblical statements can be imprecise and still be totally true. Inerrancy has to do with truthfulness, not with the degree of precision with which events are reported. 91-92

On the Sufficiency of Scripture

…although the history of the church may help us to understand what God says to us in the Bible, never in church history had God added to the teachings or commands of Scripture: Nowhere in church history outside of Scripture has God added anything that he requires us to believe or to do. 129

everything God wants to tell us about … [any] question is to be found in Scripture. 130-131

How Reading Grudem Makes Me Feel

This approach fits for me. I like the way Grudem does not avoid the hard questions and the things that don't seem to make sense in the Bible.

Billy Graham describes a day he decided to believe that the Bible is, indeed, God's very word. I, too, have so decided. Rather than calling the veracity of the Bible into question because I don't understand a passage, or because I don't agree with what God said or did, I will pray for more Holy Spirit insight. I choose to believe that God, in His grace and mercy, has provided me with all that I need in Scripture (accurately but not necessarily exhaustively, as Grudem put it) to live best as a follower of Jesus.