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Posts Tagged ‘Graeme Goldsworthy’


The previous decade was not a great one for Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Much of it seemed to be taken up with controversies over a few professors and their  theology of Scripture and hermeneutics beginning in 2006. Some may have considered it a tempest in a teapot but this is one of the elite Reformed seminaries that provides pastors for the PCA, OPC, ARP and far more.

By 2014 Peter Enns and Douglas Green were gone. Men like Iain Duguid and Gregory Beale would step in to help restore confidence in the seminary.

ISeeing Christ in All of Scripture: Hermeneutics at Westminster Theological Seminaryn 2016 they produced a collection of essays by 4 of their professors in an additional attempt to restore confidence and help those of us on the outside to better understand some of the theological tensions. Retired professor Richard Gaffin, long-term professor Vern Poythress and the new additions Duguid and Beale were tabbed to write articles that were gathered into a little book called Seeing Christ in All of Scripture: Hermeneutics at Westminster Theological Seminary.

For such a small book, it sure has a ton of endorsements. There are blurbs by Packer, Robert Yarbrough, Wayne Grudem, Philip Ryken, David Wells, Kevin Vanhoozer, Cornelis Venema, Benyamin Intan, John Frame, Mark Jones, Liam Goligher, Richard Pratt, J.V. Fesko, Harry Reeder, and Julius Kim. There are more as well. They represent various nooks and crannies of the Reformed community here and abroad.

It begins with an introduction by WTS President Peter Lillback which discusses the history of hermeneutics at the seminary. He wants this book to show us a consistency of biblical interpretation at Westminster today. He quotes liberally from the 4 articles in question.

He admits that the previous few years had seen a struggle between a Christ-centric hermeneutic and a Christotelic hermeneutic. Is Christ the center and goal of the Old Testament or simply the goal of the Old Testament? This sounds kind of heady for some folks. Lillback doesn’t rely on his professors, but also draws on the Westminster Confession of Faith to explain why we hold to a Christ-centric method of interpreting the Bible.

Poythress, who teaches a hermeneutics course, begins the process. He brings in Cornelius Van Til to talk about presuppositions, our basic commitments, and how they shape our method of interpretation, not just our interpretation. We have to examine those basic commitments and compare them to Scripture’s commitments.

“There is no way to form sound hermeneutical principles in a vacuum, apart from religious commitments.” Vern Poythress

Poythress delves into the dual authorship of Scripture and its implications. He briefly looks at the progress of revelation and the nature of Scripture as the Word of God not simply containing the words of God. He then lays out a few principles that help us have biblical commitments for our interpretational method. That includes how the Spirit who gave us the Scripture brings Christ to us. Scripture speaks of Christ, and brings Christ to us because of the Spirit’s work.

Then OT professor Iain Duguid writes about … Old Testament Hermeneutics. Keeping things succinct, he goes right to the heart of the matter. The center of the Old Testament is Jesus. We aren’t looking for Jesus as if he’s Waldo. In a variety of ways Jesus is the thrust of each passage. Each passage (not individual verses but stories and sections)point us to our need for Jesus, the work of Jesus and the character of Jesus. The OT text had a message for the original audience, and it has such a message for us. While the human authors understood much of what they wrote, they didn’t understand all they wrote. We see Daniel and Zechariah struggling to understand their visions. They had true, real knowledge but not complete or comprehensive knowledge.

New Testament Hermeneutics is handled by Gregory Beale. He begins with the goal of exegesis- understanding the text and therefore God’s message through the human author using “genre, textual criticism, grammar, flow of ideas, historical background, word meaning, figures of speech, and relationship with other biblical passages through direct quotation or allusion.” The rest of the chapter is breaking that down. He makes a number of points about the way the NT uses the OT.

The next discipline is systematic theology and is handled by Richard Gaffin. Because systematic theology is founded on Scripture, you have to rightly interpret the Scripture in question. The hermeneutic used for both systematic and biblical theology is the same. It should not have an idiosyncratic method of interpretation. He addresses the Bible as God’s Word, the unity of the Bible, the meaning of sola scriptura, redemptive-historical unity, and the relationship between systematic and biblical theology.

The book also has a number of appendices. The first is J. Gresham Machen’s address at the founding of the seminary. He discusses the need for a seminary to replace Princeton which had recently fallen prey to liberalism. Westminster was to be a confessional seminary rooted in the Scripture. They would not avoid history but also not be bound by history.

The second appendix is a series of Affirmations and Denials Regarding Recent Issues by the board of trustees. They are affirming and clarifying the implication of the seminaries continued subscription to the Westminster Standards. In some ways this is helpful in briefly laying out commitments and what they reject.

