Thank God for Spiritual Grandfathers

by Benjamin Vrbicek June 30, 2016

Thoughts on Wayne Grudem

A few months ago, Tim Challies wrote a post called, “Amusing 1-Star Reviews of Great Books.” After a short introduction, Challies “cut and pasted” a few dozen 1-star reviews of some of his favorite books, all for the purpose of showcasing “why we ought to be careful when allowing Amazon’s star ratings to influence our purchases.” As the title promised, the reviews were certainly amusing! 

Among his favorite books was Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem. A systematic theology is an attempt to say helpful things about the whole of the Christian faith as taught in the Bible. I remember, as a young Christian, when I first read Grudem’s book cover-to-cover. It taught me many things, including why there are church denominations; it’s not just that this pastor is funny and that one is serious, or this church sings hymns and that one doesn’t. No, different interpretations of the Bible create different denominations. 

Challies notes several Amazon reviewers who didn’t share my appreciation for Grudem. One writes: 

Make no bones about it: Grudem’s Systematic Theology represents about the dullest and least inspired end of the evangelical theological spectrum. His method is only too obvious: Announce your conclusions; line up the prooftexts; shoot holes through everyone else’s prooftexts; proudly announce the matter settled. 

Dull. Uninspired. Eisegesis, not exegesis (that is, stuffs ideas into the text, not takes truth out of the text). Oh yeah, don’t forget: prideful. 

Another reviewer writes: "No need to waste your money (that is what Wayne gets out of it)." 

I find this comment especially interesting in light of the only time I met Grudem, a time when I found him to be generous not greedy. He was teaching how the Bible should inform our political views to a group of about a hundred pastors. After his talk, he answered questions from the audience. I had one, so from the back side corner of the room, I raised my hand. Eventually, a kind woman made her way to my table and handed me the microphone she was holding. As I raised it towards my mouth, someone from the stage (not Grudem) said, “Okay, I think we need to move on. No more questions.” 

The woman looked sympathetically at me; she shrugged, snatched the microphone back, and walked away. I got snubbed. The eight people from my church who shared a table with me found this, shall we say, amusing

Though I lost some pride, I still had a question. So afterwards, I found Dr. Grudem at his table. He was standing beside an intimidating stack of his books, which were for sale. When it was my turn, he couldn’t have been more gracious and unassuming, listening to my question, answering it as best he could, and giving me time for a follow up. 

Then, he asked me a question. He asked if I had his book, Politics According to the Bible, because, as he said, “I go into that very question in a lot more detail.” 

What was I supposed to say? I didn’t have the book or the money to buy it, so I mumbled, “Ahhh . . . a guy at our office has it and I’m going to read it over the next week or two.” (This was actually true; the pastors at our church were teaching a class about the topic, and I did intend to read it.) 

But here’s what Grudem did: He took out his wallet, went over to the table, and bought me a copy of his own book—an expensive hardback copy! And I say it was “his book,” but it was only “his” because he wrote it. I found out later that it was the organization hosting the event who had provided the stack of books, so technically, as was pointed out, “someone should pay for it.” From a distance, I had loved and benefited from the ministry of Grudem for years, but in that moment, my appreciation for him grew by volumes.

Since that day, as I’ve listened to the audio from his Sunday school classes (which are free online), I’ve heard him show others the same care he showed me. And I’ve also learned how he has sacrificially lived the complementarianism that he’s so faithfully defended. For example, for the sake of his wife’s health, he left the large and established Trinity Evangelical Seminary to teach at the smaller and (then) less established Phoenix Seminary.

On December 22, 2015, Desiring God posted the article, “I Have Parkinson’s and I Am at Peace.” It was written by Grudem. It made me sad, a twinge of sorrow before Christmas. My grandfather died of Parkinson’s when I was in high school. I remember it well. In a way, and albeit mostly from a distance, Grudem has been a sort of spiritual grandfather to me. 

At the end of the article—after describing the disease, his renewed trust in the Lord, and his hope to finish several writing projects, including updating his Systematic Theology (from 2017–2019!)—he wrote, “I am at peace.” 

I love Wayne Grudem and “I thank my God in all my remembrance of [him]” (Philippians 1:3).