John H. Walton’s The Lost World of Adam and Eve

9780830824618This work constitutes a continuation of Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One, that I reviewed earlier.  The basic thesis of The Lost World of Genesis One is repeated here and that line of thought is thereafter applied to Genesis 2 and 3.  This work is more detailed and also, I would say, more difficult than the first book.  Allow me to say up front that this is one of those works that I’m going to need to tackle a second time, so my comments here need to be seen as first-pass reflections.

Walton continues here is thesis that Genesis is talking more about function than material origins and that Genesis 1 is using temple inauguration language and not propounding empirical science.  We find here the same heavy reliance on parallel ancient creation accounts as a hermeneutical key and the same application of Walton’s conclusions to the modern controversies surrounding biblical creationism and evolution.  Concerning this last aspect, I would say that Walton offers a more passionate and, it seemed to me, more personal plea for Christians not to create conflicts where they don’t actually exist.

Walton argues that Adam and Eve serve a priestly function in Eden which, when compared to other ancient understandings of temple, should be seen as a sacred grove.  Priests in the ancient world often tended to sacred groves and served the deity within temples.  Among other interesting proposals, Walton suggests that Genesis does not necessarily suggest that Adam and Eve lived in Eden (priests in the ancient world did not live in the sacred groves – they simple entered them to tend and maintain them), that the serpent should be seen as a “creature of chaos” that came to threaten order with disorder, that Genesis does not necessarily say that Eve and the serpent had their conversation in the garden (it could have been in the disordered world outside of the garden), that since Genesis is not discussing science and material origins it is not necessary to read it as saying that Adam and Eve were actually the first people created, that nothing in the Bible suggests that death itself was part of the Fall, that there was a historical Adam but that Genesis’ description of Adam is primarily archetypal (which is not unusual, Walton argues, since there are other figures in the Bible, like Melchizedek and, indeed, like Jesus, who appear to be historical and archetypal), that Adam’s “rib” is more accurately translated as Adam’s “side” and that this may mean that Adam was cut in two, as it were, and Eve made from the other side, and that Adam and Eve should be seen not as the first two humans but as the first two humans that God chose to call to be His image bearers and to call humanity from disorder to order.

It should be said that Walton consistently argues that he believes what the Bible says and has a high view of scripture.  He is not arguing that the Bible is wrong.  He is arguing that our interpretations of Genesis have been wrong.  He does point to a few historical cautions concerning hermeneutics that might help his cause, primarily from the Reformation era, but it again must be noted that if what Walton is proposing here is correct then two millennia of interpretation concerning Genesis 1-3 are false.  The fact that there are wide divergences of opinion about Genesis 1-3 throughout these two millennia actually strengthens my point, for even with this lack of a monolithic hermeneutic and the presence of a wide range of interpretations on these issues over the last two-thousand years, nobody, to my knowledge, has ever proposed what Walton is proposing here in the way that he is proposing it.  Walton appears to understand this and to admit as such, but he then appeals to Reformation hermeneutical principles contra simply allowing tradition to eclipse current study and findings in his defense.

I suppose my interest after this first journey through the book is more philosophical than anything.  Again, one does not gather that Walton is trying to retreat from science (he actually seems to be as skeptical of modern naive scientism as he is of naive modern a-contextual hermeneutics) in his proposals but rather than he genuinely feels that the ancient context of these creation accounts leads naturally to these interpretations.  I will say – and I speak as one who is instinctively extremely cautious about these kinds of paradigm shattering proposals (thank you Vincent of Lerins) – that Walton certainly does not deserve to be dismissed as a mere contrarian or as some kind of heresy peddler.  His proposal – right or wrong – seems sincerely to want to honor the scriptures as God’s word to humanity and to take into account how ancient people thought and spoke of these matters.

I feel that a great deal hinges on Walton’s hermeneutical apriori concerning what role ancient cosmologies should have in our interpretations of Genesis.  His arguments have weight to the extent that his premises are true, the primary premise being this:  when ancient people did cosmology they did not have material origins in mind but rather function.  One wonders if it really is quite that simple, though the evidence Walton marshall’s cannot responsibly be dismissed with a shrug of the shoulders.  One wonders further, if that premise is true, if that necessarily means that Genesis 1-3 is speaking of creation in that way or, if it is, if it is speaking of it in that way with such rigid categorization and hermeneutical myopia.  It seems to me that Walton is trying to argue on the one hand that the entire enterprise of the first few chapters of Genesis are strongly beholden to the framework of ancient cosmologies but that this enterprise was simultaneously unique and paradigm shifting in certain crucial ways as well.  Not, I should add, that this is inherently problematic, for we find this phenomenon throughout the Bible:  the appropriation of ancient structures of thought and then their reappropriation in unique and surprising ways. But one cannot help but wonder if the material origins vs. function argument quite so easily closes the door to the concept of creation traditionally understood…or does it simply nuance and qualify it?

Walton has offered a fascinating set of proposals.  He discussion of sin and Adam’s role in it (a discussion that he first says should be carried out by theologians but that he then dives into with real fervor) seemed less clear to me than his arguments concerning Genesis 1-3.

These, again, are some initial reactions to the book.  I intend to work more on understanding what is being said here and the set of issues Walton raises.  For that I do indeed thank him.  It has certainly stretched and challenged me.

John H. Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One

41GOJy03JKL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_There’s been a lot of buzz surrounding John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One and his The Lost World of Adam and Eve.  I have finished the former and have begun the latter and would like to offer a few comments at this point.

Walton’s thesis is basically that Genesis 1, like other ancient creation accounts, is concerned with function as opposed to material origins and should be read accordingly.  That is, it is describing how God created the world to work and His control over the world more than the question of how He made something out of nothing.  To be sure, Walton agrees that God did created everything.  He is simply arguing that Genesis 1 is not concerned with that particular issue.  His argument is that when ancient people talked about creation they were talking about it in terms of function and were not concerned with the kinds of questions we are concerned with in empirical science.  However, Walton argues, we have imposed our modern concerns on the text and read it as discussing material creation.  In so doing, we are eisegeting modern categories into the text.  The result is we are threatened by scientific theories that would appear to conflict with our modernistic reading when, in fact, they are no threat at all since Genesis 1 is really not discussing those questions anyway.

Allow me to reflect a bit more on what I think I hear him saying.  I hear Walton saying (unless I am hearing him wrongly) that Genesis 1 cannot be concerned with creatio ex nihilo as it has been classically defined because it doesn’t actually posit nihilo.  That is, “the deep” exists before the first day.  I gather that “the deep” could almost be seen (in Walton’s proposal) as pre-functional creation, the shadowy realm of cosmic chaos and whatever processes were taking place at that time.  Thus, according to Walton, something like evolution could actually be true (he doesn’t say it is or isn’t, though he seems to have sympathies with some aspects of biological evolution so far as it does not lapse into teleology).

Walton argues that Genesis 1 is about function:  how God sovereignly designed and created the world to operate, to work.  It isn’t discussing how it came to be as much as it is discussing what God made it to be.  He then works through Genesis 1 showing what that looks like.

Furthermore, Genesis 1 is employing temple language, language that would have been readily apparent to many ancient cultures.  Thus, when God “rests,” He takes His place as Lord of the creation that He designed to function with specificity and purpose and harmony.  That is, the whole world is a temple.

Well.  Heady stuff indeed.

Anyway, what Walton has in his favor is his strong emphasis on the hermeneutical principle of “authorial intent,” his critique of the modern penchant for eisegeting our categories onto an ancient worldview, his helpful point that science is always in flux and that every age has a scientific worldview in which any communication necessarily takes place and which, necessarily, informs this communication, his correct premise that the “literal” reading of the text is, by definition, the reading that most accurately harmonizes with what the author was trying to do.

What concerns me is the novelty of the proposal, for starters.  Walton does not deny this.  Tellingly, he cannot muster a single example from two millennia of exegesis that says what he is saying.  His response is that we have now discovered ancient texts from ancient cultures that allow us to reconstruct to some extent the ancient context regarding creation accounts and can therefore now better understand the language and ideational content of words employed in Genesis 1.  I have no doubt that that the gist of that argument is true.  Understanding any historical context should sharpen our hermeneutics.  But (and I realize this is a rather simplistic argument), would not the most ancient Jewish exegetes have picked up, preserved, and passed on at least some vestiges of these concepts were they as self-evident to the ancients as Walton suggests?

I am not trying to suggest that Walton’s proposal is wrong simply because it can point to no earlier reflection of its claims.  I am simply saying that there is good reason to be extremely cautious about such proposals.  The burden is on Walton at this point, though he has certainly offered an intriguing proposal.

Furthermore, I have questions about whether or not the witness of the rest of scripture as it pertains to creation really does verify this “function” as opposed to “material creation” hypothesis.  If Walton is correct, certainly we should be able to read the other references to creation in this light and sense that our hermeneutic flows more naturally with the removal of our imposed and foreign constructs.  But does scripture harmonize with this view?  That is a larger question that will require some specific and detailed work.

