15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
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In recent years biblical theology has enjoyed something of a comeback. A robust, Christ-centered, confessional variety of biblical theology is becoming more and more widespread and influential. And if we wanted to find someone to thank for this development, Graeme Goldsworthy's name would come up on anyone's short-list. His books "Gospel and Kingdom", "The Gospel in Revelation", and "Gospel and Wisdom" touched a nerve in the 1980s, and his later book "Preaching the Gospel as Christian Scripture" was picked up by many a Gospel preacher. Some have bristled at what they think is his wild approach to typology. And indeed, for many who pay attention to this theologian from down under, his approach to the Bible is nothing short of revolutionary. His redemptive-historical approach to the Bible has made the Old Testament come alive to thousands of rank-and-file Christians the world over.
"Christ-Centered Biblical Theology: Hermeneutical Foundations and Principles" is Goldsworthy's latest book, and in it he traces some of the influences to his thought. Along the way he gives a history of evangelical biblical theology and weighs the relative merits of competing approaches. He details the tripartite division of redemptive history that he inherited from his mentor, Donald Robinson. And by the end of this book, he has demonstrated just how careful and faithful his approach to Scripture really is.
Goldsworthy begins by explaining the problem. Biblical theology opens the way to a "big picture," grand view of all of Scripture. Yet too many view it as a "lame duck" and a distraction. Goldsworthy's faith in the potential of biblical theology stems from his simple faith in the entire Bible being "the one word of the one God about the one way of salvation through the one savior, Jesus Christ" (pg. 19). Drawing from his mentor, Donald Robinson (also a professor at Moore Theological College in Sydney) Goldsworthy sees a threefold structure to Scripture:
--Creation to Solomon's Temple (The Kingdom of God revealed in OT history)
--Solomon's Decline to the end of the OT era (The Kingdom revealed by the prophets in a future, glorified, Israelite form)
--The New Testament inauguration of the Kingdom (The Kingdom revealed in Christ)
He develops this further:
"The Old Testament... can be represented as a manifestation of promise and blessing reaching a high point 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. After Solomon's apostasy it is history primarily as a manifestation of judgment... overlaid with the prophetic promises that the Day of the Lord will come and bring ultimate blessing and judgment... It takes the person of Jesus, his teaching and the proclamation of his apostles to restore hope in the original promise of God." (pg. 25)
Goldsworthy addresses some of the objections to his approach as he traces out its foundation throughout the book. But at the onset he points out his pastoral concern in this whole debate. He is concerned with the simplistic way that so many Christians handle the Bible.
"Many have learned one particular way of dealing with the Bible and have not been exposed to a comprehensive biblical theology as an alternative. 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.... Too many Christians go through life with a theoretically unified canon of Scripture and a practical canon consisting of favourite and familiar snippets and extracts removed from their real canonical context." (pg. 29, 37)
The heart of the book is Goldsworthy's romp through Scripture looking at its structure and storyline. He is convinced that the New Testament provides a model for how to interpret the Old Testament faithfully, but he focuses on the Old Testament's own use of earlier Old Testament themes and writings. The Old Testament creates the typological categories that the NT authors pick up. I found this point most intriguing, and cannot help but reproduce Goldsworthy's quotation from Donald Robinson to this regard.
"The blessings of God's End-time are described in the Old Testament for the most part in terms drawn from Israel's past history. The day of the Lord would be Israel's history all over again, but new with the newness of God. There would be a new Exodus, a new redemption from slavery and a new entry into the land of promise (Jer. 16:14, 15); a new covenant and a new law (Jer. 31:31-34). No foe would invade the promised inheritance, 'but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid' (Micah 4:4). There would be a new Jerusalem (Isa. 26:1, Ez. 40) and a new David to be God's shepherd over Israel (Jer. 23:5, Ez. 34:23,24) and a new Temple where perfect worship would be offered and from which a perfect law would go forth (Isa. 2:2-4, Ez. 40-46). It would not be too much to say that Israel's history, imperfectly experienced in the past, would find its perfect fulfilment 'in that day.' Indeed, nothing less than a new creation, a new heaven and a new earth, could contain all that God has in store for the End (Isa. 65:17)." (pg. 173 -174 [quote is from Donald W. B. Robinson, "The Hope of Christ's Coming" (Beecroft, New South Wales: Evangelical Tracts and Publications, 1958), pg. 13]).
When Goldsworthy looks at typology, he takes great care not to endorse a "no-holds barred" approach. While he advocates a macro-typology recognizing that "there is no aspect of reality that is not involved in the person and work of Christ." On the same hand, he argues that seeing "the pomegranates on the robes of the Israelite priest" as "types of the fruits of the Spirit;" or even "the redness of Rahab's cord" as a "type of Jesus' blood," is to pursue "fanciful, non-contextual associations that avoid the real theology behind these things" (pg. 186-187).
Throughout his book, Goldsworthy compares and contrasts his approach to biblical theology with several other evangelicals of note: Geerhardus Vos, Edmund Clowney and Dennis Johnson, Willem VanGemeren, William Dumbrell, Sidney Greidanus and others. He also details Donald Robinson's approach and legacy. In his assessment of differing approaches, he doesn't portray his view as the only faithful one, but as one faithful approach among many.
