Reflecting on 70 Years
Sometimes an event prompts us to reflect on the course of our lives, and that happened to me on November 14, 2018 at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Denver. Several friends presented me with what is called in the academic world a “Festschrift;” that is, a book of essays published in my honor (Scripture and the People of God: Essays in Honor of Wayne Grudem), edited by John DelHousaye, John Hughes, and Jeff Purswell.
After the presentation of the book and some kind comments from several of the contributors, I made the following remarks. I hope others might find them helpful. (This is a slight expansion of my actual brief remarks.)
In this my 70th year, as I look back on the course of my life, there are at least ten verses from Scripture that have been especially important in my life:
1. House and wealth are inherited from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the LORD. (Proverbs 19:14)
The word translated “prudent” (Hebrew sākal) can also be translated as “insightful, discerning, wise, perceptive”—and that description certainly applies to Margaret, my wonderful, caring wife of 49 years, who is truly a gift from the Lord. Much of who I am, and much of what I have done, has been due to her godly influence in my life.
2. Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. (Psalm 127:3)
The Lord gave to Margaret and me three very special sons, Elliot, Oliver, and Alexander, and now these three sons have brought to our family three wonderful daughters-in-law and three delightful grandchildren. I’m so thankful for their support and love–this is truly a gift from the Lord.
This joy or delight in God’s presence has been a deep source of joy for my entire life.
3. Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. (Proverbs 30:5)
In the summer between high school and college (in 1966, when I was 18), I pondered what I was going to believe for the rest of my life. Was I going to believe what my parents and my church taught me, or something else?
One Sunday afternoon, I consciously decided that I knew the Bible was the Word of God, and that I would believe what I’d been taught at home and church if it agreed with the Bible, and reject what did not agree with the Bible. The Lord was certainly in that decision, because in the 52 years since that time, the conviction that “every word of God proves true” has been at the very foundation of my entire life.
4. Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)
From at least early elementary school–first, second, or third grade–I have loved the sense of God’s presence that came to me when I would pray, when I would sing hymns, and often when I was in church. This joy or delight in God’s presence has been a deep source of joy for my entire life.
5. Since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church. (1 Corinthians 14:12)
As far as I know my own heart, I don’t think my work has been motivated by a desire to show that I’m a great scholar, but rather by a desire to “excel in building up the church” (1 Cor. 14:12). Again and again, the things that I have written, or the organizations that I have been involved in, have come about because I saw a need in the church as a whole that I thought I could try to meet.
6. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. (Acts 20:26-27)
This has been a tremendously influential passage for most of my life. I want to be able to say the same thing at the end of my life–“I didn’t shrink from declaring the whole counsel of God”–I didn’t hold back from teaching faithfully everything the Bible says, even about topics that are unpopular, or topics that will make people disagree with me or be mad at me. I want to be faithful.
7. The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. (Psalm 19:7)
For many years, I have been convinced that if God’s Word is able to make even “simple” people to be “wise,” that implies that he has caused the Bible to be written in such a way that it is able to be understood. God himself wants us to understand, and believe, and obey what the Bible says–not just an individual verse or two, but the Bible taken as a whole.
That conviction motivated me to write my Systematic Theology, my new book Christian Ethics, and several other articles and books in which I attempted to argue and explain clearly (both to scholars and to God’s people generally) what the whole Bible teaches us about numerous specific topics. I’m sure I have not done this perfectly, and others will differ with some of my conclusions, but I am still firmly convinced that the Bible is not a collection of baffling teachings that we have no hope of understanding, but that it is able to be understood, and that God wants us to understand it rightly.
8. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God. (2 Corinthians 4:2)
Nearly everything I have written contains arguments based on facts–facts found in Scripture, facts found in literature from the ancient world (to which many of my readers will have no access), facts from the history of the world right up to the present day, and facts about an opponent’s arguments. So far as I know, I have never intentionally misrepresented any of those facts. In addition, I have sought to do my work carefully so that I did not unintentionally misrepresent any facts, through carelessness. God is honored, and he will give blessing, only when we consistently seek to persuade, in imitation of the apostle Paul, “by the open statement of the truth” (2 Cor. 4:2).
9. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required. (Luke 12:48)
The Lord entrusted much to me–many gifts, many opportunities, many wonderful friends. I do not know if he will count me faithful on the last day, or tell me I could have and should have done more for him and his kingdom.
I am leaving all of that in God’s hands. “For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.” (1 Cor. 4:4-5)
10. Then King David went in and sat before the LORD and said, “Who am I, O Lord GOD, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?” (2 Samuel 7:18)
I often feel that way. Who am I, O Lord, that you have brought me thus far?
Praise be to God.
What did Jesus mean when he instructed his followers to turn the other cheek? Does that mean we're never to self-defend?
Why should we study ethics from a biblical perspective? Why should we collect and summarize the Bible’s teaching in a systematic way?
Questions of right and wrong aren't always straightforward for people today.