A Critical Review of Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem
Disclaimer: while this review is critical in nature, it’s not my place to judge Grudem’s motives, sincerity, or faith. All believers will stand before Jesus Christ very soon to give an account —starting with myself. The critical standard applied to Mr. Grudem’s book should be equally applied to my review based on the Word of God.
This review is written with the bias that the Bible is the sole authority for faith and practice. Many Christians today interpret their Bibles under the lens of a theological system such as Reformed, Dispensation, or Free Grace Theology. In contrast, the early church had “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3b).
An early influential scholar was Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354-430). His views were further refined over hundreds of years into what today is popularly called Calvinism (Reformed Theology). Should you be interested in knowing how past scholars have heavily influenced the modern church, please consider the book titled, Will the Theologians Please Sit Down.
One’s systematic theology determines their view of God, salvation, and much more. An understanding of God’s character and the response God requires for salvation are at stake. Therefore, it’s important that each person allow God’s Word to define their theological framework.
The Bible should not be interpreted under the lens of any man-made systematic theology. The Bereans were not commended for checking a theological system. They were commended because the Scripture was their authority for faith and practice.
Because the doctrine of salvation (soteriology) is so important, it will be the primary focal point. This includes chapters 36 and 40. More chapters may be reviewed in the future.
Chapter 36, Justification (Right Legal Standing Before God)
For the topic of legal justification, Grudem writes, “This declaration involves two aspects. First, it means that he declares we have no penalty to pay for sin, including past, present, and future sins” (Grudem, 2009, page 725).
Where does the Bible state one receives a pardon for future uncommitted sins upon entry into the family of God? Bible doctrine for the church should come from the Scripture —not from popular theologians like Grudem.
There are no passages in Scripture that make such a claim. We are forgiven of former sins when we enter the family of God (2 Peter 1:9). If his argument is true, there is no need to confess one’s sins since they were all forgiven (1 John 1:9).
Furthermore, Jesus stated that in order to have forgiveness of sins we must forgive others in the present. Jesus said: “For if [conditional] you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if [conditional] you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).
Grudem goes on to writes, “After a long discussion of justification by faith alone (Rom. 4:1-5:21), and a parenthetical discussion on remaining sin in the Christian life, Paul returns to his main argument in the book of Romans and tells what is true of those who have been justified by faith: ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus'” (page 725). Let’s plow in and uncover the truth.
The verse he provides describes those who are presently in the faith: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are [right now] in Christ Jesus‘” (8:1). This verse doesn’t describe (without exaggeration) that —once in Christ —always in Christ. Furthermore, those in Christ in the present have (in the present) no condemnation. When assumptions are read into the Bible as facts, they validate doctrines not intended by its authors.
Jesus said, “Every branch in me [in Christ] that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2). Jesus went on to explain that the key to fruit bearing is willfully choosing to abide in Him: “If anyone does not abide [ongoing conditional choice] in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (15:6). The Bible can define our theological framework or popular teachers like Grudem can.
Dear believer in Christ, there are no short cuts for a right theological framework (over time) that brings great honor to Jesus Christ. We must learn truth over time by sitting at the feet of Jesus with an open Bible and an open heart. The alternative is enslavement to a man-made theological system that predefines God’s Word.
Jesus said, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).
Grudem continues his hypothetical theology: “The idea of full forgiveness of sins [including future] is prominent when Paul discusses justification by faith alone in Romans 4” (page 725).
So where are these promises in Romans 4? One has to wear Grudem’s Reformed hypothetical glasses to find them. He provides verses 6-8, Psalms 103:12, and states: “this justification therefore clearly involves the forgiveness of sins” (page 725). But these verses are silent about future uncommitted sins and were written to those in ongoing faith.
False teachers twist God’s Word into saying what God never wrote. Let’s examine these verses and expose Grudem’s theology. We will start with the verse prior (Rom. 6:5) so the audience (context) can be identified as those in ongoing faith:
“And to the one who does not work [as wages due without belief, see verse prior] but believes [ongoing belief!] in him who justifies [ongoing action] the ungodly, his faith is counted [ongoing action] as righteousness, just [in the same/similar way] as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts [ongoing action] righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven [describes past sins], and whose sins are covered [right now]; blessed is [ongoing action; near context describes those with ongoing faith] the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin” (Romans 4:5-8).
The passage above does not even discuss future uncommitted sins without adding assumptions to the text. If our theology is to be correct, we must draw out truth from God’s word and seek to mirror an understanding of the original audience. In contrary, reading theology into scripture adulterates God’s holy Word.
