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How Can We Study Theology for a Lifetime? Dr. Wayne Grudem

Web Master
May 17, 2023
Faith Seeking Understanding
Faith Seeking Understanding
How Can We Study Theology for a Lifetime? - Wayne Grudem
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Guest: Dr. Wayne Grudem | Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Grudem as they discuss lifelong theological study. Topics of conversation include:

Dr. Grudem’s personal journey into theological study

  • 12 books that have had a significant impact on his understanding of the Bible and theology
  • Encouragement for people looking to begin studying theology
  • Theology as a foundation of truth for a deeper relationship with God and a faithful ministry.

Dr. Wayne Grudem serves as distinguished professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary. He received his doctorate from the University of Cambridge and served as General Editor of the ESV Study Bible (Crossway, 2008). Dr. Grudem is the author of several books, including Systematic Theology (Zondervan Academic, 2020), and What the Bible Says About How to Know God’s Will (Crossway, 2020).

As we close this season of our Faith Seeking Understanding podcast, we want to first thank you for being a faithful listener. We sincerely hope you have been encouraged and helped in your understanding of the faith!

Stay connected with us! Keep your ears open on this channel for future projects from Phoenix Seminary and connect with us by subscribing to ps.edu/shepherdsandscholars/.

Brian Arnold (00:00):

I just want to say, as we close this season of Faith Seeking Understanding Podcast, we want to first thank you for being a faithful listener. We sincerely hope you've been encouraged and helped in your understanding of the Christian faith. Second, we hope you'll stay connected with us. Keep your ears open for future projects, and you can connect with us by subscribing at ps.edu/shepherdsandscholars. Again, that link is ps.edu/shepherdsandscholars. Thanks for listening.

Intro (00:29):

Welcome to Faith Seeking Understanding, a podcast from Phoenix Seminary—helping Christians grow in their understanding of the faith, hosted by Dr. Brian Arnold, president of Phoenix Seminary.

Brian Arnold (00:44):

Well, today we want to bring you a special episode of Faith Seeking Understanding. This is our 100th episode. Our heart for this podcast was to help Christians grow in your faith. That's why we've tackled doctrinal topics, ethics, biblical studies. We long to see Christians continue to deepen in their understanding of God and the Bible, and how we ought to live as followers of Christ. And all this comes from a fundamental conviction that theology matters. I first came to take theology seriously as a senior in high school. But it was in college during my first semester that our Campus Crusade was working through John Piper's book, Desiring God. And from there, the theological hook was set in my soul. And not long after that, a mentor of mine knew that I was very interested in studying theology, and told me that I just had to read this book called Systematic Theology by a guy named Wayne Grudem.

Brian Arnold (01:34):

And that summer, I was completing a 500 hour internship for my paramedic degree, and I went to Barnes and Noble, and I remember buying that systematic theology book, and just devoured it that summer. And I can remember walking to the ambulance and turning it around and seeing that he was a graduate of Harvard for his undergrad, and seminary training at Westminster, PhD in New Testament from Cambridge. And that he worked at this place called Phoenix Seminary, which I had never heard of before. But I think it's fitting in this 100th episode to talk to my friend and colleague, Dr. Wayne Grudem, who's the author of that systematic theology, just to talk today about how we can study theology for a lifetime. Dr. Grudem, welcome back to our podcast.

Wayne Grudem (02:18):

Thank you, Brian. Good to be here.

Brian Arnold (02:20):

So that's just what I want to do today. I want to just talk to you as you reflect and think on your lifetime of studying theology, how our listeners can take some cues from that and study theology for their life as well. So I would love to just hear more about your story. How did you come to love the study of theology?

Wayne Grudem (02:41):

Well, I think it started back when I was 13 or 14. I don't quite remember. My pastor at a Baptist church in Eau Claire, Wisconsin taught a Thursday afternoon class after school on Baptist beliefs. And I read this little book, chapter by chapter, and found out you could find out how we got the Bible, find out what the Trinity is. You could find out that God is omnipresent and omniscient and omnipotent and eternal, and it explained what those meant. And the author was doing that by putting together verses on those topics from all different parts of the Bible. And all of a sudden, I was amazed to think that you can put together teachings from different parts of the Bible and come to a conclusion about what you should believe. I didn't know that at the time, but that junior high school after school religious studies experience set the pattern for my life.

