Saturday, June 17, 2006

Wayne Grudem's not-very-Systematic Theology

Due to my misfortune yesterday with my tire, this morning I was back at the car place, getting the tire fixed and having the mechanic redo the lug nuts, which were excessively tight. So I spent another morning lounging at the bookstore, over coffee and a roll (sigh!). This morning, after reading the paper, I picked up a book called Systematic Theology by Dr. Wayne Gruden (click on headline for particulars).

This is a 1994 book, and as I suspected, it serves as a textbook in Protestant seminaries (see reviews at Amazon, where posters say they used it as such). I find it worthwhile to see how Evangelicals "do" theology.

I won't attempt to evaluate how well Dr. Grudem tackles specifically Evangelical and Reformed topics, which clearly was his focus. But of course I was interested in (a) how he handles specifically Catholic matters and (b) how he might tap into Catholic sources for areas of agreement.

I am sorry to report that I found little of the latter; very little mention or citation of specifically Catholic material came except where he found fault with it, although he did make a point to say he would reference, in each chapter where possible, two Catholic treatments of the subjects.

As far as his treatment of areas of disagreement, I think Dr. Grudem should be embarrassed. If he was going to deal with Catholic teachings, he ought to do a better job.

His choices of Catholic sources were curious, although not indefensible. For "traditional," he cited Ludwig Ott; for "since Vatican II," he cited Richard McBrien. Now, I don't recall just when McBrien's Catholicism was deemed unacceptable by the bishops, so Dr. Grudem may not have been aware of that. Only Father McBrien's most extreme critics would say he doesn't get everything right; indeed, it was a couple of key areas where he fell short, suggesting the rest of his work was competent (I don't use McBrien; why should I?). Also, in fairness to Dr. Grudem, the Catechism of the Catholic Church was just then coming out, so he may not have realized what a goldmine that would have been, or had access to it in English.

I won't quarrel with citing Ott, although I am not very familiar with him, I know that he enjoys a good reputation; he wrote his work in German, however, and translations naturally vary.

What is puzzling, of course, for a Catholic is why so slender a selection of Catholic sources? I can sympathize with Dr. Grudem, or anyone in his position, trying to decide what Catholic sources to consult! He wasn't presenting a Catholic systematic theology; but by his own admission, he said the reason he included Catholic sources at all was because of how influential Catholic teaching is! (Now there's an understatement vis-a-vis Christian theology!) For example: Aquinas does not appear in his index!

Then, it dawned on me: each of the "schools" or "traditions" he cited, with sources, represents a movement identified with either one, principal figure, or a handful: Calvinism, Lutheranism, Dispensationalism, Pentecostalism (the possible exception would be Anglicanism, but even there, that's a much narrower movement, in terms of its specifically Anglican content).

But even that isn't the worst of it; Dr. Grudem proceeds to embarrass himself in how he deals with those specifically Catholic issues.

He talks about the questions of the canon of Scripture, without noting the evidence of what the Church in Rome, and the Churches of North Africa, had to say on the subject in the late 300s; nor does he note what J.I. Packer noted in his The New Testament Documents: Are they Reliable?" -- that the early Church so made the Greek Old Testament (which contained the OT books disputed by Protestants) its own, that the Jews of the time adopted a new canon in distinction from that of the Christians!

His treatment of Catholic understanding of justification and grace isn't too bad; he repeats the canard about the grace of Christ not being sufficient (why can't someone of his learning understand that Catholics teach and believe that anything that happens in a Catholic's life, to help his salvation, is a fruit of Christ's coming, dying, and rising for our salvation? There is no other source but Christ!), and he repeats the canard about the Mass "repeating" Christ's sacrifice, even after he quotes Ott saying the Mass is "identical with" Christ's sacrifice! His most embarrassing error comes in treating venial and mortal sin: he actually claims mortal sins are those which can't be forgiven!

It is discouraging to think that many Evangelical pastors' understanding of Catholic teaching relies on something like this. It shouldn't in any case; but I rather suspect it does. After all, the book is called Systematic Theology.


Terry said...

Unfortunately, I would imagine that he wouldn't stand to be corrected. It's been my experience on both sides of the fence that Rule 1 of theological debate is to never admit you're wrong or that you possibly misunderstood something.

I wonder just how much of the prolonging of the tragic Protestant revolt is due to pride, again on both sides.