The second proof text for Grudem’s false theology where believers receive a pass at salvation for all future, uncommitted sins is Psalms 103:12. Here is the passage including the verses before and after for context:
“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him [those in present, ongoing faith!]; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions [past sins] from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him [those in ongoing faith]” (Psalms 103:11-13). The verse that Grudem provided (Psalms 103:12) is sandwiched by two verses that describe those who continue in the faith! Again, these verses don’t comment on future, uncommitted sins without exaggerating the text. Secondly, these promises, in context are written to those who are in an active relationship with God.
The sure way to know how God defines the doctrine of justification is to invest time reading and studying God’s Word —not Grudem’s book! The Apostle Paul warned: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers [such as Grudem] to suit their own passions [such as “all your future sins are covered”], and will turn away from listening to the truth [God’s Word] and wander off into myths” (2 Tim.4:3-4).
God’s Word teaches at least two fundamental aspects related to Justification. First, at salvation (Rom. 5:1,9; 10:10; 1 Cor. 6:11, etc.) a sinner is declared righteous by God. This is often described as a courtroom scene. Newly declared righteous sinners don’t receive a pass granting them forgiveness of future uncommitted sins. Many warning passages are written to believers. Here are just a few: Galatians 5:16-24; 1 Corinthians 1:9-11; John 15:1-11; Hebrews 3:12-15; Colossians 1:21-23; Matthew 6:14-15; Mark 11:25; etc.
Secondly, justification in the present is conditional on ongoing present tense belief in Jesus Christ. Grudem is correct when he writes, “Therefore the second aspect of justification is that God must declare us not to be merely neutral in his sight but actually to be righteous in his sight. In fact, he must declare us to have the merits of perfect righteousness before him” (page 725-726). But Grudem omits an important biblical truth —ongoing justification is conditional on remaining in belief. Let’s examine some verses that teach that present tense justification is conditional.
“The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe [ongoing belief]. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified [verb: right now in the present; this ongoing justification is conditional see verse 22] by his grace as a gift [ongoing, conditional gift], through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former [not future] sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith [right now] in Jesus. Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? [an ongoing action] No, but by the law of faith [ongoing action]. For we hold that one is justified [in the present] by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify [future verb] the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith” (Romans 3:22-30).
Here are more verses that declare one must remain in the faith to experience ongoing justification:
“And to the one who does not work [as wages due without belief; see prior verse] but believes [present tense; ongoing action; conditional truth] in him who justifies [in the present] the ungodly, his faith is counted [ongoing] as righteousness” (Romans 4:5).
“Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith [requirement]” (Galatians 3:11).
“You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law [an ongoing action]; you have fallen away from grace” (Galatians 5:4).
“So that being [right now] justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7).
“You see that a person is justified [ongoing] by works and not by faith alone [real faith will show itself in works]” (James 5:24).
Grudem wrongly concludes that the justification of Romans 5:1 is a completed action (against the numerous passages just provided). There are no contradictions in Scripture. Here is the verse: “Therefore, since we have been justified [a stated past fact] by faith, we have [right now] peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). For this verse Grudem writes, “The aorist passive participle dika’thentes placed before the main verb conveys the sense of a completed event prior to the present tense main verb, “We have peace,” giving the sense, “Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace” (Footnote #5, page 727).
I own several Greek grammar books. There is no rule in Greek grammar that when a passive verb is placed before a present tense verb, it makes the passive verb a completed action. Grudem’s claim is subjective and unsupported, it contradicts numerous passages where justification is conditional on remaining in the faith.
According to Greek grammar, the aorist tense alone (outside of context and grammatical features) does not indicate if an action is complete. The Greek aorist verb tense is the most abused tense for the sake of theology. Dr. Grudem is well educated and knows better. His “completed action” theology for Romans 5:1 is not an exegetical established fact.
There are additional passages that teach salvation is conditional on remaining in the faith. Here are a few more:
“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall [an implied possibility] away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if [conditional] indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” (Hebrews 3:12-14).
“Praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved [salvation is not a completed action]” (Acts 2:47).
“For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:15-16).
““For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes [ongoing participle; active voice] in him should not perish but have [in the present] eternal life” (John 3:16).
Chapter 40 “The Perseverance of the Saint (Remaining A Christian)”
Grudem declares his definition of “perseverance of the saints”. He writes, “the perseverance of the saints means that all those who are truly born again will be kept by God’s power and will persevere as Christians until the end of their lives, and that only those who persevere until the end have been truly born again” (page 788).
The Bible does not promise that every born again Christian will persevere and that those who fail to do so were never born again. God’s Word is clear; everlasting life is conditional on ongoing faith in Jesus Christ; not every believer today will persevere in the faith.
