Books

Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics by Graeme Goldsworthy (Book Review)

Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles for Evangelical Biblical Interpretationby Graeme Goldsworthy

Most pastors may secretly be glad that they can leave the formal study of hermeneutics behind in seminary. “Hermeneutics,” after all, is not a word that is especially useful to common pastoral discourse. Drop that one in a conversation or sermon and people are likely to respond, “Herman who?!” However, since one of the primary vocations of the pastor is to interpret and apply the Word of God to the People of God, hermeneutics is never really left behind. We all have presuppositions and ideas which control the way we read and understand Scripture. The question is, are these presuppositions derived from the Scriptures themselves and consistent with the Gospel, or are they derived from philosophical and cultural influences of which we may not even be aware?

Graeme Goldsworthy’s new book, Gospel-centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles for Evangelical Biblical Interpretation, is a profound study of the ideas and issues involved in hermeneutics – and especially the importance of taking the Gospel of the Crucified, Risen, and Exalted Christ as our starting point for interpreting Scripture. The book is divided into three parts and nineteen chapters, followed by a bibliography, and Name and Scripture indices.

Part One: Evangelical Prolegomena to Hermeneutics

Part one contains four chapters dealing with concepts foundational to the task of hermeneutics and the remainder of the book. Those chapters are:
*The Necessity for Hermeneutics
*Presuppositions in Reading and Understanding
*Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics
*Towards a Biblical Theology of Interpretation
Goldsworthy states that “hermeneutics is about communication, meaning, and understanding” (24). These are the three dimensions involved in hermeneutics: the message/text, the sender/author, and the receiver/reader. Hermeneutics is about bridging the gaps (of language, culture, history, literature, etc.) that exist between the receiver/reader and the message/text and sender/author. When it comes to Scripture, God is the communicator, God’s word is the message, and God’s people are the receivers/readers.

The primary aim of this book is to show how all three of these dimensions in hermeneutics find their center in the person and work of Christ. “The gospel of Jesus Christ reveals him as the Word of God who is the truth. Jesus as the divine communicator, the saving message, and the human receiver demonstrates where the heart of true hermeneutics lies. The gospel is the power of God for salvation, which includes hermeneutical salvation” (53). Part one lays the groundwork for this kind of thinking and shows “from creation, through fall and redemptive history, to the new creation reveals a consistent approach to the basics of hermeneutics. In essence it shows that hermeneutic failure is due to human sin. The fact that we struggle for meaning and understanding as fallen creatures in a fallen world is ultimately problematic only if God has not acted to redeem the situation. But, because we believe he has acted redemptively in Christ, it is to this Christ that we must turn for hermeneutic salvation” (85).

Part Two: Challenges to Evangelical Hermeneutics

Part two is probably the most challenging section of the book, yet its value is great. The author shows how the Gospel has been “eclipsed” by the “invasion of non-biblical philosophical frameworks into the interpretive process” (91). What follows is both a survey of the history of hermeneutics and a biblically-faithful critique of the various schools of thought. In eight chapters Goldsworthy discusses The Eclipse of the Gospel in:
*The Early Church
*The Medieval Church
*Roman Catholicism
*Liberalism
*Philosophical Hermeneutics
*Historical Criticism
*Literary Criticism, and
*Evangelicalism.
The twelfth chapter on “The Eclipse of the Gospel in Evangelicalism” is especially insightful and relevant. This chapter is well worth reading, even if some readers preferred to skip over other parts. Goldsworthy deals with:
*Quietism: evangelical Docetism
*Literalism: evangelical Zionism
*Legalism: evangelical Judaism
*Decisionism: evangelical Bultmannism
*Subjectivism: evangelical Schleiermacherism
*‘Jesus-in-my-heart-ism’: evangelical Catholicism
*Evangelical pluralism, and
*Evangelical pragmatism
His summary of this chapter contends that “The irony of modern evangelicalism is that many of its aberrations have occurred because of a siege mentality and an attempt to ward off the effects of the enlightenment. When evangelicals become reactionary, they can often flee unwittingly into the arms of another enemy waiting in the wings . . . [The] matters raised in this chapter should move us to be more diligent in allowing the gospel to shape our hermeneutics, even if this means appearing to be somewhat tiresome in our questioning of some of the traditions of our evangelical culture” (180).

Part Three: Reconstructing Evangelical Hermeneutics

This final section contains the more positive and most valuable contributions Goldsworthy makes to the field of hermeneutics. In chapter thirteen, he begins by outlining several presuppositions for Gospel-centered interpretation:
*The sole content of Scripture is Christ (unity)
*Scripture is self-authenticating (authority)
*Scripture is clear and self-interpreting (meaning), and
*Christ is Lord of the Scripture

Chapters fourteen through eighteen take up the literary, historical, and theological dimensions of Scripture (chapters sixteen and seventeen respectively addressing “the two Testaments and typology” and “biblical and systematic theology”) and contextualization. Chapter nineteen, “The Hermeneutics of Christ” is a summary of the main argument of the book, showing how interpretation of Scripture is shaped by the person of Christ, the work of Christ, the glorification of Christ, and the Spirit of Christ.

The following paragraph is an example of how Goldsworthy’s Christ-centeredness works on a practical level: "The hermeneutics of the doing of Christ the fulfiller demand that we read carefully the Old Testament as a testimony to what he achieves in his life, death, and resurrection. The gospel is so dependent on its Old Testament antecedents that we can easily overlook some of its dimensions and texture if we do not carefully examine what it is that he fulfills. The Old Testament perspective on eschatology, with all the rich variety of its expectations of restoration, finds its resolution in the work of Christ. This includes the promises concerning the people, the place of God’s kingdom, the temple, and redemption from sin. It also includes the promise of a new creation. Thus the hermeneutics of the cross of Christ must go beyond forgiveness of sin to the new creation. Jesus on the cross was putting the universe back together; he was restoring the true order of creation" (304).

Conclusion

This is not the easiest book I’ve read in recent months, but it is one of the most important. I found myself not just reading, but studying this book – rereading, highlighting, and taking notes. It is now on my mental list of books to read periodically. I would highly recommend this book to pastors and preachers who desire to be biblically-faithful and Christ-centered in their teaching and preaching of Scripture. For those who feel daunted by the length and weight of the book, I would suggest reading chapters one through four, nine, twelve, and sixteen through nineteen. But I think that pastors who will risk this book will find it compelling enough to return to again and again.

3 comments:

Dan Waugh said...

Thanks for your review. I just ordered my copy of his book yesterday
-dan (http://www.godentranced.blogspot.com)

Dan Waugh said...

Thanks for the review. I just ordered my copy of the book yesterday.
- Dan (http://wwww.godentranced.blogspot.com)

Mark Ritchie said...

Brian,

Thanks for posting this. I'm a lurker at your blog; not sure I've posted a comment before. I have just received this book, having ordered it due to the almost unanimous recommendations from those I trust on the web. I'm in the medieval section right now... looking forward to the remainder.