Hunter Street Baptist Church in Hoover, Alabama is the largest Baptist church in its state, averaging 4,500 attendees each weekend. Six years ago pastor Buddy Gray started a theology reading group with nine other men and chose Dr. Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology as their beginning text.
The format of the group was simple: read one chapter each week, meet to discuss (and not debate) and do so for 15 months. Though this initially sounds like just the story of one small group, to date 800 Hunter Street members have participated in similar groups (aptly dubbed “TRG’s” – Theology Reading Groups) and each chose Systematic Theology as their beginning text. (To read a full account of this story click here for a link to the Baptist Press homepage.)
Dr. Grudem recently spoke at Hunter Street and I had a chance to ask him a few questions about these remarkable reading groups.
WG: They phoned me and asked if I would like to come to speak at a church where 800 people have read through all of my book Systematic Theology, which has 57 chapters and 1290 pages!
AR: Were you surprised to hear that Systematic Theology was being used in this way?
WG: I was surprised that 800 people in one church had read the book. I was not surprised that people were reading one chapter a week and discussing it, since I have heard of many churches where some group is doing that.
AR: You spoke at Hunter Street recently, did you hear any stories about the result of the “TRG’s”?
WG: When people talked to me, again and again they said things like, "Thank you so much. This book has changed my understanding of God and changed my life." I am thankful to God for that. When I started to write the book (back in 1985) I was hoping to produce a thorough overview of all the topics in systematic theology in a book that was (a) understandable to ordinary Christians, (b) clearly based on actual verses that were quoted from the Bible, and (c) included regular application to life. The reason I wanted to do this was that God inspired the Bible itself with those qualities in the sections that were highly theological (see Romans, Ephesians, and Hebrews, for example), so I thought he would want his Word to be taught with those qualities as well.
AR: One member of Hunter Street Baptist said:
“I understand the Bible, which is something I never really had in former churches. I look back on my early life and I realize how much I lost and how far behind I was in biblical knowledge compared to my younger friends. I missed out on a lot of good things." (Robert McClain, “Reading Groups Show Theology Not Boring” http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=28375 Sept. 16, 2008)
Care to comment?
WG: I met this gentleman, who is a charming retired businessman in his mid-80s! I think what he means is there was never a presentation that "put the whole Bible together" for him topic by topic, so he could gain clarity and confidence in believing what he instinctively but vaguely knew to be true from his earlier reading of the Bible. That often happens when people read Systematic Theology -- they grow in accurate knowledge of what the Bible teaches and this in turn deepens their faith and their walk with God.
AR: Any advice for pastors that want to encourage the same kind of theological reading in their congregations?
WG: The key at Hunter Street Baptist Church was the active involvement of the pastor, Buddy Gray. He took leadership in this and went through the book with a group of nine men over the course of a year, and then they started more groups and went over it again. From there it just multiplied. Many people have now been through the book two or three times in these groups.