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Wayne Grudem’s second edition of Systematic Theology a disappointment for biblical creationists


Published: 19 January 2021 (GMT+10)
Wayne Grudem

Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology is the most-used evangelical college theology text and overall a very good introduction to systematic theology. 25 years after it was first published, a second edition has been released with a substantially different chapter on creation. Because of how widely it is used to teach theology in colleges, creationists should know about the book and be prepared to respond to it.

Because of the size of the book, most of the material remaining largely the same as in the first edition, and the rest of the book covering some denominational topics about which CMI has no ministry position, this review will focus on the very long chapter about creation.

Accurate representation of creationist beliefs

That the first comment would be a commendation for Grudem’s accurate portrayal of biblical creationist beliefs is a sad reflection of the current state of affairs. But it was encouraging to see creationists fairly portrayed and not overtly maligned, even though Grudem disagrees with us. It is clear that he consulted modern creationist works, and he even included The Genesis Account and Refuting Compromise in his bibliography of additional sources. This is a big step up from what we are used to in terms of others representing us. However, as will be seen, he didn’t read much of those recommended books, which answer most of his points.

Survey of creation beliefs, strong rejection of theistic evolution

Grudem begins by outlining the aspects of the doctrine of creation that are definitional for Christianity and why all Christians must believe them. This is a genuinely helpful and easy to understand survey, and there is nothing a biblical creationist would disagree with in these pages.

He moves on to discuss both scientific and theological problems with Darwinian evolution, and again, in this section, a biblical creationist could say ‘amen’ to Grudem’s points, all of which have been pointed out by biblical creationists for decades. He takes the same stance toward theistic evolution that his co-edited book Theistic Evolution did a few years ago, namely that it is incompatible with biblical inerrancy and authority:

These texts are so explicit that it does not seem to me possible to hold to the complete truthfulness of Scripture and still hold that human beings are the result of a long evolutionary process (342).

He sees theistic evolution as being at odds with the Bible’s plain statements about the special creation of Adam and Eve, as well as God creating kinds of animals, not one ancestor from which all animals were descended. He also sees a fundamental conflict regarding God’s creation of a ‘very good’ world that was marred by sin. He also says:

In sum, belief in theistic evolution is incompatible with the truthfulness of the Bible and with several crucial doctrines of the Christian faith. It should not be considered a legitimate option that Bible-believing Christians, and especially Christian leaders, may hold today (p. 383).

Old-earth beliefs

One way that people have tried to insert millions of years into Scripture is via the Gap Theory, but Grudem calls this “highly unlikely” (p. 383). He correctly sees the “without form and void” as reflecting the unfinished state of creation, not a judgment that occurred between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2:

According to the gap theory, God would be looking at an earth full of the results of rebellion, conflict, and terrible divine judgment. He would also be looking at all the demonic beings, the hosts of Satan who had rebelled against him, and yet be calling everything “very good”. It is difficult to believe that there was so much evil and so many evidences of evil and judgment on the earth and that God could still say creation was very good (pp. 384–385).

However, Grudem sees the age of the earth as a much less important issue. He makes the ‘gaps in the genealogies’ argument, and says that “In view of the exceptionally long life spans reported for people prior to the flood, it would not seem unreasonable to think that a few thousand years have been passed over in the narrative” (p. 388). He fails to realize that the lifespans make perfect sense as written. Modern science makes good sense of the numbers in the text: God Adam and Eve created perfect with no mutations; the antediluvian patriarchs had extremely few harmful mutations so lived for many centuries; Noah had children when very old, so his reproductive cells passed many more mutations to Shem whose lifespan was shortened; and there was exponential decay after the Flood bottleneck, leading to progressively shorter lifespans.

It is notable that in describing the essentials of the doctrine of creation and refuting theistic evolution, Grudem gives plain teaching from Scripture. But when he starts to defend long ages, suddenly we are treated to what is possible and “not unreasonable”. The change is dramatic and is itself an indication that he has switched from interpreting the Bible (exegesis) to reading millions of years into the Bible (eisegesis).

