Friday, July 06, 2018

Dropping Grudem

For pretty much as long as I've been a Christian, Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology has been the standard textbook of conservative evangelical theology.  I have often noted that sadly many people have not taken seriously Grudem's warnings that his book is intended to be introductory (I mean, it's subtitled An introduction to Biblical doctrine, which should be a clue) and have treated it as the final word.  I'm thankful that a wise pastor encouraged me early in my Christian life not to let my theology rest with Grudem but to press on to deeper things.  (That is not to say Grudem wasn't helpful to me - I'm grateful to those who gave me a copy.  It helped me especially to begin to think through positions on baptism, spiritual gifts, Scripture...  But I didn't end up resting with him.)

Anyway, this week Grudem has declared that the building of a border wall in the US is morally good, on the authority of the Bible.  Read the article.

My conclusion from this is that we ought to stop using Grudem's Systematic Theology, or at least demote it from its current position as go-to.

In case you're wondering, this is nothing to do with the politics of the article.  I'm not one of those people who thinks we should boycott people's works because they don't agree with us politically.  I don't even have a very strong opinion about the wall, to be honest.

My concern is for exegesis and theology.

Grudem's argument for the morality of the wall boils down to: the Bible often speaks positively about walls, so building walls is good.  This is of course backed up by a plethora of quotes from Scripture.  But that is all there is to it.

I really don't think this is how the Bible works.  For starters, Scripture does not intend to answer this question, and therefore to read it as if it contained a straightforward answer to a question which it doesn't raise is pretty rash.  It's a flat reading of Scripture, which doesn't seem to recognise that Old Testament references to the walls of Jerusalem can't be crated up, transported over the centuries into a wholly different culture, and then unpacked and used just as they are.

I also don't think it's how theology works.  If we wanted to apply Scripture to this question, we'd have to do more than pile up references to walls from the Bible.  Scripture bears witness to Christ.  That is what it is for: to show us the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.  And then of course that witness has implications for all sorts of areas of life and ethics.  But we would need to do the work.  In what way do those references to walls bear witness to Christ?  They do!  Surely the security of Jerusalem throughout the Old Testament, and the walls which are described as encircling the New Jerusalem in Revelation, are images of the eternal security which the people of God have in Christ.  Well then, we have a fair bit of work to do if we're going to work out what the ethical implications might be for nations in the modern world.

And here's the thing: when you go from this article and look back into Grudem's Systematic Theology, something which I've had cause to do recently, you realise that this is the method throughout.  We need a better textbook.


  1. I was one of those people who dumped him (and my copy of his book) when he was supporting Trump - I can't separate the work of a living person from their support for Trump (I say 'living' because I've made my peace with authors I love from the past having reprehensible views compared to 21st-century ethics). But this.. yes, bad theology too. God also helped Joshua bring down a wall, so...

    1. Bother. I now realise I should have just written a satirical article proving from the Bible's many mentions of walls coming down that building walls is always a morally reprehensible act. That would have been so much better and so much more fun. Live and learn, I guess.

    2. G'wan Blanche. Write it.