Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Some discouraging statistics

“The impact of this book [Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology] on evangelicals should not be underestimated. Over 135,000 copies have been sold, and the abridged version, Bible Doctrine, … has sold over 35,000 copies. The former is now the most widely used systematic theology text in evangelical seminaries and Bible colleges in North America and most other English-speaking countries.”

—Kevin Giles, Jesus and the Father: Modern Evangelicals Reinvent the Doctrine of the Trinity (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), p. 20.

49 Comments:

Ben Myers said...

Is it true, though, that Grudem is now the most widely used text? I would have assumed that Alister McGrath's Christian Theology: An Introduction (now in its 4th edition) would be the most popular text.

::aaron g:: said...

I would have thought that Millard Erickson's Christian Theology would have been near the top of the list.

You're right, this is discouraging.

michael jensen said...

True. Though I would be more discouraged if Giles' books were widely read!

derek said...

Ben,

when i 1st read this i laughed. I thought that your pairing of Grudem's book with "discouraging statistics" as your title was meant to be humorous.

I guess the fact that i found that funny is all that matters.

Ben Myers said...

Hi Derek -- yes, it was meant to be humorous!

Anonymous said...

Ben, do you have any views on what text ought to be more widely used?

Jordan said...

I'm that Grudem seems to be looked down upon outside of North America. Would anyone be so kind to elaborate why this is the case? I have my own ideas as to why this is the case, but I'd rather hear from others.

WTM said...

I'm surprised by this. I would have thought Erikson or Bloesch (both of which I was introduced to at Wheaton College, as opposed to Grudem's).

a. steward said...

Grudem is a fascinating case for me. His systematic theology has been required reading for every one one my theology classes at Multnomah Bible College, an evangelical school. This is confusing on two accounts. First, Multnomah is an institution of higher learning, committed to fostering critical thinking skills, and while it has a doctrinal statement, it has expressedly disavowed indoctrination. Why then Grudem, an outrageously boring, uncreative theologian who doesn't reference interlocutors is a hard one to figure out, especially when there are introductions to theology like Daniel Migliore's that are so effective in provoking thought! But of course Migliore's view of revelation and eschatology, among other things, do not rest well with american evangelical sensibilities. But if they wanted doctrinal conformity, why not go with Erickson (as Multnomah's seminary has done) and avoid the baggage of Grudem's views on spiritual gifts (he is something of a third-waver)? But then maybe this is a welcome sign that the absurd division between charismatics and non in the evangelical church is beginning to wane.

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

The quote says that Grudem's text is popular at EVANGELICAL seminaries and Bible colleges. That's probably why something like Migliore isn't higher. The quote doesn't tell how "evangelical" is defined.

Times have certainly changed. When I went to SBTS as an M.Div. student in the '80s, one professor was still using Brunner for his theology survey course, while most of the others were rotating between Macquarrie, Moody, & Hendrikus Berkhof. Later, when Erikson was a one-volume, he was used as was Thomas Finger's 2-volume Eschatological Theology, etc. I graduated before the resurgence in systematic theologies that brought McGrath, etc. I was glad that each prof. got to use their own set of texts--and that most required us to supplement with book reviews of leading theologians, liberal, conservative, and everything in-between.
Of course, outside the States, the idea of "textbooks" in higher education is largely unknown--as are survey courses.

Kyle said...

Isn't Grudem an inerrantist who actually denies that one looks through the lenses of interpretive traditions when reading the bible? As in, he believes in objectivism?

michael jensen said...

Bring back the sentences of Peter Lombard!

It is hard to beat Calvin actually if you want serviceable 'textbook' for a first year doctrine course...

Ben Myers said...

Kyle: Yep, I'm afraid you're right. In the opening chapter of his Systematic Theology (pp. 35-37), Grudem offers this truly amazing summary of how we should practise systematic theology: (1) "Find all the relevant verses" on a certain topic; (2) "summarize the points made in the relevant verses"; (3) "Finally, the teachings of the various verses should be summarized into one or more points that the Bible affirms about that subject."

Happily, this procedure "is possible for any Christian who can read his or her Bible and can look up words in a concordance". Wow, talk about "scientific" theology!

Anonymous said...

That description of theological method is hilarious. I thought I'd give it a try - so here's a systematic theology of pissing (following Grudem's 3 steps):

(1) I looked up "pisseth" in Strong's Concordance: 1 Sam 25:22, 25:34; 1 Kings 14:10, 16:11, 21:21; 2 Kings 9:8.

(2) The main point in these relevant verses is that the person "who pisseth against a wall" will be condemned and cut off.

