[K:NWTS 7/2 (Sep 1992) 39-41]

Book Review

Mark Strom. The Symphony of Scripture. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1990, 286 pp., $11.95 paper. ISBN: 0-8308-1304-7.

A symphony is the composition of a single author. It is composed of a central theme or motif which is woven through several movements or stages of development. In the great classic symphonies, this central theme penetrates each movement so that the climactic finale has been anticipated in each previous movement. There is, in a sense, an intrusion of the central motif throughout the composition.

The Scriptures are unified by their composer—God himself through the Holy Spirit. They are harmonized by their central theme/motif—the incarnation of the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, Savior of Sinners. The Scriptures are united by their perspective—the eschatological orientation of the people of God toward their Maker and Redeemer. Tis a heavenly symphony from beginning to end!

Mark Strom is certain that God is the composer of his word. He is convinced that Jesus Christ is the central theme of Scripture. But Strom does not appear to have a clue about the eschatological perspective which permeates Scripture from the intrusion of the seed-of-the-woman promise (Gen. 3:15) to the descent of the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:2). Perhaps two out of three is not bad. But the missing eschatological element makes Strom's Opus No. 1 an 'unfinished,' if not 'tragic' symphony.

Strom attempts to trace the biblical history of redemption from Genesis to Revelation. The chapters are arranged canonically. We begin which the creation, move to the fall, the patriarchal history, the exodus and wilderness era, conquest, era of the judges, monarchy, Psalms and wisdom, prophets, New Testament gospels, epistles and Apocalypse. A concluding appendix provides dates for the period Israelite monarchy to Roman empire (800-63 B.C.).

As a survey of redemptive history for the uninitiated, the book has some merit. It is plain, straightforward and written in a somewhat folksy style. In simple outline form, it presents a retelling of the Bible story in historical/canonical sequence. Along the way, we find moments of insight. His treatment of the exodus theme is quite good (pp. 45-47) as is his brief discussion of the Pauline "flesh"/"spirit" contrast (p. 232). He has Rom. 1:3, 4 right (pp. 198-99). But apart from these moments of 'brilliance,' the treatment is dull. Why? What was it that caused this reviewer to feel he was slogging his way through 279 pages of print? Was it the impression that he was reading condensed classroom notes from seminary survey/introductory courses (n.b. the names frequently footnoted—Harvie Conn, Ray Dillard, Tremper Longman, Vern Poythress, Moises Silva—all Professors at Strom's Th.M. alma mater, Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)?

I admit that I picked up Strom's volume hoping for a popular version of Geerhardus Vos's Biblical Theology. Hoping for "Vos for Everyman," I also expected a grasp of Vos's method by our author. Alas, Strom shows only the ability to copy Vos's well known diagram of New Testament eschatology (cf. p. 122, where the diagram is credited to Vos and p. 259, where it is not). Strom shows no ability to penetrate to Vos's starting point—the priority of eschatology (p. 257 notwithstanding). Strom is consistently linear, typological, topical in his approach. He is rarely vertical, eschatological, organic. The book thus becomes obvious, superficial, bland and boring.

Each chapter concludes with "discussion questions" and "exercises." These telltale conclusions reveal our author's penchant for the topical. The final word to every chapter is an attempt to make practical and relevant the content of the previous pages. Praxis uber alles ("practice over all"). As with all moralism, Strom must manufacture applications which fit the section of Scripture he has been treating. Having presented his data, it is now time to conclude each chapter by making the data relevant/applicable.

Strom never seems to understand that the real symphony of Scripture is always the reverse of his method. The drama and vitality of the word of God draws the reader/hearer into the very life of the text—a life which is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). Herein lies the music of the spheres.

Strom leaves us ultimately with a hermeneutical dualism: (1) exposition; (2) application. The two, however, are not organically related. In fact, the "discussion questions" and "exercises" often lead the reader to dismiss the preceding exposition as irrelevant to "real" Christian living. We may honestly ask: does the application even need the preceding exposition, or is that exposition merely a pretext? It is clear that the application does not need the eschatological orientation which characterizes genuine biblical theology.

Sadly, we leave this symphony disappointed. Strom's symphony is not sharp—it is, in fact, consistently flat!

—James T. Dennison, Jr.