Goldsworthy, Graeme. Christ-Centered Biblical Theology: Hermeneutical Foundations and Principles. IVP Academic, 2012.
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 — my review here) 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.