Book Review: Symphonic Theology

symphonic-theologyThis book was suggested to me by a couple different guys, so I decided to pick it up.  Symphonic Theology by Vern Poythress is mainly about the benefits of not being being caught in a rut of understanding the Bible, or anything really, from only one perspective.  Poythress says, “We use what we have gained from one perspective to reinforce, correct, or improve what we understood through another. I call this procedure ‘symphonic theology’ because it is analogous to a blending of various musical instruments to express the variation of a symphonic theme.

This book very much emphasizes the validity of having many different perspectives, but clearly argues that not all perspectives are valid.  When someone approaches the Bible, they may be looking for something specific such as what they can learn about ethics, while someone else may be looking for what a passage says about God.  What you are looking for can alter, to a degree, what you “see” in the text.  Also, the combination of someone’s life experiences, books read, knowledge on different topics, etc., can effect how someone may read and understand the Bible.  Everyone has their own unique perspective to some degree.

As Poythress says in the quote above, we can and should use all of these perspectives to better solidify what is true, and more clearly see what is not accurate and throw it out.  And, on our own, it is a helpful practice to re-read a passage of scripture multiple times, each time reading it from a different perspective.

One thing I found especially helpful was his approach to the understanding of the four Gospels.  Each writer naturally had their own perspective and thoughts, and in writing had their own purpose and intended audience.  Poythress says, “The Gospels provide four accounts of reality, but there is only one reality.  The Gospels are diverse because it is possible to give plural interpretations of a fact, not because the fact itself is plural.”

Though the concepts were good and very helpful, and provided a great framework for thought, it wasn’t an easy read.  To use a term my friend said the other night, you have to do some wading through the book.  Some parts were a challenge for me to follow, and some of the concepts and examples were perhaps too lengthy and complex.  But besides that, I would highly recommend it.


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