Category Archives: Reading – Goldsworthy – PTWBACS

Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture (Leicester: IVP, 2000)

Succeeding the Old Testament

I’m reading Graeme Goldsworthy’s book Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, at the moment. His insights in ch 5 (“Was Jesus a Biblical Theologian?”) have been personally quite stimulating. There he points up the limitations of using first century Judaism in understanding Jesus and the early Church and concludes,

The gospel interprets Judaism as a historical and religious phenomenon, not the other way round.
(46, 47)

It can be easy to consider first century Judaism as a “magic key” to unlock the secrets of the New Testament.

Such an approach is rather akin to taking a cloth or sponge that has been wrung out, and attempting to extract further liquid. Possible by dint of force, but greatly lacking in volume. It is something to which we can be drawn if we consider Judaism as a legitimate successor of OT religion on an equal footing with Christianity. However, the NT is the rightful continuation of OT religion, and Judaism is a deviation from it. It is apt that Christ regarded the Pharisees as blind guides, for so they were.

In the 400 so-called silent years between Malachi and Matthew, a man-made religion had developed from God’s OT revelation. When God’s final revelation in Christ was revealed, the deviation from OT religion was apparent. Christ took exception not to OT Scripture and revelation, but to Pharisaic interpretation and their own religious system which had deviated so far from OT religion that it did not require reformation, but replacement.

A Christian can therefore expect little help in understanding NT Christianity from first century Judaism. Like the insight an evangelical Protestant Christian might expect form a traditional Roman Catholic interpreter, it is at best occasional and surprising; sporadic rather than constantly recurring.

Goldsworthy points out how Christ himself saw the gospel as “the completion and fulfilment of all God’s saving acts and promises in the Old Testament.” (48)

He concludes his discussion of Jesus’ View of Himself by saying,

While it is true to a point that the Old Testament is needed to enable us to interpret the New, the overruling principle is that the gospel expounded in the New Testament is the definitive interpretation of all that the Old Testament was about. (50)

Out of step with secular media

Can [preaching] really be simply a passing phenomenon destined to become outdated as we enter a more technologically oriented age of electronic communication media?
(Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, p.29)

The Reformation and Evangelical Awakening may have been highlights in recent church history for preaching, but the fathers and apostles practised it, as did the OT prophets. The Bible and church history show it to be more than a passing phase.

Is it outdated? The message is obviously not because the Gospel is timeless. When held against electronic communication media the vast difference in method is apparent. But we must beware of this comparison because we are comparing chalk with cheese.

Electronic media are not communication oriented, at least not in the same way as other media. Neil Postman’s insightful analysis (which is shared by others) has shown us how they do not tend towards information but rather entertainment. Preaching is not entertainment (at least not if engaged in as God intended), and thus does not work in such media, unless great care is taken to ensure that the message is not overwhelmed or lost within the media itself.

Electronic communication media cannot, therefore, be used to outdate preaching. What is clear is that electronic communication media and preaching are out of step with each other, and not only in terms of technique, but ultimately in terms of content, which looks like the main thrust of Goldsworthy’s chapter (which I’ve only just started). This out of stepness is a necessary consequence of being in the world, but not of it.

Out of Step with Secular Thinking

In my youth it was common for the Christian’s walk to be preached on. Modern translations have generally eliminated to word “walk” from the many NT occurrences. Given that we still talk about walking as in being in or out of step, or walking the walk, I’ve often thought it a pity that translations could not trust readers of Scripture to understand the user of the term. Is it not a richer expression than “live”?

It gives a clearer picture of life as a journey. And it also, to my mind, gives a clearer picture of the pace at which life is to be lived. Although the NT does talk of running a race, its overwhelming picture is of walking. Walking is not a fast activity, nor a frenetic one. Yet so much of daily life travels at the speed of light. Nor am I convinced that running the race implies speed, but rather endurance. So the biblical pace of life would most definitely appear to be what this world calls “life in the slow lane”.

The idea of being out of step with the world’s thinking indicates that life is no solitary existence. Life’s walk involves companionship: the journey is undertaken in company. Being out of step with the world’s thinking will inevitably lead to a parting of company with the world. But Christian believers walk in company–with one another in the Church. But beyond the human companionship of a journey travelled in company with like-minded people, is the divine companionship of God, and in particular his Holy Spirit. So the NIV captures the flavour of this in Galatians 5:25 by “keep in step with the Spirit”.

Though no doubt many sentimental sermons have been preached on Enoch, surely his walk with God makes this divine company on the journey so abundantly clear and immensely comforting. Even at the physical level, Genesis 2 must teach us that human beings walk in company–it was not good for the man to be alone.

Graeme Goldsworthy is undoubtedly right in pointing out the out of stepness of the Christian with the secular thinking when he says, “Christianity presents a unique picture that is so out of step with the secular way of thinking that it has to be constantly argued and defended even within the pages of Scripture.” (Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, p.17) But the flip side is the instepness of the Christian with the Spirit. The out of stepness inevitably leads to conflict in the arena of ideas. Thus Paul exhorts Timothy to “wage the good warfare” (1Tim 1:18) and he instructs the Corinthian Christians to engage in spiritual warfare that will destroy arguments and contrary opinions (2Co 10:4,5).

Given the nature of the struggle which faces all Christians of keeping in step with the Spirit while living in a world which is out of step with God it is so helpful that Scripture gives us arguments and defences within its pages. And those concepts are earthed in the lives of men of God like Abraham and Paul who struggled to march of the rhythms of heaven’s drum, rather than that of this age.

Goldsworthy continues, “There is only one way the nations will find God, and that is through the salvation of Israel, which is set to be a light to the nations.” (p.18) This is precisely where Paul is coming from in 1Tim 1:!6. He himself is an example in the hands of Christ of God’s mercy in dealing with sinners. His out of stepness was no mere eccentricity, but the think that drew attention to him that God’s message of salvation may be delivered.

Goldsworthy’s warning against religious syncretism (p.17) is timely and crucial for true Christian witness. Heterodoxy enables people to walk in step with the secular thinking. Orthodoxy puts us out of step, and noticeably so. It will prompt questions in the minds of unbelievers that permit us to give the reason for the hope that is in us (1Pet 3:15). It is part of God’s Gospel strategy. We dare not deviate if we are to wage the good warfare. So let us be out of step with secular thinking.