This is my first exposure to this line of thinking, so my comments are going to be cursory.  But this is very interesting stuff and I thank my friend Pastor Kevin Griggs for recommending Walton’s work.  (Not, I should add, that Griggs necessarily agrees with Walton either.  He, like me, is simply trying to process and think about this.)

J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays’ Grasping God’s Word

Grasping-God-s-Word-9780310259664Grasping God’s Word is a phenomenal contribution to the field of biblical hermeneutics and interpretation.  Written by two Ouachita Baptist University professors, this work takes its place alongside Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart’s How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth as a reliable, accessible, strong introduction to the field.  In putting this book alongside Fee and Stuart’s, I am paying it a high compliment indeed!

I recently finished teaching a Ouachita extension class on Biblical Interpretation at Central Baptist Church, North Little Rock, AR, with this as our textbook and came away thoroughly impressed.  More importantly, the ten students who worked through the book were likewise very impressed.  I suppose the ultimate compliment for the work can be seen in the comment of one student that “every church member should work through this book.”  I agree.

The book is ideal as a college-level introduction to biblical interpretation.  It tackles fundamental questions surrounding the nature of interpretation, the challenges facing modern readers seeking to interpret scripture, the nature of scripture, the genres and type of literature one finds in scripture and the challenges that come with each.  Throughout, Duvall and Hays emphasize the need for the modern interpreter to bridge the gap between the ancient text and the modern reader with an eye toward application (they do this through a very helpful map they designed charting the interpretive journey).  This emphasis is a result of the authors’ high view of scripture and conviction that God has given the Bible to us to guide us into all truth.

The book is irenic in tone, careful, scholarly, and thorough in its treatment of the topic.  It is filled with evangelical conviction, careful and nuanced handling of difficult topics, and passion for the subject matter.  In all, this is a very well written and organized work that students of scripture will read to great effect.  Highly recommended!

John Stott’s Baptism and Fullness: The Work of the Holy Spirit Today

John Stott’s fascinating and controversial book, Baptism and Fullness: The Work of the Holy Spirit Today, will almost certainly cause all who read it to rethink many of their assumptions surrounding the Holy Spirit and His work today. In a day in which Pentecostalism is the fastest growing expression of Christianity in the world, this book will be found to be as timely and relevant as it was when written over twenty five years ago. Furthermore, Stott’s work takes its place among the most important and significant pneumatological works available today.

While at all times respectful to those who differ, there can be little doubt that Stott wrote this work as a corrective to the more crude and deficient ideas surrounding the Holy Spirit today. His central thesis seems to be that there is no Biblical basis for the so-called “baptism of the Spirit” as defined as a second, post-conversion, individualistic empowerment by the Holy Spirit. Instead, Stott argues for a universal, one-time “baptism of the Spirit” among all believers at the point of conversion and then differentiates between this and subsequent “fillings of the Spirit” that Christians should rightly pray for. What is more, Stott argues that there is no basis for arguing that speaking in tongues and miraculous healings are signs of a special blessing from the Holy Spirit.

Stott goes on to discuss a myriad of issues surrounding his central theme: the question of miracles today, the definition of “tongues” in the Bible, the number and nature of spiritual gifts, etc. In discussing all of this, Stott employs his characteristic tone of maturity and care. His conclusions are based on solid exegesis and a thoughtful reading of Scripture.

While there is something in this book to make everybody pause, and while there is probably something in this book that everybody might disagree with, it cannot be doubted that Stott’s voice on these issues deserves to be heard. I, for one, greatly appreciate his views on the Spirit (as well as his views on most other things!) and would heartily recommend this book to any who want to think again about this most important issue.

Herman Ridderbos’ Redemptive History and the New Testament Scriptures

In Redemptive History and the New Testament Scriptures, Herman N. Ridderbos has presented the reader with a concise and penetrating defense and explanation of the Reformation maxim, sola Scriptura.  He evaluates and exposes the problems of deficient defenses of the canon as well as attacks upon the canon and then proposes and elucidates his own position.  Namely, Ridderbos contends that the authority of the canon lies not in the Church’s recognition of the canon, nor in the believer’s experience with it, nor even in the fact that it reveals the revelation of God.  Instead, the New Testament canon is itself the revelation of God in that it stands as the authoritative written pronouncement of the words and acts of God in Christ communicated through the divinely commissioned apostles of Christ.  As such, the canon belongs to redemptive history, to the saving acts of God in history, and therein receives its authority.

This entire discussion of the canon is precipitated by the rather astute question of why and on what basis Protestants accept and affirm the twenty-seven books of the New Testament as authoritative.  The ecclesiological presuppositions of the Catholic Church allow it to point to its own pronouncements on and recognition of the canon as its basis of authority and to subsequently conclude that “the church made the canon.”  However, with their obvious rejection of the Catholic Church, Ridderbos proceeds to outline how Reformed Protestants have arrived at their view that, in fact, “the canon made the church.”

He begins by outlining four flawed concepts of the canon.  He notes that Luther’s questioning of various books within the canon and his defining of the canon as that which “urges Christ” introduced the concept of “a canon within a canon.”  This questioning of books within the canon implied that the believer need not necessarily accept the canon in toto but rather only books within it that conformed to certain criteria (be it Luther’s or, presumably, any other), a concept that was resoundly rejected by the Reformed churches (4).  Secondly, Ridderbos highlights Zahn’s view that the canon receives its authority as the Church in any age recognizes it (5).  Thirdly, he notes Diem’s position that the canon’s authority is found in its everyday proclamation and preaching (6).  Lastly, he speaks of Kasemann’s view that the canon is verified and receives its authority in and through the believer’s experience and interaction with it (6-7).

Ridderbos’s criticism of all of these views may be summed up in the general argument that any attempt to establish the authority of the canon by any means other than the canon itself opens the door for a subjective, existentialist arbitrariness that is inherently unverifiable and deficient.  All four of these positions lead us, Ridderbos contends, to the inevitable conclusion that “the final decision as to what the church deems to be holy and unimpeachable does not reside in the biblical canon itself.  Human judgment about what is essential and central for Christian faith is the final court of appeal” (7).  On this basis, Ridderbos argues that we must look elsewhere in order to establish canonicity.

I am particularly moved by Ridderbos’s contention about the inadequacy of the above mentioned theories of canonicity.  With the benefit of thirty-eight years of hindsight since the initial publication of the first translation of this work, it may be pronounced with some confidence that the hermeneutical, ecclesiastical, and homiletical confusion that seems to be reigning in many if not most Protestant churches has born out and verified Ridderbos’s concern.  The general shift from theology to anthropology as the foundation of much modern, individualistic Protestantism, and, particularly, of much modern, Protestant interpretation of Scripture bears testimony to the fact that a view of the canon that looks to man and his experiences with, critique of, and proclamation of the canon as the basis of its authority have wreaked havoc in the church.  The theories of a canon within a canon, and, perhaps more damaging, of the canon bearing authority only insofar as it is validated by the experiences of the believer, have passed from the ivy halls to the pews.  The modern pastor and churchman realizes this and can attest to the very real danger of deficient views of canonicity.

Time and again I encounter these flawed concepts of canonicity among many who do not realize the nature and logical consequences of their own views.  Regardless of whether or not these views emanate from the studied principles and informed hypotheses of a Luther or the generally unknown yet culturally absorbent mindset and worldview of the largely biblically- illiterate laymen, the results are equally disastrous.  Thus, I cannot view Ridderbos’s criticism of these views and their potential to act as portents for existentialism and (frankly) humanism in the church dispassionately.  He is correct, and the fruit of these inadequate views is tragically obvious to all who want to see.

What is more, the seemingly wholesale, yet subconscious, acceptance of existentialistic views of the canon in many churches has made the preaching task imminently more difficult.  The preacher who accepts Ridderbos’s view of the canon is fully cognizant of the fact that he and many of his parishioners are starting from different points.  The preacher views the text as the authoritative word, whereas those who adhere to one or many of the above mentioned views see the text and its pronouncements generally in terms of how they respond to it and whether or not they choose to accept it as authoritative in their lives.  I believe that this is not a matter of mere selective hearing, but rather of the acceptance of flawed concepts of canonicity on the part of many within the Church.

Ridderbos responds to these views of the canon by proposing that the authority of the canon rests ultimately in the canon’s place in  redemptive history.  He believes that this was essentially the position of Abraham Kuyper and, indeed, the early Reformed churches as well (11-12).  He argues that the canon “represents a formal authority structure” in that it gives an “authoritative and exclusive” testimony of God’s acts in history (13).  What is more, he points to the Jewish juridical nature of the apostolate in which an apostle is imbued with legal authority to speak on behalf of another as if he actually were that other (14).  Thus, while recognizing that any attempt to establish the authority of the canon on the basis of the canon’s claims is insufficient in that this approach is necessarily circular and reflexive, he nonetheless contends that it is in the canon that we are able to establish its standing within the flow of redemptive history.  In other words, when the apostles spoke, they spoke with the authority of God.

