Book Reviews

Book Review: Systematic Theology, 2nd ed. (Wayne Grudem)

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Wayne Grudem came out with a massive systematic theology (ST) in 1995, which has, as you can see on the picture above, sold over 750,000 copies. 26 years later he has updated his ST, adding at least 250 more pages of information and clarification since a lot has happened in 26 years (like the 2016 explosion over the Trinity). I’ll first show what is new (this comes from the preface). Then I’ll elaborate on a few chapters, and then I’ll explain why I recommend Grudem’s new volume. 

Grudem’s volume is massive, so there is no way I could cover everything. Grudem divides his book into 7 parts:

  1. The Doctrine of the Word of God
    1. Grudem writes about what it means for the Bible as God’s “Word.” He also writes about Scriptures authority, clarity, necessity, and sufficiency, as well as its inerrancy.
  2. The Doctrine of God
    1. Here Grudem lays out complex truths of God in a simple way,
      1. truths about God’s existence and knowability,
      2. his incommunicable/non-shareable attributes
        1. Such as his eternality, independence, unchangeableness, etc.
      3. his communicable/shareable attributes
        1. Such as his wisdom, truthfulness, wrath, love, holiness, etc.
        2. He critiques open theism here (which is new in this volume).
      4. the Trinity, providence, creation, prayer, miracles, and spiritual beings.
  3. The Doctrine of Man in the Image of God
    1. This section takes a deeper dive into creation to look at the creation of mankind specifically, how we are made a male and female, what our nature is, what happened when sin disrupted everything, and the resulting covenants God made with mankind to bring us into relationship with himself.
  4. The Doctrines of Christ and the Holy Spirit
    1. Grudem looks at Jesus, his sinlessness, asks if Jesus could have sinned, his humanity, and his deity. Grudem looks at how these fit together in the incarnation and summarizes a few of the heretical views.
    2. He surveys the atonement, different views, what it accomplished, and to whom it extends. He surveys passages used to support both the Reformed and non-Reformed views of the atonement’s extent.
    3. He disagrees that Christ descended into hell/hades between his death and resurrection and still argues that it should be removed from the Apostle’s Creed, but I think Matt Emerson provides a better explanation for keeping the descent clause because it is based on a true event.
  5. The Doctrine of the Application of Redemption
    1. Grudem gives thirteen chapters to the working of God’s redemption in the lives of Christians–that of common grace, election, God’s effective call, to conversion, justification, redemption, perseverance, death, union with Christ, and others.
    2. He gives two pages summarizing N. T. Wright’s view of justification, its basis, imputation, and what the gospel is, and another eleven pages responding to Wright’s view. He believes Wright has an incorrect definition of justification, for none of the four definitions the Greek English Lexicon BDAG provides for dikaioo (“to justifiy”) comes close to Wright’s view that justification “declare[s] that someone is a member of a community of people” (898; Grudem provides a good quote from Stephen Westerholm to bolster his argument).
    3. Wright believes that the gospel is “not an account of how people get saved. It is … the proclamation of the Lordship of Jesus Christ” (903). As Grudem defends, proclaiming Christ’s Lordship is a part of the gospel, but that proclamation leads to salvation. Proclaiming Christ as Lord leads to the forgiveness of sins, receiving of the Holy Spirit, adoption as God’s child, etc. Grudem lists verses from Acts which explicitly state  that calling on the name of the Lord leads to one being “saved” (Acts 2:21; 4:12; 5:31; 13:38; 15:11).
  6. The Doctrine of the Church
    1. Grudem shows how the church is to conduct itself as Christ’s witness on earth. To do this the church first needs to know its nature and purpose (ch. 44) and what marks a church as healthy (see my comments below under “The Purity and Unity of the Church”). He looks at the “power” of the church as seen through spiritual warfare, the keys of the church, and church discipline (looking at its purpose, and when it should be exercised). He looks at different forms of church governments seen in Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Congregational churches. He also covers baptism, who can be baptized, and if those who hold to different views can be members in the same church. I agree with Grudem that it would be quite difficult for, say, a Baptist and a Presbyterian, to be members in the same church if they take the doctrine of baptism seriously.
  7. The Doctrine of the Future
    1. Grudem ends the main portion of the book with four chapters on how and when Christ will return, the millennium, the final judgment, and the new heavens and new earth. He presents illustrations that help explain the Amillennial, Postmillennial, and Premillennial views of the millennium, and he presents arguments for and against each view. Grudem agrees most with the premillennial view. He then looks at the great tribulation and concludes that there will be no rapture and that the church will go through the great tribulation.
    2. Unfortunately, Grudem’s discussion on hell (ch. 56) covers only 5 pages. Because of that, his arguments against annihilationism are very thin (not that I agree with annihilationism anyway), and there is little discussion on other views about hell.