Anonymous said...

Yo, Fr. Martin (as they say in Philadelphia): I never heard of this guy, and I worked in an evangelical Anglican church for almost seven years. Of course, the Anglicans know Catholicism perhaps better than many other Protestant sects, because we are so close on some matters and so far away on others. We've been begging the Vatican to recognize our orders since about the time Cardinal Newman became a Catholic! The person who probably best represents us on the evangelical side is The Rev. John Stott. Over the past five years or so, however, evangelicals and Catholics in this area have become much more chummy. We have a dialogue going on (a serious dialogue) between local evangelical leaders and leading Catholics. On the Anglican side, evangelicals sometimes feel they have more in common with Catholics than with liberal Anglicans :-)

Here's an article I found from about a month ago...just to show how Byzantine the Anglican-Catholic relationship can get!

I agree with Terry about the pride issue. Humility is in very short supply.

By the way, my experience with the Eastern Orthodox is that they seem convinced that they are members of the one true church. What do you make of their claim?

Anglican theologians accept Catholic devotion to Mary
After 500 years churches agree on the mother of Jesus

Stephen Bates, religious affairs correspondent
Tuesday May 17, 2005


After nearly 500 years of intense division, Anglican and Roman Catholic theologians yesterday declared that one of the two faiths' most fundamental differences - the position of Mary, the mother of Christ - should no longer divide them.
The move, aimed at reconciling Protestants to Catholicism's devotion to the Blessed Virgin, exemplified in thousands of statues in churches and shrines across the world, cuts across one of the more arcane disputes between the two churches, but is likely to alarm some evangelicals and conservatives.

A document called Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ, published yesterday in Seattle and to be released in London on Thursday, declares: "We do not consider the practice of asking Mary and the saints to pray for us as communion dividing ... we believe that there is no continuing theological reason for ecclesiastical division on these matters."

The report was drawn up by a joint working party of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission which has been engaged in often tortuous negotiations about the two churches' differences since reconciliation began in the 1960s.

The group, which included scholars and senior churchmen (and two women) from both sides, was headed by the Most Rev Peter Carnley, the Archbishop of Perth and the Most Rev Alexander Brunett, Catholic Archbishop of Seattle.

Others in the working party included Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, leader of the Catholic church in England and Wales, and Bishop Walter Kasper, who heads the Vatican's council for promoting Christian unity, and on the Anglican side, the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, the evangelical Bishop of Rochester.

If the report is accepted - and the document makes clear some difficulties remain - it would signal the ending of one significant difference between the two churches. They are still divided over other crucial issues, including the ordination of women.

Protestants have historically had a different view of the significance of Mary and particularly her role as a figure able, like Christ, to intercede directly with God.

They also have difficulties with Catholic belief in her immaculate conception - the idea, formally promulgated in 1854, that Mary was free from the stain of original sin from the moment of her own conception - and with her assumption, body and soul, into heaven at the end of her life, which the Catholic church laid down as official doctrine as recently as 1950.

Protestants have argued there is no biblical basis for such beliefs.

But the report talks of significant agreement and further reconciliation having been reached.

The report's findings were welcomed last night by high church Anglo-Catholics, many of whom do venerate Mary. Father Philip North, administrator of the Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in Norfolk - which is periodically picketed by hardline Protestants - said: "I think it is very good news and many Anglicans will have no problem with it.

"We do occasionally have extremists waving banners and shouting at us but their demonstrations are getting smaller every year."

But the Rev David Hilborn, theological spokesman for the Evangelical Alliance, said: "It is a huge stumbling block and it cannot just be swept away."

Some Anglicans were last night already wondering whether too much was being conceded to Catholics on an issue they see as peripheral to ecumenism.

Canon Martyn Percy, Principal of Ripon College, Cuddesdon, one of the Church of England's main theological training colleges, said: "The whole debate seems to be taking place on Catholic terms, on issues about which Protestants have little to say.

"The worship of Mary comes from an entirely different culture."

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006

Fr Martin Fox said...


There is one, true Church, and I would say the Orthodox Church is part of it.

By the way: I forgot to mention Dr. Grudem never mentions Orthodox theology -- at all! It's as if the Orthodox don't exist. That's even more embarrassing, seems to me.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Martin: Are the Orthodox part of the one true Church because of their evolution out of the roots of the early church, or because of the doctrines they share with the Catholic Church? And, given your experiences as an evangelical, how do you see Protestant denominations? Do they have varieties of degrees of truth, but marred by error?