Ridderbos argues that Christ is the canon, but that the pronouncements of the apostles speak with His authority and thereby establish the canon.  He then seeks to show that God’s authority therefore necessarily rests upon the written form of the teachings and pronouncements of the apostolate and that, in fact, the apostles themselves understood their writings to be, in this sense, canonical (15,22).  Thus, the canon itself belongs to redemptive history.

From here, Ridderbos moves on to a brief discussion of canonics proper.  The criteria for canonicity, he contends, is Christological in the sense that those who wrote did so with His authority and, juridically, in His stead (32).  He notes that the majority of the New Testament writings were recognized as authoritative very early on in the life of the Church and those which were disputed were judged in the light of those which were not (40-41).  As such, the process of canonization was not one in which the Church gave certain texts authority by their pronouncements, but rather one in which the Church formally encapsulated those texts that had been operating with authority within the Church from its inception.

Ridderbos is particularly persuasive in his arguments.  His objective is obviously to build each step of his argument as he goes.  His first step is to establish the principle that there is no viable or verifiable position on the authority of the canon that finds its origin in man’s own criteria.  Next, through his discussion of the juridical nature of the apostolate, he successfully shows that apostolic teaching is itself authoritative.  We find the evidence of apostleship, or, at least, apostolicity within the canon itself.  Thirdly, he establishes the fact that the apostles’ teaching was intended to be recorded in written form even by the apostles themselves.  Necessarily, then, these writings must be seen as authoritative in the same juridical nature as the apostle’s oral teachings.  By arguing this, Ridderbos has established a valid defense of the canon.

Of course, it can be argued that all of this falls apart if the concept of redemptive history is itself rejected.  This is the plight, as Ridderbos points out, of secular evaluations of canonicity.  From their a priori assumptions, secular canonical criticism is incapable of establishing any basis for canonicity, though such criticism serves a function in an academic and historic sense (49).  Yet, the fact remains that Ridderbos’s view of canonicity must begin with a postulate of faith in the redemptive work of God through Christ.  As such, this view will never commend itself to those who reject the notion of redemptive history.

That being said, it must be admitted, even by those who disagree with Ridderbos’s premise, that his arguments are valid if his premise is true.  If, in other words, the foundation of redemptive history can itself be laid, and the juridical nature of the apostolate confirmed, the rest seems to follow fairly well.  I personally believe that Ridderbos has done a masterful job in establishing the Christological basis of canonicity.

It might be argued that the juridical nature of the apostolate is the key here.  His argument concerning the intended written form of the apostles’ teachings is compelling, and the subsequent conclusion that the written form of the canon therefore bears the authority of God is hard to refute given the truthfulness of the other premises.  The juridical nature of the apostolate actually has great ramifications on the task of preaching.  On this basis, the preacher does not proclaim the opinions of the apostles.  He does not preach the conjectures of those who knew Christ.  Instead, he preaches the authoritative words of Christ himself.  Insofar as he proclaims “the teachings of the apostles,” he proclaims the teachings of Christ.  The importance of this fact on the entire homiletical task cannot be overestimated, for it touches on the source, manner, object, and intention of preaching itself.

Again, there would be some difficulty in arguing Ridderbos’s view with an unbeliever.  To do so would, of course, necessitate arguing Christ, for Christ is the foundation of Ridderbos’s view.  Yet, within the community of believers, his arguments can have great weight.  If one professes Christ, and if they can be shown the proper understanding of the nature of the apostolate, then proper conclusions can be drawn concerning the need for the believer to view the canon itself as authoritative.  In short, Ridderbos has established a workable theory in which a high view of the canon may be argued with effectiveness among those who accept Christ.  While his arguments will have little affect on those who do not accept Christ, they will serve as an important corrective against an existentialistic selectivity concerning the various components of the canon.

Ridderbos’s argument that the majority of the New Testament was actually accepted rather early on by the Church is a rather refreshing departure from the standard line being propagated by many other historians.  One gets the picture from these that the processes of canonization was wrought with mass confusion and disputes.  This impression is given, of course, by an incessant highlighting of the problems surrounding the disputed texts.

His discussion of tradition and his contention that the Church did not, in fact, codify the texts of the canon primarily in response to Marcion’s or anybody else’s challenging of the accepted books but rather because of the need to formally recognize what the Church largely already viewed as authoritative was compelling as well.  By doing this, Ridderbos shows that the canon is not the product of reaction but rather of intention.  This is extremely important to our view of the canon and, especially, to our preaching of the canon as well.  The preacher may know that he speaks from an intended canon with intended authority.  He may have confidence in the object of the hermeneutical task.  He may speak boldly and forthrightly on the basis of the canon’s authority.

Ridderbos next turns to his discussion of the nature of the authority of the New Testament.  He notes that historical, secular approaches to the question are deficient in that they reject any possibility of the canon bearing divine authority.  The possibilities are removed by the foundational ideologies of secularism and are, therefore, deficient.  On the other extreme, however, Ridderbos notes that a spiritualistic concept of authority exalts the Spirit’s work to the neglect of history and is equally deficient on the other end of the spectrum.  As a solution, Ridderbos contends that the answer is not found in some type of synthesis between these two approaches, but rather is to be found in “redemptive-historical categories” that will reveal the nature of New Testament authority (49-50).  Specifically, Ridderbos discusses the categories of “kerygma (proclamation of redemption), marturia (witness to redemption), and didache (teaching about redemption)” (50).  Due to the interrelatedness of these categories, I will summarize Ridderbos’s handling of all three before evaluating his position.

Kerygma refers, in a general sense, to the revealing of some truth or reality.  Ridderbos shows that the New Testament concepts of preaching, appearance, and gospel relate to the kerygmatic nature of the New Testament.  He goes on to argue that the kerygmatic nature of the New Testament has been misunderstood for some time by those who use it in an attempt to treat the gospels purely as detailed biographies.  The inevitable conflicts that arise from such an approach, resulting from its own mistaken premises, lead many to conclude on the one hand that there is virtually no reliable history in the gospels or, on the other hand, to conclude that the question of historicity is largely irrelevant (53).  This latter assumption has led to the search for the “Christ of faith” over the “Christ of history” and all of the variances that such a concept entails.

Ridderbos responds by noting that the validity of the kerygmatic proclamation necessarily rises and falls upon its historical veracity.  Furthermore, the kerygma must be seen as Scripture in that it is itself a proclamation of the redemptive-historical acts of God.  Thus, the kerygma is authoritative because it is the inspired proclamation of the apostles of the redemptive-historical events of God.

Ridderbos’s second category, marturia (witness), refers to “content of the gospel in its original, historically visible and audible form” (58).  Again, Ridderbos appeals to the juridical nature of the concept of a “witness” as somebody that speaks authoritatively in another’s stead.  He then notes the very strong concept of marturia in Luke’s writings, as well as those of John and Peter (59-60).  As such, he shows that the witnesses of the redemptive-historical events were themselves part of redemptive-history and not merely human relaters of those events.  Ridderbos then shows that the concepts of kerygma and marturia are linked in that the New Testament kerygma is the witness of the apostles and furthermore that the witness of the apostles is kerygmatic in that it is primarily preached (61, 64).  Furthermore, kerygma and marturia are related in that they both stake their validity on the historicity of the events they proclaim and reveal (68).

Ridderbos’s third category is didache, teaching.  He contends that the apostles were not only concerned with the dissemination of the events of redemptive-history, but with teaching that derived from the content and authority of their witness (69).  This does not mean, however, that there is a dichotomy between kerygma and didache.  They are, in fact, closely related.  The apostles taught on the basis of the kerygmatic content of their proclamation.  Any distinction between the two is merely formal.  Didache involves instruction.  Kerygma involves proclamation (70).

The central question surrounding the category of didache is the identification of its content.  What should we teach?  Ridderbos rightly contends that this question is primarily hermeneutical.  Through the application of hermeneutical precepts we arrive at what the apostles taught.  Then, given the redemptive-historical nature of their teachings, we teach the same (73-74).

Section two of Redemptive History and the New Testament Scriptures contains Ridderbos’s attempt to explain the nature of the authority of the New Testament in terms of redemptive-historical categories.  He handles the kerygmatic, marturian, and didactic nature of the New Testament very well.  In addition to this, his treatment of the corollary issues surrounding these categories provides him a venue in which to discuss the further implications of their place in redemptive history.

Ridderbos’s overarching contention is that the New Testament kerygma, marturia, and didache do not relate to or reveal redemptive history, but are rather themselves a part of redemptive history.  Thus, to put it simply, God, not man, stands behind the proclamation, witness, and teaching of the New Testament, though it was through man that God revealed these.  This argument is extremely important.  It matters greatly, for instance, whether or not the apostles were men giving a human testimony of the events of God in history, or whether or not that testimony is itself one of God’s works in history.  Here, as in so much of Ridderbos’s thesis, much depends upon the juridical nature of the kerygmatic proclamation, witness, and teaching.  If, in other words, the kerygma is announced juridically with God’s authority, then the proclamation bears authority.  It seems to me that Ridderbos has done an admirable job in constructing his schema of the redemptive-historical authority of the New Testament on this basis.

