When I was at Dallas Theological Seminary and struggling with the issue of dispensationalism, I ran across a little book by Mark Strom titled The Symphony of Scripture. As a dispensationalist, my understanding of the Bible had been predicated upon the divisions in Scripture. In fact the basic motto of the dispensationalist is: “rightly dividing the Word of truth.” Unfortunately, the unity of Scripture was lost in the dispensational understanding of this biblical phrase. The underlying themes and threads that tie all of the books of Scripture together were obscured and/or ignored. Discontinuity was emphasized at the expense of continuity, and the Bible was chopped into separated segments. Strom’s book was one of the first books I read during this time that challenged me to look at the Bible in a different way-to look at it as a unified story that centered on Christ. It remains one of the most helpful introductions to the overall message of the books of the Bible that I have seen. The book, which was originally published by InterVarsity Press, has been out of print for almost a decade, but it has recently been re-published by P&R Publishing Company.
According to Strom, three main presuppositions shape the outline and structure of his book from beginning to end:
- The Bible is essentially the record of God’s dealings with His people over thousands of years and within several different cultures. A central story line and the constant interaction of themes such as sin, judgment and grace unify its diversity.
- Jesus Christ is the key to understanding this unity in diversity.
- The books of the Bible should be read with respect for their historical and cultural context and the literary conventions they reflect.
The main goal of the book is to demonstrate how the key people, events, institutions, and books of the Bible fit into the overall story. In other words, Strom provides a map of the forest with a guide to important landmarks along the trail. The book is an introduction that is as useful for those with no prior knowledge of Scripture as it is for those who have studied the Bible for many years.
Strom’s book is divided into twenty-two relatively short chapters (usually about ten pages in length). Twelve chapters are devoted to the Old Testament, and ten are devoted to the New Testament. There are numerous helpful charts and illustrations throughout the text to help the reader grasp more complex topics. Each individual chapter begins with a brief summary of the main point to be communicated and ends with several discussion questions and exercises. The exercises introduce the reader to the actual text of the Scripture that has been discussed in the chapter. The book is structured in such a way as to be particularly well-suited for either individual or group Bible study.
Many new (as well as old) believers are often intimidated when they attempt to read the Bible. So many questions arise. What is the purpose of the numerous genealogies? What is the meaning of all these odd sacrifices? What is the relevance of these stories of ancient kings and prophets? What do these strange images in the prophetic books mean? Why does Jesus speak in obscure parables? Why is the Book of Revelation so mysterious and difficult to understand? Often these questions overwhelm the reader of Scripture. This is why an introduction such as this one can prove to be extremely helpful. No one attempts to go on a long journey in a foreign land without a map and a guide-book. Reading the Bible for the first time is very much like going on a long journey in a foreign land, and a good map and guide are just as helpful on this journey as on any other.
Strom does not merely introduce the books of the Bible, however. He also traces many of the central themes that run throughout the entire Bible. This is probably one of the most helpful features of the book. The central theme of Scripture is, of course, a Person-Jesus Christ, and Strom focuses on how the whole Bible points to Him. But Strom also shows how other themes such as grace, sacrifice, judgment, and covenant all weave throughout the books of the Bible and find their ultimate meaning in Christ. This aspect of the book is what proved to be most helpful for me as a recovering dispensationalist, and I suspect that it might be as helpful for others who are struggling through the problems raised by that system of interpretation. All in all, Strom does an outstanding job of showing how the different themes and motifs of the Bible come together to form a consistent and harmonious whole.
I would readily recommend this book to any person who desires a better understanding of Scripture whether they have been a Christian for a week or for many decades.