A Review of Graeme Goldsworthy’s Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian ScripturePosted: November 4, 2008
I. Personal Introduction
This book review is by no means aiming to be a critical, scholarly, in-depth work that one can use as a commentary or analysis of Graeme Goldsworthy’s Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture. Rather, I chose to do this review as a personal project in hopes that writing this paper in a personal way will display to you the deep impact that Goldsworthy’s book had on my life, being a part of bringing my head and heart to a further understanding of Reformed theology, which when seen and understood was exactly what I needed. To accomplish this, I selected three different areas I feel are important to discuss – as in any book review – and will add to that stylistically with a personal perspective of what was read. These three areas will outline my personal thoughts on the content that Goldsworthy wrote, key points that I found to be particularly insightful, and will provide a personal critique in which I will voice my opinions and feelings about Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture. I must add that although this piece is written as a seminary level review and passed in for a grade, it is meant for others to see the importance of proper hermeneutics that will give the Gospel its proper glory. This book review may not have the many footnotes that a regular paper tends to have, but rather it will be a guide to follow the footpaths that the Lord has given us to properly see and enjoy when going to the Scriptures.
II. Personal Thoughts on the Content
Graeme Goldsworthy begins Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture by expounding the importance of preaching, and that it is the very act of preaching which the local church lives to do in order to reach the hearts of people. Goldsworthy uses the text of 1 Corinthians 2:2 to show how Paul constantly addresses the main issue of his letters, which is always “Christ first.” He then continues and explains how the subject of Christ is easily misinterpreted when preaching on stories in the Old Testament. Christians today tend to not understand that Christ is the center of the New Testament and Old Testament alike. Many Christians live as though the Gospel was an event in and of itself, and they do not actually see its role throughout the entirety of the Scriptures. When we believe that the Gospel is a sole event it does not become a lifestyle as it was meant to be; and in order for it to be a lifestyle, it must be the center of our thinking. In practicing this we must remember, as Christians, that the Gospel is central to not only our minds and thinking, but also to the Bible and theology. The Bible brings this to a climax when it points to Christ on the cross because it is there that freedom comes from the Law.
In my life I have come to understand the meaning of what an evangelical person is: which is, simply put, a “Gospel person.” A “Gospel person” is someone who accepts biblical authority in all areas of life. The Bible starts with the authority of God immediately when He said, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3) and there was light. What His Word says has always been – and will always be – final in a Christian’s life.
The Bible has been under attack since the Enlightenment through the rejection of God. That is when a change in man’s mind occurred and he started to question the Word of God. Man now has skepticisms of the truth and unity of God’s Word, and even questions God Himself. With this, man has started to look at and treat human individuals in the Bible as examples of how to live – missing the true mark of the work of God, which is Christ alone. The center of the Bible is Christ, and not other individual’s writings or stories. This is where many theologians and pastors have taken God’s Word out of context and have misled entire congregations.
I have also come to recognize how God calls His people to serve and live for Him. It is never the man setting out to do work for God because he wants to, but God doing the work in the man. God called Abraham and Moses to do His will and work in order that they may serve Him, because He wants His Glory. The only way man found God was through God first calling them out of Egypt. The example of Egypt shows that God is first and fundamental, and not something we think of after our story of the wilderness.
The prime question in chapter three of Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture is “what is biblical theology?” It concentrates on the quest for the big picture, or in other words, what the main focus of the Bible is through its revelation. Preaching with a purpose should always bring people back to that core focus. Today, liberal theology has made it seem as though God was not up to the task of saying and showing what He wanted to in ways humans today can understand. This destroys the message of the Word of God. Due to this, we look at the Old Testament not as theology, but as an impersonal historical record. This is a critical issue because we must look at the Bible as a whole historical event, and not merely a number of random events just thrown together. It is in this truth that we remember that Scripture stands alone; it is only then that biblical theology works, as we understand that we do not need man’s presumptions, theories, or methods which do nothing but fragment the Word.
