Sunday, June 3, 2012

0 Preface to the Grudem Review

Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology has been around now for a long time (1994).  It has become a standard for fundamentalist America and, indeed, is probably the standard theology book available in Spanish.

This is problematic for me on two fronts. First, it is problematic for me since I am a Wesleyan-Arminian. When there is a great resource, people will use it.  And this is a great resource. That means it will have what you might call "accidental influence." If a person has a firm theology in some area that disagrees with it, a person will simply disagree on that point. But if a person has no opinion on a particular issue or is undecided, they are likely to be influenced when there may actually be another position more consistent with their base theology. In effect, good resources from other traditions create traditional hybrids and mutants often without the user even realizing it.

This is particularly problematic because, on a second front, Grudem is a fundamentalist as I define one. A fundamentalist, as I am defining it, is a person who engages the modern world--history and science in particular--from a posture that seeks to defend and maintain as much as possible a pre-modern view of the world. Evangelical thinking, in this regard, is not always entirely different in kind, more in degree. Evangelical thinkers are less pre-modern, less unreflective, more willing to engage and take seriously the canons of contextual, historical interpretation as well as the canons of modern science.

Fundamentalist thinking is thus heavily "presuppositional" in nature, heavily deductive in orientation. It is generally not willing to modify its starting assumptions in the light of dissonant data. Rather, it applies its intellect to fitting the data into its initial, "fundamental" categories. It is thus inherently less objective, less truly interested in the truth, even while ironically touting quite vociferously that it is all about holding to the truth. But what it means is that it is vigorously interested in maintaining inherited traditions about what is true.  In practice, it is interested in finding possible ways to maintain its starting assumptions, not in determining the most probable interpretation of the evidence.

Since presuppositions are often caught rather than taught, this means that a book like Grudem's can unwittingly infect its reader with questionable assumptions. Thus a person in the Wesleyan tradition, which historically has always affirmed women in ministry, can find themselves questioning it after reading Grudem. They may come to Grudem affirming women in ministry as a stand alone issue.  But if they inadvertently absorb Grudem's fundamentalist hermeneutic, they may find themselves questioning our historic position without fully realizing why.

It is for these reasons that I have decided to engage his book. My intention is to provide a resource on the web for students forced to read his book that will both summarize his key positions and provide some key questions that can be raised about some of them. This is particularly true for individuals in the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition who might find themselves at a non-Wesleyan seminary.

However, I also wish to engage Grudem as a biblical scholar. The fundamentalist biblical paradigm is fundamentally incoherent because it claims to be based on the Bible yet its Bible is largely a construct, a projection of a somewhat traditional theology on the biblical texts. It thus deconstructs from its very foundations.

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