The third and final appendix is an article by Richard Gaffin in response to some comments by D. Clair Davis on the retirement of Douglas Green. Davis worried that this indicated that Westminster was shifting its commitments. Gaffin argues that Westminster stands in the tradition of Vos. He then interacts with the Christotelic approach which the seminary has rejected. This part of the book is probably the clearest explanation of the differences.

I gave a few copies of this book away when it came out, hoping it would help them understand how to see Christ in all of Scripture. I finally got around to reading it myself. I’m not sure it helped the other people. There is some level of knowledge that is presupposed. This is not an introductory volume. I understand what is going on, but they probably didn’t. I didn’t realize the background of the book when I initially bought it.

So, if you are interested in the struggles of Westminster this is a helpful little volume to understand where they are on these issues now. If you are looking for a volume that teaches a Christ-centered hermeneutic, this probably isn’t it. Invest in Goldsworthy. It will stretch you but it is helpful.

 

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While I was in seminary, on of my homiletics professors pushed us toward redemptive-historical preaching. I resisted. He’d say “Where’s the gospel?” (in that sermon), and I’d say, “This text isn’t about the gospel.” I struggled to grasp that every text has a larger context, not just of the particular book in which it is found (like, say, Matthew or James), but the context of the whole of Scripture and its story of redemption.

After a few years in pastoral ministry, the light bulb went on. At a graduation ceremony, I spotted said professor and thanked him, noting that “I get it now.”

This is a big transition in the life of a pastor, and a Bible teacher. It is exciting to see someone figure out that the Bible, and therefore our teaching, must point us to Christ. When Paul wrote to Timothy about the Scriptures which made him wise for salvation, he was referring to the Old Testament. Those Scriptures speak of Christ because they are from Christ, the Living Word who would later become flesh.

The other day I heard a sermon that started and ended with a reference to Joshua 24. I thought it would make a great sermon text and sermon. I thought it would make a good example for showing how I think through things for one of the guys who’s been asking me questions about this.

14 “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, 17 for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. 18 And the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” Joshua 24

A sermon should do the following:

  1. Explain the text (original meaning- derived from historical context & grammar/vocabulary)
  2. Connect to Christ & the gospel (redemptive context)
  3. Apply the text (following the ephocal adjustment)

 In reading the text, one of the things I want to identify is the Fallen Condition Focus: specific reality of life in a fallen world being addressed. This was popularized by Bryan Chapell in his book Christ-Centered Preaching. It addresses our need for Christ and the gospel.

As I think about this text in Joshua,, I am reminded that we are tempted to forsake Christ & follow the gods of the world.

Sometimes this seems obvious from the early readings of the text. Sometimes you have to sort out the original meaning first. This involves starting with the grammatical-historical method. You study the grammar and look at key words to understand what it says. But this passage doesn’t arise from the ether. It is found in a context. Contexts, actually, as I mentioned above.

Image result for joshua covenant renewalHistorical Context:

Joshua led Israel in the conquest of the Promised Land (land granted to them by the Great King). He was appointed by God prior to the death of Moses to accomplish this great mission. He’s about to die and concerned about their future. Will they continue to serve God or will they begin to serve the foreign gods of the surrounding nations?

This is an important transitional time in the history of Israel. Freed from their Egyptian masters they now are free and vulnerable to being enslaved again.

Original Meaning:

Joshua was their divinely appointed leader. There is no hereditary leadership (king) at this point. The tribes will now be without a leader to unify them. They had to choose whom they would serve or obey. Joshua was pointing them to YHWH.

Joshua’s question is met with a vow to serve the Lord. They want to renew the Mosaic covenant. Their rationale for serving the Lord is the great redemption they received from Egypt, and driving out the nations before them. They recognized God as gracious, good and powerful, working for their good.

Past grace ==> Present & future commitment

Or to put it another way: delivered by YHWH from slavery, we will not serve Him.

I noticed a problem: Joshua misrepresents the Mosaic covenant in verse 19. Forgiveness was provided thru the sacrificial system which is a shadow/type of Christ’s saving work for us. Further, God revealed Himself to Moses on the mountain as:

“The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty,Exodus 34

There is also the redemptive context; the text’s place in the history of redemption.

Redemptive Context:

Creation ——Fall ————————Christ —————-Consummation

Joshua deals with the time between the Fall & Christ.

The Noahic, Abrahamic & Mosaic covenants are in effect to prepare the people for the fulfillment of the promise of the Seed or Christ in the New Covenant.