(3) Therefore, here is what the Bible affirms about the subject: we should always use the restroom, and all those who piss on walls should be excluded from the church.

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

I guess theology these days is both doctrinare and simplistic. When I was teaching theology 10 years ago I used McGrath, but having done my theology with Colin Brown, I appreciated his historical look at things. Simply counting bible verses is not theology -- you might as well use Bill Gothard!

jbh said...

Wow, listen to these arrogant words. Scripture calls us first to be faithful, not innovative, first obedient, not creative. Those who strive for creativity will likely end up in falsity. As C.S. Lewis noted, you should strive to be faithful, and only in being faithful will you end up original.

Our Lord has enumerated twice in Scripture the perils of adding to it along with the multiple cautions against teaching the Scriptures knowing that as such, "we will incure a stricter judgment."

Furthermore, anonymous's comment is a symptom of one of the problems of of postliberal theologians. There is a deep ignorance of conservative theology. Postliberal theologians know almost nothing of conservative theology. And, thus, charicatures abound (like anonymous's comment). Postliberal theologians wouldn't dare touch John Piper's work with a ten foot pole, even though he has written the best scholarly engagement of Romans 9, inter alia.

Perhaps the same criticism could be leveled at conservatives. But from my view (Wheaton student), conservatives are much better at reading and profiting from postliberals.

Les said...

The arrogance of Christian never fails to surprise me. I guess we are all only one step removed from pharisees.

Grudem is a very good theologian. What I appreciate is that he is not easy to pin down. His work on "Prophecy" is excellent for pentecostals and charismatics who wish to understand the academic basis for this gifting.

His "Systematic Theology" is well thought out although I prefer Erickson as a foundational text.

I am not going to be able to engage in the erudite muck flinging that goes on but I would ask that we be Jesus-followers before academics. I have observed some comments that are blatantly sinful and dishonouring to God yet all couched in the language of the academy.

Ben Myers said...

Hi Les and JBH -- thanks for your comments. And I agree: I hope we can avoid "erudite muck flinging"!

I also agree with you about the charismatic sections of Grudem's Systematic Theology -- I think this stuff is very interesting and creative, and it has helped to foster serious theological reflection on Pentecostal/charismatic experience.

But I still can't help feeling discouraged at the popularity of Grudem's book as a classroom text -- there are plenty of better books available! In particular, a good theological textbook should model actual theological thinking, instead of merely providing students with the illusion of ready-made answers. After all, many theological students will go on to become pastors: and in pastoral ministry, what's needed is not ready-made answers, but the ability to think theologically in new and unpredictable situations.

michael jensen said...

Well, Ben this was always the difficulty at Moore: where are the good textbooks for an entry level theology course? We didn't like Grudem, we don't use Reymond or Erickson, and McGrath is useful but thin and very historical. Migloire is too liberal for us. Hendrikus Berkhof(which I like) too idiosyncratic.

Which would you recommend?

Perhaps you could publish your blogmatics!

michael jensen said...

And, you are ABSOLUTELY RIGHT about the need to think theologically: this is a pastoral imperative. Ready made answers don't work in pastoral settings!

andy goodliff said...

Michael - wouldn't it be good to encourage people to use more than one book, and so see the different theologies out there (those which you see as more 'liberal' and those which are more conservative and those which are more historical. what about colin gunton's 'A Christian Faith' or Stan Grenz's 'Theology for the Community of God' or 'The Cambridge Companion to Christian Doctrine'. I would say for an undergraduate course, historical theology is really important.

michael jensen said...

Well obviously it is a case of 'both/and': first year students (especially those who struggle academically, but not just them) find a textbook really useful so that they can get their bearings on each topic. The reality is, some students won't read widely (they'll be too busy doing their Greek and Hebrew), so it helps to at least have a guide to help them - and it helps to be in broad agreement with its approach.

A good textbook - and a good teacher - of course provides you with avenues to go deeper and wider. Personally, i got through my undergrad years with the Cambridge Companion and McGrath giving me the lie of the land! My complaint about McGrath is that he never tells you what he actually thinks: he just gives you a list of various views, which is helpful up to a point I guess, but not he full story.

kim fabricius said...

I live in the UK and studied theology at Oxford. What is a textbook? Who is Grudem?

Anonymous said...

who is kim fabricius? ;)

Anonymous said...

Michael Jinkins's Invitation to Theology: A Guide to Study, Conversation, & Practice is a textbook that merits mention.

Anonymous said...

Kim, when I was at Oxford Wenham's The Elements of New Testament Greek was my bible. Well that and my bible...

Although having said that, noting the standard of some of my early essays it could easily have been assumed that I was using the big book of bullshit as my only primary source.