In addition to this, section two of the book deals with the question of history in a compelling manner.  Although Ridderbos was writing before the spectacle of the Jesus Seminar, efforts to divorce the “Jesus of history” from the “Jesus of faith” were already firmly ensconced in the tenets of dialectical theology and neo-orthodox ideologies.  As such, this discussion of history is more than pertinent.  What is more, the questions being raised by a seemingly unfettered glorification of experience over propositional truth bring these questions to the forefront again.

In all of these instances, the question of the historical veracity of the content of the New Testament proclamation is paramount.  In so many words, Ridderbos is saying that the kerygmatic and didactic proclamations lose all weight and force if severed from the truthfulness of their content.  His observation is timeless and may arguably be called “ground-zero” for many of the battles being waged over the Bible today.

I believe that Ridderbos has hit the proverbial nail on the head.  His arguments provide us with a valuable critique of those arguments which contend that we may yet derive hope from a resurrection that may or may not have happened, put our trust in a Jesus that may or may not have lived, and frame our personal and corporate ethical systems around teachings that derive from events that may or may not be true communicated through the mouths of disciples who may or may not be deluding us.  What is more, the reality of the crumbling ethical systems of many in our churches that knowingly or unknowingly accept an agnosticism concerning the historicity of the New Testament events bears elucidating testimony to this view’s insufficiency and, frankly, supposed value as well.  Ridderbos is absolutely correct in his indicting assessment of those who would remove the anchor from these redemptive-historical categories.

All of this bears, of course, heavily upon the preaching task.  It seems that the primary homiletical point to be gained from Ridderbos’s discussion of redemptive history and the new testament is one of confidence and authority.  Namely, on what basis can the preacher trust the New Testament and on what basis can he venture to speak with authority?

According to Ridderbos, the modern preacher may speak with authority because he proclaims a New Testament kerygma that is itself part of redemptive history.  It bears authority because it is a divinely intended function of the redeemed.  The modern preacher may speak with authority because the redemptive historical marturia is true, historical, and itself authoritative.  The modern preacher may teach with authority because the redemptive historical New Testament didache emanates from apostles bearing juridical authority in their teaching.

Thus, it can be argued that Ridderbos’s argument for the redemptive historical basis of New Testament authority is not only thoughtful, erudite, and logically coherent, but that it also avoids the dangers of existentialistically and humanistically originated concepts of authority.  His arguments appeal to the scriptures themselves yet manage to avoid the snare of reflexivity and circularity in reasoning.  In its most basic form, Ridderbos’s argument depends ultimately upon the presence of God, His working in human history, and the human postulate of faith in these realities.

Francis Watson’s Text and Truth

Francis Watson’s goal in Text and Truth is to argue for the merits of a new “biblical theology.”  His impetus in this is the perception that the separation of theological studies from biblical studies and, within biblical studies, the separation of New Testament studies from Old Testament studies is predicated upon false assumptions and is, in reality, self-limiting and self-repeating.  He argues that these two lines of demarcation (i.e., between theology and biblical studies and between Old and New Testament studies) have effectively removed any concept of text and truth.  Instead, the theologian feels no right to interact with biblical studies in any authoritative and substantial way because that is a separate discipline.  The biblical scholar does not interact in any substantial way with theology.  And the New and Old Testament scholars do not interact with one another.  The result of this is that no concept of biblical theology is achieved and a holistic treatment of scripture never occurs.  Most tragically, however, is the lack of any notion of truth.  The biblical scholar cannot make theological pronouncements and vice versa. Watson argues that these lines of demarcation are ideologically founded and that the wholesale rejection of biblical theology is as unmerited as a wholesale acceptance of it.  He hopes to retain the positive aspects of the biblical theology movement of the mid-twentieth century while rejecting its flaws and thereby arrive at a true biblical theology that will integrate the theological and textual biblical studies (8).

Watson begins by noting that modern biblical studies have created a false dichotomy between the narrative study of the gospels and the historical-critical study of the gospels.  The narrative study is concerned with each gospel writer’s telling of the story.  These narratives are seen as containing fictional elements, but it is not the narrative critic’s job to interact with the text’s historiographical intent (33).  Rather, the redaction scholar is concerned with identifying and elucidating the Markan Jesus or the Lukan Jesus through an evaluation of the gospel narratives.  The historical critical scholar, however, does the work of identifying and stripping away fictional narrative elements in search of the reality that lay behind them (37-38).  These two disciplines are kept separate and seemingly have no real bearing on one another as redaction criticism is considered to deal with a fictionally expressed faith and historical criticism is considered to deal with reality.  Watson’s proposal is that this framework be replaced with a concept of narrative history.

In his attempt to establish a concept of narrative history or biblical historiography, Watson sees historical events as events which are communicated creatively and handed down through tradition to the ages.  There is, however, an historical point of reference that rests behind the fluid, creative, and dynamic attempts at expressing it.  Concerning the life of Jesus, Watson notes that the gospels do not present strict biographies but rather communally accepted articulations of the importance of the Christ event.  Watson sees this as legitimate “history” (52-53).  Thus, the reality of the transcendent nature of the Christ event, not historicity strictly speaking, is the important issue here.  Furthermore, the gospels do not merely point back to a past event.  Rather, in their writing, the gospels interact with the Christ event that is past, present, and future (53).  Watson seems to be saying here that this notion of temporal fluidity and the timeless conception of the Christ event explains the variance of some elements, chronological and otherwise, within the gospels.  Furthermore, he claims that the Christ event is “stabilized” through the transmission of the community’s past, present, and future interaction with it to writing (54).

Watson next attempts to combat “the polarizing of history and fiction” (59).  This, of course, is crucial to his stated goal of undermining the assumptions that would draw such radical distinctions between a redactive and a historical critical approach to the scripture.  He states that the gospels are emplotted, that they contain the beginning, middle, and ending aspects of a plot that is moved along points of reference.  That is, the gospels are structured in such a way as to tell a story that has points of reference to an historic event and that is not to be evaluated solely by the cold eye of historical verification.  Watson, in facts, argues against this radical distinction between history and fiction by noting that an historiographical writing may legitimately employ both elements (history and fiction) in the construction of its emplotted flow (55-57).  He speaks to the issue of the fictional elements of the gospel narratives by arguing that there is purpose for such elements in historiography.  He appeals to Ricoeur’s notion that fiction is often applied historiogaphically in the description of epochal events which help a community achieve self-understanding (61-63).

I find that I am highly sympathetic to Watson’s intentions but nonetheless wonder if  his assertions are not as ideologically motivated as the lines of demarcation he is seeking to remove.  His analysis of the disparaging state of biblical studies in which redaction critics study the narratives with no concern for historicity and historical critical scholars seek out the reality, or the history, of the text with no apparent concern for the narrative elements is commendable.  However, in the final analysis his proposed solution for destroying the radical dichotomy currently being drawn between real history and false fiction depends upon the truthfulness of these categories and not merely their existence.  In other words, it is possible to challenge the assumption that there are fictional elements at all.  If this is done, of course, then this attempted synthesis of these two elements through an analysis of gospel emplottments and other structures is unnecessary.  And what reason, truly, does Watson have for supposing these assumptions concerning the fictional elements to be true?  His tone would suggest something closely resembling a mere assumption that this must be the case.

The overarching question is the question of historicity.  Try as he may to downplay and explain creatively the presence and viability of fictional elements, Watson never adequately addresses why we must agree with this theory in the first place as he never enters into dialogue with apologetic endeavors which assert the contrary.  As such, Text and Truth is itself founded on ideological premises that may themselves be rejected.

The implications of this discussion on the preaching task are fairly obvious.  Is the preacher proclaiming truth or fiction?  May he have relative confidence in the historical reliability of his assertions or must he merely assent to be part of the creative flow of historiofiction.  I am not attempting to minimize Watson here.  Given the truthfulness of the assertion that the narratives contain fictional elements, Watson’s theory of handling them is ingenious.  However, I reject the truthfulness of that assertion and, consequently, the construct he erects on that assumption.

Watson next turns his attention to the question of how it is that a finite text may be interpreted infinitely.  In this discussion, he interacts with those who find the answer to this question in a supposed “radical indeterminancy within the text itself” (74).  This is a postmodern construct which believes that the gospel writers intentionally crafted their gospels in a form that will not allow an ultimate interpretation.  Thus, they share the nature of parables that are intended to blind the hearer or reader.  Consequently, the authors intend to tease, as it were, the reader into an unending interaction with the text that never reaches a final interpretative destination.

Watson’s response to this is largely refreshing.  He points out that the genre of gospel is inherently unlike the genre of parable.  Gospels by their nature proclaim something and this proclamation does not harmonize with any radical textual indeterminancy.  The gospels proclaim Christ and, in fact, intend to do so (73-77).  This means that they cannot be treated as parables.

