Christ-Centered Biblical Theology, by Graeme Goldsworthy. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012. 251 pages.
Graeme Goldsworthy was formerly a lecturer in Old Testament, biblical theology and hermeneutics at Moore Theological College, Sydney, where he still teaches part time. His other books include Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics, According to Plan, and the Goldsworthy Trilogy.
Is there a unifying theme to all of Scripture? Certainly, we would all say that it is Christ. But can we expand on that? Are there larger themes, movements, and structures within salvation history that come to the surface and tie it all together? These are the questions that Graeme Goldsworthy addresses in Christ-Centered Biblical Theology. When we think of “biblical theology,” we might think of the scroll painted on the wall of the seminary chapel and the classes that we took in exegesis, isagogics, and hermeneutics. This book, however, is really more about how these disciplines can be used to discover an overall flow to Scripture. The author explains,
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. At the heart of the gospel is the person of Jesus Christ; he is the word of God come in the flesh. The nature of the gospel is such that it demands that it be at the centre of the biblical message. Biblical theology is, then, the study of how every text in the Bible relates to Jesus and his message (80).
Whereas systematic theology focuses on individual doctrines and how they are expressed throughout Scripture, biblical theology focuses on the flow of salvation history. The goal is to provide preachers, teachers, and students with a ‘big picture’ that helps them better understand the Bible as a whole and how each section relates to the others. “It seeks to view the whole scene of God’s revelation 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’s interest in biblical theology began when he was a seminary student at Moore College and sat at the feet of the Australian New Testament scholar, Donald Robinson. Throughout the book the author acknowledges his indebtedness to Robinson in forming his own biblical theology. This book is a defense and a refinement of this approach.
So what is his biblical theology? Goldsworthy suggests that the central theme of Scripture is “the kingdom of God defined simply as God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule” (75). God’s promise to Abraham lays the foundation for how he deals with the world. This promise plays out in three stages:
(a) the historical experience of the fulfilment 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 fulfilment in Christ and the Spirit in Jesus’ incarnation, death, resurrection, exaltation and in his parousia as judge and savior in a new heaven and new earth (22-23).
The first stage (a) is revealed in Genesis 1 to 1 Kings 10 where God’s kingdom is revealed in Old Testament history culminating in King David and Solomon’s temple. The second stage (b) plays out in 1 Kings 11 to Malachi where the kingdom is revealed by the prophets in a future, glorified, Israelite form. The prophets use Israel’s history to speak of God’s love in the past and project his love in the future. In the final stage (c) the kingdom is revealed in Christ in the New Testament. The author believes that this threefold schema unites the diverse themes and books of Scripture while at the same time allowing each book to retain its uniqueness in history and the canon.
In chapter 2 the author supports and explains the evangelical definitions and presuppositions that underline his approach to biblical theology. I found his discussion on the doctrine of the Word of God to be especially encouraging. He says, “That God pronounces each day’s creation as good means this word achieves what he intends it to. At no point does God say, ‘Oops! Scrub that one.’ His word is thus a sovereign word, self-interpreting, self-authenticating, infallible and all-powerful. It is the foundation of a hermeneutic of authorial intent” (43). In the next chapter Goldsworthy shows how God carried out his plan of salvation in history, so that biblical revelation cannot be reduced to timeless religious ideals. In other words, the Bible is not just a bunch of fairy tales from which we extract truth. “Redemptive history, far from being an alien framework, is the very warp and woof of biblical revelation” (74). It is real because God acted in the real world. “If we are correct in maintaining that the New Testament sees the death and resurrection of Jesus as the telos, the intended goal of history, then we have to conclude that the meaning of history is to be found in Christ” (60).
In chapter 5 Goldsworthy defines what it means to approach biblical theology from an evangelical standpoint before presenting a survey of other biblical theologies. In chapters 6, 7, and 8 he evaluates his approach by looking at how the Old and New Testament writers themselves saw the structure of revelation unfolding. In doing so, he presents a rather convincing case for his three stage matrix. After a summary of the “Robinson legacy,” the book closes with some possibilities for how theologians can approach biblical theology in the future.
While there is always a danger of imposing one’s own outline or structure on Scripture, Goldsworthy’s three stage approach to biblical theology seems natural and unforced. Instead of pitting the two Testaments against each other or dividing the Bible into distinct epochs that hardly seem to relate, Goldsworthy’s approach highlights the connection between Abraham, David, and Christ. It is refreshing to see how this approach consistently keeps the focus on Christ and God’s covenant of grace.
I was disappointed in one reference to “the final author of the Pentateuch” (136) that seemed to reveal at least a minor accommodation to historical criticism. Also, I would like to take more time to think about his presentation of typology. In broad strokes Goldsworthy claims that each stage of revelation contains types that find their antitype in a subsequent stage. “The typological value of a person, event, or institution is governed by the role that each plays in the theology of the redemptive revelation within the stage of revelation in which it occurs” (187). Might it be going a little too far to identify types and antitypes within each of his three stages?
So is this book worth your time? As I mentioned at the beginning, this book provides the foundations and principles of Goldsworthy’s biblical theology; it is not so much an actual walk through his approach as it plays out in Scripture. At times the author also seemed to assume a basic knowledge of other biblical theologies, which most of us probably don’t have. For the pastor who is interested in teaching an overview of the Bible, or who simply wants to grow in this area, perhaps another book by Goldsworthy entitled According to Plan might be more helpful. While I haven’t read this book, according to its description it is more of a comprehensive outline of Goldsworthy’s biblical theology based on a course that he taught for several years to both pastors and lay people.