Systematic Theology – Wayne Grudem
‘I like BIG BOOKS and I cannot lie…‘ If these really were the lyrics to that song (and they’re not) and Sir Mix-a-Lot was a Christian (and I have good reason to believe that he isn’t) then that song could well have been written about this book. You see, Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology is indeed a big book; but that’s ok, you see, because ‘I like BIG BOOKS and I cannot lie‘.
Not only is Systematic Theology a big book, but it is also verging on indispensable.
Firstly, let me explain the title: and what, oh what, oh what, you may quite reasonably ask, is systematic theology? Systematic theology is a discipline which attempts to provide a rational, methodical and systematic account of Christian beliefs and doctrine. For example, a systematic theologian might attempt to define and summarise what Scripture has to say about creation. In order to do this, he would draw on strands from across Scripture in attempt to construct an ordered account of what Scripture teaches on this particular subject.
This makes systematic theology very useful indeed. Imagine, for a moment, that you wanted to understand what Scripture had to say about the Trinity; how would you go about investigating this?
You might go to a concordance and look up the words, Jesus, God and Spirit and search each reference until you find something that might be helpful, but you would need a big concordance (‘I like BIG BOOKS…‘) and a whole sack of time. I am also not sure that you would necessarily, or easily, find what you are looking for.
Alternatively, you might try and pick out a book that deals specifically with the Trinity. This might well be helpful (but it also might not), but you would presumably need to read the entire thing before being confident that you had grasped something of what Scripture has to say on this subject.
Systematic theology, on the other hand, orders its subject matter into narrowly defined categories. You should expect any compendium of systematic theology to have a chapter on the Trinity referencing all the relevant passages of Scripture and providing an overview.
Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology does have a chapter on the Trinity and a whole lot more to boot. But why Grudem’s Systematic Theology, the more prudent (or financially challenged) among you might ask? Are there not bigger books to be had and indeed there are. Grudem’s Systematic Theology is not just simply big, it is balanced, thorough and easy to use.
I want to talk to you about the way in which I believe Systematic Theology to be balanced, but firstly, I should declare my interests. Grudem is writing from a reformed charismatic position, which closely correlates to my own. Indeed, I have not yet come across anything with which I would fundamentally disagree.
However, herein you will find balance as he is careful and takes time to summarise alternative positions and view points. We see this in chapter 49 in which he deals with baptism. Although Grudem, quite rightly, I believe, defends the position of believer’s baptism, he fairly and accurately summarises the alternate views (e.g. paedobaptism, etc.).
In terms of thoroughness, there are some limitations due to Grudem’s commitment to producing a single (rather than multi) volume work (yes, this book is big, but not that big); but each chapter is studious, meticulous and well referenced. As you read, you do not feel that he is scrimping in order to save space. Indeed, the extraneous material found in the appendices is both useful and expansive and includes the Thirty-Nine Articles and the Westminster Confession.
Grudem’s Systematic Theology is also exceedingly easy to use. Each chapter, and its subdivisions, are listed and detailed in the table of contents and most subjects can be located here with ease. There are also indexes by subject, Bible passage and name. Again, this makes the job of hunting down more obscure topics a breeze.
In conclusion I would return to my opening assertion that this book is almost indispensable. I am blessed in that I have an excellent (and growing) reference library, but this is the book I return to most often. I regularly refer to Grudem in sermon and small group preparation as well as in my own personal Bible study. Indeed, the Fundamentals Small Group material leans heavily on Grudem’s Systematic Theology.
My advice to you would be this: firstly, and most importantly, buy yourself a decent study bible (see the ESV Study Bible review here) and then, secondly, get hold of a copy of Grudem’s Systematic Theology.
Grudem’s Systematic Theology will increase your understanding of Scripture and will strengthen your grounding in fundamental Christian doctrine. More importantly, because of the nature of systematic theology, Grudem’s text will constantly lead you back into the pages of Scripture with a renewed excitement and eagerness to see Christ more clearly and to energetically pursue Him.
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