Furthermore, Watson accuses purveyors of this position of accepting gnostic tendencies.  Gnosticism draws a distinction between “carnal” and “spiritual” interpretations and thereby opens a door for allegory.  This is seemingly what has happened in this stance of radical indeterminancy.  Furthermore, this view is in danger of missing the point of the gospels and erecting an illegitimate (and illegitimately complex) structure on insufficient, scant evidence.  Simply put, there is no real reason to treat the gospels as harbingers of uncertainty and tools for interpretative teasing (79-80).  In summation, any system finds a radical uncertainty in the nature of the gospel writings themselves has misunderstood the intent and nature of a gospel and has opened a Pandora’s box of gnostic subjectivism and error.

Watson ends his discussion of these purported gnostic tendencies by pointing to Mark’s account of the transfiguration (83-88).  In the story, Peter, James, and John are shown the nature and glory of Christ.  What was hidden was revealed.  Watson sees in this a response to those who would argue that the gospels are sources of indeterminancy and hopelessness.  He argues instead that the transfiguration is the watershed moment of Mark’s gospel for it showed Peter, James, and John that truth, meaning, and purpose has been and can be revealed.

The second section of Watson’s book is actually a brilliant rebuttal of a postmodern hermeneutic of despair.  Against theories of radical indeterminancy, Watson replies quite simply that those who espouse such views have forgotten or overlooked the nature of a gospel and have run off in unjustifiable directions with a palsied hermeneutical approach.  While the previous section of the book still raises questions as to the question of how and in what sense, in Watson’s mind, the gospels reveal anything trustworthy, it must nonetheless be admitted that his closing of the door on postmodern hermeneutical despair is more than admirable.

The preacher’s task is inextricably interwoven with the proposition that he may know what the scriptures in fact say.  Watson’s arguments here provide a positive tool towards that end.  If the postmodern hermeneutic of despair or suspicion is true, the preacher may never definitively offer any word of hope.  He may never be sure of the truthfulness of his own proclamation.  He may never say with any assurance, “Thus saith the Lord.”  Instead, he is condemned to a lifelong game of interpretative guesswork and homiletical “shots in the dark.”  Thus, Watson’s arguments are crucial to the preaching task.

In the third chapter of Truth and Text, Watson seeks to criticize a postmodern paradigm of interpretation.  He mentions three contentions of this paradigm.  First of all, there is no single meaning of a text.  Second, meaning is determined by the reader and not by the author.  Lastly, theological interpretations can claim to be no better or worse than others but must instead commit themselves to an ongoing, pluralistic, interpretative dialogue (95-96).  Watson states that these three premises are deficient in many ways (97).

He argues that writing is an act with an intention.  It intends to communicate something and therefore must be understood if the intention is to be fulfilled (98-103).  He argues further that the gospels may be understood as having single meanings which include a variety of communicative components.  This meaning is bound to the words of the text.  Watson realizes that there is a problem with this view in the fact that a single passage may be translated in many different ways and may be accepted differently by different people.  This, however, is no ultimate reason to reject a belief in the presence of a central meaning of a text.  Rather, instead of accepting the postmodern tendency to celebrate these different translations and interpretations as being noble in and of themselves and as serving as proofs of indeterminancy in the text, Watson points out that it is the job of the interpreter to weigh the interpretation and the evidence behind them in order to see which is best (112-113).

Furthermore, Watson argues for the necessity of an objectivity by which such a process of interpretative clarification may be verified.  Objectivity, for instance, frees us from assuming a necessary particularity behind an interpretation.  We may, in other words, appeal to criteria outside of our own social and cultural environment as reasons for our interpretation (113-114).  Second, objectivity saves us from an unending interpretative ambiguity.  Third, objectivity assumes the presence of criteria outside of our own opinions that will help us in judging the merits of various interpretative positions (114-115).

Watson next contends for an understanding of interpretation in which the author’s intent is seen as the meaning of a passage.  He stresses, however, that this intent is often hard to achieve.  Furthermore, more than just the mere defining of words is necessary.  Watson argues that we may know authorial intent because of “the reality of institutional continuities” that allow us to understand the text and its meaning (115-118).   This also implies that the application of a text to today is necessarily to be a concern of the interpreter (123).  Lastly, regardless of specific, contextualized interpretations of a text, the actual words and meaning of a text, or a text’s “objective interpretation,” must be given priority (123-124).  Watson argues this ostensibly in an attempt to save the text from a pluralistic interpretative relativity.

In all, Watson’s assertions regarding the single meaning of a text, the establishing of meaning on the basis of the author’s and not the interpreter’s assertions, and the dangers of an unfettered pluralistic relativity are wise.  The heavy emphasis that he places on objectivity and the possibility and need of recognizing its existence is crucial to the entire question of postmodernism.  By arguing in favor of the existence of objectivity, Watson is closing the door on unrestrained existentialist approaches to interpretation.

His treatment of the meaning of a text is interesting.  I believe he makes an extremely valid and thought provoking point in his argument that the continuity of communal institutions is a harbinger for meaning.  This provides an additional helpful aspect to Ridderbos’s and Erickson’s discussion of meaning.

The modern preacher will benefit from Watson’s work in this regard.  Once again, Watson provides a framework whereby the preacher need not resign himself to hermeneutical uncertainty.  He may argue, on the basis of objective criteria, that his interpretation is valid.  In polemical preaching he may argue on this basis that his interpretation is preferable to another.  And, on the basis of Watson’s exaltation of the meaning of the text as it stands independent of modern contextualized reinterpretation, the preacher may claim that there is a true meaning in the midst of competing cultural interpretations.  This last claim, however, should be made cautiously and in full recognition of our own presuppositions and propensities for culturally conditioned interpretation.

In Watson’s fourth chapter, the last of the first section of the book, he defines and interacts with neo-Marcionism.  He derives this name from Marcion and the controversies that surrounded him.  Among other things, Marcion asserted that the Old Testament should be rejected as part of the Christian Bible.  Watson contends that neo-Marcionism was advocated by Schleiermacher, Harnack, and Bultmann.  These three German theologians rejected the Old Testament in favor of a more direct experience with God (127-128).

Schleiermacher rejected the importance of scripture in favor of a direct experience of redemption.  Thus, an evaluation of scripture was largely unnecessary (131).  When Schleiermacher did deal with scripture, his hermeneutic was obsessed with finding within it a picture of Jesus’ experience with God.  He summarily disregarded and rejected those portions of the New Testament that he found problematic or unuseful to his a priori assumptions (132).

His hermeneutic was essentially psychological.  That is, he interacted with texts psychologically and not through an evaluation of the words of the text.  This is a basically subjective approach to hermeneutics.  Scripture, to Schleiermacher, is important only insofar as it reveals to us the personality of the Jesus with whom we interact.  The specific form of the text is unimportant (136-137).  Most importantly, Schleiermacher rejected the Old Testament as not being inspired.  He also claimed that Christianity has nothing to do with Judaism other than a purely historical relationship (138).  Furthermore, in keeping with his own approach to Christianity, Schleiermacher rejected the Old Testament as being cold text whereas the New Testament, by revealing to us the personality of Jesus, represents experience with God (140).

Harnack likewise rejected the Old Testament.  He approved of Marcion’s idea that the Old Testament is a stifling tradition which is the antithesis of a direct, dynamic encounter with Christ (141-142).  Furthermore, to Harnack, the Church’s acceptance of the Old Testament revealed an insufficient appreciation of the newness of Christ (143).  Watson pictures Harnack as carrying on and continuing the work of Marcion for twentieth century liberalism (143-144).

Harnack summarized the essence of Christianity in three categories:  “the kingdom of God and its coming,” “God the Father and the infinite value of the human soul,” and “the higher righteousness and the commandment of love” (147).  He sought to remove Jesus from his Jewish context and stressed the centrality of the individually redemptive work of Jesus and the believer’s experience with Him for the Christian faith (147).  Harnack also called on twentieth century Protestants to correct the mistakes of Luther and the Reformers and expel the Old Testament from the canon (150).

Rudolph Bultmann also argued that the Old Testament was not inspired though it did have some importance in helping us understand ourselves and the nature of humanity.  He downplayed any relationship between the events of Israel’s history and the life of Christ.  He also downplayed the importance of Old Testament messianic prophecies on the basis that they were not useful to the modern individual (154-155).   Like Marcion and Harnack, Bultmann  elevated experience with Christ as the criterion by which everything was to be judged.  Thus, the Old Testament, in his estimation, was not authoritative like the New Testament (156).

It was “pragmatically useful,” but not essential to the Church (166).  Even the New Testament was demoted in importance by Bultmann.  It was, famously, “demythologized” by him.  Furthermore, its words and teachings were considered unimportant by him.  Instead, Bultmann saw the chief value of the New Testament in terms of its picture of the passion of Christ.  This represented to Bultmann a picture of radical dependence on God and was, in his mind, the basis of a direct experience with God on the part of the believer that serves as the core of Christianity (168).

