Getting to Know the Son of God: Ten Truths from Graeme Goldsworthy

photo-1416958672086-951aa7064010 2Among biblical theologians, Graeme Goldsworthy is a well-respected scholar with great passion for Christ and his church. His works on the Bible, the kingdom of God, hermeneutics, and preaching are treasures that help us see Christ in all Scripture.

sons of god

More recently, he has put together a short book on the theme son of God.  It’s called The Son of God and the New CreationIn what follows, I will try to encapsulate some of his observations and arguments in ten points. Continue reading

Introducing “How” To Do Biblical Theology: Fifteen Axioms from Graeme Goldsworthy

atpThis week our Sunday School classes begin a summer-long study of According to Plan: An Introduction to Biblical Theology.

It is not hyperbole to say Graeme Goldsworthy’s book was revolutionary in my understanding of Scripture, theology, hermeneutics, and preaching. Maybe you’ve had a similar experience with him; I know many friends and ministers of the gospel who have.

If you have not read him—or heard of him— let me whet your appetite. The first seven chapters of his book outline a basic methodology for biblical theology. Without including everything, I’ve laid out fifteen axioms about biblical theology from his introduction.

Certainly, these axioms do not exhaust the subject. They don’t even exhaust Goldsworthy’s contribution (see his Christ-centered Hermeneutics and Christ-centered Biblical Theology), but they do make a sizable dent in introducing “how” to do biblical theology.

So, take up and read. Tolle Lege. Then go back to Scripture with a greater hunger and skill in seeing Christ in all Scripture—the personal and spiritual aim of all good biblical theology.

  1. Biblical theology is more than being “biblical” in our theology — “Deciding to be biblical, and believing and acting upon what the Bible teaches, does not solve all our problems” (19).
  2. Biblical theology is Christ-centered, meaning “biblical theology shows the relationship of all parts of the Old Testament to the person and work of Jesus Christ and, therefore, to the Christian” (23). Likewise, “Biblical theology enables us to discover how any Bible text relates to ourselves. Because Christ is the fixed point of reference for theology, we are concerned with how the text relates to Christ and how we relate to Christ” (71).
  3. Biblical theology is a methodological approach to showing [how all parts of the Old Testament relate to Christ] so that the Old Testament can be understood as Christian Scripture” [cf. 2 Timothy 3:14–16]” (23).
  4. “Biblical theology needs to emphasize some theme or themes which provide basis for understanding the single, unified message of the Bible” (77). Any valid biblical theology will show from Scripture is unified message, and how it relates to the final and full revelation of God in Christ (Hebrews 1:1–2).
  5. Biblical theology is a verbal map of the overall message of the Bible,” and “Biblical theology enables us to map out the unity of the Bible by looking at its message as a whole.” (23–24)
  6. Biblical theology provides the basis for the interpretation of any part of the Bible as God’s word to us” (25). As William Dumbrell has said elsewhere, “Interpretation of the Bible demands a framework within which the details are set. . . . We need to know the big picture before we look at the details.” (William Dumbrell, The Search for Order: Biblical Eschatology in Focus, 9).
  7. Biblical theology, speaking generally, stands between systematic theology and exegetical theology. In practice, biblical theology is most like historical theology, as “it contains a history of God’s revelation to mankind” (32). At the same time, biblical theology is what insures systematic theology is biblical, as “systematic theology will constantly make use of biblical and historical theology” (32). That said, biblical theology is most closely related to exegetical theology; it is “the last stage of exegetical theology . . . which examines the process of progression of God’s revelation to mankind” (35).
  8. Not every “biblical theology” is equally biblical, for “many biblical theologies have been written in which the biblical presuppositions have been rejected in favor of humanistic ones” (48). Importantly, biblical theologians must the inspiration, authority, and unity of the Bible.
  9. Biblical theology must affirm a number of underlying presuppositions about the Word of God and the world we live. Goldsworthy enumerates five (45):
    1. God made every fact in the universe, and he alone can interpret all things and events.
    2. Because we are created in the image of God we know that we are dependent on God for the truth.
    3. As sinners we suppress this knowledge and reinterpret the universe on the assumption that we, not God, give things their meanings.
    4. Special revelation through God’s redemptive word, reaching its high point in Jesus Christ, is needed to deal with our suppression of the truth and hostility to God.
    5. A special work of the Holy Spirit brings repentance and faith so that sinners acknowledge the truth which is in Scripture.
  10. Biblical theology should learn how to read the Bible from the apostles — “Jesus claims . . . he himself is the subject of the Old Testament. His teachings constantly point to the Old Testament as that which he fulfills. Thus the Old Testament does not stand on its own, because it is incomplete without its conclusion and fulfillment in the person and work of Christ” (52).
  11. Biblical theology should be a Christian endeavor – “In doing biblical theology as Christians, we do not start at Genesis 1 and work our way forward . . . Rather we first come to Christ, and he directs us to study the Old Testament in the light of the gospel The gospel will interpret the Old Testament by showing us its goals and meaning. The Old Testament will increase our understanding of the gospel by showing us what Christ fulfills” (55).
  12. Biblical theology recognizes that God’s Word is a progressively revealed revelation” — The Old Testament “is revelation because in it God makes himself know. It is redemptive because God reveals himself in the act of redeeming us. It is progressive because God makes himself and his purposes known by stages until the full light is revealed in Jesus Christ” (57).
  13. Biblical theology avoids the mirrored extremes of literalism and allegory — “Literalism involves the very serious error of not listening to what the New Testament says about fulfillment. It assumes that the fulfillment must correspond exactly to the form of the promise.” Conversely, “allegory assumed that history is worthless as history. Allegory results when a supposed hidden meaning is read out of something that on the surface is historical but which in fact has no value as history” (67).
  14. Biblical theology pays attention to the typological structures of the Bible — “Typology . . . takes account of the fact that God used a particular part of human history to reveal himself and his purposes to mankind. But it was a process, so that the historical types are incomplete revelations and depend on their antitype for their real meaning [e.g., the substance of Christ interprets the shadows of the Old Testament]. Typology rejects the principle of literalism [the belief that “says the historical promises lead to exactly corresponding historical fulfillments”]  . . . It also rejects the principle of allegory. [the belief that “says the historical promises and events are of significance only for the hidden meanings which lie beneath them”]. (68)
  15. Biblical theology ought to ground its methods of interpretation in the principles of the Reformation — “The literal or natural meaning of the text was what the text intended to convey to its original readers. It was thus a rejection of the allegorical interpretation that regarded such [historical-grammatical] meaning as irrelevant. Most significantly, however, the reformers did not see the literal meaning as being exhausted until it found its fulfillment in Christ. Thus, they recognized that the literal meaning at the Old Testament level pointed to a future event with a fuller meaning. Unlike allegory, the connection between the two was a matter of revelation in the Bible itself.” (68–69)