At this point we come to look for the core of the message that the Bible is trying to show to us – namely the message of Christ as seen throughout the Old and New Testament. Jesus is the goal of the Old Testament – that which the Old Testament pointed to and looked towards – and He fulfilled that goal in the New Testament. As such a consistent focus throughout the Bible, how can this not be the key message of Scripture? We cannot look at the message’s content simply how we want to, see what we want to see, and be concerned merely with what we want to say or prove; rather we must see what the writers understood from their own historical context, and be concerned with how God’s character is revealed at that given time. We must watch the still shots that put it all together to show the all-encompassing message of God’s Word. This is the function of biblical theology.
The final content in this chapter talks of how the story of redemption is shown throughout the Word. Man looks at history as a series of events and does not place them together, unlike Scripture, which is a series of events divinely ordered for a purpose. Through this it is seen how God fulfills past events and how He had placed them together to make known His message. This is where salvation is shown. Redemption is shown theologically, historically, and liturgically in God’s Word. The literature of God’s Word works to convey His message. This is the essence and the chief aspect in the context of any biblical text.
From the very beginning, the act of preaching has taken place not for the sake of giving a new opinion or creative thoughts, but has always been to set forth and proclaim the Word of God. No matter what form was used to present the Word, the Gospel was always proclaimed, which is the reason why the church kept growing. Seeing how Jesus Christ preached and taught the Scriptures helps us understand the way we need to study for ourselves, and the way we need to get the message of the Scriptures across to people. One of the ways of doing this is to become sensitive to the Christology in the New Testament. The key point of this is that Christ did not come to wipe out the Old Testament or to start something altogether different, but He came to fulfill the teaching and the prophecies of Himself in the Scriptures. It is evident that Jesus was a biblical theologian, and that the Old Testament is needed to enable us to interpret the New Testament. Seeing the Gospel in the New Testament shows us what the Old Testament was all about, which gives an added depth, understanding, and reasoning of it.
Lastly, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture expresses how necessary it is to know the framework of how the Bible was written. That is, how the Word of God leads to, and then shows, the redemptive work of Christ. How can one teach, study, preach, and learn the Bible without explaining the Gospel of Christ? It seems to me that sometimes man makes the focus and emphasis on something in particular but ends up missing the mark of the true meaning found in Scripture. This is due to man’s mindset of Scripture. Without an understanding of biblical theology there ends up being misinterpretations of the Scriptures. Making sermons and devotions to fit one’s mind or to emphasize what you want to get across is dangerous. There needs to always be a clear exposition of the Gospel throughout any text or study. Although there is much content in the Bible that does not speak specifically of the Gospel itself, there is nothing in the Bible that can be understood apart from it.
III. Personal Key Insights
The biggest insight that I first came to while reading Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture was that there are so many preachers today that miss the mark in their sermons and teachings. That mark is Christ – as the Bible starts with Him, speaks of Him all throughout, and ends with Him. During the writing of the books of the Bible the focus was Christ… so I am compelled to ask: “why would Christ not be the focus now?” I see how we rob Christ of His glory when we preach about Moses, David, or Peter without referring to what – or Who – was behind these men. What was the focus of the men when they wrote their accounts? Christ. These men are used to be illustrations to direct us to the glory of the reason the Bible was written: the glory of Christ.
Another insight I gained was seeing how God used Christ as the center of the New Testament to do what we could not do, which is bring ourselves – depraved human beings – to God. Stories like Moses leading the Jews out of the wilderness are not meant to merely portray the work of the depraved man, but to see a story that starts with Christ leading His people with magnificent redemption. This salvation in the Old Testament is the same salvation that Christ would come to live out – and accomplish – in paying for our debt to His Father. The works of Noah, Moses, and others are not the work of man, but are God’s sovereign works to bring man back to Himself through redemption. With this thought we can see God always at the beginning of any task, situation, or trial we are given, and we are not to let our minds run wild by focusing on our own ideas, intellect, or worries.