Brian Arnold (03:44):

And then from there...which I think is really great, I think it's a good reminder for people even listening that you never know what's going to be said to a kid in your children's ministry, or youth ministry, or high school, early college, that's going to hit them in such a profound way. I remember for me it was sitting there in church, probably same age, junior high, and hearing the pastor string together a bunch of Bible verses in his sermon, and just thinking—how does he know all those? Like this is a pretty big book. How is he doing that? And it just struck me. But that really was a flash until my senior year of high school. So what was it from there, then, that really kind of helped set that hook for you?

Wayne Grudem (04:28):

Well, I picked up from my parents a habit of daily Bible reading and prayer time. So when I went off to college, I already had established a habit of spending some time in God's word, the Bible, and some time in prayer every day. And I continued in that through the rest of my life.

Brian Arnold (04:48):

What age were you when you started that?

Wayne Grudem (04:52):

Brian, I don't remember.

Wayne Grudem (04:56):

Wow, that's a good question. It was early, probably sometime in junior high high school, but I don't remember. In college I majored in economics, and thought I was going to go to law school and then into politics. But I became a leader and eventually president of the Christian Fellowship Group at Harvard, and found that I was actually a sort of pastor to other students. And I loved it. Then I heard the president of Westminster Seminary, Edmund Clowney, he would talk, he said—if you think you're called into Bible teaching or preaching or being a pastor, try out teaching and see how it goes. So I went to the Sunday school superintendent at Park Street Church in Boston and said—you have any classes that I could teach? And he said—yes, fourth grade boys. So I taught 12 fourth grade boys, who were noisy and unruly and just a lot of fun. And I enjoyed doing that. Later, Margaret and I got married and we taught seventh grade boys and girls Sunday school class. But I loved explaining God's Word and applying it to people's lives. So I shifted my economics major, I was almost done, I completed the requirements and graduated, but went to seminary instead of to law school. I went to Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. Got a tremendous education there.

Brian Arnold (06:25):

All right. Before we even go further into that, I've heard the story of the fourth grade boys before. Would you tell the last part of that? What happened 30 years later?

Wayne Grudem (06:34):

Yes. I was speaking in Clearwater, Florida at a church, series of meetings. After one of the evening talks, a navy chaplain came up to me and said—you maybe don't remember me, but I was in your fourth grade boys Sunday school class, and you prayed with me to receive Christ. There he was, a Navy chaplain. And I was just...I was deeply thankful to the Lord for that. And it was an indication of—we don't know the results of our ministry.

Brian Arnold (07:06):

That's right. Who knows how many other people would say that about your ministry, that you'll just not know this side of heaven. But just staying faithful to what you've been called to do. So you're at Westminster then, and which professors had the most profound impact on you? What were you starting to read, both theologically, that really started to spark your interest to become a theologian, but also even devotionally at that time? Were there things or people you were reading or listening to and preaching that were helping that even devotional aspect of your life?

Wayne Grudem (07:38):

Westminster gave out to prospective students a little book called The Hidden Life of Prayer by David McIntyre. And I have read through that book numerous times since then. It's just the story of the lives of people who had significant prayer ministries at various times in church history. I also...I've been brought up a Baptist in a sort of a dispensational background—Scofield Reference Bible teaching was good. But I was being challenged to think about reformed theology. And I remember thinking—these people who are espousing a reformed view of the sovereignty of God are also the people who are doing study on the way the Bible applies to mathematics and science and medicine and education and the study of history and business and all of life. And that was a strong argument in favor of a reformed view of the sovereignty of God over all things. You asked at the beginning, Brian, about what books have influenced me. I have a list on my website, waynegrudem.com. I think there are 12 of them. The Bible more than any other book, far beyond any other book. Should I read the list?

Brian Arnold (09:05):

Yeah, I would love that.

Wayne Grudem (09:06):

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. Louis Berkof, Systematic Theology. J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism. I read that in college and thought—I wish I could write that clearly and argue that precisely.

Brian Arnold (09:23):

It's a book that you still require your students to read today.