He doesn't provide a biblical theology in this book, but sketches the background for how to pursue a biblical theology. He does address a few issues more directly, since they focus on Robinson's legacy. One of these is an interesting discussion of the continuing distinction between Israel and the Church in the New Testament. He explores Robinson's contention that there remains a distinction between new Israel and the Church. The Gentiles get the blessings promised to Gentiles in the OT, while the blessings promised to Israel are experienced by the believing Jews in the NT era. Both groups of people are then subsumed in the new revelation of God's intent to make a new man, a new people for himself (cf. Eph. 2).
"Christ-Centered Biblical Theology" manages to keep from being merely a last word from an old theologian. There are memoirs and reflections, to be sure. But the over-all thrust of the book is to equip the reader to pick up the torch and take biblical theology into the new millennium. Numerous charts and diagrams help communicate the concepts of the book, and Goldsworthy ends with a litany of possibilities for furthering the discipline of biblical theology.
This book will kindle a fire in many hearts for biblical theology. And for those who are familiar already with this important discipline, it will stimulate further reflection on the structure of Scripture and the centrality of the Gospel. I hope it will find a broad audience, and that a new generation will carry on Goldsworthy's work.
Disclaimer: this book was provided by Inter-Varsity Press for review. I was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Joel L. Watts
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Kevin J. Vanhoozer, in his endorsement of the book, praises the Australian school of biblical theology against the lack of one in North America. He laments the fragmentation of biblical theology, and I assume, of course he means here. No doubt, this is the case, with some following this one or that some following that one, and some following no one but themselves. If there is one singular value in this book -- and there are many -- then it is that an evangelical Anglican scholar from Australia has completely showed American biblical theologians how proper biblical theology is done.
Upon first reading Graeme Goldsworthy's self-introduction in this book, I found it refreshing that an author could trace his theological ancestry as far as he did. After reading the book, I realize that this theological family tree is part and parcel with Goldsworthy overarching scheme of biblical theology. His theological descent is whole, complete, and traceable, without any areas of gray, much like his description of biblical theology. Equally so is his insistence in both realms on a Christ-centered approach. This is one of the most striking features of the book - the focus on every act of Scripture centered on Christ. This becomes almost polemical in denying the contributions of Abelard and others of the moral exemplar view, but taken in context of how Goldsworthy views biblical theology, one can understand the often over the top insistence that all others are liberals. Goldsworthy sees Christ as the goal of Scripture, and any hint of deviation riles him.
The book is systematically divided into eleven chapters where he dogmatically tackles the topics of biblical theology. After a sound introduction of fact rather than philosophy, Goldsworthy honestly lays out the need for presuppositions while doing biblical theology as well as what those presuppositions are. This is important for the casual reader and the measured investigator alike; after all, if you do not know your foundation, how else can you continue? Once this is done, Goldsworthy launches into what is bound to make many upset -- that the Old Testament is really a Christian-looking document completed only by the New Testament. Investigating what the Germans call Heilsgesschichte, or salvation history, Goldworthy establishes his view that the Kingdom of God, rather than any particular doctrine (such as the dogmaticists would propose) is the core of Scripture. This chapter is followed by one on Evangelical Practice, which I suspect would better serve the reader if it preceded the previous chapter, or arrived near the end of the book. Regardless of placement, it is Goldsworthy's most humble chapter as he declares that no evangelical biblical theology "can claim to have the final word on the matter (98)." Granted, he does not advocate for a multifaceted view, such as the one advocated by Craig Evans (See Craig A. Evans in Porter, Stanley E., and Beth M. Stovell, eds. Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views. IVP Academic, 2012) but this should help, at least, with allowing that Goldsworthy does not think himself above question - he just doesn't believe in a unity in diversity amalgamation, as discussed in chapter 5. The next several chapters examine the progressive revelation and typological theology that must accompany biblical theology as Goldsworthy reads the Old and New Testaments. He finishes with a chapter on Robinson (his teacher) and Hebert's typological theology as well as a chapter on application.
I clearly disagree with many of the elements of this book; however, several positive attributes stand out. First, Goldsworthy knows and believes what he says. In my discussions with North Americans who claim to be biblical theologians, I have yet to find anyone who meets the intellectual capabilities of Goldsworthy. His intellectual honesty, especially in laying out the presuppositions, and this dogmatic grasp of those presuppositions is quite frankly rewarding. His focus on Christ is one that must call all theologians to reexamine their commitment to the historical confessions of the Christian faith. His focus on thematic material such as the Kingdom of God and the notion of revelation will interest more than it turns off. For theological writers, his style is one to be mimicked. It speaks easily to the reader, as if you are in a one on one conversation with the author. Even the footnotes are succinct.
Finally, Goldsworthy shows the aptness of doing biblical theology. This is not my theology, but the inventive methodology Goldsworthy proposes and applies is one that connects all strands of Scripture together. Whether or not it is forced, as some may suspect, it is nevertheless a consistent theme for the author and in this consistency, we find remarkable clarity.
The beauty of this book is this: regardless of the near diatribic nature of his views on any other times of theology, or against those who see (even sometimes) moral exemplary roles and his rather forceful views on certain dogmas that many post-modern Christians will find troublesome, what Goldsworthy has produced is a book that restores the confidence of the biblical theologian and challenges other Christian theologians to always keep their theology Christ centered.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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Format: Kindle Edition
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.