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A chat with Wayne Grudem

The author of Systematic Theology and editor of the ESV Study Bible retires from teaching

Wayne Grudem Handout

A chat with Wayne Grudem

Wayne Grudem has helped shape Reformed Christian theology for a generation. In 1994, he authored the first edition of his Systematic Theology, a more-than 1,600-page overview of Biblical theology, with a second revised edition published in 2020. He was a member of the Translation Oversight Committee of the English Standard Version of the Bible, which was published in 2001 using the text of the Revised Standard Edition as a starting point. He was general editor of the ESV Study Bible, which came out in 2008 and was WORLD’s Book of the Year.

In March, Grudem announced his decision to retire from his role as research professor of theology and biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary in Arizona. I spoke with him about his reasons for retiring and his plans for the future.

When you announced your decision to retire, I think a lot of people were concerned. What prompted that decision?
Partly age. I’m 76. You may or may not be aware: I’ve had Parkinson’s disease for a little over eight years, and the symptoms were progressing sufficiently that it was harder to teach. My voice was not always clear, and my handwriting wasn't as clear, and I just didn’t think I was doing as well in the classroom. And though I love being in the classroom, and continue to love the teaching activity, I would come out of the class … with a great sense of weariness that I had not experienced before. I took that to be the Lord’s indication to me that it’s time to quit the act of teaching in the classroom and devote more time that is left to writing.

And, I have to admit, it feels sort of good. But I loved every minute of it. I taught 47 years and enjoyed it immensely. It was a great privilege, and I thank the Lord for it.

What sort of writing are you up to?
I have a couple of books coming out. I have a commentary on 1 Peter that I published in 1985, and the second edition of that is coming out in July. And then I have a textbook called Christian Ethics, and the revised edition of that is coming out in September. We changed the subtitle … [to] Leading a Life that is Pleasing to God. That is the theme of the book, and it’s a neglected theme. Much of Christian teaching today is that we’re saved by grace through faith alone in Christ alone. But once we’re saved, we can lead lives that are pleasing or displeasing to God. They’re never perfect. But Paul talks about, in Colossians and elsewhere, pleasing God by our lives. And I want Christians to capture a vision of that.

Do you have ideas for any new books?
I’m pondering writing something on the puzzling question of how Christians can address political issues that are moral issues without alienating half of the congregation or a good part of the congregation. So I’m still thinking about that. And I’ve got another idea for a little book on work for the glory of God. I have a book on business for the glory of God, and I didn’t put in a chapter on work, but I have an outline that would convert into a small book on why ordinary jobs have a spiritual dimension to them.

What about your work with the ESV Bible translation? Is that ongoing?
I’m on the translation committee for the English Standard Version Bible. And we meet every 5-7 years to consider any possible revisions to the text. We haven’t met now for nine years. So we’re meeting in Wheaton, Ill., in July to consider 120-or-so suggested changes. I suspect we’ll accept 30 or 40 of those suggestions where just little tweaks to the wording make it consistent with where we’ve translated the same phrase elsewhere or something like that. Very small changes—hardly noticeable—but we feel a responsibility as the translation committee to take seriously any suggestions that people have sent.

As you look forward, what are some harmful teachings you see creeping into the church?
The question is always, “What are the threats from the culture, where the culture is putting pressure on Christians to abandon Biblical teaching?” Certainly in this culture, there is pressure from the homosexual advocacy community. I have a lot of conversations with a neighbor [who says], “Why don’t you come into the 21st century with your views on homosexuality?” And I said … “I just checked the Bible again this morning. It says the same thing it did yesterday. Its teachings on human sexuality have not changed.”

But the teaching of the Bible on cohabitation—people living together outside of marriage—there’s a challenge not to speak about that because it affects too many people’s lives. And now transgenderism … the pressure from society and from people who claim to be transgender is a pressure to get us to give moral approval to something the Bible does not approve. Bruce Jenner may call himself a woman, but he’s not a woman.

I think the Bible says a lot about civil government and the necessity for crime to be punished. It says in Ecclesiastes, “When a sentence against an evil deed is not executed swiftly, the hearts of the sons of men are fully set to do evil.” I see that with the outbreak of crime in our cities. When the prosecutor has decided not to punish crime, it multiplies. So what does the church do about that? It needs to be addressing it.

I see pressure for both men and women to have leadership roles in the church—to become elders and pastors. That's another area where the culture’s challenging the church. What else? Always, always, always, there are challenges against the full truth of the Bible, the inerrancy of the Bible.

You mentioned politics earlier, and you haven’t been shy about sharing your political views. Tell me about this upcoming election between former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden.
I think Trump did a huge amount of good for the country, which I have detailed in op-ed pieces online. This election cycle, I thought [Florida Gov.] Ron DeSantis was the strongest candidate and supported him and sent some money to support him. But he didn’t win in the eyes of the Republican voters generally. So we’re stuck with Trump or Biden or some other liberal Democrat, and it seems to me on crime, on taxes, on the economy, on the military, on the border, on government regulation—on issue after issue—the Republican positions are more consistent with a Biblical worldview. So I’m supporting Trump again.

What is your daily routine like now?
I mentioned that I am 76 now. Because of age, everything is a little slower and takes a little longer. Just ordinary life activities: eating, getting dressed in the morning, etc. What is ordinary life like? Get up, have breakfast, read the Bible, and some prayer time. And often I’ll walk for half an hour. Or there’s a weight room in our living facility here that I can use. Then it's time to get to work on my writing projects.

Travis K. Kircher

Travis is the associate breaking news editor for WORLD.

I enjoy them immensely and share them every week. —Joel

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