Accepting millions of years means that he also has to allow for a much earlier origin of Adam and Eve:

If current dating methods are accurate, that would place human beings on the earth 35,000–40,000 years ago. … My own perspective is that I do not have the technical expertise to assess the dating methods used. A date range of 35,000–50,000 years ago seems a very long time to me, but not impossible if we allow for significant gaps in the genealogies of Genesis. As long ago as 1911, Princeton theology professor B. B. Warfield wrote, “The question of the antiquity of man has of itself no theological significance. It is to theology, as such, a matter of entire indifference how long man has existed on earth.” (pp. 388–389).

Grudem places Abraham at about 2000 BC, which means that on the lower end of his estimate, at least 31,000 years must be contained in the generations between Adam and Terah. That would make the genealogies contain almost nothing but gaps! See Biblical chronogenealogies for more on this point, and why there could be no time gaps even if we granted people gaps for the sake of the argument.

Also, the Bible explicitly calls Enoch the seventh from Adam (Jude 1:14). So rather than taking the plain sense of Scripture, Grudem trusts dating ranges that he admits he does not have the technical expertise to assess. And he uses the ancient standard of a 1911 theologian as an excuse to do so!

The problem is even worse for Grudem and other old-earthers than he realizes. By ‘dating’ methods he tacitly accepts, undoubted Homo sapiens fossils have been dated to 315 ± 34 thousand years.1 Since he agrees that Adam was the first man and that human death is the result of his sin, how much further back must Adam be? It’s no accident that his fellow old-earther, Hugh Ross, has kept pushing Adam further and further back, as new human fossils were found. See Hugh Ross bluffs at church meeting for further explanation of the pickle Ross must get into when he continually pretzelizes Scripture to fit his long-age dogma.

Trusting the authority of ‘science’

As all compromisers do, Grudem ultimately places the authority of ‘science’ over the authority of Scripture. He states “multiple types of evidence indicate that the earth and the universe are billions of years old” (p. 395). What evidence? Specifically, the “expansion rate of the universe” (p. 396), “starlight from billions of years ago” (p. 397). “age of white dwarfs”, “burning cycles of stars” (p. 398), “the present stability of the sun”, “cosmic background radiation temperatures”, “ice layers”, “coral reef layers”, “sediment layers at the bottom of lakes” (p. 399), “multiple types of radiometric dating of rocks” (p. 400), and “continental separation”. As one can read at the links, creationists have been answering these old objections for decades. In many cases, they provide evidence for the biblical timescale. Of course, Grudem ignores all the chronometers that point to a much younger age—see 101 evidences for a young age of the earth and the universe.

He also says that “no scientists have been persuaded of a young earth by scientific evidence alone” (p. 401). That would be surprising to scientists like nuclear chemist Jay Wile who was convinced more by the science than by the biblical passages! Also, some geologists like CMI’s Dr Ron Neller and Jonathan O’Brien were convinced by the geological evidence for the global Flood of Noah’s day before they were Christians. CMI’s Shaun Doyle, a qualified biologist, affirms that he became a creationist before he became a Christian. Of CMI supporters, ‘Sonia’ is one of many who also became convinced of creation before Christianity.

And this should be turned around on him. No theologians have been convinced of an old earth from the Bible alone! Always it is the ‘science’—just see two paragraphs above! This is why the church universally held to a ‘young’ earth before the rise of uniformitarian geology in the 19th century. For example, the article Old-earth or young-earth belief documents that many Jewish and Christian scholars calculated a creation date of a few thousand years BC based on the biblical chronological data. Rather, most biblical scholars before the rise of long-age geology accepted Genesis as written, including Josephus and later Jewish scholars, most church fathers including Basil the Great (even Augustine defended a ‘young’ earth), Thomas Aquinas, and all the Reformers including Luther and Calvin, and later famous Christians like the Wesleys.2 This indicates that long-age views were not gleaned from Scripture; instead they are novel interpretations from outside the Bible that are diametrically opposed to the text. Grudem’s source for much of his old-earth information is Hugh Ross, a ‘progressive creationist’ astronomer who we’ve refuted often and at length, most comprehensively in Refuting Compromise.