Watson’s treatment of Marcion, Schleiermacher, Harnack, and Bultmann is meant to show that the modern assumption undergirding the independent and unrelated scholarly studies of the Old and New Testaments (Watson’s “second line of demarcation”) has an ancient and not too noble history.  It is predicated upon a false understanding of the nature of the testaments and will potentially leave the door open for further theological fallacies such as those exhibited by these three German theologians.  At the heart of each of these men’s systems is a basic misunderstanding of text and truth.  Text may offer some practical insights, but truth itself has no real correlation to its content or makeup.  Thus, text may be dealt with haphazardly, violently, or not at all, and truth will be none the worse for it.  This, Watson contends, is a fallacy that lies behind the separation of these disciplines.

I believe that Watson does an admirable job in this first section of his book in arguing for a new articulation of a biblical theology.  He discussion of fiction and history, in my opinion, leaves much to be desired and is the weakest of his arguments.  However, his consideration of textual indeterminancy, objectivity, authorial intent, reader-response hermeneutics, pluralism, and the philosophical underpinnings of a rejection of the Old Testament are handled masterfully and forcefully.  Thus, it can be said that Watson has succeeded overall in laying the groundwork for an argument for biblical theology and in combating the pervasive and damaging affects of postmodernism on the pursuit of truth today.

Today’s preacher must consider Watson’s contentions.  Postmodernism, like all movements, inevitably passes from the detailed verbage of the scholarly to the unevaluated assumptions of the vernacular.  This means that difficult questions concerning the nature of truth and the nature of text are currently being and will continue to be asked by those within our parishes.  Furthermore, the relationship of the testaments is a perennial question that must be responded to.

Preaching itself will, I believe, be positively impacted by a close consideration of Watson’s arguments.  As stated above, the confidence and assurance that a pastor will preach with will prove to be dependent upon the confidence he has in his subject matter.  Can the preacher proclaim the text as truth?  This seems to be the central question.  Watson answers the question, albeit not always in ways that make me comfortable, with a “yes.”  In this he is correct.

Sidney Greidanus’ The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text

Chapter 1 of The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text sets the stage for the rest of the book by discussing the basic issues of the nature and authority or preaching, the importance of the Bible in the task of preaching, and the importance of expository preaching.  Greidanus traces modern preaching back to apostolic preaching and, before this, to prophetic pronouncements of God.  Yet he does this cautiously and with a recognition of the important distinctions between modern preachers and the biblical prophets and apostles.  Nonetheless, all of these are similar in that they proclaim God’s word.  Furthermore, in all three instances there is an appreciation of the word of God as an event and not just as words.  This is even true of the prophets, even though their message came through visions and dreams and was not dependent on a textual starting point.  Furthermore, all three of these instances may be seen as a part of redemptive history (1-3).  Thus, while modern preachers may not, of course, claim a direct word from God as the prophets did or the authority of the New Testament apostles, they may nonetheless have the certainty of being part of an “indispensable link” of proclaimers of God’s truth and of speaking God’s word insofar as they are faithful to that word in its written form (7,9).  Greidanus points, as Ridderbos did, to the juridical nature of apostleship, as well as the juridical nature of the preaching task as it is revealed in the New Testament application of the monikers “herald” and “ambassador” to the apostles, in an effort to establish that the proclamation of God’s word through the medium of preaching is authoritative (4).

Greidanus argues for preachers to ground their sermons in the text of Scripture.  He appeals to both Old and New Testament examples of this as evidence for this necessity.  By proclaiming the word of God as it stands in written form, modern preachers are standing with the prophets and apostles in the flow of redemptive history.  Preaching is itself an aspect of redemptive history and is used by God as a divinely sanction medium to reach the world.

The importance of preaching scripture is further expounded upon in Greidanus’s preference of expository preaching.  Expository preaching is preaching that preaches the Bible as the word of God to men and women today.  It proclaims biblical passages and does so with the assurance that this is God’s word.  Furthermore, Greidanus argues that expository preaching is inherently authoritative as it stands in faithful proclamation of the revealed and authoritative word of God (12).  As such, the Bible, not human opinions or human epistemological constructions, serves as the source and starting point of expository preaching (13-14).  There is also an inherent safeguard in expository preaching.  Preaching that is grounded in the scriptures is capable of being weighed and measured by and against the objectively verifiable written expression of God’s word.  Greidanus also argues that expository preaching must be God-centered and must be “good news” (14-15).

Greidanus makes further arguments for the superiority of expository preaching.  He points, for example, to John Stott’s four evidences for the preferability of this form of proclamation.  First, the Bible places limits around the expository proclamation.  Second, it “demands integrity” by tying the proclamation to the Bible.  Third, by tying the sermon to the text, unnecessary and disruptive sermonic tangents are ideally avoided.  Lastly, expository preaching gives the preacher confidence as he stands on the authority of the Bible.  Greidanus goes on to speak of various ways that expository preaching is helpful to the Church as well (16).

Greidanus has a rather fascinating discussion of the variety of forms within scripture.  In this discussion he seems to be combating the notion that expository preaching must forever be wedded to the old “three points and poem” paradigm.  Instead, Greidanus argues that a close evaluation of the particular form and the particular intentions of the text we are interacting with will guide us in the careful application of a variety of expressions that reflect that form’s intentions.  In other words, the Bible communicates itself with variety so why should the preacher not do the same?  Greidanus believes that this can be done in expository preaching and, in fact, will show a higher degree of faithfulness to the actual form of the text in the process (18-20).

Greidanus’s opening chapter is a solid beginning point and is also very helpful to the modern preacher.  His views concerning the authority of scripture are very similar to those of Ridderbos.  This means that Greidanus has a high view of scripture as well as a high view of the nature of proclamation and the need for modern preaching to stand in faithful continuance of the biblical practice of proclamation.  This, of course, is the crucial question for the modern preacher.  Does he speak with authority?  Greidanus’s contention that the preacher speaks with authority as he speaks in fidelity to the text is an extremely important point.  Preaching itself bestows no limitless concept of authority on the various words a preacher might say.  Rather, only those words that conform to the truth of scripture bear authority.

This conviction necessarily drives Greidanus to an appreciation of expository preaching as the most crucial mode of proclamation today.  He has made his case well.  I agree completely.  We have seen in our various reflections on postmodernism the dangerous tide of subjectivity and existentialism that ensues whenever the objectively verifiable text is subjugated to a secondary status.  It is against this potential for homiletical homelessness that Greidanus rightly argues for the need for preaching to be grounded in the text.  His arguments are more than persuasive.

In chapter 2, Greidanus further separates himself from the postmodernist by asserting that the historicity of the events that lay behind the text is actually important (24).  He points to the advent and current dominance of the historical-critical method as the purveyor of much confusion in this regard.  In particular, he interacts with Ernst Troeltsch’s evaluation of the historical-critical method.  To summarize, Troeltsch’s work reveals that the historical-critical method precludes any possibility of transcendence by positing that scripture is to be evaluated like any other text, that the reliability of the claims of scripture is determined as those claims are judged against our present normative experiences, and that history consists only of cause and effect events (25-27).  The historical-critical method also believes in the inherent uncertainty of history and therefore brings doubt to its evaluation of any text.

Greidanus responds to this by noting that the historical-critical method rests on an a priori rejection of a “transcendent cause” (27).  Consequently, the historical-critical method has resulted in an epistemological agnosticism in the field of biblical studies.  Thus, truth has been separated from text, as Watson might say, not only practically but potentially.  With this trend has emerged the postmodern concept of the hermeneutic of suspicion and despair.

Greidanus believes that this need not be the case.  In fact, he believes that the foundational assumptions of the historical-critical method need to be critiqued.  He begins by affirming Troeltsch’s first principle, namely that the Bible should be evaluated as any other document.  We simply cannot ask, and should not wish, for this to not happen even though we accept the uniqueness of the Bible over and above all other texts (29).

Concerning doubt and history, Greidanus agrees that the historian must be cautious.  The complexity of history itself would dictate this.  However, when this doubt becomes unfettered by the possibility of arriving at a conclusion, and especially when this doubt so colors the historical-critics’ a priori assumptions that conclusions are ruled out de facto from the start, this doubt can be said to be out of hand (29-30).

Concerning the principle of analogy, Greidanus points out that it too is important but needs to be qualified.  First, the danger of subjectivity in determining what is normative looms large in this task.  Second, the principle of analogy is flawed in that it cannot handle events which we know to be true that nonetheless have no analogous point of reference.  This principle therefore has obvious problems handling, for instance, miracles.  This is not necessarily due to any absence of analogous point of contact but rather to a skepticism that forbids the possibility of such points of contact that is itself a result of the too subjective criteria lying beneath this principle (31-32).  Thus, Greidanus argues that the possibility of the historical-critical method treating the Bible objectively on its own terms is ruled out in toto by the post-Enlightment assumptions that form its foundation.  How can a system which rejects the possibility of divine activity in normative history or the element of transcendence adequately handle a book which has these two elements at its core?  Truly, a more judicious model should be sought.  To this, Greidanus turns his attention.

