As one who teaches biblical theology at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, I am always on the lookout for helpful textbooks to use with my students. In his recent book Introducing Biblical Theology, Sigurd Grindheim sets out to introduce students to the biblical storyline. The result is a helpful, well-written, and concise overview that integrates key insights from systematic theology along the way.
Grindheim begins by asserting that the unifying theme of the Bible is the gospel and that all sixty-six canonical books tell the story of the Triune God who has brought salvation in and through Jesus Christ. He believes that we can learn to read the Bible from the way that Jesus and the apostles do. Rather than focus on the individual contribution of each book or author, Grindheim uses them as “building blocks” to understand the overarching story of the Bible. He refers to this as a “canonical reading or interpretation of Scripture” (p. 2).
Biblical theology can be executed in several ways, and Grindheim’s approach can best be described as a hybrid between recounting the storyline and identifying key themes using systematic theology categories. While the general flow of the book roughly follows the biblical storyline, when it comes to the individual subjects Grindheim draws on material from across the canon. In the opening chapter on God the headings include a section on the name Yahweh and “God as the Triune God.” When discussing the nature of humanity (ch. 3), Grindheim organizes it under these headings: image of God; flesh; body, soul, and spirit; heart; and conscience. The chapter on human sin (ch. 4) begins with Adam and Eve in the Garden but eventually moves into insights from Paul, the Gospels, and Revelation on the nature and effects of sin.
When writing a biblical theology, one must inevitably be selective. Once he has covered the content of Gen 1–3 (chs. 1–4), Grindheim takes three more chapters to cover the remainder of the OT, focusing on covenant (ch. 5), restitution for sin (ch. 6), and the messianic hope (ch. 7). An additional eight chapters cover the NT: the incarnation (ch. 8), the work of Christ (ch. 9), salvation (ch. 10), the Holy Spirit (ch. 11), the new life of the believer (ch. 12), the church (ch. 13), new covenant rituals (ch. 14), and the last things (ch. 15). So when it comes to hitting the major movements of the biblical story, Grindheim demonstrates sound judgment.
Grindheim also shows sensitivity to both continuities and discontinuities in the biblical story. Although he does not believe humanity had a covenant relationship with God in Eden (pp. 47–48), Grindheim traces how the covenants relate to and build on each other. The new covenant is the culmination of these covenants and yet differs from it in key ways. It is internal rather than external, and God’s people will have God’s Spirit to enable them to fulfill Adam’s commission. Through the work of Christ, Gentiles have been grafted into “Israel, God’s people,” but that does not mean God is finished with ethnic Israel, since “Israel as a whole, Israel as a nation, will be saved in the end” (p. 184). The church, therefore, is “the anticipation of the eschatological people of God” (p. 193).
Biblical theologies often struggle to incorporate the wisdom literature, and this book is no exception. Other than a section on “Wisdom Christology and Preexistence,” Grindheim draws very little from books such as Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. One way this might have been remedied would have been to focus on the fear of Yahweh as the appropriate response to being in a covenant relationship with him.
Several features enhance the usability of this book. Each chapter concludes with a brief summary of the chapter’s content, a short bibliography of recommended resources for further reading, and a few review questions. The Scripture index makes it easy to quickly find where specific texts are referred to. At several points the author even briefly introduces different critical views without bogging the reader down. Grindheim clearly has the student in mind throughout this book.
In any book covering the entire Bible, the reader will inevitably find points of disagreement, or at least areas that might have profitably received more attention. For example, Grindheim rightly emphasizes the centrality of Jesus’s death. His resurrection and ascension, however, receive far too little attention. After all, Paul asserts that without the resurrection there is no Christian faith (1 Cor 15:12–19). I was especially struck that in a section on Jesus’ victory over Satan there is no mention of the resurrection. Since the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ are different aspects of one complex “redemptive act” that Christ does for his people, explaining the importance of each aspect would help the reader gain a deeper understanding of the work of Christ.
A few smaller quibbles warrant brief mention as well. Grindheim claims that God’s promise to David is the starting point for the messianic hope (p. 75), yet several pages later notes that Gen 3:15 points forward to Christ defeating Satan (pp. 83–84). I was not sure what the author meant when he states, “heaven is not a physical place” (p. 9). Those who are dispensational and/or credobaptist may take issue with Grindheim’s disagreement with their views, though he is respectful. And given ongoing debates on the continuation or cessation of the spiritual gifts, it is a bit surprising that Grindheim does not address the issue in his section on spiritual gifts (pp. 194–95).
When it comes to using this book in the classroom, it seems best suited for undergraduate students who may have a basic familiarity with the Bible but lack a clear understanding of how the various parts fit together. The integration of insights that are more “systematic” in nature would be especially helpful for students whose curriculum does not include a distinct systematic theology course. The suggested titles for further reading are helpful for the student who wants to explore a topic further, though the books listed tend to be seminary-level reading rather than undergraduate material.
Introducing Biblical Theology enters an increasingly crowded market of introductory biblical theology texts. Those who prefer a more strictly storyline approach with less “systematic theology” mixed in may prefer Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen, The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story (Baker, 2004). Instructors who desire more content and additional materials for the classroom may prefer J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Living God’s Word: Discovering Our Place in the Great Story of Scripture (Zondervan, 2012). Those looking for an overview of the storyline plus a defense of biblical theology will likely prefer Graeme Goldsworthy, According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible (IVP, 2002). For a simplified version of Goldsworthy that is better suited for a church context, see Vaughan Roberts, God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Story-line of the Bible (IVP, 2003). Also more suited for the church than the classroom, complete with an accompanying study guide, is D. A. Carson, The God Who is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story (Baker, 2010).