What’s New?

  1. The bibliographies are updated.
    1. Examples of Recent Inclusions
      1. In ch. 25, “The Covenants between God and Man,” Grudem refers to Gentry and Wellum’s recent second edition of Kingdom Through Covenant (2018).
      2. In ch. 26, “The Person of Christ,” Grudem refers to Wellum’s excellent God the Son Incarnate (2016).
      3. In ch. 14 on the Trinity, Grudem include’s Emerson and Stamp’s Trinitarian Theology (2019) and Amiee Byrd’s Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (2020).
    2. Examples of a Few Exclusions
      1. One unfortunate exclusion was in ch. 20, “Satan and Demons.” There is no mention of Michael Heiser’s The Unseen Realm (my review here). Certainly no one can read everything, but it was disappointing not to see Heiser’s work included since it has been a game-changer in many ways (which means there was no mention of Deuteronomy 32:8-9). In ch. 56, “The Final Judgment and Eternal Punishment,” Heiser’s book would likely have filled out the section “Angels Will be Judged.” Grudem gives two paragraphs to it, whereas he could have had more info if he had included Heiser’s book. 
  2. Every Scripture quotation is changed from RSV to ESV.
  3. New sections:
    1. The differences between evangelical Protestant theology and Protestant theological liberalism (additional note in chapter 4),
    2. Mormonism (additional note in ch. 14),
    3. Roman Catholicism (additional note in ch. 45).
  4. Deeper discussion on specific “problem verses” in the Gospels for biblical inerrancy (ch. 5).
  5. Completely revised the chapter on Scripture’s clarity (ch. 6).
  6. Updated sections:
    1. God’s atemporal eternity (ch. 11),
    2. the eternal submission of the Son to the Father in the Trinity (ch. 14),
    3. seeker-sensitive churches (ch. 44),
    4. the role of women in the church (ch. 47),
    5. contemporary worship music (ch. 51),
    6. miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit (chs. 52 and 53).
  7. Critiques open theism (ch. 12).
  8. He completely revised the chapter on creation and evolution (ch. 15):
    1. includes recent evidence for intelligent design,
    2. a longer critique of theistic evolution,
    3. summarizes recent evidence regarding the age of the earth.
  9. Gives a new discussion and critique of middle knowledge/Molinism (ch. 16).
  10. Gives extensive discussion of “Free Grace” theology (ch. 35).
  11. Critiques of the “new perspective on Paul” and its view of justification (ch. 36).
  12. Critiques of the preterist view that Christ has already returned in AD 70 (ch. 54).
  13. A discussion of recent criticisms of the penal substitutionary view of the atonement.
  14. Adds a contemporary worship song at the end of each chapter (retains the traditional hymns too)
  15. Indexes topics from twenty-one new systematic theology texts published since 1993.
  16. And many many smaller modifications throughout the entire book. 

Some of What’s New

The Trinity

Maybe you heard, maybe you completely missed it, but in 2016 (right before Mari and I went to SBTS) a giant brawl rose up over trinitarian issues. I won’t rehearse any of these issues (as you can click the link and read to your heart’s content), but, as of 2016, Grudem affirms the eternal generation of the Son and still affirms eternal functional submission (EFS). Concerning EFS, Grudem believes it is still proper to use the terms “authority” and “submission” in regard to the Father and the Son’s relations to one another.

No matter which terms we use, it is a mistake to insist that the Father-Son relationship in Scripture is always perfectly symmetrical. It would be unfaithful to the consistent pattern of Scriptural language to deny any primacy to the role of the Father… However, if in the Trinity the Son is always subject to the authority of the Father yet also equal to the Father in deity and in honor, then it is understandable that, in carious kinds of relationships between persons, the existence of authority and submission within the relationship is compatible with both persons being equal in importance and honor. (305)

Grudem lists some objections from Luke and Stamps in their Trinitarian Theology and from D. Glenn Butner Jr. (309-10) and replies to their objections (310-314). He lists evangelical theologians who affirm the eternal obedience/submission of the Son to the authority of the Father:

  • Charles Hodge
  • Herman Bavinck
  • Augustus Strong
  • Louis Berkhof
  • J. I. Packer
  • Carl F.H. Henry
  • Thomas Oden
  • John Feinberg
  • John Frame
  • Robert Letham
  • Bruce Ware
  • Michael Horton

In regards to EFS, understands God to have one will, but there are three expressions of this will (307). He uses John 6:38 as an example, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (p. 307). John 8:27, 29, 42 and Philippians 2:6 can be seen as examples of these three distinctive wills (though these verses don’t mention the Holy Spirit).