Greidanus proposes that the categories of the historical-critical method be rejected or, at least, modified so as to remove their unnecessarily restrictive criteria.  Why should not the principle of correlation include the possibility of divine action in the world?  Surely a rejection of this possibility is ideological in nature and not scientific.  Greidanus proposes that Christians not speak of miracles in terms of a divine invasions of history.  To do this is to construct an unnecessary dichotomy between normative history and God’s divine work.  Instead, all work is God’s, be it normal or extraordinary.  By so defining God’s work, the possibility of seeing divine action through the lens of correlation becomes possible (40).  This also sets the stage for a rebuttal of the principle of analogy.  Why should we, for instance, see all history as analogous?  Certainly God may act uniquely and not in conformity with perceived patterns (42).  By positing these qualifications of tradition historical-critical categories, Greidanus is attempting to bring the investigation of historicity back to the text and away from ideological assumptions that deny the validity of such an investigation.

Greidanus next argues for new criteria to determine historicity.  The criterion of dissimilarity deems historical those acts which have emphases unique from the preceding emphases of scripture.  This criterion is flawed in that it unnecessarily fails to adequately asses acts which are at one with preceding emphases (43-44).  Secondly, one should ask if there is a wide range of attestation to an event in other texts.  If so, historicity may be established.  Third, the act or event must be coherent.  Fourth, we may judge any event or act to be historical and authentic if it offers an explanation of a coming “collections of facts or of data” (44).

Greidanus is to be commended here for his extensive critique of the historical-critical method as well as his proposal of a new critical method whereby the Bible may be approached in a way in which is truthfulness is not deemed to be an impossibility from the outset.  Yet he is not playing games here.  He is not picking arbitrary categories that he simply prefers over others.  On the contrary, in addition to the independent merits of these criteria, Greidanus’s proposal stands as a corrective to a system that is ideologically flawed.  The historical-critical method must be rejected insofar as its foundational assumptions shape its conclusions before it even starts.  Greidanus’s proposal, on the other hand, takes seriously the need to subject the biblical text to a critical evaluation while removing the precursory element of doubt inherent in the modern historical-critical method.  This is done not because Greidanus does not like the outcome of historical-critical approaches to scripture but because he questions the validity of its starting point.

The preacher will find in Greidanus’s critique of the historical-critical method not only a necessary corrective to an ideologically founded, nonobjective approach to the historical validation of texts, but also a responsible framework in which he or she may honor the need for a critical approach while avoiding the flaws of the current system.  In practical terms, the preacher may see the confidence of his proclamation as being grounded not in some blind leap of faith in the historicity of the events of scripture, but rather in the verifiable and carefully evaluated reality of that historicity.  As such, Greidanus’s corrective stands as a crucial tool for the homiletical task.

Chapters 3 through 5 are given to discussions of the literary, historical, and theological aspects of what Greidanus calls a “holistic interpretation.”  His goal here is to argue against what he perceives to be a stifling and insufficiently atomistic approach to scripture in which these three categories are sharply delineated.  The result of this delineation is a failure to understand the scripture as a whole, an unfortunate assumption of the unrelatedness of the individual components of scripture, and a consequent inability to proclaim the whole Bible as being unified and relevant (48-51).

Greidanus begins his discussion by defining source criticism (which is concerned with the original written sources) and form criticism (which is concerned with the development of literary form, structure, intention, and setting) (51-53).  He argues that source criticism is useful in terms of the insights it affords the preacher into the historical underpinnings of a text.  However, the preacher should beware of allowing its speculative nature to sway him over to conjecture at the expense of proclamation (52).

In his handling of form criticism, Greidanus points to the unfortunately atomistic and piecemeal approach to the bible that form critics often take (53-54).  Also, form criticism lends itself to conjecture as well as it seeks to establish a text’s prehistory (53).  Form criticism is nonetheless important, says Greidanus, in that it gives us greater insight into the development and forms of a text.  However, he rightly notes that a preacher’s job is to proclaim the Bible as it is, not to proclaim earlier forms of the text (54-55).

Greidanus next turns to redaction criticism.  Redaction criticism is concerned with the overall theme of individual books as opposed to a focus on subparts of those books.  It is concerned with the intentions of biblical authors.  Greidanus criticizes redaction criticism for its lack of focus on the Bible as a whole but notes some relative value in it as it allows the preacher to understand the characteristic proclamations of each of the biblical writers (55-57).

Next, Greidanus evaluates rhetorical criticism.  Rhetorical criticism seeks to understand what the biblical author is trying to say in his composition of the form of his writing.  As such, rhetorical criticism approaches the text as an art form.  Furthermore, the rhetorical critic evaluates the rhetorical devices employed by an author in order to ascertain the text’s intended meaning (58-60).  It evaluates such phenomenon as repetition, chiasm, inclusio, and other devices as keys to understanding more fully the meaning of a text (61-63).  This is important to the preaching task as it provides the preacher with a more nuanced understanding of the author’s intention and meaning.  Furthermore, the variety of rhetorical devices used by an author offer the modern preacher unique opportunities not only to gain insight into the text but to communicate those insights more effectively.  Nonetheless, the preacher must make sure that he does not allow a search for rhetorical clues of deeper meanings to eclipse fundamental exegetical approaches to a text.  Also, the larger context of a rhetorical unit must not be neglected for a focus on its particular context (66-67).

Greidanus next extols the virtues of biblical theology.  He states that it still has merit today and that its strengths should be reevaluated.  In particular, biblical theology helps us uncover the overarching longitudinal themes of the whole Bible and not just the vertical themes of individual books or sections of books (69-70).  Furthermore, biblical theology contains an idea of progressive revelation whereby the revelation of God is seen as progressing from the Old to the New Testament.  This does not mean the Old Testament is not inspired or is unimportant.  On the contrary, biblical theology would tell us that we can understand the Bible as a whole and view the New Testament as a culminative criterion of identification for the canon as a unit (70-72).  Greidanus speaks very highly of biblical theology and its potential to make preachers view the Bible as a whole, formulate biblical themes, communicate biblical sermons, and come to appreciate the holistic character of scripture (72).

Finally, Greidanus speaks of the canonical approach of Brevard Childs.  In this approach, the Bible is interpreted in its final canonical form.  The reason for this emphasis on the final canonical form of the Bible is to be found in the canon’s normative status, the finality of its nature, and its importance as a channel for communicating the truth in the ongoing life of the Church (74-76).  Greidanus believes that a canonical approach to the scriptures will likewise help the preacher view the scriptures in holistic terms and communicate the relevance of the contents of scripture (76-77).

Greidanus’s purpose in commenting on these various devices within literary interpretation is not only to point out the strengths and weaknesses of each position, but also to argue in the end for an integrated approach by which the positive application of all of these criticisms will assist the interpreter in reaching what will truly be considered a holistic understanding of the literary meaning of a text.  In this, Greidanus is to be commended.  Evangelicals have for too long focused on the abuses and potential problems of critical approaches to scripture.  Too many have posited instead a naive, one dimensional, superficial, and ultimately palsied reliance on their own ability to get a meaning to a text.  Against this type of interpretative superficiality, Greidanus proposes a healthy interaction with these criticisms.

The modern preacher will be aided tremendously by the careful application of these different subsets of the literary critical approach to scripture.  His own understanding will be broadened and enriched.  A fuller comprehension of the meaning of the author will ensue and a greater appreciation of the beauty, richness, and complexity of the Bible will be the result.  Thus, the preacher will be able to communicate and reveal this beauty, richness, and complexity to his people as well.  It is also not naive to assert that bringing a congregation into a direct encounter with beauty and richness where they expect only to find sterility and confusion will have the added result of creating in their minds a renewed desire to encounter the scriptures for themselves.

In chapter 4, Greidanus discusses historical interpretation.  Historical interpretation concerns itself with the original historical situation surrounding the composition of a text.  It is important insofar as it informs the interpreter and thereby provides him or her a more effective framework by which to approach the interpretative task.  Also, it guards against an unwarranted subjective approach to interpretation by grounding the text in space, time, and a historical setting (80-82).

Greidanus highlights the past temporal, unverifiable, multidimensional, ambiguous, and inherently meaningful nature of history in order to show the complexities of the subject itself (83-87).  He asserts that the Bible contains “history writing” as opposed to “history”.  That is, the Bible offers us “literature about history” (86).  Biblical history, for instance, contains prophetic interpretations.  This means that biblical history is more concerned with the theocentric dimension behind historical acts than it is with the recounting of cold facts (87-88).  The Christian views these biblical historical interpretations as authoritative because they are inspired by God (88).  Furthermore, it must be kept in mind that biblical writers did not adhere to or even know of twenty-first century historical standards.  Thus, to expect them to read like twenty-first century histories is untenable.  They must be accepted in light of the general historical standards prevalent at the time of their writing (88-90).  Lastly, the biblical writers had a purpose other than the relaying of chronological events.  They had theological intentions in mind when they wrote.  An acknowledgment of this fact will help the reader greatly in the art of interpretation.

