I’ve taken some time to do something I’ve been wanting to do for a while. Given the amount of free time I’ve unexpectedly had in the last few weeks, I thought this was an excellent time to begin this, which is an overview of the Book of Romans. This has originally been something I was doing for a group I’m in on Facebook, and I thought it might be good to put it in a series of articles for people to read. The first article will be the introduction to this series, and what it’s intention is.
The Framework of Learning
The purpose of this study is not so much to get extremely deep and technical into the exegesis of Romans (Lord knows I am not qualified for that!), rather to provide readers and lovers of Scripture a more or less “overview” of what Romans is teaching us. When I’m asked about where one should start in church history, I aways (as I do with virtually every subject that people want to dive into) encourage them to begin with the basics. Want to learn Greek? Start with the basics; learn the alphabet, for example. Want to learn how to fly? Start with the basics. Want to learn how to play guitar? Piano? Drums? Start with the basics–I remember even an excellent drumming tutorial I once found on YouTube, where the guy takes you through a very basic drum beat, starting just with ordered strikes to the snare, that evolve into adding a closed hi-hat tempo, then the kick is added every few beats, and then an open hi-hat hit–building upon building upon building from the ground up.
In church history it’s the same thing. How do you begin to do church history? With the basics. By this I mean starting with a kind of overview of what basically happened in the history of the church. To be overly simplistic, we have the Age of the Apostles, the apostolic fathers, the patristic fathers, the middle ages, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Revolutionary age, Enlightenment, and on to the 20th and 21st century context which we are in. That’s extremely basic; so learn what was basically happening in each of those eras. Then once you have a basic idea of the chronology, it will do tremendous help in digging into the specifics of each point within those eras. Key to knowing church history is organization–organization of the events as they happened. If you can’t get a grasp of chronological order, you’re going to have a real hard time with church history.
But that’s neither here nor there. The point here is that what often intimidates people, especially those who are trying to figure out where to begin, is when they are flooded with information that they have no idea how to process. It’s that feeling you get when you dump an entire box of jigsaw puzzle pieces onto your table–where do I begin? Keeping with that analogy for a moment, I haven’t done a jigsaw puzzle in years, but I remember when I began one, what I first did was I looked for the edges. That is, in all this mess, I had to figure out somewhere to start, and the edges seemed the easiest. Meanwhile, if I found a few pieces that happened to go together, I put them together, and continued working from the edges until eventually I had finished.
Similarly when I am drawing on my iPad, I start with a basic sketch outline that is my foundation and I add layer upon layer upon layer until I get my finished product. Writing my novel involves me having a basic outlook and intention, which becomes the framework to start building, expanding, and in some cases adding–but only adding based upon the foundation that’s there.
This is one of the key points of this study I want to do. I want to focus less on one specific area in Romans that we sit on for weeks and weeks and weeks, and therefore sometimes tangling people up with an overload of information, and instead on the basic framework that it is giving us so that we can build upon that foundation our Christian faith.
The Framework of the Christian Faith
That leads us to the question we want to ask that will help grasp the audience I am intending to reach. The question is, what is the Christian faith? What are the essentials of the Christian faith? The basic stuff that defines one as a Christian? What are the key, fundamental doctrines of Christianity that distinguishes it from everything else? Hence we are seeking to reach those who perhaps are new to the faith, perhaps have been Christians for some time, but never really dived into those fundamental doctrinal questions and assertions that are very important; perhaps know it in their hearts but don’t really know how to articulate them to people (I often have that problem). This study is meant for those people–those who want that basic framework by which they can build upon everything else.
Before I begin, however, I want to stress that this does not mean I am just flying over Romans and not at all focusing on particular areas that need focus. Think of it as a tour through a wonderful land that you’ve never been to before, but perhaps heard about. The tour bus/vehicle, or cruise ship takes you across the general area of the tour location, and gives you some insight to the area and its history and context while you’re going through. But then there are key points in the tour and journey that require us to stop and actually get off and do a more in-depth look into that key area. That’s how I want us to view this.
The Epistle of Romans is just the kind of book to do this. It is unique in its existence within the New Testament, and even among Paul’s writings. It is unique because of its construction; many of the letters, let’s be honest, often jump from one subject to the next and then back again, and are not well ordered if we are speaking strictly from a literary perspective. In John’s first epistle, for example, John doesn’t seem to follow one thought after the next very well. He instead jumps from subject to subject. Nevertheless, he remains focused on his primary theme, which is his desire for God’s people to know that God loves them and is in them, and they are carried by His grace.
Even Paul has this tendency to race around a bit, such as in Galatians. Of course, Paul was angry in that letter, which probably contributed to the lessened eloquence we find in Romans. But Romans is in a class by itself here because it almost entirely is a flow of thought; ordered perfectly from point A to B to C and on. It’s almost impossible to explain, for example, Romans 6 without first going back to five, wherein you’ll have to go back to four to explain five and so on, because each chapter flows out of what came before it. The only places I might argue could have been out of place was Romans 5, with the federal headship of Adam (we will talk about what that means in its time), which one could argue ought to have been in the beginning, as understanding our headship in Adam is key to how we are saved, something Paul breaks down for us in chapters three and four.
But within all of this is Paul’s exposition of what the Christian gospel is, all compacted into one letter to a church in Rome in the later half of the first century. We talk about the doctrine of God and revelation, both natural and divine as being necessary to worldview issues; we talk about the doctrine of salvation, the doctrine of sin, the doctrine of the fall, the doctrine of regeneration, election, the church, even about eschatology (something I intend to be brief on). We also learn about the doctrine of Scripture, and even the Trinity; the doctrine of Christian life in the world, and the doctrine of government. These are essential pillars for the temple, if you will, of the Christian church to stand.
The Romans Road
This is why it is called “The Romans Road”. Because when we follow Paul into his letter of Romans, we discover what all of Scripture, when it is all put together, is telling us. What we hope you will be able to do by the end of this, whether you are vastly knowledgeable of Romans or not, is to be able to understand what each chapter is essentially telling us, how each leads to the next and explains the next, and from that basic framework, grow in the knowledge of Christ as revealed in all of Scripture so as to live a more fulfilled life in him. Amen.