In making application we have to make some adjustments based on culture, changes in technology etc. But the most important adjustment is epochal, particularly in the case of an OT text. We live on this side of the Cross and must apply it in light of the cross. Richard Pratt’s discussions in Hebrew exegesis should have helped me realize this in homiletics. Sometimes it takes time for us to put the pieces together like we should.

Ephocal Adjustment for Application:

Jesus is the “Greater Joshua” who lives forever and will never leave us nor forsake us. There are no more leadership transitions for God’s people. Undershepherds may change, but the Chief Shepherd remains the same.

We have experienced a greater redemption. Christ has redeemed us, purchasing the forgiveness of sin for when we fail to serve the Lord (Eph. 1).

We are called to live for Him who died for us (2 Cor. 5:15). We serve the Suffering Savior (who will conquer as King).

IImage result for chemoshnstead of serving Baal or Chemosh like they would, we’re tempted to serve money, sex, power, comfort etc… These false gods still make us empty promises, with fleeting pleasures that only lead to death.

Past & Promised grace ==> Present & future commitment to Christ (2 Cor. 5:15)

Perhaps a succinct way of putting it is found in the old DeGarmo & Key song based on that 2 Corinthians passage: He died for me, I’ll live for him (from The Pledge).

It is good to consider some ways to connect the OT to Christ. I’ve picked these up from people like Sinclair Ferguson, Tim Keller and Graeme Goldsworthy.

Ways to Connect OT Texts to Christ

  1. How does this text reveal our needs that Christ will address? This would be issues of sin, guilt, shame, fear, weakness etc.
  2. Promises: does this passage have any covenant promises that will be fulfilled by Christ (all God’s promises are “Yes” in Christ)? Does it anticipate the Seed (Gen. 3; 12), the defeat of our enemy (Gen. 3) etc.?
  3. Prophecy: does this passage contain a prophecy regarding the Messiah? Examples are found in Messianic Psalms, Isaiah’s Servant Songs and promises of the New Covenant.
  4. Types: does this passage contain a person who anticipates the work of Christ, pointing to Him as a greater fulfillment of that role?
  5. Shadows: does this passage contain an element of the law which anticipates the work or office of Messiah which will then become obsolete (Col. 2:16-17; Heb. 8:13)?

Some examples of the last two would be:

  1. Sacrifices ==> the Cross removing our guilt & restoring fellowship with God. Jesus is the One who bore the curse of the law we deserve. Jesus is the One who obeyed the law so we could receive what He earned.
  2. Prophets like Moses, Elijah, Elisha & Isaiah. Jesus is the Prophet who reveals us the fullness of our sin and God’s great salvation.
  3. Priests like Aaron. Jesus is the final Priest offered Himself as the sacrifice which actually takes away sin, and who lives forever to intercede for us.
  4. Kings like David: Jesus is the Greater David who sits on the throne forever, a throne of grace. Jesus is just, and has not need for forgiveness for errors in judgment & sin. He perfectly loves the people He leads.

Back to my vacation!

 

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I’m reading a book on sermons by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones on John 4 in preparation for my sermons on that chapter coming up. The book is only 750ish pages. I have plenty of work ahead of me. But some of the sermons are well worth it, like one entitled Spiritual Dullness and Evasive Tactics preached in October, 1966. Think about that for a moment, 1966. Amazing to me how much of what he says fits our contemporary situation.

He begins with noting the essence of Christianity: “we have within us a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” The Christian life is a spiritual life under the power and direction of the Spirit. This great salvation “is to enable us to live in the world and to look forward to the glory that is to come.” This positive beginning shifts as the Dr. begins to lay the smack down. He gets quickly to exposing the sins of his time in England that mirror those of ours here in America.

“We face national prejudices, class prejudices, race prejudices, and so on. There is almost no end to them. What harm they have done in the life of the individual Christian, and what harm they have done in the life of the church throughout the centuries- the things we cling to so tenaciously simply because we have been born like that!”

He was addressing the Jewish-Samaritan prejudice. Later in the sermon he brings us to the problems of Apartheid and the Civil Rights struggle in the U.S. The people in England were denouncing the white South Africans and Americans. He admits, obviously, the sinfulness of racism, but takes this as evasiveness. The woman at the well used this prejudice to evade Jesus, and the Dr.’s contemporaries were using those prejudices in other nations to evade the truth about themselves.

“You see, in denouncing somebody else, you are shielding yourself. While you are denouncing these people or friends in America or somewhere else over this racial problem, you are full of self-righteous indignation. That is very clever, but you are just evading the problem of your own life, the running sore of your soul.”