Why look for excuses to compromise?

Wayne Grudem is overall a good theologian, and it is easy to see why his Systematic Theology is the most popular theology text in Bible colleges today. On most theological issues, he takes the plain interpretation of Scripture as the final word. So why not here? Unfortunately, when it comes to the doctrine of creation, theologians are ‘blinded by science’. They are convinced science has proved that the earth is old, so they must salvage Scripture by making it agree with the old-earth position. It is impossible to know whether this is in fact Grudem’s motive, but it would explain why when it comes to the age of the earth, he uncharacteristically opts for a compromising position, when he would refuse to do so with other issues, such as complementarianism.

But old-earth creation does not impress evolutionist skeptics—people like Richard Dawkins see it as the contemptible middle ground position that it is. If Scripture’s statements are enough to reject biological evolution, they are also enough to reject cosmological and geological evolution.

I have also never heard of anyone who got saved because they found out that old-earth compromise was possible. And it is an ineffective witnessing tool: if the skeptics can make you question the first chapter of the first book of the Bible, they see that you’re not really winning them over. Rather, they are winning you over.

Conversely, we have many testimonies from people who only took Scripture seriously regarding Christ when they realized Genesis is history. We also have many testimonies of people whose faith was shipwrecked by evolutionary and long-age compromise, but were restored when convinced that they really can trust the Bible.

References and notes

  1. Hublin, J.-J. and 10 others, New fossils from Jebel Irhoud, Morocco and the pan-African origin of Homo sapiens, Nature 546: 289–292, 2017 | doi:10.1038/nature22336. Return to text.
  2. Wesley, J., On the fall of man, 1872, available from gbgm-umc.org. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

The Genesis Account
by Jonathan Sarfati
US $39.00
Hard Cover
Refuting Compromise, updated & expanded
by Dr Jonathan Sarfati
US $17.00
Soft Cover
From Creation to Salvation
by Lita Cosner
US $14.00
Soft Cover

Readers’ comments

Christopher B.
When I met my wife I was a declared atheist, note the lower case "a" in "atheist". I said there was no God and that I didn't care. Before that I referred to myself as an agnostic because I didn't care. When I met and married my wife, she was already a saved Christian, born again. She attended church regularly and several times a week. She prayed for me, her pastor and his congregation prayed for me. It finally came down to whether or not I had more faith that there wasn't a God or that I could make a decision that I would have faith that God exists and the Bible is his word. And so I did.
But as a newborn Christian I was ignorant of the Bible in so very many ways. I believed the scientists who said they had proof that the universe was ~13.8 billion years old and that Genesis was just creation explained in terms the primitives could understand but not a true depiction of reality. However, the more I learned about the Bible teachings I came to realize that Since Adam and Eve were both created as Mature Adults, So could God have created the universe as a mature universe with the light from distant objects already on it's way. How else could the Heavens proclaim the majesty of God and His works.
I came to the conclusion that just as we take the Biblical teachings on faith, SO DO THE SCIENTISTS. They can't really prove that the universe is even 6,000 years old, regardless of the evidence they are misinterpreting. So I choose to believe God and place my faith in HIM, not in the secular "scientists".
Soon L.
Thanks for this review by Lita. When I look at the content of Grudem's book I noticed that he had missed out a great amount of the Bible. What I mean is Israelology. Also if he is concerned with the long age wait till he read the long age of people living during the Millennium. Maybe we need to read what ages the people in Genesis had their children.
Also my faith was now more grounded in Creationism and had realized the evil of racism. Am grateful for the ministries of AIG and CMI.
Genesis 1 speaks "days" not "ages", of "evening and morning" as being a day, and this exact language is found in the Law, Exodus 20:9-11 mandating "days" not "ages" so that Israel will bring glory to God in every week of 7 days of every year. I think the text is clear. "Ages" renders the narrative fuzzy and speculative.
Joel E.
"And this should be turned around on him. No theologians have been convinced of an old earth from the Bible alone!" What a fantastic point. It's worth adding that he doesn't say the same about evolution, which he rejects: "No scientist has been convinced of the creation of humans from science alone." I'm confused about something else too—if the gap theory and theistic evolution are out, what does it benefit anyone to accept the idea of long ages by itself? Surely it isn't just the rocks that they think are old, but everything in the rocks as well. This would lead them to evolution if they are consistent there too.
Jeffrey C.
Indeed, if we question the plain truth of the first chapter of the first book of the Bible, the Enemy is winning us over, impairing in us the mindset, the outlook, required for the keenest scriptural understanding. We have lost the high view of scripture essential for a most fruitfully close relationship with our holy Creator. Those our Creator values "have great respect for what I say" (Isa. 66:2 NIRV) or are "reverently responsive to what I say" (Isa. 66:2 MSG) -- even, as most versions render it, more or less, those "who tremble at my word" (Isa. 66:2 NIV)!

