Electronic Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, by Wayne Grudem, Whitefish: MT: Bits & Bytes Computer Resources, $39.95. System Requirements: Windows 95 or Windows 3.1, video card and 4 meg of disk space. Reviewed by Russell D. Moore
“There was a time earlier in the Christian era when the evangelist’s best ally was the theologian, whose forceful statements of the Christian revelation served to clarify the urgency of the task,” evangelical statesman Carl F. H. Henry observed nearly thirty years ago. “But today many theologians themselves need to be evangelized.”
Henry could hardly have foreseen an information age in which, at the click of a mouse, one can access religious materials ranging from Greek New Testament software to the Benny Hinn Internet site. This technological frontier has already proven itself to be both a vast mission field for historic Christianity and a seemingly limitless platform for the theology of the unevangelized.
Bits and Bytes Computer Resources has added to the expanding galaxy of computerized theological programs a disk version of Wayne Grudem’s defining work, first published by Zondervan in 1994. Grudem, professor of biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and a member of a Southern Baptist congregation, tackles headlong pivotal doctrinal questions facing an increasingly incoherent evangelical subculture.
Refreshingly unhesitating in his defense of the inerrancy of scripture, Grudem sweeps away the cliché-heavy objections of the evangelical left to affirm that biblical inerrancy, far from a politically motivated contemporary innovation, is the consistent testimony of the Bible itself. This unwavering commitment to the authority of scripture serves as a steady underpinning for the entirety of Grudem’s theological methodology and investigation.
Almost immediately upon scrolling through the text, the reader will find that not only does Grudem affirm a biblical view of a sovereign and infinitely holy God, he self-consciously rejoices in the doctrines of grace. In affirming God’s unconditional election of individual sinners for salvation, Grudem follows the Apostle Paul’s tactic in Romans 9 of anticipating the objections of scandalized humanity and dismantling their protests with the Word. His treatment of the cross leaves no room for the vague, uncertain achievement pictured in Arminian and revivalist theology. Instead he points to the work of Christ as a particular atonement which, through Jesus’ bearing of the Father’s wrath, invincibly rescues His elect from their just damnation. He articulates a biblical view of humans as hopelessly tethered to their own wicked desires, apart from a heart-transforming act of regeneration, which is inevitably followed by repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus. In an era when salvation is too often proclaimed as merely a mystical act of inviting Jesus into the heart, Grudem maps out the vital truth of God’s justification received by His grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Grudem’s approach to the basic message of the gospel is so clear and penetrating, selected chapters could easily be used in one-on-one or church based evangelism.
Unlike some systematic theology texts, Grudem does not overlook ecclesiological concerns. He holds to historic Baptist distinctives such as a regenerate church membership and believers’ baptism by immersion, although he equivocates somewhat on the latter as an absolute prerequisite for church fellowship. Grudem probes the variety of church organizational structures and calls for an autonomous body governed by a plurality of elders as the most biblical option. With the presuppositions of the feminist world view creeping from the protest march to the parish pew, Grudem, president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, heralds a traditional complementarian model for the roles of men and women in the church and home.
Grudem’s position on the gifts of the Spirit, particularly his view of the continuing presence of prophetic revelations, may be the most problematic portion of this text for most Reformed Southern Baptists. As Grudem’s starched Genevan gown begins to sway with the Vineyard praise choruses, many will find themselves perplexed by the inconsistency of one who so doggedly asserted the sufficiency of scripture from the outset of this work. Despite Grudem’s careful qualifications and clarifications, questions remain as to the biblical foundations for such a view and the doctrinal implications of new messages received (and often fallibly recounted) from a God who has spoken inerrantly and sufficiently in the biblical canon. Nonetheless, a survey of Grudem’s position will equip one to formulate one’s own response to a controversy which shows little sign of evaporating, especially in light of the current happenings in Toronto and Pensacola.
With its non-technical wording and concise organization, this program is ideally constructed for pastoral ministry. This reviewer found the material to be an exceptional curriculum for a youth Discipleship Training class on the doctrines of the faith. A suggested hymn and questions for application at the close of each chapter make it even more adaptable to congregational worship, Sunday School, membership classes, and even pastoral counseling. A helpful appendix contains confessional statements ranging from the Nicene Creed to the Baptist Faith and Message. A search engine allows the reader to instantaneously retrieve all passages relevant to a particular scripture verse, theologian, or concept cited. The text is crafted to link with Zondervan’s NIV Bible Library program, enabling the user to click on highlighted scripture references to display the passage in context.
With a growing awareness of God-centered theology in our churches, this contribution is an invaluable resource for the ongoing work of reformation. Southern Baptist book shelves and computer screens can only benefit from the labors of Wayne Grudem, a workman graciously unashamed and a theologian thoroughly evangelized.