Matt

Nate W said...

I'm happy to report that I graduated with a theology major from an evangelical college and never once had Grudem assigned. Our systematics survey courses generally used Grenz, supplemented by excerpts from Barth and the Church Fathers.

DiscuZion said...

What evangelical college was that?

Maximus Daniel said...

So im interested,
the book you quote from is how Modern Evangelicals reinvent the Doctrine of the Trinity, does Grudem do so?

nate w said...

It was Huntington University in Indiana. The religion faculty there are all really great, and the teaching was top-notch, although some of the people on the business end of things are far too quick to accommodate pressure from the outside--hence the unjustified dismissal of John Sanders, of "open theism" fame.

Halden said...

Grudem has gone a long way in evangelical schools to supplanting Erickson as a standard text. His problems are too manifold to count, as these comments make clear.

I would just say that even amongst evangelical systematic theologies narrowly concieved there is better stuff out there than this. Lewis & Demarest's Integrative Theology, while sadly rationalistic and still thoroughly conservative at least engages all sorts of questions and takes pains to interact with the scope of the Christiand tradition in everything it examines.

However, Migliore's book is unquestionably the best prospect I can think of for a one-volume ST textbook.

One of Freedom said...

I haven't read Grudem despite his stint with my denomination. Then again this charismatic evangelical chose to go to a Catholic seminary because I didn't want more of the same from my own experiences. Seeing as though I'm starting my masters of Systematic and Historical theology next semester, perhaps I should look at Wayne's work. Hmmmm.

R.T. Jones said...

I think Grudem's book is so widely read for the very reasons so many are frustrated with it: he is attempting to stay away from "what we may call the 'liberal' theological tradition." He says, "...someone needs to say that it is doubtful that liberal theologians have given us any significant insights into the doctrinal teaching of Scripture that are not already to be found in evangelical writers."(p17) A view like this can be very appealing to people who see themselves as deeply engaged in a culture war.
Similarly, Grudem appeals to neo-pietists for his emphasis on the devotional aspect of theology, with every chapter ending with a scripture memory verse and a hymn. I have a lot of friends who want to explore their beliefs without having to learn the correct way to pronounce "Barth". Grudem is exactly the kind of resource they are looking for.

Exiled Preacher said...

I embarrased to say that I haven't read Grudem's ST. The last big Evangelical ST I read was Reymond's. We used Calvin's Institutes at the set text for dogmatics when I studied at the London Theological Seminary.

Contemporary Reformed Theology is better accessed through multi-author series such as IVP's Contours of Christian Thelogy. The set has outanding contributions from Gerald Bray and Donald Macleod.

Robert Letham's The Holy Trinity is also a great read. It will be interesting to see if Kevin Vanhoozer will be tempted to write a full ST based on his proposals in The Drama of Doctrine.

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Kim's "what's a textbook" comment was a question I expected more of outside the U.S. I could wish the Oxford tutorial and attending lectures was a method used in the states. Unfortunately, we do not usually "read" for degrees. We get survey courses and assigned textbooks. Only in "electives" and advanced courses do major theologians (e.g. Barth, Moltmann, Pannenberg, etc.) get read.

Bruce and Demarest? Horrors!

I think the recommendation of Grenz's Theology for the Community of God is a good one (not available when I was in seminary). I liked the way my teacher, Molly Marshall, always gave choices for the major systematic text (even though that was more work on her part)and then assigned additional texts, some "conservative" and some "liberal" so that even survey students got exposure to a range.

I used Maquarrie's textbook along with Berkhof's Christian Faith and then also read Moltmann's The Crucified God, Sallie McFague's Models in Theology and others.


Were I teaching such courses currently, I would definitely use Migliore, along with James Wm. McClendon's Doctrine. I also would consider having students review Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki's God, Christ, Church as a way to familiarize them with process theology (a major current that students should know, whether or not they adopt it) and also introduces them to a major feminist theologian. Another approach might be to use Thomas Oden's 3 volumes, which would at least get students into the habit of thinking theologically in conversation with Patristic and Medieval writers.

Jordan said...

For those interested in Grudem, check out
http://www.theopedia.com/Wayne_Grudem

There is also some audio if you want to listen as you read (or if you don't have his book but want exposure to him).

Dave Shedden said...

Isn't this discussion simply another illustration of how theology has been decimated as a discipline since, let's say, the days of Scheiermacher? Would any two of the books mentioned so far even claim to have the same purpose? And when you compare the likes of Hendrikus Berkhof to Grudem, I suspect you are talking about different planes of theological reality. I'm not sure Grudem claims his book to be a dogmatic work as such, does he?