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Today I was working on Romans 3:21-26.  It is a fascinating text with all kinds of “glorious grammar.”  If I remember correctly, we did translate this in seminary, but that was some time ago.  So I was in awe of what Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit, put down there.  Lots of parallelism, and many of my questions about key genitives were answered in the text.  But there are some difficult phrases. There is alot on the line, so to speak, as this passage is central to many a theological controversy.

The specifics are not important at the moment.  What is I want to focus on is my response to these difficult questions about the meaning of the text while I weigh legitimate options.  I took a walk to pray about it.  And there I wrestled with both humility and confidence.

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I’ve been reading The Goldsworthy Trilogy for over a year.  It sort of hides in my nightstand, occasionally beckoning me to pick up and read.  Last night I listened.  And I was rewarded.

I’m currently in The Gospel in Revelation.  Barely.  I had read the introduction, which discussed some interpretative issues.  Last night I read, despite sagging eye lids, chapter 1.

“… the key to the truth, all the truth, about the kingdom of God is Jesus Christ in his life, death and resurrection.  John has woven this fact into the apocalyptic idiom by depicting the slain Lamb as the one who alone is worthy to unlock the truth.”

Only Jesus, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, who appears as a slain Lamb is worthy to open the scroll.  Jesus is the key to the whole of revelation.  Apart from him, the scroll is rolled up and sealed.  It is about him, and only he (through the ministry of the Spirit) can reveal it to us.

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Non-sermon related reading has fallen off the grid the last few months.  I feel like I’ve been reading this book for the better part of 6 months.  Not quite, but I have finally finished Graeme Goldsworthy’s Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation.  I already reviewed the first 2 sections which dealt with the basics of interpretation and his argument for a gospel-centered hermeneutic, and how various methods of Bible interpretation have eclipsed the gospel throughout church history.

The final section, Reconstructing Evangelical Hermeneutics, was the most difficult for me to read.  At times he covered areas of philosophy with which I was unfamilar.  So, I was occasionally thinking ‘huh?” (particularly speech-act theory).  But it was still profitable at times, just not as profitable as the previous 2 sections.

Among the areas that were helpful were his discussion of typology, and Dr. John Currid’s criteria for true typology.  This criteria is affirmed by Keller & Clowney in the DMin course available through RTS on I-Tunes.  He was also helpful in discussion contexting (his simpler term for contextualization).  The missionary mandate, as he argues, mandates this.  He also includes a chapter on the interaction and relationship between biblical and systematic theology.  He talks a great deal about how both Calvin and Luther viewed Bible interpretation, and the role of the Spirit (particularly Calvin on this front)

His Epilogue contains a few good quotes to sum all this up:

Hermeneutics is about reading God’s word with understanding so taht we might be conformed more and more to the image of Christ.

The purpose of God’s word is to bring us to God through the salvation that is in Christ.  It does this by revealing his plan and purpose, by conforming us more and more to the image of Christ, and by providing the shape of the presence of God with his people through the Spirit of Christ.

So, pastors and those who regularly teach God’s people should find Goldsworthy’s book helpful as we seek to fulfill our calling.  As the ancient children’s song says, “take up and read.”

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The second section of Graeme Goldworthy’s book Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics focuses on Challenges to Evangelical Hermeneutics.  In this section he is essentially tracing the history of biblical interpretation with an eye to the way the gospel has been eclipsed in various times and methods.

This is no easy matter to accomplish since we are talking 2,000 years here.  Some of the issues involved are very heady (intellectual) as well.  As a result, some things may have gotten generalized or flatted.  But, who wants to read a 900 page on hermeneutics (okay, there are 3 of you out there).  It was adapted from his class on the subject, so summarization is a key thing to keep in mind.

The early church wrestled with allegory and typology.  There are proper, and improper, ways to deal with them.  Many a heresy has been developed through the use of allegory.  What he says here is helpful:

  • While typology looked for historical patterns in the Old Testament to which Christ corresponded, allegory was based on the accidental similarities in language and concepts.
  • Typology was dependent on the historical interpretation, while allegory was not.

While discussing the medieval church, he mentions Peter Lombard whose interpretative method sounds very similar to that used by many dispensationalists today “The promises in the two Testaments also differ in that those of the Old Testament are earthly and those of the New Testament are heavenly.”   Goldsworthy also traces Aquinas’ grace-nature dualism which became the standard Roman Catholic hermeneutic after the Reformation.  It is semi-pelagian at best.

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