Wayne Grudem (09:26):

I do, Christianity and Liberalism.

Brian Arnold (09:28):

Which was written what, 1923?

Wayne Grudem (09:31):

1923, approximately.

Brian Arnold (09:32):

Okay. A hundred years ago this year. And when you read it, it feels like he was writing it yesterday. It's an amazing word.

Wayne Grudem (09:37):

Right. And students who read it all of a sudden realize why their liberal protestant church that they went to growing up didn't preach the gospel. Because it was just—Christianity is a manmade religion, rather than the Bible being the very words of God to us. So that was fourth, Machen—Christianity and Liberalism. Number five, Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith. My senior year at Harvard, I took a class in philosophy from the Department Chairman, Rogers Albridge. And it was about 20 students with a discussion on...a lot of time on Descartes, much of the time on whether there was a God and whether we could know that he existed. And I read Cornelius Van Til's Defense of the Faith while participating actively, eagerly, vigorously in the discussions with my fellow students. And I found Van Til extremely helpful, saying that the Christian faith comes as a whole system, not just one individual fact at a time, but it all works together. I mentioned already McIntyre, The Hidden Life of Prayer. John Murray, Principles of Conduct. Murray was a Westminster professor, and that's an ethics book. Which again, was an eyeopener to me that you can discover what the Bible says about all aspects of life and Christian ethics. John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied. B.B. Warfield, The Plan of Salvation <laugh>. That's a different book.

Brian Arnold (11:13):

How so?

Wayne Grudem (11:15):

There are no Bible verses in it.

Brian Arnold (11:17):

Oh, interesting.

Wayne Grudem (11:18):

But it's mixed in biblical content. And he distinguishes belief from non-belief in God, and then among belief in God, Trinitarian versus non-Trinitarian belief. And then Roman Catholic versus Protestant, Protestant liberal versus Protestant conservative, Protestant conservative versus reformed Protestant. And it's a well-reasoned book, The Plan of Salvation. It impacted me. In Warfield, the inspiration and authority of the Bible—that was my grounding in biblical inerrancy. And it was huge. I did go one year to Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California, but left after the first year, because they had abandoned their commitment to inerrancy of Scripture. And Warfield was a big help to me in thinking through that question.

Brian Arnold (12:10):

Which if I could, if I can jump in again, just real fast. I don't think you mentioned this when you said you were at Park Street in Boston during your time at Harvard, but Harold Ockenga was the pastor there, and people like him and Carl F. H. Henry were influential in the founding of Fuller Seminary. And then George Marsden even has a book about how quickly Fuller kind of turned away from some of those founding principles and convictions like the inerrancy of Scripture. So yeah, you went there in the 1970s and already found that they were teaching things that were not in accord with the founding of the school. And then, yeah, transferred to Westminster. I think that's a fascinating part of the story in American Evangelicalism in the last 50 years. I think that's an important part of the story. So, sorry. And then the last two books?

Wayne Grudem (13:00):

Yeah. I could mention that Carl Henry, who was one of the original founding faculty members at Fuller, Carl and Helga Henry sat in our living room in Illinois after Sunday dinner, and they said—we still don't know how Fuller Seminary went wrong in the way it did.

Brian Arnold (13:18):

Wow.

Wayne Grudem (13:19):

It's quite amazing. But it was a commitment to try to please the liberal, secular—I think secular—liberal academic institutions and denominations that led them to move away from inerrancy...well, anyway, that's another story. Last two books: Geerhardus Vos, V as in Victor, O-S, Biblical Theology. This was a introduction to biblical theology to me that was...every page was so packed with wonderful insights into Scripture. And then the last one I put on the list was John Wimber, Power Evangelism, because Margaret and I spent five years in the vineyard movement and had wonderful...it was ministering to us in our personal spiritual lives, but enabled us to minister to others as well. And we saw numerous, numerous immediate answers to prayer for various physical and emotional and situational needs in people's lives. So that's a list of 12. There are probably more.