That guy Grudem sounds like he's trapped in his own subculture-this is a common problem, it seems to me, among theologians and professors in general. I've certainly seen it as a pastor, too.
It is really hard to listen to others, particularly when they are saying something that makes you squirm.

Fr Martin Fox said...

Pastor Elizabeth:

The Orthodox are part of the Church because their Churches have apostolic origin, valid orders and sacraments, and the same Faith.

As far as Protestants...their baptism makes them Christians, and gives them a real, but imperfect, union with the Catholic Church; but their denominations are not Churches in the true sense.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Martin: Hmmm...I could probably drive myself nuts trying to figure this one out, and I'll leave it to finer minds than mine. However, as a Protestant with acknowledged and deep roots in the Catholic tradition, it's very hard for me to understand how Anglicans and Catholics differ significantly in our sacramental theology or understanding of Holy Orders or of apostolic succession. Let's leave out for a moment the question of whether women can be ordained, or the whole gay ordination question: on those matters the Anglican Communion is either divided or the American church is abberant. It takes me aback that we focus so much on what divides us instead of what unites us.

On the other hand, numerous Protestant groups split and splinter whenever they have some differences, and that's a horrible witness.

So would you say that where Protestants share a sacrament in common with the Catholic Church (like baptism, or perhaps the Eucharist) they are in imperfect union, but otherwise are in error?

I wonder, and not in a confrontative but in a curious way, if you and my other blog colleagues have ever worshipped in an Anglican church, and if so, what your experience of worship has been. I've worshipped in a number of Catholic churches, and it's hard for me to grasp the difference.

PS I hope that you are having a good vacation!

Fr Martin Fox said...

Pastor Elizabeth:

Yes, a common (valid) baptism puts all Christians in an imperfect union, but vis-a-vis the Catholic Faith, I would not say, "otherwise in error" about Christians not in union with Rome. Various sects and groups are "in error" in various ways, but we and they are in union on substantial matters, but insufficiently to allow for sharing in the sacraments.

As to the Anglican Church, I would defer to the finding of the late holy father, Pope Leo XIII, of happy memory in general, but for you, perhaps not on this subject: he determined that Anglican orders are, in the main, not valid.

My understanding and explanation of that is simply that something essential was removed in the celebration of ordination, during the English "Reformation," and therefore valid orders perished in the Anglican Church, apart from special circumstances where it has been preserved. I am not an expert in this field, so if you ask me to expound on Pope Leo's finding, I would not be in a position to add much at this time; I rather suspect you are familiar with what he wrote, or have heard of it?

There is a site in my list of links: Pontifications, which is the project of Al Kimel, who was ordained an Episcopal priest, but has become Catholic and is not a priest in the Catholic Church. I have a feeling he would welcome this discussion, and have far more useful things to say than I; assuming he hasn't had such a discussion already, archived somewhere on his page!

Anonymous said...

Fr. Martin, that Pontifications is quite some blog! Its extraordinary degree of intellectual content certainly separates it from many others I have read (not yours, I'm enjoying how you combine down to earth reflections with intellectual rigor) It could be addictive. I will contact Al Kimel (not sure from your post if he is or is not a priest) once I figure out how to do it on his blog. When I was a seminarian, I spent some time researching all of this.

As an exercise in humility, I have to find out what was missing back in the 16th century! At any rate, I appreciate your reflections and the tip about Al Kimel. It's also interesting to see how a former Anglican views the Episcopal Church. Someone you might appreciate, if you haven't read her work already, is Frederika Mathewes-Greene. She's a former Anglican, now an Eastern Orthodox writer (married to a priest). I think she goes by the name of "Mother Fred." I've reviewed some of her work, and she's quite a fiesty and well informed apologist for the Orthodox.

Fr Martin Fox said...

Pastor Elizabeth:

Re: Kimel's ordination status: depends on who you ask. He was ordained an Anglican priest; he is no longer an Anglican, but a Catholic, and he is not a Catholic priest. (I don't know whether he actually renounced his ordination in the Anglican Church. It is not a question I have asked.)

Derek Jenkins said...

Pastor Elizabeth:

Al has an email address on his sidebar. I am sure he would be delighted to hear from you.