I love a good vintage theology book. Vintage, in this usage, means late 70’s or early 80’s, and I’m mainly talking about cover aesthetics. The particularly book pictured even comes with sweet character sketches of each of the authors before their respective essays. We’re talking about back when D. A. Carson had a mustache and Wayne Grudem still had his hair.
I found this particular gem a Saturday ago while browsing my local used bookstore, which happens to be on the RTS Orlando campus (which happens to be across the street from my neighborhood). As is my custom, I gave it a good internal perusal before spending the $6 (or rather using $6 of my credit). In the front cover, I noticed a personal note, which reads as follows:
To John Frame,
With deep appreciation for your very significant influence in the development of my own understanding of the doctrine of the Word of God.
Sept. 19, 1983
As soon as I read that, I knew I had stumbled onto the kind of find you dream about when you’re in a used bookstore (or maybe that’s just me). Upon more significant perusal, I found a typed letter from Grudem included inside. 1 If you keep track of these things, Grudem went to WTS and so Frame was one of his systematic profs. At the time of writing, Grudem is starting his 3rd year of teaching New Testament at TEDS. He tells Frame that he has some level of remorse that he forgot to include a footnote acknowledging Frame’s influence on him. His particularly essay in this volume, “Scripture’s Self-Attestation and The Problem of Formulating A Doctrine of Scripture,” is clearly indebted to Frame. Judging from his C.V., this is the first thing Grudem published that was not just a version of his dissertation (The Gift of Prophecy in 1 Corinthians) or an article in a journal or magazine.
Speaking as someone in a similar situation (though lacking the Ph.D and higher level teaching job), I can really relate to how Grudem felt in sending this book to Frame. You’re just embarking on a scholarly career of teaching and writing and you get an essay published in a collection edited by Don “The Dragon” Carson. You neglect to mention that one seminary prof that really sparked your interested in a particular doctrine and heavily influenced your thought. So, naturally, you send him a copy of the first book you get an essay published in, and include a personal letter as a way of thanking him.
The way Grudem wrote in the letter is the way I feel when I write (now via e-mail) to my seminary profs to check in and occasionally thank them for their influence. It’s kind of encouraging to see Grudem in the same position. Certainly we all realize that people like Grudem were once seminary students themselves who were awed by their professors. I thankfully got to see it in writing in a letter from over 30 years ago.
Toward the end of the letter, Grudem mentions in passing that he’s starting to get interested in systematic theology. Though his published articles throughout the rest of the 80’s and early 90’s don’t slant strongly in that direction, come 1994, Grudem published Systematic Theology. What was merely a “strong interest” in 1983 became a 1000+ page, fairly standard evangelical textbook in systematic theology 11 years later. To read Grudem tell Frame he’s pretty much only teaching New Testament at the moment, but is finding himself drawn to systematics was quite the delicious piece of irony. Just goes to show what you can do if stick with it and cultivate an interest a discipline for 10 years.
So, let that be an encouragement to you, current seminary student or recent seminary graduate. Grudem used to be one of us too, and though we all start out in fairly inauspicious settings, if we are faithful in our callings, and diligent in our work, we can carry on the influence to another generation. Eventually some things can come full circle. Now some 30 letters after that letter, Frame has a systematic of his own (which shares a title but different sub-title than Grudem’s), and who do you think shows up in the bibliography and footnotes?
That’s right, Wayne Grudem and his Systematic Theology.
- If you’re curious, I returned the letter to Frame. Given the wonders of Evernote, you’d think I’d have captured a good picture of it for posterity. You’d be right, but you’d also not realize that somehow I didn’t save the picture. Oh well, it wasn’t mine to keep anyway. ↩