I started to see this book pop up on people’s blogs a few years ago. The title, Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation by Graeme Goldsworthy, intrigued me. So, using a gift certificate, I bought the book. Recently, excited to begin reading, a friend wondered aloud why we need to read another book on hermeneutics.
I’m glad I didn’t listen. I have not yet finished the book, but I’ve found it quite stimulating, understandable and grappling with an important topic: how should we, as evangelical Christians, interpret the Scriptures?
Here we will cover Part 1 of the book: Evangelical Prolegomena to Hermeneutics. Goldsworthy introduces the idea of presuppositions into the question of hermeneutics: will we assume the supreme authority of God or assume human autonomy? This is the question upon which so much hinges in biblical interpretation. Our assumptions or presuppositions, in addition to this one, greatly affect the effectiveness of our attempts to understand, explain and apply the text of Scripture.
“The function of hermeneutics could be stated as the attempt to bridge the gap between the text inside its world and the readers/hearers inside their world.”
There are a number of gaps that much be bridged in the process of interpretation. There is the langague gap, culture gap, history gap, literature gap, textual gap and the intended reader/hearer gap. He briefly explains these before moving into the principles of communication (communicator, message & receiver). One thing that sets evangelical hermeneutics apart is that the communicator is ultimate God, though He used numerous prophets and apostles. Since we believe the Great Communicator is God, the Bible is the message He has spoken. Yes, we say this on the authority of Scripture. To employ a test of sorts to verify or deny this claim is to place something over Scripture as our ultimate authority.
As creatures made in God’s image, we are capable of receiving and understanding God’s communication. Yes, sin has affected us profoundly such that our main obstacle is spiritual, though there are noetic, or intellectual, effects to the curse. We are pre-disposed to ignore and undermine God’s Word to us in our flight to autonomy. But God has spoken so we can understand (as Calvin says, he lisps to us), and works in the hearts and minds of the elect to receive and understand His Word.
The message itself centers upon Jesus Himself and the good news about His work for, in and thru us. In other words, revelation is redemptive! We are to keep this message of redemption at the center of our interpretative process or we misinterpret the message.
Chapter 2 hits more clearly on the idea of presuppositions that affect our reading and understanding. He quotes John Frame in this matter.
“A presupposition is a belief that takes precedence over another and therefore serves as a criterion for another. An ultimate presupposition is a belief over which no other takes precedence.”
Every thinker and theorist has presuppositions, which can’t be proven, about reality. For the Christian, the biblical doctrins of creation and lordship mean that God alone can interpret all things truly. He notes some of the changes that have occurred in philosophy that muddy the process of interpretation.
He notes 3 major views that have shaped the church over time. Irrationalism or fideism means “I believe what is absurd” though I would say this ends up as “It’s true because I believe it.” You find this in many a cult or counterfeit version of Christianity. Rationalism says “I understand in order to believe.” This puts our reason above revelation as we strive for consistency and coherence (not bad in themselves, but dangerous if used improperly). Thomas Aquinas is the patron saint, so to speak, of the Christian Rationalists. Or at least many of them. Augustine’s famous dictum, “I believe in order to understand,” expressed Presuppositionalism. It places the authority on revelation. From an attitude of faith I seek to understand what God has said, depending on Him to illumine me, and recognizing I cannot grasp all that God’s mind contains.
Some of the presuppositions we should have, based on Scripture are:
Grace alone- God is the source of all things. This points to “the ontological priority of God.”
Christ alone- salvation, grace, is found in no one else. This “points us to the soteriological and hermeneutical priority of the gospel.”
Scripture alone- this is the only reliable source of knowledge of Christ and God. It “points us to the phenomenological and material priority of Scripture.
Faith alone- we are to trust this message of Christ’s life, death and resurrection on our behalf if we are to understand Scripture and receive the promises of God. It points “to the ontological inability of the sinner and the espistomological priority of the Holy Spirit.”
In light of all this, Goldsworthy spends time talking about the gospel and “noetic salvation.” It sounds so obvious, and yet no one seems to talk about it, particularly in the context of hermeneutics. Since our Fall into sin and death, our minds have been tainted by sin. One effect of justification is also the justification of our minds. The perfect mind of Christ is imputed to us (1 Corintians 2:16). As a fruit of this noetic justification, we experience noetic sanctification as God brings our minds into alignment with His own over time (Romans 12). This is completed at glorification. As we become more like Christ, we understand Scripture more accurately and more consistenly gospel-centered (1 Timothy 1-3).
“We can say that, while not all Scripture is the gospel, all Scripture is related to the gospel that is its center.”
Our task is, in part, to see its connection to that gospel center. Only then can we properly understand the text. Here’s why:
“All reality was created by Christ, through Christ and for Christ (Col. 1:15-16). God’s plan is to sum up all things in Christ (Eph. 1:9-10). In him are all the treasures of wisdom and understanding (Col. 2:2-3). As a consequence, the ultimate significance of all non-biblical literature can be summed up in biblical gospel terms.”
So, in the early chapters Goldsworthy lays out a good explanation for why we must keep the gospel at the center of our attempts to interpret and explain Scripture.