Thursday, November 29, 2007

Biblical equality and Grudem's Systematic Theology

The winter wind is howling through the eves of the house, and my garden hibernates. In these days when the stems protruding from the earth are tan and cracked, when the dark is long and the sunlight weak, I begin to thirst for life and light. That thirst is met, in part, in the faith community to which I belong, Gun Lake Community Church, which has a theology class on Wednesday nights.

The teaching is excellent and the discussion is enlightening, but the main text is a challenge. It is not so much that the text, Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem, is 1,291 pages . I enjoy books, the more the better. Rather the challenge is that I disagree with the author on a few important topics. He accurately categorizes only two of the three major streams of thought on creationism, for example. In this and subsequent posts, I digress for a time from the topic of gardening and will outline areas of agreement and disagreement regarding Chapter 22, Man as Male and Female. This is the discussion topic for the class on December 12.

I agree with the abstract or summary at the beginning of the chapter, with the exception of the last five words, "The creation of man as male and female shows God's image in... difference in role and authority." (Italics mine. I also might word the sentence differently because I disagree with Chapter 21, section A "The Use of the Word Man to Refer to the Human Race.")

Grudem begins his discussion of male and female (Chapter 22, section A) with a discussion of male and female as the image of God, the two becoming one in marriage, and the inexact parallel to the three in oneness of the Trinity. Here Grudem shows his gift of explaining complex theology in easy to read and understand English. To do this, he uses many words. Hence the 1,291 pages. However, a careful reading of the text and footnotes reveals that there is a good deal of good theology packed into a small space.

The discussion continues into a refreshing discourse on biblical equality. The section begins, "Just as the members of the Trinity are equal... so men and women have been created by God to be equal..." Beware the ellipsis. I intentionally misused those three periods ("...") to make a point. I can agree, wholeheartedly and enthusiastically, with Grudem's discussion of equality - as long as it is not limited. However, Grudem intended that the equality he discusses so well be limited. The two phrases I excised are " their importance and in their full existence as distinct persons (see Chapter 14, above)... in their importance and personhood." Leaving Chapter 14 aside, I can agree with those phrases as well. The combination of the two phrases, however, limits equality to these two aspects of humanity as male and female.

It is in Section C Differences in Roles, that the real disagreement begins. No, that is not quite accurate. There are points of disagreement on the roles of men women spread throughout the 1,291 pages of Systematic Theology. Most can be traced from section C, but much of section C is dependent on Grudem's treatment of the Trinity in Chapter 14. Thus, I'll visit Chapter 14 in the next post, critique Chapter 22 section C, and then offer alternatives and resources, all in preparation for class on December 12, two weeks from yesterday.

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