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Grudem's Bible Doctrine

Wayne Grudem, Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith. Edited by Jeff Purswell. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999. 523 pp. $29.99

In 1994 Wayne Grudem, Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, published his mammoth 1,264-page Systematic Theology. Bible Doctrine is the product of Jeff Purswell’s editorial work. Under the watchful eye of Grudem, Purswell shortened those 1,264 pages to 523.

The substance of the two books is essentially the same. The difference is the amount of attention given to various topics. Purswell has deleted the technical footnotes, extensive bibliography, some of the extended argumentation and some whole sections (e.g., church government and discipline). The result is a book of manageable size for an introductory, single-semester class in systematic theology.

The book is well-organized around seven “doctrines” divided into seven parts: Word of God, God, Man, Christ, Application of Redemption, Church and the Future. Each part is divided into chapters, and each chapter has five sections. The first section of each chapter is the explanation and scriptural basis of the topic. This is followed by the other four parts (usually in two pages) of review questions, questions for personal application, special terms and a biblical text for memorization. His Systematic Theology also included a hymn. The last four parts are designed to assist students and reflects Grudem’s intent to give practical expression to biblical doctrines. Grudem also supplies a glossary of terms to help students. One especially helpful aspect of the book is Grudem’s annotated bibliography of evangelical systematic theologies (19th and 20th centuries).

Grudem acknowledges his indebtedness to the Reformed theological tradition, especially his soteriology. He received his M.Div. at Westminster Theological Seminary and his method, content and argumentation reflect the theological heritage of John Murray. His discussions of election (faith is the effect, not the cause of election), perseverance of the saints (the elect will persevere in faith and only those who persevere in faith are elect), the concept of imputation (of Adam’s sin to us, our sin to Christ and Christ’s righteousness to us) and divine sovereignty (he advocates compatibilism) is classic Reformed theology. His argumentation is clear, succinct and cogent. The reader will find a straightforward, nuanced and biblically-oriented exposition of Reformed theology in this volume along with a contemporary defense of inerrancy and complementarianism (over against egalitarianism).

However, Grudem is not a slave to the Reformed tradition. While his soteriology is particularly Reformed, his ecclesiology, pneumatology and eschatology are not. He is a free church advocate and his baptismal theology is baptistic (the immersion of believers). His pneumatology is third-wavish and offers a contemporary understanding of the present existence of the New Testament charismata (with the most attention devoted to prophecy, healing and tongues). His eschatology is a historic posttribulation premillennialism, though he retains a Reformed understanding of a renewed rather than an annihilated heaven and earth.

Grudem gives us a readable discussion of various biblical doctrines. He is comprehensive (though less so, of course, than his Systematic Theology) and always concerned about what the biblical text says. He writes for an evangelical audience in dialogue with evangelicals. He intentionally avoids interacting with non-evangelicals. Consequently, his main point is the exposition of biblical theology in the context of historic (Reformation) and contemporary evangelicalism (e.g., The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, which is given in an appendix along with the Apostles, Nicene and Chalcedonian creeds). In this volume (in contrast with the larger Systematic Theology) Grudem does not interact explicitly with particular theologians but is more focused on biblical exposition. The book is, then, appropriately entitled Biblical Doctrine.

But this also may be its single greatest weakness. Because it is an organized exposition of biblical theology, it lacks the systematic dimension that makes a whole out of the parts. Unlike Stanley Grenz (Theology for the Community of God) or Millard Erickson (Christian Theology) who each have a broad organizing principle for shaping their systematic theologies (“eschatological community” for Grenz and “glory of God” for Erickson), Grudem offers us no organizing principle upon which to hang his theological perspective. Rather, he seems to approach each doctrine as independent biblical exposition though logically related to themes before and after. There is a progression, but it is a lock-step kind of progressive rather than the unfolding of a story. Grudem approaches Scripture more propositionally than narratively, and this lends itself to more of a textbook-like approach to Scripture. Of course, Grudem does not believe the Bible is a textbook in a technical sense, but his use of Scripture seems to reflect that hermeneutic.

The attention given to particular issues reflects this propositional and issue-oriented approach to theology. For example, while Bible Doctrine devotes a single chapter and twelve pages to the atonement, it gives two chapters and twenty-nine pages to the charismata. More attention is given to the charismata than to another topic, including baptism and the Lord’s supper combined. Christology as a whole gets just a few more pages than charismata. While some of this is due to editing (though in his Systematic Theology the atonement receives forty pages while the charismata receive seventy-two) and the need to address pressing theological issues on the contemporary scene, it does reflect something about the overall hermeneutic which drives Grudem’s systematic theology. Unfortunately, this approach to theology often gives more emphasis to the theologian’s interests than it does the emphases of the biblical story.

Despite this shortcoming, Bible Doctrine is a good summary of biblical theology in the Reformed, baptistic, charismatic and premillennial tradition. One will find clear explanations of the various loci of theology in the context of biblical exposition. If one is interested in a brief summary that contains substantial argumentation and biblical support, then Bible Doctrine is a good reference work. If one desires more sustained argumentation and documentation, then Grudem’s Systematic Theology fits the bill. Bible Doctrine is appropriately titled because it is more about biblical exposition than it is systematic theology.

Alongside of Grenz and Erickson’s major systematic theologies and their one volume condensations (Grenz’s Created for Community and Erickson’s Introducing Christian Doctrine), Grudem’s Systematic Theology and Bible Doctrine give teachers and students of theology the opportunity to see exhaustive and also condensed versions of evangelical theology appropriate for different settings. The major systematic theologies are appropriate for a graduate class in theology while the more condensed versions are appropriate for undergraduate classes. Grenz is the most systematic of the three and Grudem is the most oriented to biblical exposition. In comparing the three, we might say that Grenz represents the postmodern “evangelical-left,” while Grudem represents the classical “evangelical-right” with Erickson somewhere in the middle. All three should sit on the shelf of evangelical theologians and ministers in either their condensed or exhaustive forms.

First appeared in Stone-Campbell Journal 2.2 (Fall 1999), 262-65.




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