I really haven’t read much on the Trinity, intra-trinitarian relations, immanent vs. economic trinity, etc., so I can’t comment much here. But Craig Carter has recently written an article against Grudem’s take on Jesus’ eternal submission to the Father, his renewed understanding of monogenes, and really of his book as a whole arguing that it is closer to being a biblical theology of sorts than a true systematic theology.

In an article from Credo Magazine, Craig Carter argues against Grudem’s notion of God’s-one-will-yet-three-expressions-of-that-will, writing that this really means God has three “distinctive wills.” As Carter writes, John 6:38 “is not speaking of two expressions of one unified Divine will, but rather of two wills, namely, the human will of Christ and the Divine will of the Father, (which is unified with the Divine will of Christ). The incarnate Jesus Christ has two wills, one human and one divine, not two expressions of the one, unified Divine will… He thus reads economic relations back into the eternal Trinity.”

Due to the internal consistency of Scripture as God’s Word, Carter looks back at how Athanasius argued that “whenever we read of the Son as created or as limited or as subordinate, the passage must be referring to the human nature of Jesus Christ. But when we read of the Son as equal and eternal the passage must be referring to the divine nature of Jesus Christ. Grudem does not make use of this hermeneutical rule in his treatment of the persons of the Trinity. Instead, he reads the human will of the human nature of Jesus Christ back into the eternal Trinity.”

Grudem writes, “[E]ven if we affirm the existence of one divine will, that does not rule out the idea that each person in the Trinity can have different actualizations or different expressions of that will” (310). Yet Carter, looking at the John 6:38 example, notes that the Father’s willing to send the Son to earth and the Son willing to be sent to earth “is not a subordination of one will to the other.” Instead, “It is actually two ways of willing the same outcome.”

(Here is a post from Fred Sanders with his take on Grudem’s change of thought. He was happy to see Grudem’s acceptance of eternal generation and believes ” the persuasiveness of EFS will continue to fade.”)

The Purity and Unity of the Church

In ch. 45, Grudem lists 12 factors that make a church “more pure,” such as biblical doctrine/right preaching of the Word, effective prayer, effective witness, effective fellowship, biblical church government, care for the poor, and more. He presents reasons for when you can and might need to leave a church, such as when a church forsakes biblical teaching to the point that salvation can be found there. He concludes the chapter with 13 doctrinal differences between Protestants and Catholics, such as whose authority is highest (Pope or Scripture), is tradition an authority alongside Scripture?, whether the seven apocryphal books should be included within the biblical canon, if prayer can be made to Mary and other saints, differing views on justification, purgatory, and more.

Chapter Conclusions

At the end of each chapter, Grudem asks questions for personal application, which I found to be very helpful either for your own personal spiritual life or for group settings. He then gives a bibliography for that topic connected to over 40 different other systematic theologies from Anglicans, Arminians, Baptists, Dispensationalists, Lutherans, Reformed, and Pentecostals (as well as a few Roman Catholic works). He lists another bibliography to other works, monographs, commentaries, etc. Then he provides a Scripture memory passage (Romans 6:3-4 for ch. 49, “Baptism”) and both a traditional hymn and a contemporary worship song connected to the chapter’s topic. For example, the hymn for ch. 44, “The Church: Its Nature, Its Marks, and Its Purposes,” is “The Church’s One Foundation” and the contemporary worship song is “Build My Life” by Matt Redman (and others).

Recommended?

Grudem is very accessible and clear. Even though this is a large book, it is very accessible and lay-person friendly. If you’re new to theology, or to systematic theologies, please don’t be put off by the size of this book. Grudem, even where you disagree (this is a Reformed ST), is very good. For having written such a large volume, Grudem is incredibly easy to read. If you don’t have the first edition you really should consider buying this second edition. Grudem’s ST is Bible-centered. It covers so much ground (57 chapters), and he cover them pretty thoroughly (it’s hard to be extremely thorough on 57 different topics). Highly recommended.  

Lagniappe

    • Author: Wayne Grudem
    • Hardcover: 1,616 pages
    • Publisher:Zondervan Academic, 2nd edition (December 8, 2020)

Buy it on Amazon or from Zondervan Academic

Disclosure: I received this book free from Zondervan. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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