Christ-Centered Biblical Theology By Graeme Goldsworthy (InterVarsity, 2012).

Goldsworthy, formerly lecturer at Moore Theological College in Sydney, has produced a number of thoughtful works on hermeneutics and biblical theology. This one is likely a summary of his life’s work thus far; it opens with a delightful, and somewhat autobiographical, historical preface; as well, it contains an excellent historical overview of biblical theology, albeit from a redemptive-historical viewpoint (76–110).

Here’s what Goldsworthy thinks of biblical theology: “The immediate appeal of biblical theology to preachers, teachers and ordinary Christians is that it provides a ‘big picture’ that makes sense out of the bewildering bulk and variety of the biblical literature. It seeks to view the whole scene of God’s ’elveation from the heights—to mount up with eagles’ wings and allow God to show us his one mighty plan from creation to new creation” (19). Goldsworthy is absolutely right with this, his very first sentence of the book: nothing like biblical theology to depict the broad tapestry of God’s work, indeed, the “big picture.” But that immediately raises a caution for the preacher (and let me emphasize here that this reviewer speaks exclusively from a preaching standpoint): this species of interpreter, while certainly acknowledging the value of “big pictures,” usually works with “miniatures”—the pericope, the unit slice of text preached to and encountered by God’s people week by week. While large canvases help portray the magnificence of divine work across the span of biblical time, it is the thrust of the smaller panels that yield specific guidelines for life change in this manner and that, in this particular area and that, in this way and that.

Soon thereafter, Goldsworthy assumes—wrongly, in my opinion—that the only other option to biblical theology is the consideration of the Bible as “a mass of unconnected stories and other bits of writing” (19). That is surely a straw man. Going pericope by pericope, week by week, as preachers are wont to do, can, most certainly, reveal the larger story seriatim. That is what lectio continua is all about, after all. But for Goldsworthy, any other reading of the Bible “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). While I’m sure there are preachers guilty of this kind of “narcissistic engagement,” to say that such culpability is the only alternative to preaching biblical theology is going too far. Those who do not see it this way—particularly those who dare to use OT characters as examples, tend “to sever the text in question from the centrality of Christ and to lead to moralism, even legalism” (30). Strong words!

“Biblical theology … is the study of how every text in the Bible relates to every other text in the Bible. It is the study of the matrix of divine revelation in the Bible as a whole. … Biblical theology, then, is the study of how every text in the Bible relates to Jesus and his gospel” (40). And “[b]roadly speaking, it is the task of biblical theology to understand the historically contextualized theology” (48). That is fair enough, except that for preaching, this approach tends to a strict reductionism—there is something behind the text that is the kernel; the interpreter’s role is to eliminate the historical/contextual husk.

And then Goldsworthy takes over 75 pages to outline and describe this salvation history (56–75, 111–169). I have oft wondered why this backbone of a timeline was not presented in a crisp and succinct fashion in the Bible. While I would not deny the existence of such a timeline, or that it is derivable from the biblical text, or even that is essential for understanding the broader work of God in history, I would register a protest at the level of its importance to preaching. I think it is more critical that preachers—again, my focus is on preachers and preaching—emphasize pericopes and their theological function for sanctification (i.e., what authors are doing with what they say in those pericopes), so that the people of God may be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom 8:29), bit by bit, pericope by pericope, sermon by sermon, for the glory of God.

Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society 13.1 (2013): 53–55

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