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How do you recognize a biblical type?  

seekfindIf we agree that typology unites the Bible, identifies who Jesus is, and reveals God’s progressive revelation (which I argued here), then it is vital to know how to recognize a type. Indeed, one of the of the reasons people doubt the validity of a given type (e.g., Joseph as type of Christ, or Noah’s ark as a type of salvation) is that they fear reading too much into the Old Testament. Perhaps, they have seen typology gone wild and have concluded that such interpretations are fanciful and forced. Indeed, while there are many poor examples of misinterpretation, typology remains a vital reality in the Bible. And it behooves us to ask again: “How do you recognize a true biblical type?”

In what follows, I’ve given 5 ways to help you do that. This list isn’t exhaustive and it (over)simplifies some very technical discussions, but for those just beginning to consider or reconsider typology, may it serve as a starting point for recognizing types in Scripture. (For a more comprehensive approach to detecting types, allusions, and patterns in Scripture, see G. K. Beale’s Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Exegesis and Interpretationesp. chapters 3 and 4). Continue reading

The Gospel and Wisdom: Learning to Apply the Gospel to All of Life

This evening, our church will look at the Book of Proverbs in our ongoing study of the Bible.  In preparation this morning, I came across this helpful reminder by noted Biblical Theologian, Graeme Goldsworthy, that the gospel of Jesus Christ necessarily includes the conversion of the mind and the application of the gospel to all areas of our thought life (cf. Rom 12:1-2;  2 Cor 10:3-6).

Listen to what Goldsworthy has to say,

The Christian mind-set comes about through the gospel, and so we must come to think of Christian wisdom as a conforming of the mind to the gospel.  If, then, we understand the gospel only in its basic terms of Jesus dying for us, we will probably wonder how this can affect the way we think totally.  We need to remind ourselves that the simple gospel is also profound.  The truth, ‘Jesus died for me,’ actually implies everything that God has revealed in the Bible about his relationship to humanity and to the created order. Growing as a Christian really means learning to apply the fact of the gospel to every aspect of our thinking and doing (Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel and Wisdom in The Goldsworthy Trilogy [Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster, 2000], 341).

May we as Christians continue to turn from the pernicious patterns of this world to the mind-renewing truth of the gospel that informs every aspect of creation, wisdom, and life.  For in Christ all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden (Col 2:3).

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Book Review: The Kingdom of God

Bright, John. The Kingdom of God: The Biblical Concept and Its Meaning For the Church.  Nashville: Abingdon,1953.