Brian Arnold (14:21):

Well, and I think we all have those lists of books that have impacted us. And it really is even where you're at in your life, in your Christian walk, how much time you've been with the Lord, what you've read already, that I think in many ways sets those books of great importance in our life. Like I mentioned, John Piper's Desiring God was so impactful for me as a college student, and really set me on this trajectory. Your book, Systematic Theology. I always mention James Sire's Universe Next Door, which really helped me understand how to understand Christian worldview, and the questions that are asked, and to dismantle other worldviews like philosophical naturalism. And then I always put on J. I. Packer's Quest for Godliness, because I love how he did history, but it also is such an impactful book through the Puritans, who were just deeply devotional. So maybe I should fill mine out till 12, but there's four of them on my end. So then you went from Westminster, felt called by God to go to the next level, if you will, to pursue PhD work. You decided to go to Cambridge. What made you want to study New Testament, and what were some of those impactful things that God was doing in your life there?

Wayne Grudem (15:38):

Well, I ended up...I had some life experience in people connected with the charismatic movement, but I was also a graduate—or a student—at Westminster Seminary, which was strongly suspicious of miraculous gifts today. And so I ended up writing a PhD dissertation on one hot issue in that controversy, and that is the gift of prophecy. And when I got to Cambridge, you might imagine, I was wondering—would my faith be strong, or would I succumb to the more liberal tendencies in the university? First thing I ended up doing on the gift of prophecy in the New Testament was the background study on the nature and function of prophecy in the Old Testament. And lo and behold, what did I find? It claimed to be God's very words, again and again. And claimed to be absolutely truthful. And I documented that on a survey of the Old Testament teachings on prophecy. And my supervisor, professor, C. F. D. Moule, very famous—pronounced it Moule—New Testament professor, read what I wrote and said, "Well, I guess that is what it says, isn't it?" <laugh> And he asked me to present it to a group of PhD students. So my confidence in the truthfulness of Scripture, and the absolute authority of Scripture, deepened and was strengthened during my PhD study.

Wayne Grudem (17:09):

What else? Our oldest son was born there. We had wonderful friends and a great church in Cambridge. And then partway through my three years in Cambridge, I had an opportunity to teach for an Intervarsity group in Austria at Schloss Mittersill to teach a class on Christian ethics. And I found I liked the classroom, I liked teaching, I liked interacting with students. And so, when time came to finish my PhD work and get a job, I went to Bethel College in St. Paul, Minnesota for four years. And then Trinity Divinity School in Illinois for 20 years. And now here 22 years at Phoenix Seminary, which has been great.

Brian Arnold (18:00):

And I can imagine some people listening and thinking—well, you guys are professional theologians. And I use that word a lot lighter about me than you. And of course we study and we read these great books of theology, and that's kind of what God has called us into. But I'd love for you to take a few minutes, just talk to a listener who says—you know, I want to whet the appetite for theology. I want to start studying these things. I have no idea where to begin. I don't know what that path looks like. What encouragement would you give to them, and how can they start taking some steps to grow in this area?

Wayne Grudem (18:37):

Oh, boy. Enroll at Phoenix Seminary.

Brian Arnold (18:41):

There you go! <laugh>.

Wayne Grudem (18:45):

Well, that's one thing. And I have in my class that I teach on Tuesday afternoons here, I have one retired businessman in his early seventies, and another retired funeral director, actually, in his fifties or sixties. It's not too late. And they're just interacting with students, and they're providing additional wisdom and insight. I've also had a number of people, Brian, say that they're—just in reading my systematic theology, though it's 1600 pages—they're surprised by two things. One, it's easy to understand. And two, it helps their spiritual life. So I hope it would increase, encourage people's appetite for theological study.

Brian Arnold (19:41):

And I can testify to that. I know it's hard for you to speak of your own work in those ways, but that's the story of my life—is reading that, understanding theology in a way that took me deeper but was accessible. And it can be intimidating, looking at a 1600 page book. But for those listening, really, these self-contained chapters that you can just read a week at a time if you wanted to, and in a year or two years you've really studied the totality of theology from the Word of God all the way through end times, through eschatology. So it's a very readable resource. Yeah. What else would you point them to?

