Bible doctrine is a condensed version of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic theology. It was prepared by Jeff Purswell in consultation with the author and is approximately a third of the size of the original.
Certain sections have been omitted altogether (on church government and church discipline, for example), whilst inevitably, in the sections retained, a great deal of summarising has been necessary. In Dr Grudem’s own judgement, Purswell has done the abridgement so well that ‘both the essential character and the overall tone of the larger book’ have been preserved (p.11).
There are seven main parts, in each of which a particular biblical doctrine is discussed. These are, in order, the doctrines of the Word of God, God, man, Christ, the application of redemption, the church and the future. To start with, however, there is an important preface followed by a chapter that helpfully introduces the whole subject of systematic theology.
The preface outlines a number of distinctive features of the book. These reflect Grudem’s convictions about what systematic theology is and how it should be taught (p.12). Among them are clarity and application to life. Reference is made to how clear and practical many have found the larger work to be. This smaller one — both in intention and outcome — is no less so, and that undoubtedly constitutes one of its major strengths.
The introduction that follows begins with a definition (‘Systematic theology is any study that answers the question “What does the Bible teach us today?” about any given topic’ (p.17).) It relates systematic theology to other disciplines, and addresses at length the questions of why and how Christians should study theology. On the second of these questions there is a welcome emphasis on prayer, humility, and looking to others for help. So also on rejoicing and praise: ‘The study of theology is not merely an intellectual or mental exercise’ (p.27).
A word or two on the positions taken in Bible doctrine on issues over which there is division in the wider evangelical world. Grudem holds to a conservative view of the inerrancy of Scripture (the Chicago statement of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy is printed as an appendix (pp. 473-478).
He also holds to the Reformed doctrine of divine sovereignty and predestination, a penal substitutionary understanding of our Lord’s death, traditional Protestant teaching on justification, baptism for believers only, the certain perseverance of the saints, and the historic pre-millennial view of Jesus’ second coming.
None of the above requires any comment. But there are a couple of other issues that do. In chapter 7, which addresses the question ‘Why, how and when did God create the universe?’ a strong stance is taken against both Darwinian and theistic evolution.
Many readers will wish that a similarly strong stance had been taken on the question of the age of the earth. Grudem defends neither a ‘young earth’ nor an ‘old earth’ position. Instead, having considered the arguments for each, he concludes that ‘with the information we now have, it is not at all easy to decide this question with certainty’ (p.139).
He ends by encouraging ‘evangelical scientists and theologians who fall in both … camps to begin to work together with much less arrogance, much more humility, and a much greater sense of cooperation in a larger common purpose’ (p.139), namely the upholding of creationism itself.
The most controversial aspect of Bible doctrine (as in its parent Systematic theology) is Grudem’s teaching that all the New Testament gifts of the Holy Spirit are valid for the church today.
Particular attention is paid to New Testament prophecy. It is defined as ‘telling something that God has spontaneously brought to mind’ (p.408) and admitted to be fallible. So it must be sharply differentiated from wholly inspired Old Testament prophecy and denied to be of equal authority with Holy Scripture. Prophecy, it is maintained, both is and ought to be an aspect of Christian worship until the return of Christ; so also tongues and their interpretation.
In the reviewer’s opinion Dr Grudem is quite simply wrong on these points. Nevertheless, the book as a whole can be warmly recommended – the larger Systematic theology even more so.
Besides being for the most part thoroughly orthodox (and Reformed), it is highly readable, lucid, devotional, and practical. The two sets of questions with which each chapter ends make it eminently suitable both for personal study and group discussion.
The two chapters on the gifts of the Holy Spirit do diminish its overall value. But even these, with the aid of a book upholding a cessationist view of prophecy and tongues, can be turned to good account in helping the reader to think through an important contemporary issue.