If you like Graeme Goldsworthy, you will like John Bright; and if you come to John Bright’s book, The Kingdom of God, already familiar with Goldsworthy’s According to Plan, you will recognize some similar elements.  Bright unites the entire Bible along the lines of the kingdom of God, which he defines in many places as the people of God under the rule of God.  (He does not make quite as explicit the place of God, as Goldsworthy does).  Nevertheless, the two books share some common elements, which should not be entirely surprising because of the Union Theological Seminary connection, where Bright taught and Goldsworthy studied.

In the The Kingdom of God, Bright traces the kingdom from its origins in Israel to its already, but not yet manifestation in the Church of Jesus Christ, and in so doing he has aimed to assist the “general reader of the Bible” (11) understand the continuous aspects of the Scriptures.  Wary of the History of Religion school and the hyper-typology of those like Wilhelm Vischer, Bright’s hope is to do justice to the texts of Scripture while showing how the Kingdom of God resides in them all, “in one way or another” (11).  In short, his goal in writing this book is to be faithful to the Bible, stimulating to the church, and helpful for biblical theology.  Without being overly congratulatory, I think he hits his mark.

The book is broken down into 9 chapters.  The first six are devoted to the OT, while the last three address the NT.  Of these nine, the final chapter actually becomes sermonic and makes biblical application for the contemporary church (circa 1950’s).

In the first chapter, Bright moves from the Exodus to the reign of David tracing Israel’s religion, Israel’s historical development, and the rise of kingship in Israel.  Instead of speculating about the royal themes inchoate in Genesis, Bright moves right to the Exodus and the birth of the Israelite nation.  He sets up the context of the Ancient Near East, and the ways in which God elected Israel and made covenant with them.  With rapid succession, Bright moves to the Davidic Covenant so that Genesis – 2 Samuel are covered in the first chapter of the book.

In chapters 2, Bright moves to the Davidic Kingship under God’s judgment.  He outlines the history of the day, retelling the works of the Assyrian empire and the threat they brought to Israel.  He spends much time in the book of Amos, following the argument of the prophet, who shows that all nations are under judgment and failed attempts at ethical living can only postpone the judgment of God for so long.  What is needed is a new covenant.  In this chapter, Bright asserts the distinction between Israel and the kingdom of God–they are not coextensive.  This is something he will belabor throughout his work, namely that not all Israel is Israel.

In chapters 3-5, Bright moves from the judgment of Israel to the Exile and back again.  Showing an extraordinary grasp of the history, each chapter begins by setting Israel in its geo-political context.  He explains the rise to power of foreign nations and what effect this has on Israel’s kingdom.  In this historical context, he exposits the theological message of Isaiah, Hosea, and Micah (ch. 3), and then Jeremiah and Ezekiel (ch. 4-5).  He highlights theme of “remnant” that develops in this historical context, and from a barrage of biblical texts shows how the hopes of Israel are moving forward.  Eschatological anticipation is growing along with a hope for a promised Messiah to save Israel.  Simultaneous with this messianic hope is the hope and desire for a new covenant.

Finishing the OT and moving into the Intertestamental period (i.e. Second Temple Judaism), Bright recounts Israel’s return to Jerusalem and the minimal realization of the eschatological promises.  In chapter 6, Bright once again distinguishes himself as an excellent historian by showing how two inter-locking trends developed in the corporate mindset of Israel in the centuries leading up to Christ.  First, an apocalyptic hope emerged, whereby Jews began to believe and anticipate YHWH’s fiery intervention to establish his kingdom once again in Israel.  This was coupled with a second trend in which Israelites devoted themselves to the preservation (and expansion) of the law and the keeping of Torah.  The former is reflected in Daniel, the latter can be seen developing in Ezra and Nehemiah.  Both of these are also seen in other apocryphal literature, and manifested in the various Jewish sects present in Jesus own day (i.e. Qumran, the zealots, the scribes and Pharisees).  Bright’s analysis is that these two separate themes, apocalypticism and devotion to the law, actually served to support one another–the devotion to God’s law was thought to invite God’s intervention.   Likewise, these dual ideologies served to protect the national identity of Israel in the face of Hellenism and other foreign influences. 

It was in this historical millieu that Israel’s long-awaited Messiah was born.  In chapter 7, Bright surveys the gospel accounts of Jesus coming and fulfillment of OT promises.  Chapter 8 then speaks of the birth of the church and the way in which God’s people relate to the OT community and the Messiah himself.  Bright conceives of the kingdom of God as being already but not yet, and provides a good explanation of the way in which the kingdom is transferred from the Old to New Covenant, though his Presbyterianism comes out in that within the church itself, like ancient Israel, there remains a spiritual remnant.  He interprets the field of Matthew 13:38 as the church, not the world.  Other than this, his explanation is helpful.  Again, his strong suit is his painstaking historical detail.

