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.
The problem and promise of biblical theology
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)
Goldsworthy’s approach to typology
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).
The future of biblical theology
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.
About the author
Graeme Goldsworthy was formerly 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, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, Prayer and the Knowledge of God, and three books on biblical studies collected as The Goldsworthy Trilogy.
[node:disclaimer body collapsed]