The first insight I learned in chapter two was the fact that I will not rob the God that sent His Son of what is His. His work – the Bible – is meaningful, and is all for the glory and honor of God. It is not here so that I can lift up a sinner like Noah or Moses, but rather to see how God is in control and what the work of His design and will has been and is today. Not one of the men in the Bible that people tend to revere – like Moses, Daniel, Paul, etc – would lift themselves up and say, “live after me.” They would always direct their work(s) back to God who had set forth all things to happen according to His will.
My favorite insight I obtained in this chapter was that preaching from the Bible without the Gospel makes life grow to be observed and lived through legalistic reasoning. The reason and motive behind why we do things for Christ – and how we do them – should come from true love in our hearts. A message without the Gospel brings no relief to life. How can a man bring a message without the basis and source of it being grace? Without grace there leaves no hope for the hearers of the Word.
One thing I noticed right away was how much we as Christians miss the message of the Bible because our focus is simply on a story or event we like to read. When I teach a message or a piece of Scripture I must always remember what its meaning was for the purpose of God’s Word as a whole. Without the riches of Christ shown in a message, the reason behind it is left void of hope and the true meaning of joy. We must show the relationship between passages to properly preach Christ. This is where the enrichment comes to the listener, knowing the reasoning of how a passage has hope, victory, and grace. Knowing these things shows a proper view of what God meant for His Word to show – that is His Son.
Another key insight I attained and have contemplated to a great extent was the fact that Christ declared Himself as the goal of the sovereign work of His Father. This made me think about how much we as Christians tend to miss that mark – especially in our Christian educations. I see an extreme need for a course on correct biblical theology, and not some light, simple, feel-good class that allows the hearer to be perverse in their own thinking about Jesus Christ. Most schools (and even churches) today have a weak understanding of the Old Testament, and with this comes a weak understanding of the Gospel. Therefore, both schools and churches need proper biblical theology.
The Bible is primarily about God and Jesus’ saving act – not about man. It is imperative to take the focus off of man and put it on Christ. When this is done, a sermon will be enriched with the depths of the fullness of Jesus and His true redemptive work, rather than merely a mindset upon a sinner that can never have hope in himself when focused on nothing but himself. To preach, speak, and teach about man’s problems, situations, life, etc, without the significance of the Gospel is to go against God’s Word by taking it out of context, proper perception, and meaning. To preach a message or study the Word with a focus toward humans and their nature – leaving out hope, joy, and the Gospel – is like perverting one’s mind and not giving one’s problems, trails, and life the correct theology/solution needed.
Preachers (and students, teachers, theologians, and so on) must be careful that they don’t try to be relevant to humans just because they think that’s what people are looking for. A sermon that is made for the purpose of entertainment in the church or class is wrong in every way. This displays a frame of mind that has already formed certain ideas and is prejudice towards an alternative something or someone. Studying and relaying the Scriptures in this way is not the reason why – or foundation of how – we should teach the Word. Preaching the Word must be done with as much purity in mind and life as possible, and with an open mindset and heart that will allow you to learn even more than the audience.
When studying a passage or book of the Bible, it must be done in a way and with an outcome that testifies to Christ and His Gospel as God meant it: for salvation. Therefore, we must not go into the Scriptures looking for texts that simply make us feel good, or be on the lookout for something that will help man, but we must dig deep into theology. When we do this we see that Jesus has given us victory and redeemed us from hell, and we realize that the stories within the story will help one find the true meaning of Scripture, which doesn’t just give warm-fuzzies and temporal changes – but is the Gospel, which changes lives completely and eternally.
For my own personal use in preaching and teaching a further insight has been very applicable, and that is how we make preaching and teaching sound too simplified. This hurts the hearer as they get a wrong view of what is supposed to be. Making a message sound simple for an audience is, in essence, making the message fit your personal ease. Who are we to pick and choose how to make something “sound good” or to make it “fit” for one’s ears? We should never lessen the Word by any means in order to entertain one’s wants or likes, but ought to preach the Word with the fullness and richness that it contains.