Finally, chapter 9 moves from the lecture hall to the pulpit.  Bright applies the biblical, historical theology of the kingdom of God to the church today.  Unashamedly, he applies much of the kingdom theology to current political events in his era.  Thus communism and the Soviet Union get much attention, but really the evils of Red Russia serve as a foil to show how the judgment of God is coming on all nations of all time, because only the kingdom of Jesus Christ will eternally stand.

In the end, his book is very helpful, especially in situating the kingdom of God in the historical contexts of the Old and New Testaments.  Bright makes constant reference of his scholastic mentor, biblical historian, William Albright.  Albright’s influence is evident, as each chapter is started with many pages of historical notes and annotations.  Bright is faithful to the Bible, showing only occasional moderate leanings (i.e. Second Isaiah, a late dating of Daniel), but his unified project affirms the authority, inspiration, and unity of the Bible.  Moreover, his writing is very readable and he often incredibly witty, using common vernacular to explain scholastic points.  One final criticism, is his theological understanding of the church.  He abstracts the kingdom of God in the New Testament to be an spiritual, invisible community, much like the spiritual remnant of the Old Testament.  I suppose this is better than equating the church with the kingdom, but I believe George E. Ladd’s work on the church-kingdom relationship, where the church serves as visible manifestations of the kingdom, kingdom outposts, if you will, is a better conception.

All said, Bright’s work The Kingdom of God: The Biblical Concept and Its Meaning For the Church is an excellent and enriching read, one that I highly recommend.  While other books on biblical theology do well to recapture the covenantal and literary structures of the Bible, you would be hard pressed to find another book that gives such rigorous attention to the historical details of the Bible.  At the same time, Bright’s emphasis on the later history of the kingdom of Israel during the time of the prophets stands out as an excellent treatment of that material. 

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Biblical Theology: Word-driven, Kingdom-focused, Christ-centered

One month into my blogging at Via Emmaus, I have begun to consider, what is the overall aim and purpose of my writing. Why do I take time to sit at an impersonal computer screen and write thoughts that may never be read? If they are read, will they simply be deconstructive arguments against the fallen world in which we live, or will they be something more constructive and positive? Will they simply respond to events in the world at large and my world in particular, or will they endeavor to offer something substantive? Will they be an exercise in simply cataloging ideas from my studies at Southern and the array of weekly readings I am assigned, or will they offer anything fresh? Will they be a follow-up to lessons I have taught and/or sermons that I have preached, or will they consider other relevant matters of biblical thought? Well, perhaps they will include some or all of these elements, but as I have thought about it this week, I think the focus is becoming more clear. And my hope is to consider more intentionally a Word-driven, Kingdom-focused, Christ-centered Biblical Theology and how this vision of redemptive history and the gospel call intersects all of life.

Prior to coming to SBTS, Biblical Theology was a subject matter that I enjoyed and considered often. Since arriving in Louisville in 2004, it is something that has grown and developed–perhaps more than any other area of discipline in my academic life. Taking classes with Drs. Russell Moore, Thomas Schreiner, and Steve Wellum has stimulated this kind of thinking; reading books by these professors along with works by Graeme Goldsworthy, Edmund Clowney, Wiiliam Dumbrell, Geerhardus Vos, and others many has contributed significantly to this growing passion. Biblical Theology and its intersection with the church, ministry, and daily living is something that interests me greatly and something of worthy of greater consideration.

For instance, most recently a friend of mine mentioned how he currently serves in a position of administration at an evangelical school. It is something that he enjoys as he continues his education, but it is not something he sees himself doing forever. Similarly, I am working in a position of administration at Southern Seminary. And in hearing his thoughts, which resonate with mine, the thought(s) arose: What is a biblical theology of administration? How does administration fit in the plan of redemption and in the world that God created? How does a school administrator at a divinity school carry out the Great Commission? In what ways can my daily service be improved by a biblical understanding and vision of administration? In short, what does the Bible say about administration? Who were administrators in the Bible? Certainly Joseph, Daniel, and the seven deacons chosen in Acts 6 served in such a capacity. Who else?

All that to say, thinking biblical-theologically about all these things helps me understand the life that God has given me, the world in which I live, and the nuanced application of how I can participate in the Great Commission, and how we together are to do church and proclaim the gospel. These are all things that interest me and hopefully will receive much more specific attention on this website. As the old adage goes, if you aim at nothing you will hit it every time. So in opposition to this danger, I take aim at thinking more about Biblical Theology and writing more intentionally about the subject.

May the Lord Jesus Christ be pleased to allow such conversation, discussion, and reflection on his all-wise plan of redemption–according to his Word, about His kingdom and His church, and for the glory of His name.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss