Saturday, August 11, 2012

1.2 Grudem: Introduction to Theology

Now finishing up my summary evaluation of the Introduction to Grudem's Systematic Theology.  Posts so far include:

0 Reasons for the Review
1.1 Definitions in Theology

Now the rest of chapter 1:
Grudem identifies two assumptions behind his book: 1) the Bible is our only absolute standard of truth and 2) God exists and is who the Bible says he is. He allows for modification or deeper confirmation after pursuit of those assumptions, which at least seems to imply that he is not a pure presuppositionalist. Presumably evidence would play some role in the potential modification of his starting points. This methodology seems very sound from a standpoint of Christian faith. Why would a person with faith start anywhere else than with the presupposition of some form of faith?

His basic reason to study theology would seem to be in fulfillment of the Great Commission of Matthew 28 where Jesus tells his disciples to "teach" the things he commands. I find his exegesis here anemic, not least in the fact that the Great Commission is not a command to evangelize in the way we normally think today but a command to "make disciples," which is much more substantial than having someone sign a card or pray a prayer. It is something far more extensive than a moment in time and teaching is part of it. Of course this wasn't even Grudem's point so I'll move on.

Theology overcomes our wrong ideas.  It helps us make better decisions on new issues that arise. It helps us grow as Christians. All good stuff.

He addresses two objections to theology (or rather the form of his theology): 1) conclusions are too neat to be true and 2) the choice of topics dictates the conclusions. I suspect that these are criticisms he has heard of his approach, and I suspect I will have similar critiques of his approach, although my hunch is he has flattened out the objections. I suspect I will conclude that his theology is two-dimensional and lacks a certain profundity befitting God (which he might summarize as #1), and I suspect that there will turn out to be not a little circularity in starting with his conclusions (which he might summarize as #2).  We'll see.

His section on how to study theology is very good for the most part, from my standpoint.  Yes, we should study theology with prayer, with humility, with rejoicing and praise. One of the strengths of his book is that he ends each chapter with a hymn and verses to reflect on (even if the verses may turn out to be shallowly chosen and interpreted). Yes, we should study theology with reason and with the help of others.

As I said in the last post, I consider Grudem's book to be a systematic biblical theology.  So his method involves collecting and understanding all the relevant passages of Scripture on a topic. This is exactly what I do when formulating a biblical theology. My critique will not be here but, I suspect, in the lack of sophistication with which he 1) interprets individual passages and 2) maps them to each other.

Take this dictum: "We are free to use our reasoning abilities to draw deductions from any passage of Scripture so long as these deductions do not contradict the clear teaching of some other passage of Scripture" (34). This is of course a form of a long standing rule that says that "Scripture interprets Scripture."

In this age of reflection, however, there is more going on in performing this statement than the Reformers certainly understood, and one wonders if Grudem really understands either. First of all, those who have used this concept largely did not understand how to read words in their full socio-cultural context.  Words have meanings in contexts, not in some abstract theological bubble.

You cannot interpret the words and significations of Matthew in one context by reference to the way Isaiah used words in another context. You can integrate the two together from some third standpoint, letting each stand on its own, but you cannot change the meaning of Matthew on the basis of Isaiah or vice versa.  Yes, God is the same, but he reveals himself in the categories of his audiences, not in absolute categories that we would not be able to comprehend.

As is often the case, the simple dictum, "Scripture interprets Scripture" is a shorthand for a more complex process: "When applying a biblical text, we must process it in in terms of fulcrum points elsewhere in Scripture and fundamental principles that have been identified over the centuries as the Spirit has inspired the communion of saints (i.e., the Church) reading Scripture.  For ethics, the fulcrum point is the 'law of love,' found repeatedly in Scripture, not least in Matthew 22:37-40. We can identify numerous other fulcrum points on issues of theology. For example, the book of Hebrews provides the fulcrum point on sacrifice, and Leviticus must be appropriated in its light, although the meaning of Hebrews cannot change the original meaning of Leviticus, which was a function of words and significations at its time of origin. The decision to use Hebrews as the fulcrum point necessarily comes from a third perspective outside of the biblical texts themselves."  Grudem's approach lacks this level of sophistication.

1 comment:

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Understanding world history through the miniscle vision of the Bible distorts reality. The Church's desire to dominate the world through the use of theology is what is wrong with the world today!