Grudem continues and writes, “all who are truly born again will persevere to the end” (page 789).
Grudem sounds convincing. Who defines your theology, scholars like Grudem, or the Word of God? He proceeds to quote verses where assumptions, must be imported to validate his argument. The first passages he provides as proof is John 6:38-40. Here is the passage starting with verse 37:
“All that the Father gives [present tense, ongoing] me will come [future tense] to me, and whoever comes [present tense; ongoing requirement] to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks [conditional; requires ongoing action] on the Son and believes [conditional; requires ongoing action] in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him [those who “look” and “believes”; ongoing action] up on the last day” (John 6:38-40).
This passage does not guarantee progressive perseverance. In contrast, —those who do persevere will be saved. Salvation is conditional on remaining in the faith. Those who are never cast out in verse 37, are those who “comes” (ongoing) to Christ. Those who are raised up on the last day (v. 40) are the ones who “look” (ongoing) and “believes” (ongoing) in Christ.
He writes how it’s God’s will “that I should lose nothing”, but fails to consider this promise is conditional according to verse 37: “and whoever comes” [present tense; ongoing requirement]. Also, speaking of the twelve disciples, Christ stated He did lose one person (Judas) in John 17:12.
Summary of John 6:38-40: those who persevere to the end will be saved. This passage doesn’t meet the benchmark that Grudem assigned.
Grudem continues, “It seems hard to avoid the conclusion that everyone who truly believes in Christ (John 6:38-40; above) will remain a Christian up to the day of final resurrection into the blessings of life in the presence of God” (page 789). Grudem once again omits the required response of ongoing faith that we covered.
He provides a footnote (#2) for those who are smart enough to question his unsupported hypothesis —where he references an Arminian who has a correct interpretation of this passage. To Grudem’s credit he admits that this passage is conditional on remaining in the faith. He writes: ” .. and while it is also true that Jesus here speaks not just of initial saving faith but of a faith that continues over time, [But notice how he invalidates it next] the verse does not go so far as to specify that “everyone who believes continuously [what’s the difference?] until his or her death will have eternal life,” but rather simply says that “he who is presently in a state of believing in Christ” will have eternal life and Jesus will raise him up at the last day” (page 789).
Another proof text provided by Grudem is John 10:27-29. Remember, Grudem is trying to prove the Calvinist doctrine that teaches every true believer is guaranteed to persevere to the end of his or her life. Here is the passage: “My sheep hear [present tense, ongoing action] my voice, and I know [present tense, ongoing action] them, and they follow [present tense, ongoing action] me. I give them [those in verse 27] eternal life, and they [those in verse 27] will never perish, and no one will snatch them [those in verse 27] out of my hand. My Father, who has given them [those in verse 27] to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them [those in verse 27] out of the Father’s hand.”
The passage above doesn’t promise that everyone who enters the faith will remain until the end. It does, however, promise that those (sheep) who “hear” Christ’s voice (ongoing requirement), and “follow” Christ (ongoing requirement) have (“I give“) “eternal life” and “they” (those who “hear” and “follow” in the present) “will never perish.”
How does Grudem counter such a clear passage that teaches conditional security without promising everyone will endure? He spends time dealing with side issues such as “Christ’s hand” and the definition of “shall never perish” (pages 789-790). What a sad commentary on this esteemed proponent of Calvinism.
When Jesus walked the earth 2000 years ago, his harshest words of rebuke were directed towards religious leaders who had corrupted the clear teachings of Scripture by their traditions. These religious leaders were educated scholars who were held in high esteem by the people. Today, Calvinism has become the new gospel.
After providing three passages which promise eternal life to those who remain in the faith (John 3:16-17, 36; 10:28), Grudem writes, “Arminians have objected that ‘eternal life’ is simply a quality of life, a type of life in relationship with God, which one can have for a time and then lose. But this objection does not seem to be convincing in view of the clear nuance of unending time involved in the adjective eternal …” (page 790).
Please consider some illustrations to demonstrate the fallacy of Grudem’s argument. His thesis is that if someone has possession today of eternal life, they will always have it because the adjective “eternal” (eternal life) means forever. Such a claim would make the unsaved who have eternal death at this moment unable to become Christians because the adjective eternal describes an unchanging state. Grudem fails to differentiate between an unchanging state (eternal life) and the actual possession of that state. Eternal life lasts forever, but the state of having it can change.
Grudem’s premise is false —though eternal life lasts forever, the possession of that state can change. If you had a car that will always be worth a million dollars, possession of this car today does not guarantee possesion of it next week —even though the car will still be worth one million dollars. If a former believer no longer has eternal life in their possession, this does not change the fact that eternal life lasts forever (only the possession of that state has changed). A conditional present state does not guarantee a future state.
