A personal word or a unified message summed-up in Christ?
Christ-Centered Biblical Theology: Hermeneutical Foundations and Principles
Author: Graeme Goldsworthy
Publisher: IVP Academic (www.ivpacademic.com)
What excites me about Christ-Centered Biblical Theology by Graeme Goldsworthy is the effort to show how the diverse parts of biblical revelation relate. As Goldsworthy writes, “Some acknowledge that the Bible is a unity and that the heart of it is the gospel of Christ. But they have never been shown, or have tried to work out for themselves, the way the various parts of the Bible fit together. Reading the Bible then easily becomes the search for today’s personal word from God, which is often far from what the text, within its context, is really saying” (29). Later Goldsworthy makes an assertion that is foundational to his thinking, “The unity of the Bible is of such a kind that every text has some discoverable relationship to every other text” (195). In a footnote, he adds that by text he is referring to a meaningful literary unit, not just a few words or a single verse.
As inspiring as it is to experience the Scriptures coming alive in a personal way, it is even more thrilling to see how the vast vistas of biblical revelation fit together. I greatly appreciate his desire to find the links between the Old and New Testaments, without reading Christ into every passage, “The Christian meaning and application of an Old Testament text emerges as we show the links the canon allows us to make between any text and Christ” (224).
In the search for unity, it is important to avoid two common problematic approaches, “The one simply assumes a unity that allows the Christian to read the Old Testament as if it were originally written especially for us and directed immediately to us as Christians. This encourages moralizing and legalism through an overemphasis on an exemplary view of the characters and events in the narrative, and through a more direct application of the Law. The other avoids this direct application but has little to offer in its place” (193).
Later on, the author further warns against a rush to application, “The practical application of any text in Old or New Testament should never be divorced from the relationship of that text to Christ. Avoid the lemming dash over the cliff of direct applications. Of course we want people to be edified by ‘all Scripture’ (2 Tim. 3:16-17), but we want to get it right. The sufficiency of Christ stretches to his sufficiency as the fulfilling center of the whole canon of Scripture” (225).
Goldsworthy’s method is derived from his former teacher, Donald Robinson, an Australian New Testament scholar. In the attempt to study the Bible in its own terms, Robinson identified seven main issues. Those issues form the basis for the following summary, “We enunciated a biblical ‘typology’ using the three stages in the out working of God’s promise to Abraham, that is, (a) the historical experience of the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham through the exodus to the kingdom of David’s son in the land of inheritance, (b) the projection of this fulfillment into the future of the day of the Lord, by the prophets, during the period of decline, fall, exile and return, and (c) the true fulfillment in Christ and the Spirit in Jesus’ incarnation, death, resurrection, exaltation and in his parousia as judge and saviour in a new heaven and new earth” (22-23).
Goldsworthy defines it more succinctly as “the three main stages of revelation: biblical history from creation, and especially from Abraham, to Solomon; the eschatology of the writing prophets; and the fulfillment of all things in Christ” (25). From this point of view, the high point in the Old Testament is reached “in David’s Jerusalem as the focal point of the land of inheritance, in Solomon as David’s heir, and in the temple representing the presence of God to dwell among and bless his people” (25). A period of decline follows Solomon’s apostasy “with the prophetic promises that the Day of the Lord will come and bring ultimate blessing and judgment” (25). Finally, hope is restored in the person of Jesus, who is the fulfillment of God’s original promise.
Goldsworthy masterfully defends, contrasts and expands on his thesis. This is an excellent contribution on a highly significant subject, but those outside academic circles, who need this understanding as much as anyone, may get bogged-down by some of the technical aspects. This is not the kind of book to read haphazardly. It works best with sustained concentration.
Throughout much of the book Goldsworthy is laying a foundation. As a wise master builder, he is careful to make it sound so that others can build on it. Suddenly, upon reaching the more practical section at the end, I felt as though any preceding tediousness was worth it all. It is fascinating and instructive to read short sections on Israel and the Church, which rightly maintains the distinction between the two entities, and the various types of baptism.
Having noted the warnings against application, I would have enjoyed seeing more of how Goldsworthy’s method applies to various themes and passage in Scripture. It is there at the end, and to some extent along the way, but I wanted him to make the conclusions more readable and obvious. Nevertheless, I plan to keep this book for future reference. The material is so dense that one can easily benefit from repeat readings.