Best to take most seriously that "the words of the LORD are flawless, like silver purified in a crucible, like gold refined seven times" (Psalm 12:6 NIV).
Dan M.
It seems to me that many in the church, and those who claim to be are like little frightened children who are afraid of the big bad secularist evolutionist bullies? Compromising Christians don't want to offend them by chance they will be ostracized from society and bullied for sticking to the faith without compromise. They want to get along with the world contrary to what Jesus taught, (Joh 15:18). Ask yourself, why does it matter what you think about origins that offends the world so! Christians are far more civil than the typical non-believer, so arent Christians better for civil society? A 17th-century Dutch king thought so and didn't want them to leave to go to the new world. The short answer is, satin is the present ruler of this world and we are his enemies if we are Christs! Well, Jesus said we could not get along with the world theology or lifestyle and serve Him, (Mat 12:30). I personally don't give a hoot what they think or say about me, just give me your hypothesis, which is an interpretation of the observations and I'll be the judge, for myself, and see if it makes sense according to scripture. When I consider scripture and the condition of men's hearts, The geologic topography of the earth that points to catastrophe, the fossil record, the coal and oil deposits, The biblical narrative makes worlds more sense and the Big Bang along with evolutionary hypotheses are the deadly fairy tale. I can trust the bible by what I see by observation and, the spirit within me and, also from what I hear from men's hearts, (God is right about us)! I am on His side, (Mat 12:30) and I will take no prisoners, (spiritually speaking of course). If the world hates me for it, so be it! I am comforted by the fact He loves me, (Gal 2:20). God Bless His saints!
Frank H.
Another very sound review. Thanks!
Michael R.
A very good article. I was brought up a Christian but just went along with the idea that evolution was true because I was never told otherwise. It was only when I stumbled across a book on scientific creationism that my eyes were opened. Science convinced me of the truth of creation but since then so much more in the Bible has become much clearer. Keep up the good work!
Santie L.
“no scientists .."
Who exactly qualifies to be called a "scientist"? It seems that this category includes and excludes at will.
William H.
Thank you for this review, Lita. Yes, I have really enjoyed and profited from Wayne Grudem's 'Systematic Theology', but have been disappointed with his section on creation with the abandonment of the natural reading of the early chapters of Genesis. I hope Wayne carefully reads your review :)
Richard G.
CMI does it again admirably. Praise God. I have Grudem's former edition of his book. God bless CMI for not accepting a man just for his science. Like me, Wayne can err. Peter was the spokesman appointed by Jesus Himself but he had to be opposed unceremoniously by Paul in public, and by Jesus Himself. A wayfaring man even though he may be a fool, need not err in the way of righteousness. He can accept the Word of God as it is. Remember my favourite, about to become my portion for the day i.e. Psalm 119 verses 98 to 100 showing that we who base all on God's word know more accurately than 3 types of people, 1, our enemies, 2 our PHD teachers who tout evolution and their so-called knowledge against a simple acceptance of God's Word, and we know more than 3 the long-studying aged. The Bible says it; let's happily believe it and encourage those who know less "facts" of so-called science. I don't know of one Japanese person in 60 years of church-planting among them who was saved through finding out that the Bible was wrong on its scientific statements

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