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Cover Image: Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture

Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture:
The Application of Biblical Theology to Expository Preaching

Graeme Goldsworthy (IVP, 2000)

Blurb Review by Rev. Andrew Evans

Review by Rev. Andrew Evans

My apprehensions about reviewing for a biblical theology website a book by a man who has dedicated much of his life to understanding and teaching biblical theology were heightened on discovering that Graeme Goldsworthy is a member of the Beginning with Moses advisory board! Here however are my thoughts, for what they are worth...

Scope and Level of the Book

The stated aim of the book is "to provide a handbook for preachers that will help them apply a consistently Christ-centered approach to their sermons."

As both title and subtitle suggest, this book is aimed at the preacher - its primary readership will be people who are preaching regularly, mostly "full-time" pastor-teachers. The preface also anticipate that "lay preachers" may well engage with the book and Goldsworthy has sought to limit the use of technical language. My impression is that the book is probably too long (250+ pages) and too complex to be read by all but the most dedicated preacher who has to make his living elsewhere.

This is not really an introductory book and I would not really recommend it for anyone unfamiliar with the concepts of Biblical theology and, ideally, with Goldsworthy's earlier books.

Structure of the Book

The eighteen chapters are divided into two parts. Part 1, "Basic questions we ask about preaching and the Bible", provides the theological background and argument of the book, dealing with a series of questions: What is the Bible? What is Biblical Theology? What is preaching? How does the gospel function in the Bible?

Part 2, "The practical application of biblical theology to preaching", is designed to help the preacher teach different Bible genres in a way that demonstrates that "the whole Bible testifies to Christ." In each chapter Goldsworthy works at several exemplar passages to demonstrate the kinds of results his approach might yield in a sermon. The section concludes with a chapter that helps the preacher consider how he might teach biblical theology to the congregation.

Observations

This is an extremely helpful book that should be read and seriously considered by anyone who preaches regularly.

Goldsworthy ably outlines and defends an evangelical doctrine of Scripture and demonstrates that it is essential to the nature of the Bible that it is a book about Christ. He shows that biblical theology (that is theology concerned with "how the revelation of God was understood in its time and what the total picture is that was built up over the whole historical process") is essential to faithfully explaining the whole counsel of God.

The chapter entitled "Was Jesus a Biblical Theologian?" is one of most compelling short treatments of Jesus' view of Scripture, his own place as the fulfilment of Scripture and the final destination of salvation history I have read.

The material on the progressive nature of revelation is extremely useful in making it clear that God's revelation is dynamic and that the relationship of the Christian believer today is not the same to every text of the Bible. At the same time the book demonstrates that believing in progressive revelation is not al all the same as a liberal "evolution of religions" theology.

In Part 2 it is particularly commendable that in outlining the application of some of the principles Goldsworthy discusses works both from "obvious" texts for making a connection with Christ (such as Psalm 22) and from passages which are potentially more problematic for the preacher (such as Leviticus 11).

Inevitably, however, I have a couple of quibbles...

Part 1 is rather stodgy and the structure is not always clear. At a number of points I came across sections that were edifying and helpful but did not seem to be particularly connected to the larger theme of the chapter.

At a number of points Goldsworthy touches on preaching content that doesn't follow a biblical theology pattern, such as studying Old Testament characters for their exemplary value. His position is that biblical characterisation is not invalid but that we must remember that God is the principal character in the Bible narrative and seek the perspective of the text as a whole. What is never touched on is what this might look like in the preaching programme of a local church. Where passages have both significant salvation historic themes and obvious exemplary value what should one do? Example that spring to mind are Genesis 39 and 2 Samuel 11. Is the exemplary to be avoided at all costs by the preacher who would seek to testify to Christ? Or should a single sermon focus on both aspects, making clear that the biblical theology is primary? Or should we look at a passage like this twice in succession, drawing out the different aspects on each occasion? Such issues are never really fleshed out.

One of the most fascinating chapters of the book is "Can I preach a Christian sermon without mentioning Jesus?" Goldsworthy argues that the answer to this question is "no" and asks the excellent question why we would want to! But some questions are left unanswered. He is clear that "the gospel event on which our salvation is grounded must be carefully delineated in terms of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ." We are also told that "any sermon that aims to apply the biblical text to the congregation and does so without making it crystal clear that it is in... and through Christ alone that the application is realised, is not a Christian sermon." This seems to be pushing us in the direction of saying that we have not preached a Christian sermon unless we discuss the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I am sure that this is not what Goldsworthy intends - he specifically states that his approach need not yield thousands of identikit sermons - but I felt that at this point the book failed to answer the question that most people who are likely to be reading it will be asking. That is not so much "must I mention Christ to make my sermon Christian?" as, "in how much details must I make connection between a given text and the central gospel events of the cross and resurrection to make my sermon Christian?"

Summary

This is a most stimulating, thoughtful book that will help your preaching. Read it!

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