In reading this book I also found that merely telling a person that they need to choose between heaven and hell is not giving the Gospel. One must explain the fact that true repentance and faith go hand-in-hand. This is a free gift from the Holy Spirit that God has given us through His Son Jesus Christ. Without giving the true and full Gospel it is as if we are lessening the Gospel, and it then sounds like a free gift that anyone can have without making any commitments or changes, etc. Yet true faith is only when one has repented and turned from sin, knowing that the faith they now have in Christ was only given to them from God through Christ’s work on the cross – and was not accomplished or attained by any man’s message or decision.
Lastly, I see and hear preachers today preaching messages entirely lawful in teaching what we must do, yet not explaining what God has done. They explain how we can get ourselves right before the eyes of the Lord, yet it is done in such a way that seems like we can accomplish salvation without Christ. These messages never explain where our hope lies or where we can find a Savior that has already given grace in order to change our lives for Him. Accordingly, any message without Christ always shows Law alone. Preaching lawful sermons undermines the thinking of a congregation and does not reveal the true mystery of the Gospel that leads them to God.
IV. My Personal Critique
I would have to say that this has been the hardest and longest book I have read in a long time. But I have never learned so much from one book in my life, and I cannot thank Mr. Goldsworthy enough for his time, thought, and manner set upon the Scriptures, which has shown my eyes, mind, and heart things in the Word of God I had never seen. What I love most about this book is the fact that its influence has made my own messages, devotions, and studies change to be more in-depth thanks to newfound intellect on the Scriptures. I can start to use this in my life to turn all things and aspects into a loving relationship my own personal Savior Jesus Christ.
The book’s content has helped me in such a way that I am now getting a more correct view on what the Gospel truly is and what it has already done in my life – not to mention what it will continue to do in my life from this day on. In understanding how to make a better interpretation of Scripture from different areas in the Word, I now see that the Bible is not merely stories of individuals. Now every story and person makes the story – the story of Christ – so much richer and so much more meaningful in my own life. When I read the Word I can see for myself the divine plan that God had set out for my own soul. I can only try to grasp the grace of God’s glory that is shown throughout the Bible, and while doing so can actually know with a more in-depth understanding the reasoning behind Christ’s payment on the cross. Also, now knowing that one must have an understanding of the Old Testament to see what the New Testament is about and fully grasp it, I see how little I know about the Old Testament. I need to start to learn and recognize more about what God made known to the writers and hearers of the Word in the Old Testament so that I can see even more than I do now what the New Testament offers and conveys for my life.
As for my preaching and speaking on the Word – it will never be the same! I have started to realize just how much it means to preach the Word. I am beginning to comprehend how important it is to make the Word clear, but also to make it correct in the eyes of the Lord and not to merely please man. It is not meant for entertainment, but is meant to correct one’s mind and view of what God has set forth, for the purpose of making my audience’s – and my own – pursuit of holiness even more pure until the day we meet Christ. I now can see how the stories in the Old Testament lead up to the story, and how the books of the Bible go hand-in-hand in order to show Christ’s amazing love for His people. Upon seeing this, preaching will never be the same again.
I am also aware that there is a necessity to want to actually show the hope in a message – and the source of that hope – and to give hope through personal accounts of what has happened in my own life, with the aim and focus of allowing the giver of grace to alone receive the glory, and not myself receiving it for my words. After a message I want others to see that Christ is our ability and source to find hope and that He is the giver of (and in) our faith, so that all will be able to see from beginning to end what the core and purpose of the Bible is.
To conclude this review, I want to convey that being able to see the big picture in the small pictures throughout the books of the Bible helps me to see just how amazing redemption is. I can already see and recognize that one can preach or study a story without seeing what the reason and significance behind the story was. From Noah to Abraham, Moses to David, and to the decline of the Lord’s people thereafter, all I can say now is that I never want to lose sight of what the Lord is doing in the world with – and through – His people. Nor do I ever want to think for a moment that I cannot explain or teach this to others. I want others to have a correct view on His Word, to see His grace, and to have His faith – and not just for their personal entertainment. I do not want man to be happy with milk every time they study or hear the Word. Instead, I want them to taste the meat God has given so they can fall more in love with Him. He is their Messiah who has laid out His life and His purposes throughout His Word for His chosen people.