Book Review: Symphonic Theology

Symphonic Theology: The Validity of Multiple Perspectives in Theology by Vern S. Poythress


I read a helpful little book this past week, and I’d like to pass it on to you. Mind you, it is not light reading.  I often found myself distracted instead of focused; I had to go back and reread a few pages every once in a while because I would wake up in the middle of a paragraph that was talking about something I knew not what. Part of that was due to the content, and part of it was due to my never-before-medicated-ADHD that I’ve been told I still have as a 50-year old.  So, fair warning.  However, it is a worthwhile book if you’re ready to do some painful thinking. 


The main point is that there are a number of ways to read a passage of Scripture in order to get a fuller understanding of what that particular passage is talking about.  Like a symphony is comprised of many instruments that combine to make a beautiful composition of music, so do multiple perspectives on a text combine to give a better knowledge of what the author and The Author are actually saying. 


Here’s the challenge: whether it be the individual words of the passage, the overall theme of the particular book in which the passage occurs, a comparison of the way a single word is used in different passages of Scripture, the tendencies of the different biblical authors (the options are many!), habitually look at any and all passages of Scripture from many different perspectives in an attempt to get the fullest understanding of God’s perspective as possible. 


A weakness I see in doing this is the tendency to make the Bible say what it doesn’t say.  It is easy to make the Bible say something other than what it does say so a hard and fast commitment to the analogy of faith is important in the process of “doing” symphonic theology.  As always, it is necessary to maintain a humble submission to Christ and his Word and make sure that you’re never making a passage say anything contrary to what another passage clearly says.  Let the Bible speak for itself.


The strength of this approach is that any passage has A LOT to say, and taking the time to look at any given passage from a number of different angles can only be a good thing.


The most encouraging application for me was to meditate on the Scriptures.  In the time consuming act of meditation, one can slowly but surely begin to notice things in the text that a cursory perusal will leave hidden.  In our fast-paced society, any encouragement for me to be slow with the Scriptures is good encouragement.  Ask the text important, clarifying questions.  Ask God for help in understanding his word.  Ask both of those questions regularly, and as my son would say, “You be aight.” 


The book is actually free online right here.


Enjoy for the glory of God!