Books

Book Review: Gospel and Kingdom by Graeme Goldsworthy (Part 2)

Chapter two focuses on the importance of “Bridging the Gap” between the ancient text and the contemporary world. We must bridge the gap of time and culture, but also of theology. But the gap widens with each move backwards in redemptive history, so that the gap between us and pre-Pentecost believers is greater than the gap between us and Paul, while the gap between us and the pre-crucifixion disciples is greater still, and the gap between us and Old Testament Israel greatest of all. The upshot of this is that ways of handling the Old Testament which ignore its redemptive-historical context are inherently dangerous.

For example, we should be wary of character studies which simply consist of observing behavior and exhorting people to learn from those observations. “We must not view these recorded events as if they were a mere succession of events from which we draw little moral lessons or example for life” (25). For example, to apply the story of David and Goliath with the exhortation that believers should overcome the giants in their lives as David did Goliath ignores a significant contextual consideration – namely that “David is the one who, immediately prior to the Goliath episode (I Samuel 17), is shown to be God’s anointed king . . .So when it comes to his slaying of Goliath it is as the unique anointed one of God that he wins the battle” (27-28). This changes the application. Rather than identifying ourselves with David, we should identify ourselves with soldiers who watched the anointed king battle in their stead. “The same point may be made about the lives of all the biblical characters who have some distinct office bestowed on them by God. If their achievement is that of any godly man the lesson is clear, but if it is the achievement of a prophet, a judge or the messianic king, then to that extent it no more applies to the people of God in general than does the unique work of Jesus as the Christ” (28). This then raises the question of “what governs the right approach to the meaning of the Bible” (28). What principles will help us avoid “flights of fancy” in our interpretation? Is there a unifying theme to Scripture, and if so, what is the structure of that theme? Discovering that theme and structure is all important and determines everything else in our interpretation. “If the unity of the Bible has any meaning at all, the real context of any Bible text is the whole Bible” (31).

“What is the Old Testament?” asks Goldsworthy (chapter three). It is three things: literature (with many different genres), history (although not a simple history of Israel, or the history of ancient religion), and theology. In fact, it is “theological history” (41) which is governed by God’s purpose and comes to us as “a part of God’s word to man” (41). The Old Testament “records how God speaks to man declaring his purposes and intentions, how he acts on the basis of his word, and how he then interprets the events of his word” (42). The theology controls the history. “Theology means the knowledge of God as God himself reveals it” (42). The task of the interpreter is to discover that theology. “But we may not separate what God says and does from the context in which he says it and does it (the history) nor from the way he says what he does (the literary record)” (43). The unity of the Bible’s message must take into account both its complexity and its diversity.

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