Systematic Theology 0: Preface (6 Features of Grudem’s Study)

As men and women who want to be pursuers of God’s heart and then lead, labour, inspire and encourage others to be the same. It is important that we maintain a posture of receptivity and learning. We want to be adding to our faith: goodness and to goodness: knowledge. Studying Systematic theology is one way to accomplish this. Furthermore, for those who are gifted as teachers, having a rounded understanding of what the Bible teaches about God better equips us to steward our gift.

That’s right, we’re starting Systematic Theology again. I believe this is the third attempt at reading through Wayne Grudem’s book and trying to share my notes on the blog.

So what’s different this time? What will stop me from giving up halfway though again? Well, I’m glad you asked! This time, I’ve done most of the work already. Since November 4th 2019, I’ve been ploughing away at Grudem’s Systematic Theology, taking notes and wrestling with the content. In these weekly posts, you will receive my notes from the book, along with other insights I gained looking into each topic. So what’s different this time? This time I have a 40 week lead!

My hope is that this will be a useful, informal, educational tool for people who are interested in the basics of Systematic Theology, but don’t have the time to read through the long book. If you like what you see, I encourage you to buy the book and read it. But if time is scarce, I hope this labour will encourage and inspire you towards God’s heart.

(Please check out this previous post, for insight into why I ever tried to study Systematic Theology in the first place!)

As a teaser, I have included the notes from his Preface

Grudem outlines the 6 distinct features of his approach to Systematic Theology

I’ve highlighted in yellow my three favourite features. Application to life, Progress towards Church Unity and a Desire to see Churches equipped with sound doctrine.

Systematic Theology 10: The Knowability of God

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Forcing myself to get this up and posted. Thanks to everyone who ‘liked’ the previous post – not that I’m doing this for the approval. Because that would be vain of me 😉 and we all know that is not a pitfall battle for me! ;P But, seriously, it is actually encouraging to get the likes, especially on such a mammoth task as this.

Chapter 10, part 2 of 11 chapters on the Doctrine of God. And I am feeling pretty motivated to get it finished by end of February. That, is a tall order. But it’s worth setting targets.

So, if the previous post/chapter was trying to explain how we can know that God exists. This chapter seems to be building on it, can we really know God and how much of Him can we know. In short, we can know a lot about God, but not all there is (because He’s infinite!). We can know specific things about Him, but not the complete depths of those specific things. Not only can we know things about Him, but we can also know Him as a Person.

What did I like about this chapter?

  1. We can never fully understand God! He is so big, so infinite, so deep and wide we’ll never know too much or know completely. Even in Heaven when sin isn’t affecting us. The Bible is clear: God’s vastness is not fully comprehensible, partly because of sin, but also partly because of His greatness! (Grudem acknowledges an argument against this rooted in 1 Cor 13.12 “now I know in part, than I shall understand fully“….But he says the phrase “know fully” is simply an attempt to translate the word epiginosko, which suggest deeper or more accurate knowledge. Simply looking at Psalm 145.3 and other verses like this should clear up confusion. ‘the passages…attribute God’s incomprehensibility not to our sinfulness but to His infinite greatness p.151)… This makes it fantastic for someone who has a intellectual spiritual pathway to God, like me (!), to know that I can keep studying God’s word and meeting with Him and never get bored! Furthermore, it means that there will very likely be things about God that every other Christian will be able to teach me. This keeps me humble and reminds me to be teachable!
  2. I get excited that not only can we know about Him, like a superhero and famous leader, but we can also get to know Him. Real personally, He is our Abba. In fact, we’re told we should boast that we know Him. We are encourage in Scripture to boast that we know God. How awesome is that! God is my Father, I speak to Him on a daily basis! He knows me, and I know Him! This is amazing! It is also a challenging reminder, whenever my study is invested more in knowing about Him than actually knowing Him personally. May my study always be centered and rooted in prayer!
  3. Finally, even though I can’t know God fully, I can know Him truly. I know that He is love (1 John 4.8), light (1 John 1:5), Spirit (John 4.24) and Righteous (Rom 3.26). I know that He loves the world and has made me. I know that He works all things together for my good. I may not know everything, but I do know that He does. He reveals Himself to me through scripture, nature and His Spirit and I get to respond.

 

 

 

Systematic Theology 9: The Existence of God

Long time coming, maybe we’ll be able to hammer out a bit more consistency over the next few weeks. Who knows. It’s only me putting this pressure on myself to finish the book by the end of 2019. But if that goal is to become a reality we need to pick up our pace. Like seriously.

Doctrine 2, once we’ve passed this section, I’ll be able to say, along with Samwise Gamgee, that this is the furthest I’ve ever been…on the road to finishing Grudem’s book and I’ll be covering *new* ground! Whoopie!

So Chapter 9 The Existence of God, answering the question: How do we know that God exists. I trust no one is on this blog actually hoping to be convinced that God exists by me, because I’m not that clever. But the Bible is compelling and the Holy Spirit at work when we read the Bible is powerfully compelling, so watch out hard-core atheists….(See I still remember what was covered before, it’s not gone over my head.)

Obviously, I’m not going to go through the reasons given in depth, but the 3 main reasons given are 1) Inner Sense of God, 2) a – Evidence in Scripture b- Evidence in Creation, 3) Traditional Proofs (all the x-ological and y-ality arguments you’ve probably heard about in RE classes at school.

What did I like about this chapter:

  • I love that Nature tells of God. The heavens declare the glory of God, writes the Psalmist (19.1-2). As someone who saw Louie Giglio’s talk on if the earth were a golfball and Indescribable, I am convinced that creation speaks of God’s existence. I think the reason it stood out to me in reading, was because I’ve recently tried to incorporate walks in nature into my devotional life. I’ve had some fantastic moments with God doing this.
  • The traditional proofs, make sense, even though there are arguments that find faults in these arguments. Which I understand. However Grudem says that these “proofs” are limited in their ability to compel. I know this goes without saying, but for me this really emphasises the importance of Scripture and God’s power to bring about faith! This is cool, because it means we don’t get to boast that we came to faith because we’re clever, Grace disqualifies us of boasting!
  • Grudem refers to one of my most favourite Bible verses at the end of this chapter, 1 Cor 2.5. The whole chapter unpacks how God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and emphasises our need of God to overcome the blinding effects of sin and enabling us to believe in His existence.

Systematic Theology 8: Sufficiency of Scripture (Freedom and Challenge)

For those counting – 11 days since my last post. My excuse, training. I was away last week on training and my usual morning routine got scuppered. But we’re back at it now, so for those following along, we’re at the final characteristic of Scripture: Sufficiency. And this is the last chapter on the Doctrine of the Word of God! 1 down 6 to go and with that level of maths, provided I finish a ‘Part’ every two months, this monster of a book will count towards my 52 target (Ooorah!)

The sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture contained all the words of God He intended His people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting Him perfectly, and for obeying Him perfectly. 

I’ve  underlined the second part of this definition because I think that this is where it really matters for Christians today. The first bit has to do with the construction of the Old Testament, which is great for people who lived in those days (and those engaged in study of those days) – but not super relevant for us.

So what three things stood out to me after reading?

  1. Surprisingly, it was what Grudem discussed about the role of the Church – given this doctrine. A natural question to follow the SoS is, what is the point of the Church (it’s teaching, sermons, people, books etc)? Grudem explains that the Church’s role should be to help apply and understand Scripture, NOT to add to it’s teaching. This is where – Grudem explained – there lies a big distinction between the Catholic Church and the Protestant.
  2. Along these lines, the sufficiency of Scripture, means that nothing is sin that is not forbidden by scripture either explicitly or by implication. Therefore we don’t need to add rules and prohibitions for Christians everywhere to follow. There are times when drinking coffee, going to the movies, dancing  etc. are wrong for certain believer(s) at certain times/places, because of the principles provided in Scripture (1 Cor 8, Rom 14) but these prohibitions should not be enforced on other believers universally. Grudem explains that doing this – can lead to severe harm to the Church (unnecessary feelings of guilt/shame, frustrated prayer life – because believers are praying to be “set free” from sins that aren’t sins and division in the Body.)
  3. However the opposite is also true, if we believe that Scripture has all we need to equip us to know God’s will, to trust Him perfectly and come to Salvation, we should be reading it and eagerly searching it. Everything we need to live a godly life has been provided, the Scriptures will equip us for every good work and will sharpen and teach us the way forward.

In addition to reading the book, I am also working through Wayne Grudem’s lecture series on these topics, they seem to finish with a Q&A at the end where his students ask the tough questions. I would recommend it. They can be found in the form of an Itunes podcast but also on the same page where I find the lecture notes: http://www.christianessentialssbc.com/messages/

Next time we start Part 2: Doctrine of God!

Systematic Theology 7.b: Necessity of Scripture (what about “Jesus-dreams”)

Forgive the 2nd post on this topic, but I went away and did some more learning about this doctrine, as you probably noticed – avid, loyal readers of this marvelous blog that you are – the Necessity of Scripture raised an issue for me.

One component of the Necessity of Scripture says that Scripture – whether read or heard – is necessary for knowledge of the Gospel. In other words, we are able to know some things about God apart from Scripture (e.g. that He is loving and He is just), but we aren’t able to know that He sent His Son to die for us (so that His loving-ness and justice could actually function together) without Scripture.

In short, I wanted to answer the question: “How do we make sense of the Necessity of Scripture (for knowledge of the Gospel) when people seem to have dreams/visions about Jesus and become Christians without the Bible”.

After a bit of research, I found 3 answers which I found helpful:

  1. The Bible never encourages us to expect/rely on these things (Gospel-explaining-dreams) to happen, they may happen and that is wonderful, but we can’t use that as an excuse to not do mission. In fact it is this very doctrine, the necessity of scripture, that has motivated missionary efforts for centuries!
  2. Often people who have these visions are soon led to Christians (who have Bibles) – or Christians are led to them – and they’re faith grows. In this way the dreams and visions seem to function as if God is preparing the way for missionaries.
  3. If someone did have a vision, a valid question would be, ‘would it be compelling enough for them to base their complete faith upon without any confirmation from God’s Word?’ Grudem admits, he doesn’t know, but again Scripture never encourages us to settle with this. In fact, it encourages us to go, to go and preach the word! (Roman 10:13-17)! This brings me back to the earlier chapters, it is as we read the Bible the Holy Spirit confirms that what we read is true.

All this to say, not only has it been useful to follow up on my questions (because they’ve been answered!), but also that there is great advantage to theological training –with others. A healthy reminder, that theology shouldn’t be studied alone – but as part of His body. I will be looking for ways – aside from this blog – to involve others in my study processes.

Systematic Theology 7: Necessity of Scripture

So far we’ve looked at CA of SCAN, this post is about N. The next one will be S, I know, I know, we’ve followed a logical sequence.

The Necessity of Scripture means that the Bible is necessary for knowing the Gospel, for maintaining spiritual life, and for knowing God’s will, but it is not necessary for knowing that God exists or for knowing about God’s character and moral law.

If you’re like me, you’ll probably want to read that sentence over again. It basically says that we need the Bible in order to do 3 specific things, but we don’t need it to do 2 other  specific things. Grudem, in the chapter, basically runs through these 5 activities providing Bible passages to support each one.

Truthfully (and personally), this chapter was a little difficult to digest. Let me try and explain… On a spectrum of unhealthy relationships to the Bible (with one side being Bible-idolatry and the other being Bible-apathy) – I definitely fall on the side of Bible-idolatry. I love the Bible! Love reading it, and using it. I think Christians everywhere should be making every effort to read it and submerge themselves in it and live it! (All good right? – Yes!) Most of my discipleship efforts involve getting people into the Word and reading it and letting it speak to them and challenge them and encouraging them to live by it.

apathy

However, I was recently reminded of the fact that the early church didn’t have Bibles – certainly not what we would recognise as “Bibles”. They had letters from Paul and probably segments of Gospels to read, but most people couldn’t read! So it had to be read to them. Therefore, the idea of carrying your own personal Bible around, was a completely foreign concept to the Christian. So how did they manage? Good question. Hence why my difficulty with this doctrine…

All this to say, my understanding of the Necessity of Scripture was on questionable ground. Especially when you add into the mix, if these stories are to be believed, that people come to know about the Gospel through dreams and Jesus visiting them in their sleep.

One of the helpful things Grudem does in this chapter, is outline two types of revelation:

  • General Revelation: Which is revelation from God, that comes to all humanity through creation.
  • Special revelation: Which is all the words of Scripture, but is not limited to the Words of Scripture (e.g Prophecies and Visions).

Through General Revelation we can know that God exists (The heavens declare His glory), and we can know something of His Character and Moral Law (Romans 2.14-15). However we need Special Revelation (which usually comes to us, here in the Western 21st century, through the Scriptures), in order to know the Gospel. The Gospel which reconciles God’s Justice and Mercy, which tells of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

I’m still a little stuck on working this all out, luckily I’m part of a Church with others who can help me in this area. But, something that does come to mind is the concept of stewardship which Jesus introduces. Can we be trusted to use and make the most of what we have received? From those who are entrusted with much, much will be expected. The early Church didn’t have “Bibles” as we know them today. But we do. Therefore we are expected to be faithful stewards of them: reading, studying, learning, obeying, praying, meditating on Scripture.

One other thing that encouraged me from this chapter, is that the Bible is necessary for maintaining our Spiritual life. Jesus said in Matthew 4, that Man does not live on bread alone. Deut 32:47 says that His words are our life! May we daily come before God’s word, knowing that it sustains us. That it will give us God’s will.

Let me finish with the Romans passage that most strongly supports this doctrine:

…For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. Romans 10:13-17

Sorry for a slightly messy post. I’m still learning.

Systematic Theology 6: Clarity of Scripture

This is the second part in the 4 characteristics of Scripture (SCAN). We’ve done Authority, now Clarity. After this we’ve got 2 more and we’re finished with the Doctrine of the Word of God.

What does the Clarity of Scripture mean?:

The clarity of Scripture means that the Bible is written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all who read it seeking God’s help and being willing to follow it

Things that I like:

  1. This characteristic means that even Children and “Simple” people can come to know God by reading/listening to God’s word. Grudem gives a couple of verses where the Bible says teach this to Children (Duet 6:6-7) and that it makes the “simple” wise (Ps 19.7 and 119:130). I think this is a really beautiful thing, because it means that anyone can come to know God through His word. You don’t need a degree or qualification to understand.
  2. This definition also emphasises that our attitude to reading God’s word is more important than our intellectual ability. What is the posture of your heart when you reads God word? Is it so that you know more, so that you can check a box, or win an argument. Or is it coming humbly to learn from God, asking Him for help to understand what He is saying and sincerely intending to follow through on His commands. God looks on the inside when it comes to Bible reading. Earlier today I read Jesus praising God… Luke 10:21: “At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.”. I like this, because it reminds me that I need a humble and willing heart to read fruitfully the Word of God. So prayer is vital.
  3. Grudem writes a good explanation for the role of Scholars, given that the Bible is clear enough to be understood by children. I like it. We do need scholars. But before he goes into this explanation he writes a compelling case for our study of Scripture:

[The Clarity of Scripture] should give great encouragement to all Christians to read their Bibles daily and with great eagerness…Christians must never give up to the scholarly “experts” the task of interpreting Scripture: they must keep doing it everyday for themselves.

