The Story of Romans
A. Katherine Grieb’s “The Story of Romans: A Narrative Defense of God’s Righteousness” is at the same time a strangely profound theological reflection and an accessible tool to enhance the reading of a complex letter like Romans for the lay reader. Grieb’s thesis is that Romans is to be read as “Paul’s argument in defense of God’s righteousness [as] constructed on a series of stories nested within the one great story of what God has done for Israel for the Gentiles in Jesus Christ”. Her narrative approach in which Paul aims at inculcating the Roman congregation within this meta-narrative of God’s mission to the Gentiles that he might establish a base of operations there I found to be extremely insightful because it teases out the very concrete contingency of Romans so often ignored when its treated as a “compendium of Christian doctrine.” When reading it this way, one cannot help but feel a sense of hermeneutical satisfaction that comes from grasping the entire inner logic at the heart of a letter like Romans, especially as Romans 9-11 finally fall neatly into place with chapters 1-5.
The book is broken into eight chapters as Grieb analyzes Romans’ main sections allowing one to familiarize oneself with Paul’s various micro-stories, like that of Adam, Abraham, and Moses, yet with a sharp eye to how these relate to the macro-story of God’s covenant faithfulness. Moreover, each chapter ends with the author’s reflection to how Paul’s letter can shape our lives today and questions that stimulate the mind and spark dialogue with the topic at hand. I found that all the tools necessary to grasp Romans was present: intertextuality, first-century context, and an open dialogue with the great interpreters of Romans from Barth to Wright in our own day. The strength of the book is its continued emphasis in narrative that demands we continue to conceive the letter as a composite argument, and not a goldmine for doctrine of this or that sort that leaves entire sections of the letter as expendable husk.
Needless to say, I would have to seriously hunt for something in the book to which I was totally at odds, but honestly, chapter after chapter I found myself nodding my head in total agreement. The book is really, as far as I have read, one of the best summary and concise treatments on the letter I have come upon and I plan on recommending it to all of my congregants who want to take Romans seriously. I am quite confident that if such a book were to be read on broad scale within the corporate church we as pastors could learn how to shape our teaching and preaching as to draw our audience into God’s great ongoing-mission and our congregations would finally begin grasping the cosmic narrative to which they are being invited to participate.