The three passages that Grudem provides are all conditional on remaining in the faith; a fact that he conveniently omits. Secondly, he provides a half-truth view of Arminians that does not describe me, nor any Arminians that I am aware of. Arminians do believe from Scripture that “one can have [salvation] for a time and then lose [it]”, but the claim that Arminians view eternal life as just a temporary quality of life is unfounded. Grudem omits a reference for his assertion.
Third, Grudem’s point is a violation of elementary rules of grammar. Just because the adjective “eternal” (eternal life) is found within a sentence and someone has it today, does not guarantee that they will have it tomorrow since the promise is conditional. Let’s cover these passages and allow God’s Word to be truth based on established rules of grammar.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes [conditional; ongoing action required] in him should not perish but have [in the present] eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17).
“Whoever believes [conditional; requires ongoing action] in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey [conditional; ongoing action] the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36).
Grudem continues building his theological bridge: “Only those who persevere to the end have been truly born again” (page 792). Grudem believes that those who fail to persevere were never saved. I would agree in part with his statement. Some “who had the walk and talk” we’re never saved. Let’s cover some verses that Grudem uses to prop up his hypothesis.
Grudem provides several passages where he applies Calvinistic lipstick to make ungrammatical and/or uncontextual arguments. Because I agree with the fist passage he provides, it will be skipped. His second passage is Colossians 1:22-23. It’s necessary to consider the context for this passage. Much error has come to the church by theologians who fail to contextually interpret God’s Word.
In Colossians 1:2, Paul identifies his audience: “to the faithful saints [set apart ones] and faithful brothers in Christ.” Paul is writing to genuine believers.
Now that we have identified the audience, let’s consider Grudem’s proof text. Remember, Grudem believes every genuine believer will endure or they were never saved. Here is the passage: “he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 IF [conditional] indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard …” (Colosians 1:22-23a). Paul warns genuine believers of the necessity to persevere. Now consider Grudem’s interpretation.
“It is only natural that Paul and other New Testament writers would speak this way, for they are addressing groups of people who profess to be Christians, without being able to know the actual state of every person’s heart” (page 793). Grudem’s premise for this passage is a lie in light of the context provided where Paul was only addressing genuine believers (vs. 2). Secondly, Paul uses the word “you” in the verse, which undisputedly is the same recipients he had identified in verse 2. After adding more uncontextual assumptions to this passage, Grudem concludes, “but those who do not continue in the faith show that there was no genuine faith in their hearts in the first place” (page 793). Grudem needs to learn the abc’s of hermeneutics and stop hijacking passages and painting them with uncontextual definitions. When context is disregarded, the Bible can say about anything.
His next passage is Hebrews 3:12,14: “Take care, brothers [applies only to believers], lest there be in any of you [genuine believers] an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you [genuine believers] to fall away from the living God.” (3:12); “For we [genuine believers] have come to share in Christ, if [conditional] indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.”
Because Grudem’s theology does not allow genuine believers to “fall away,” he changes this to a passage to mean that: “Rather, the purpose is always to warn those who are thinking of falling away, or have fallen away that if they do this it is a strong indication that they were never saved in the first place” (page 794). But this passage in context is written to believers and it does not say that if they fall away they were never saved.
Grudem interprets Matthew 7:21-23 dishonorably. Jesus is describing false prophets and the coming judgement. In verse 22a, Jesus says, “On that day many [not all] will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord …” In Verse 23, Jesus says, “And then will I declare to them [“many”, not all], ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Vs. 22-23).
Grudem writes, “Jesus says, “I never knew you.” He does not say, “I knew you at one time but I no longer know you,” nor “I knew you at one time but you strayed away from me,” but rather, “I never knew you.” They never were genuine believers” (page 795). Grudem left out that Jesus was describing “many” and not all. When the Scripture is twisted it can say about anything. Further, the context is about false prophets and not about the false doctrine that every saint is guaranteed to persevere or they were never saved.
Another uncontextual argument comes from Mark 4:5-6; 16-17: “Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up [it came to life], since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. [It died!]” (vs. 5-6). Grudem’s theology won’t allow these seeds to come to life because it would mean that they died. Grudem uncontextually writes, “The fact that they had no root in themselves indicates that there is no source of life in these plants” (page 795). The text is clear, these plants were alive (“it sprang up“) but died. Luke writes for this passage, “And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while [were genuine believers] , and in time of testing fall away” (Luke 8:13).
Thanks for reading this review. Your feedback is welcome. The grandeur of heaven will be the presence of Jesus Christ!