Cover Image: Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics

Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics:
Biblical-Theological Foundations and Principles

Graeme Goldsworthy (IVP, 2006)

Blurb Review by Abe Kuruvilla

Review by Abe Kuruvilla

Graeme Goldsworthy, part-time teacher at Moore Theological College, acknowledges that this work is the product of the decade-long utilization of a "comprehensive student reader" for his class on evangelical hermeneutics. It is helpful to remember that this is more of a textbook than a dissertation with a single thesis to be driven home.

Part I deals with the necessity for hermeneutics, the presuppositions thereof, and what gospel-centred hermeneutics is.

A roundup of the theological dimensions of hermeneutics-clusters of questions based upon the sender/message/receiver triad of communication-is found at the outset (37-38). While a thorough digest, this chapter covers familiar hermeneutical territory (as also do others): gaps between reader and text, need for contextualization, historical presuppositions, five soli, etc. Nonetheless, excellent summaries abound throughout the work. Goldsworthy, one notices quickly, does have a gift for crystallizing issues that are scattered over a wide varied hermeneutical landscape. This makes for a good teacher, and promises a good textbook. He is. It is.

Chapter 3 bears the eponymous title "Gospel-Centred Hermeneutics". Goldsworthy defines the gospel as "the event (or the proclamation of that event) of Jesus Christ", "what we must believe in order to be saved". The gospel forms the launching pad for hermeneutics, grounding the whole enterprise upon certain parameters: God as Creator, Saviour, and Communicator; the imago Dei in human beings; sin and the fallenness of mankind; grace in salvation; and the redemptive revelation in the incarnate Word (58-60). These elements form the prolegomena for a Christian worldview: "the gospel is the hermeneutical norm for the whole of reality" (63). To put it differently, general hermeneutics ought to be dependent upon a special hermeneutics that sees reality in the light of God, sin, Christ, and grace. Several assertions in the same vein are sprinkled through the book: "Jesus Christ is the interpretive key to every fact in the universe"; "Christ interprets all facts" (48); etc. One assumes that Goldsworthy considers "Jesus is the hermeneutical norm" (82) to be equivalent to "gospel is the hermeneutical norm" (63). However, an elaboration in this regard would have been helpful. How, in particular, does the Second Person of the Trinity function in the hermeneutical endeavour? Rather cursorily Goldsworthy affirms that Christ is the infallible communicator, message, and receiver (56, 69). Marvellous! Would that there were more on this.

Part II deals with the main "alien" influences upon biblical interpretation. The "eclipse" of the gospel is discussed in a series of cogent and brief historical surveys that span the last two millennia. (Another comprehensive consolidation of material that meets the standard for outstanding textbooks). Goldsworthy perceptively notes that while history has shifted foci from author to text to reader (an almost "perverse" phenomenon), Christian theism includes all three. There is an author with a purpose, a text with inscription, and a reader awaiting direction for response. All three must be taken seriously in any interpretation of the biblical text (161-165). Refreshing!

Perhaps the most illuminating of these sections on occultations is "The Eclipse of the Gospel in Evangelicalism" (167-182). The negative influences succinctly and pithily summarized are: quietism (evangelical docetism, that overspiritualizes the Bible); literalism (evangelical Zionism, with its focus on eschatology); legalism (evangelical Judaism); decisionism (evangelical Bultmannism that, while calling for decisions for Jesus, omits why one should so decide); subjectivism (evangelical Schleiermacherism governed by emotion); ‘Jesus-in-my-heart-ism' (evangelical Catholicism attending only to what God is doing for one now); evangelical pluralism; and evangelical pragmatism (with the interpretive norm being the present experience of the Christian).

In Part III, Goldsworthy considers the role of critical evangelical approaches to the literature, history and theology of the Bible. Therefore, chapters 13-19 contain an assortment of self-standing topics (lectures?). A few snippets ...

On the clarity of Scripture, Goldsworthy asserts that "[w]hen people do not see the clear meaning, it is because they are confused by the apparatus of the church, which makes it difficult" (195). I'd much rather attribute lack of clarity to the fogginess of sin. Mine.

On biblical theology: "Biblical theology is a formal way of determining and describing the theological plan and significance of the whole Bible"-connecting "the theological meaning of the parts and the whole (259, 262). For preachers and teachers, Goldsworthy claims, biblical theology "is probably the most significant part of the practical hermeneutic task after textual exegesis" (262). Perhaps. But when one is preaching small units of Scripture (pericopes) week by week, how different will the individual "biblical theologies" of each of those contiguous pericopes be? In the weekly encounter with pericopes, is biblical theology "the major way of addressing the question of the gap between the text and the reader" (263; my italics)? I have a suspicion that this "major way" creates another "gap"-between the broader theology and the narrower thrust of the pericope, with a consequent loss of the specificity of the latter.

On contextualization: "The incarnational adaptation was into the sinfully corrupted human sphere that nevertheless continues to bear the image of God" (280). The both/and perspective is extremely helpful, reminding the preacher of a very necessary balance between faithfulness to the ancient text and relevance to the modern audience.

What caught my attention towards the end was the section "Christians and their Bible: hands-on hermeneutics". Praxis, at last. But, alas, there were only six pages (2% of the book). And it did not contribute anything really new: preparation for preaching, close reading of the text, and the use of study helps, etc.-items familiar to most practitioners (308-313).

The book began by asserting that "pastoral concerns remain uppermost" (15). If the author, one with unassailable experience in evangelical pedagogy and practice, had given us, struggling homileticians, more practical guidance (with examples) on using all these hermeneutical concepts in our weekly pastoral task of preaching, this tome by Goldsworthy would have been worth its weight in gold. As it is, Gospel-Centred Hermeneutics serves as a comprehensive compendium for those seeking to construct a solid foundation of evangelical hermeneutics.

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