Wayne Grudem (20:19):

Just spending time in the Lord's presence. Every day I read...most days, some days I really rush, but most days I read sections from the Old Testament—usually a chapter—and then a chapter from the New Testament. And I have a notebook of things I pray for myself, my family, my relatives, my friends, my church activities, seminary, et cetera. But then the most joyful time is just time when I spend, not reading another verse, not saying another prayer, but just resting in the Lord's presence and enjoying his presence with me. It's during those times that a lot of problems in life, the answer appears clear all of a sudden, or the Lord puts on my mind something new that I hadn't been thinking about that I could undertake as a project, or many other things. But just resting in the Lord's presence and knowing God personally is what the Christian life is all about. And if we neglect that, everything else goes awry eventually.

Brian Arnold (21:40):

You, I believe, have your students read...I can't remember, is it Helmut Thielicke?

Wayne Grudem (21:50):

A Little Exercise for Young Theologians.

Brian Arnold (21:51):

That's right. That's right. Which is a helpful place to start—but a lot of these same kinds of ideas, if I recall—that we can't let our desire to study theology outpace our desire to be with the Lord. And I think a lot of people get concerned about that. That one of the reasons why they don't want to study theology is they feel like they'll lose that devotional aspect. But what I've seen in your life, even, is the complete opposite, is theology really serves to fuel that devotional aspects of your life and your desire to be in the Lord's presence. And you're doing it with a fuller understanding of who he is, which can only help in those moments.

Wayne Grudem (22:31):

I think so, as long as we're believing in the Bible and believing things that are true about God. And that's what the Bible teaches us, of course.

Brian Arnold (22:39):

Of course. And for those listening, I'll follow up on your plug. If you want to go deeper into the things of God, and you're here in Phoenix—or you're somewhere else—whether through coming to Phoenix Seminary or joining us online, it's a great place to study with an incredible faculty who love the Lord, believe his Word, totally truthful, inherent, inspired, infallible, and love the disciplines of history and languages and theology to really help give that foundation of biblical truth for a lifetime. We talk about studying for a lifetime of faithful ministry, and that doesn't just mean people who are in vocational ministry. It means all those who are called to serve the Lord in whatever capacity that they're in. And I appreciate your faithfulness of theological education for 40 plus years, seeing as God's called you there in your writing ministry that has really impacted this generation.

Brian Arnold (23:36):

I like to say that...kind of what John Piper preached into existence, even through Passion: One Day Live, and what he's been able to do in awakening in many ways. But you've been the theologian of this generation, and I've benefited from that. And just want to thank you for the impact that you've had in my life. And I know a lot of the other guys I know who came to study theology with me during my time in seminary were there in large measure because of reading your systematic theology. So thank you for giving your life to studying theology so that we could study theology as well.

Wayne Grudem (24:11):

Well, thank you, Brian. I'm thankful that the Lord has allowed me to have some positive impact on the Church, so I'm thankful for that. And I'm now at 75 just concerned that I don't make any mistake and adopt some wrongful teaching.

Brian Arnold (24:32):

Yeah, well...

Wayne Grudem (24:33):

In the last years of my life. I've seen people not quite finish well, and I want to finish well.

Brian Arnold (24:40):

Well, we can pray to that end. And I have every confidence that you will. Well, thank you Dr. Grudem, for being with us today. And I just want to say, as we close this season of Faith Seeking Understanding Podcast, we want to first thank you for being a faithful listener. We sincerely hope you've been encouraged and helped in your understanding of the Christian faith! Second, we hope you'll stay connected with us. Keep your ears open for future projects, and you can connect with us by subscribing at ps.edu/shepherdsandscholars. Again, that link is ps.edu/shepherdsandscholars. Thanks for listening.

Outro (25:17):

Thank you for listening to Faith Seeking Understanding. It means so much to us that this content is helping you grow in your understanding of the faith. I want to take a moment to tell you about our new online learning experience at Phoenix Seminary. Over the last year, we've been creating what we believe to be the highest quality of online courses for ministry training. If you're called to train for a lifetime of faithful service, but can't join us on campus, I'd like to invite you to join us online. Take courses featuring some of the guests you've heard on Faith Seeking Understanding, including Wayne Grudem, Mike Thigpen, Steve Duby, myself, and more. Learn more about Phoenix seminary online, and even access the entire online lecture content for my church history course at ps.edu/online.

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