And, why does no-one use the classic American works of Brown and Clarke anymore?

erin said...

I think r.t. jones' post nailed it.

Ryan Buesnel said...

I still think Louis Berkhof's Systematic Theology is the best.

derek said...

You know i think a major reason for why this book is so popular is that Camups Crusade for Christ has used it for over 20 years. This organization is over 25,000 strong, a huge para-church ministry. This organization's use of it alone would probably make Grudem king.

Martin Kemp said...

I've always felt that the major weakness of Grudem is that there is no interaction with Historical Theology, but a benefit has been its usefulness in providing quick access to the gathered Biblical data on an issue. But this is something that a concordance can do. Aside from this, his book is useful in that he provides a evangelical/charismatic view on some issues which you don't often get in the other works suggested above.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Ben,

Though it's very late for me to comment yet the post and your question are irresistibly intriguing.

Over at Trinity Theological College, Singapore, McGrath's 4th ed. text is preferred as it's a good introduction to theology.

And that'll also lead the students to McGrath's other advanced works.

On the other hand, Grudem's text is surprisingly very dull. When I was looking for a systematic theology text, I'd never got enough reason to get Grudem though its latest edition's front cover is beautiful.

Not sure if his text is that popular worldwide, but it seems to be so in my part of the world.

If it's true that Grudem is the most widely used text, then no wonder the theological scene, especially at post-colonial countries like Malaysia and Singapore (where I'm from), is generally dull and unexciting as compared to other parts of the world.

Blessings.

andy goodliff said...

Michael - wouldn't it be good to encourage people to use more than one book, and so see the different theologies out there (those which you see as more 'liberal' and those which are more conservative and those which are more historical. what about colin gunton's 'A Christian Faith' or Stan Grenz's 'Theology for the Community of God' or 'The Cambridge Companion to Christian Doctrine'. I would say for an undergraduate course, historical theology is really important.

michael jensen said...

And, you are ABSOLUTELY RIGHT about the need to think theologically: this is a pastoral imperative. Ready made answers don't work in pastoral settings!

michael jensen said...

Well obviously it is a case of 'both/and': first year students (especially those who struggle academically, but not just them) find a textbook really useful so that they can get their bearings on each topic. The reality is, some students won't read widely (they'll be too busy doing their Greek and Hebrew), so it helps to at least have a guide to help them - and it helps to be in broad agreement with its approach.

A good textbook - and a good teacher - of course provides you with avenues to go deeper and wider. Personally, i got through my undergrad years with the Cambridge Companion and McGrath giving me the lie of the land! My complaint about McGrath is that he never tells you what he actually thinks: he just gives you a list of various views, which is helpful up to a point I guess, but not he full story.

michael jensen said...

Well, Ben this was always the difficulty at Moore: where are the good textbooks for an entry level theology course? We didn't like Grudem, we don't use Reymond or Erickson, and McGrath is useful but thin and very historical. Migloire is too liberal for us. Hendrikus Berkhof(which I like) too idiosyncratic.

Which would you recommend?

Perhaps you could publish your blogmatics!

Les said...

The arrogance of Christian never fails to surprise me. I guess we are all only one step removed from pharisees.

Grudem is a very good theologian. What I appreciate is that he is not easy to pin down. His work on "Prophecy" is excellent for pentecostals and charismatics who wish to understand the academic basis for this gifting.

His "Systematic Theology" is well thought out although I prefer Erickson as a foundational text.

I am not going to be able to engage in the erudite muck flinging that goes on but I would ask that we be Jesus-followers before academics. I have observed some comments that are blatantly sinful and dishonouring to God yet all couched in the language of the academy.

Ben Myers said...

Hi Les and JBH -- thanks for your comments. And I agree: I hope we can avoid "erudite muck flinging"!

I also agree with you about the charismatic sections of Grudem's Systematic Theology -- I think this stuff is very interesting and creative, and it has helped to foster serious theological reflection on Pentecostal/charismatic experience.

But I still can't help feeling discouraged at the popularity of Grudem's book as a classroom text -- there are plenty of better books available! In particular, a good theological textbook should model actual theological thinking, instead of merely providing students with the illusion of ready-made answers. After all, many theological students will go on to become pastors: and in pastoral ministry, what's needed is not ready-made answers, but the ability to think theologically in new and unpredictable situations.

kim fabricius said...

I live in the UK and studied theology at Oxford. What is a textbook? Who is Grudem?

Post a Comment

New book

Archive

Contact

Although I'm not always able to reply to all emails, please feel free to contact me.

Faith and Theology © 2008. Template by Dicas Blogger.

TOPO