My prayer is that after reading this section you are encouraged to read and understand your Bible on a daily basis. It’s near the beginning of the year, commit to prayerful reading of the Bible. Buy yourself a new one, give the old one away, do whatever will motivate you to read it daily. It can be understood. Even if there are places that seem difficult to understand (2 Peter 3:15-16), if we ask God to help us and sincerely approach to learn and do His will – He will give us understanding.

 

 

Systematic Theology 5: The Inerrancy of Scripture

Stretching my wings with this new method, and I think I’ve struck gold. 165787839

“Inerrancy!? Wait, earlier you said the characteristics of Scripture were spelled out in the Acronym SCAN. Sufficiency, Authority….Where does I. for Inerrancy fit in that?!”

Well done, for remembering, Grudem opens this chapter explaining that Inerrancy is usually treated as a sub-section for Authority because it builds on the same arguments.

What does it mean?

The Inerrancy of Scripture means that scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact. And that the Bible always tells the truth and that it always tells the truth concerning everything it talks about

Again, I’d like to point you to some fully fledged awesome complete notes on this chapter…And once you’ve read them, or if you already know about this stuff, here are my 3 favourite takeaways:

  1. Grudem explains that statements can be imprecise and still be totally true. For example “I live not too far from the park” (TRUE), “I live less than a kilometre from the park” (TRUE), “I live 0.892km from the park” (TRUE). All these statements are true, and their truthfulness isn’t dependent on their precision but rather 1) The meaning implied by the speaker and 2) the expected level of precision for the hearer. Very often we approach the Bible assuming that the original hearers of the text had the same expectations we do. There is a difference between honest vagueness and deceitful vagueness, but vague doesn’t necessarily mean untrue.
  2. Inerrancy is important to believe, because it tells us about God’s character. If God lies, then we – who are told to imitate God (Eph 5.1) – should also lie. Especially if it is convenient for communication. As it is God doesn’t lie, and His word is Inerrant. I think this stood out to me, because lying is one of those sins that easily accompany pride. We lie to cover our mistakes, to exaggerate our successes. And God’s truthfulness stands in stark contrast to that sin.pinocchio-970x545
  3. At one point Grudem talks about an objection to inerrancy that says: “The Bible is only authoritative for “Faith and Practice””. This basically means that the Bible is only true when it talks about faith and practice. Not about science or history. However, this restriction is not made by the Bible itself. In fact, the Bible asserts that it is true historically (See all the time the NT writers talk about a historical event mentioned in the OT). So when the Bible talks about geography and science, it is speaking truthful words too.

 

There we go.  Next time we’re looking at Clarity of Scripture.

 

Systematic Theology: An “evolved” approach!

Human – business evolution

..and BOOM! I’m a clever chap, it occurred to me, that I might not be the first guy to blog notes on Systematic Theology. I know – I know, how modest of me. Maybe I’m not inventing the wheel! ..So I searched and I found, what seems to be, a website with Wayne Grudem’s lectures on these topics with PDFs(!), PDFs of his notes and outlines. Duh, Duh Daaa! So what now? Do I stop. No.

(Here’s a link to this highly useful and resourceful site: Just scroll to the bottom page and you’ll start with the beginning.)

So what will become of this blog series. Well 3 things. 1) My posts can stop being so exhaustive. I’m no longer reinventing the wheel OR creating a resource for people – because someone’s already done those things before – very well! I’m also not recording my own notes from studying. Massive sigh of relief*….2) I can now record my three favourite things from each chapter. and finally 3) We can go with a bit more pace! Whoopie!

I warned you, I did. This approach would evolve. First we had the removal of the memory verses (Because I’m doing Romans 8, FYI 30 verses so far!). Now we’re moving away from exhaustive approach, and mimicking the BRT approach to study.  Streamline…

Oh by the way, happy New year everyone!