The Story of Romans: A Narrative Defense of God’s Righteousness

The Story of Romans: A Narrative Defense of God’s Righteousness

Pegler, Stephen

The Story of Romans: A Narrative Defense of God’s Righteousness. By A. Katherine Grieb. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002, 167 pp., $19.99 paper.

As the title states, Grieb’s work traces the OT narratives that underlie Paul’s letter to the Romans. Written for the laity, this work is both enjoyable to read and easily read. Grieb lays out the OT themes and narratives in Romans and traces them throughout Romans. Each chapter ends with several application questions designed for individual and group thought. These questions are intended to probe the reader’s understanding of the text, its OT background, and its application to the believer’s life today, individually and corporately.

In her interpretation of Romans, Grieb draws almost entirely from the new perspective, especially from the work of Wright, Dunn, Sanders, Hays, and Kasemann. As such, her presentation is far too one-sided in many controversial passages. More troubling is her ready dismissal of other views and failure to interact with exegetical decisions that differ from her own. The book is short on discussing passages where scholars disagree and quick in presenting conclusions without showing the basis for them. The uninformed might easily assume that her presentation is the commonly accepted understanding of Romans and might therefore miss controversies and other approaches. While her presentation is partially due to the book’s length and audience, Grieb too easily dismisses more traditional understandings as coming from those who see Romans as “a collection of doctrinal loci” (p. 46) or “as a textbook of Christian doctrine” (p. 60). She also presents conclusions but does not show how they are relevant or how she arrived at her conclusions. For example, she states that Romans 9-11 are structured as a lament psalm but neither states how she arrived at this conclusion nor why it is relevant (p. 98). I would instead recommend an approach that briefly deals with relevant issues from both sides and offers a more balanced treatment of controversial issues within Romans. Doug Moo’s recent Encountering the Book of Romans (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002) does this admirably.

In spite of her dismissal of non-new perspective views, there are several points of agreement with more Reformed views. The most significant of these is the importance of faith in setting us right with God. Another point is that all of humanity is united in sin and in the need for salvation. Unless God had acted to bring us salvation, we would all be condemned.

The strength of Grieb’s book lies in helping the reader understand the OT themes that Paul drew on as he wrote Romans and showing how these themes tie Romans together. She describes how Jesus completes the salvation history to which the OT points. He did what Israel was not able to do, redeeming the world from slavery to sin. She also relates the purpose of the letter to Paul’s circumstances and his mission to the Gentiles and Spain (pp. 139-41).

Grieb ties chapters 12-16 in with the first eleven chapters very well. She presents the latter chapters as describing how God’s people should live out their concern for their fellow believers (p. 120). If Gentile Christians were to be disruptive in society, they would create serious problems for their Jewish neighbors because the latter were at serious disadvantage socially (pp. 124-25). Therefore, the Gentiles should be careful not to create social disruptions (12:9-13:8).

Some of Grieb’s questions and conclusions may be uncomfortable for many evangelicals, especially those questions resembling liberation theology or liberalism. For example, at the end of chapter 2 she asks whether the civil rights or anti-apartheid movements may be seen as contemporary analogies to the exodus. Other chapters end by asking the reader how the civil rights movement fits our understandings of Romans. These questions challenge us because they are questions that conservative Christians should face and often have not. On the other hand, Grieb’s defense of homosexuality left me unconvinced, especially since she does not really debate the position or interact with the relevant text but instead quotes those who favor her position (pp. 30-31). Similarly, her treatment of election and non election in Romans 9 does not do justice to the text. She presents Romans 9 as reflecting Paul’s uncertainty about what God has done in respect to choosing Israel in salvation history (pp. 92 ff.). Paul is asking, “Has God chosen Israel, and if so, how many of them? What OT texts reflect God’s treatment of Israel?” Is the best text “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated”? Or is the relevant text Exod 33:19, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy”? Grieb understands Romans 9-11 not as a coherent argument about God’s working with Israel in salvation history, but as Paul’s musings and agonizing questions about what God is doing, with no real answer to the problem.

I would recommend this book, especially if readers (whether individually or as a group) were at the same time to read a work such as Moo’s that presents different exegetical options and the reasons for the choices made. Many of the gaps in Grieb’s work would then be filled, and the reader would be better able to appreciate the strengths of her work.

Copyright Evangelical Theological Society Sep 2003

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