Reviewed by Chris Bruno
Sigurd Grindheim’s Introducing Biblical Theology has a certain Scandavian efficiency to it. In it, the author summarizes the storyline of Scripture in very accessible and succinct way, highlighting key points and discussing important debates in biblical theology with simplicity and clarity. For these reasons alone, it is a welcome addition and a useful volume for students and new Christians. Beyond this, however, Grindheim adds some valuable theological insights that would benefit seasoned students as well.
Overview and Comments
As he should, Grindheim begins with God, explaining a biblical view of the God who interacts with his creation. From there, he discusses angels and demons (a somewhat surprising choice for the second chapter of biblical theology), and then human beings, sin, and the ongoing plan of salvation.
In his chapter on God’s redemptive plan, Grindheim begins with an overview of the OT, discussing the four major covenants (with Noah, Abraham, Israel, and David). In his discussion of the covenants, he also highlights a distinction between obligations and conditions, arguing that unconditional covenants included obligations but not conditions (51). While I am not sure that that distinction can be maintained, Grindheim’s discussion does provide a useful onramp to the conversation about the nature and types of biblical covenants.
After his discussion of the biblical covenants, Grindheim turns to the OT pictures of sin and its restitution. While his summary of the various OT offerings was helpful, Grindheim’s links between these sacrifices with the Suffering Servant in Isaiah were particularly instructive. From here, it is a quick jump to the OT’s description of the Messiah. In a day where some scholars are hesitant to talk about Messianic hope in the OT, it is refreshing to see Grindheim’s willingness to speak of the Messiah in the OT.
In somewhat of a reversal from his source material, the last 2/3 of the book are devoted to the NT. However, Grindheim does devote considerable space in the NT chapters demonstrating the connections to the OT. These OT connections begin the longest chapter, an overview of the NT picture of Jesus as the Messiah, Son of God, Lord, and Last Adam, to name just a few of the themes Grindheim highlights. He also clearly introduces the scholarly discussions of themes such as Wisdom Christology and the Messianic Secret. In this chapter, Grindheim emphasizes the deity of Jesus, even arguing that Jesus did not have to pray for miracles to happen (99). While I wonder about some miracles, including Jesus’ prayer before raising Lazarus in John 11, this question does not significantly diminish the strength of the chapter.
Following his chapter on Jesus in the NT, Grindheim walks the reader through the work of Christ as a substitutionary atonement and salvation in the NT. As throughout the book, Grindheim clearly introduces a number of important questions and provides clear reasons for the views he adopts. Unsurprisingly, many of his positions on God’s righteousness, the Law, and faith and works are rather Lutheran.
Grindheim then moves to the gift of the Holy Spirit and the new life of the believer in the next two chapters. He provides an illuminating discussion of Jesus’ farewell discourse in John (though he demurs on the question of the “Little Pentecost”). However, in his discussion of Hebrews 6, he takes a firm position against the traditional Reformed view, arguing that this text is “a description of those who have had a genuine experience of the gifts of salvation” (165). While his discussion of the new life of the believer is less controversial, he does see Paul’s account in Romans 7 as the “description of a Christian, but from a limited perspective” (171).
The next-to-last chapters deal with the church and the sacraments. In these chapters, Grindheim rightly notes that Jesus intended to form a new community with “strong symbolic ties to Israel” (180). He also provides a good overview of the NT’s images for the church and gives a good defense of the limited nature of the Apostolic office. His discussion of baptism and the Lord’s Supper was overall quite strong (and this is coming from a Baptist reviewer!). As Grindheim notes, in the NT, “Baptism was the way to express publicly that a person had come to faith in Jesus Christ” (208). However, he then makes an unconvincing case for infant baptism on the basis of the covenant parallels and Jesus’ invitation for children to come to him. Grindheim’s clear argument for the link between explicit faith and baptism seemed to trump this later argument, if not outright contradict it.
The last chapter treats the last things. While Grindheim provides a persuasive argument against a pre-tribulational rapture, he does not take a strong position on the premillennial versus amillennial question. Though, as a former student of Greg Beale’s, I would like to see eschatology have a little more prominent role throughout the book. As Grindheim himself says, “The New Testament message can be summarized as the good news that the end is already here” (226).
Key Contributions and Uses
This book has very little fluff. Grindheim typically knows what he wants to say, says it clearly and simply, and then moves on. For students and pastors who want a quick and clear overview of biblical theology, this book could be a very useful tool. The best use of this book would most likely be in a course or setting where the students have little to no biblical knowledge. In such a setting, it would be a very fine introduction in an undergraduate course or even in an advanced high school course. The book could also be put to good use in a small group or Sunday School setting. Moreover, the chapter summaries and review questions lend themselves to easy interaction and discussion. Having said that, for some younger students the prose might lack the extra flourishes necessary to keep a nineteen year old off Facebook. While this is less a criticism of Grindheim as of our era, it is worth noting.
While I have a few questions and critiques about some of Grindheim’s arguments, his positions are plausible and typically well-argued. As I hinted above, however, I do think that the book could have given a little more attention to the OT. Approximately 90 pages are devoted to the OT, whereas about 140 are given to the NT. While I understand the focus on the NT, I wonder whether new readers of biblical theology would be better served by more detail on the OT, how it points us forward to Christ, and how 21st century Christians should read the first 2/3 of their Bibles.
While the book could be used in setting where there is less familiarity with the Bible, this does not mean it more seasoned students would not benefit from this book as a way of reviewing and even advancing their knowledge of biblical theology. As a thorough and clear introduction to biblical theology, Grindheim has accomplished his purpose well.
Chris Bruno is Director of the Center for the Local Church at Northland International University and Director of the Antioch School, a partnership of local churches across the Hawaiian Islands.