None of this is to say that historical reliability was unimportant to the biblical writers.  The above criteria for biblical history must not be understood as forming an antithesis to historical reliability.  The scriptures must be understood to be historically reliable, though a microscopic examination of the historicity of minutia in the biblical text is unwarranted and unfruitful.  Nonetheless, the veracity and viability of the interpretation and communication of the events of scripture rises or falls with the historicity of those events (91-92).  In this regard, Greidanus stands firmly against the postmodern minimizing of the importance of historical realities though he does caution the interpreter to focus more on the biblical prophetic interpretation of an event than on the question of the historicity of the event itself (94).

Apart from these particular considerations of the nature of biblical history, Greidanus stresses the importance of realizing the overarching nature of the Bible’s view of history itself.  He notes that the Bible presents a universal history of the world from its inception to the final culmination of the ages.  This is called kingdom history due to the fact that the overarching historical vision of the Old and New Testaments is the kingdom of God (97).  Greidanus identifies the major theme of kingdom history in terms of “Creation-Fall-Redemption” (98).  This vision of history has been largely lost or rejected and needs to be regained for today (94-96).

The interpretative implications of kingdom history are substantial.  The interpreter who accepts this historical construct will not deal with scripture or portions of scripture as if they abide in an a-historical vacuum.  Rather, the scripture itself as well as what it reveals will be evaluated in terms of the “grand sweep of kingdom history” (100).  Interpretations can therefore be evaluated in the light of their place in and relationship to the overall flow of kingdom history.  Furthermore, the preacher’s sermon will begin to be communicated in kingdom historical terms.  Passages will not be relegated merely to the here and now, but the enormous implications of the text’s standing in and relationship to kingdom history will be brought to bear on the interpretative proclamation as well.  Furthermore, this will further reinforce a holistic interpretative approach.

Greidanus’s treatment of historical interpretation is particularly helpful to today’s preacher.  To begin with, an awareness of the complexities and nuances of biblical history (as well as history itself) will help shape and form the preacher’s interpretation and communication of the text.  Spending agonizing amounts of time on attempts to harmonize fairly inconsequential details will be seen to be the unfruitful exercise that it is.  More importantly, false interpretations deriving from a faulty or incomplete understanding of the nature of biblical history will be avoided.  In its place, a holistic interpretation informed by a proper understanding of biblical history will be brought to the congregation.  They will then be shown the nature of this history and will be better equipped to avoid interpretative fallacies as well.

Greidanus’s discussion of historicity is crucial.  The assumption that the actuality of the events spoken of in the text is not important has been subconsciously embraced by many in our churches.  This assumption is a product of an existentialistic postmodernity that revels in uncertainty.  Greidanus’s assertion that it is crucial that the events of scripture actually happened is correct and should be integrated in the interpretative and homiletical task in an appropriate fashion.  This appropriate fashion will entail stressing the historicity of the event while not becoming sidetracked with an overemphasis on the verification of unimportant historical details.

A theological interpretation of scripture is concerned with the question of what God is saying in a text.  This interpretation is ideally included in literary and historical interpretation if rightly done.  Greidanus deems “unfortunate” the dichotomy that has been drawn between theological interpretation and these “scientific” interpretations (103).  He argues that the application of literary and historical interpretative techniques alone will lead to an incomplete understanding of what is, essentially, a theological book (104).  Instead of this division, Greidanus argues for a holistic and integrated approach to the scripture which includes literary, historical, and theological elements.  In so doing, Greidanus is mirroring in a fashion Watson’s concern in Text and Truth.

Greidanus sees the impetus for a theological interpretation as residing in a number of facts.  To begin with, he points to the Bible as God’s word (104).  If this is indeed the case, as Evangelicals believe, then a theological interpretation is warranted on the basis of the very nature of scripture.  Second, a theological interpretation is needed since the Church looks to the scriptures “as its standard of faith and practice” (105).  Lastly, the Bible is a book of faith and it is therefore important to approach it with an evaluation of its theological message and one’s own faith content (105-106).

In another attempt to combat interpretative subjectivism, Greidanus advocates determining the author’s purpose.  This will help immensely in the task of understanding where a biblical writer is headed and why.  Furthermore, Greidanus argues that the identification of authorial intent will also help guard the preacher against imposing foreign meanings upon the text (106-107).  He acknowledges that the identification of an author’s intent can be difficult, but he nonetheless rejects the view that meaning is found in the text, not the author, and that authorial content is therefore largely irrelevant.  Greidanus’s rejection of this view is predicated upon his belief that authorial intent can be determined from an examination of the text and serves as the best foundation on which to base an interpretation (108-109).

Greidanus next advocates an identification of the wider purpose of a text.  This he calls “God’s purpose” (111).  To this end he advocates identifying the sensus plenior of a text.  This fuller meaning must, however, derive from the explicit meaning and be informed and, if necessary, qualified and refined  by other revelation (analogia Scriptura).  These parameters that are placed around sensus plenior are done so in recognition of the great potential to use this concept as a justification of eisegetical impositions on the text (113).  The ultimate goal of such an evaluation is the establishment of a “theocentric interpretation” and the rejection of an “anthropocentric interpretation” (114,116-118).  This is in keeping with Greidanus’s contention that scripture has a “God-centered focus” and that the whole canon speaks of and points to Him (114-115).

The great danger for preachers is to disregard the theocentric character of the canon in favor of an anthropocentric approach.  In this approach, moral or ethical lessons are derived from scripture.  God is not so much proclaimed as the central character of the Bible as He is allowed to lurk in the shadows as an occasional reference point.  This theocentric approach to scripture finds its fulfillment, Greidanus argues, in a Christocentric emphasis in interpretation and proclamation (118).  Here, he proposes allowing the New Testament to inform our approach to the Old Testament (119).  Furthermore, the testaments should be brought into interaction with one another in the task of interpretation and proclamation.  Greidanus contends that this interaction consists not initially of a movement from the Old Testament to the New Testament, but rather from the New Testament to the Old Testament (119).  Thus, our interpretation of the Old Testament is informed by our understanding of the New Testament, and, particularly, by the Christ to whom all scripture points.

I believe that Greidanus has done a good job of effectively establishing the need for the preacher as well as any interpreter to have a theological interpretation as well.  He is correct in his assertion that the divorcing of this approach from the perceived scientific approaches (i.e., literary and historical) has led to something of a hermeneutical and homiletical tragedy.  Not only has a dimension of interpretation been neglected, but the dimension of interpretation has been neglected.  Certainly the crucial question for any interpretation  is the question of meaning and purpose.  “What does this mean,” is incomplete if not followed by, “What is the purpose of this meaning?”  A theological interpretation of scripture reveals to us its purpose.  Greidanus wisely finds this purpose in authorial intention.  I agree with him in this but do believe that Erickson’s qualifications and clarifications of this concept as presented in Evangelical Interpretation need to be brought into the process of determining authorial intent.

Greidanus’s theocentric and Christocentric concept of scripture is of immanent importance to any who would interpret or proclaim the Bible.  If interpretation is seen as a journey, then knowledge of the destination will serve as an important guide not only in the evaluation of all proposed destinations but also of the journey as well.  Thus, one’s concept of the ultimate end or goal or destination of biblical assertions will be in many ways the most important component of the interpretative task.  Greidanus proclaims that destination to be the glorification of God in Christ.  I added my hearty assent to this proposal.

It is significant that Greidanus asserts the implications of a theological interpretation on preachers and preaching today in the end of this chapter (120-121).  His doing so is reflective of the reality that the primary task of the preacher is to proclaim God’s word and point the people through that proclamation to God.  This means, obviously, that a fallacy in a preacher’s approach to the theological interpretation of a text will necessarily mean a fallacy in the intention and goal of his proclamation on the basis of that text.  To this end, an emphasis on the need for preachers to create a functional, theological, interpretative approach is more than admirable.

Greidanus next moves into a discussion of preaching by questioning the assumption that “textual preaching” and “thematic preaching” are mutually exclusive forms of exposition.  He proposes instead a model of “textual-thematic preaching.”  In this model, “the theme of the sermon is rooted in the text” (122).

Greidanus defines “textual preaching” as preaching that is rooted in and preaches on the basis of a text of scripture.  He argues for the necessity of having a preaching text on the basis of the authority that the text will grant the sermon.  In addition to this, a text will serve as a guide for a preacher and will put parameters around his homiletical endeavors.  Furthermore, by preaching a text the congregation is given the capability and possibility of weighing the sermon against the textual objective criterion (123-124).  Greidanus proposes that the choosing of a text take into consideration the church’s needs, the preacher’s predilection, the significance of the text to biblical revelation, and the text’s standing as a literary unit, whether this unit be long or short (124-128).

In arguing for “textual-thematic preaching,” Greidanus approvingly quotes Miller’s belief that each sermon should have a single theme.  Greidanus defines a theme as “a summary statement of the unifying thought of the text” (134).  Various subpoints may speak to that theme, but they must not serve as points of deviation from it.  This adherence to the principle of a single theme is, in my opinion, extremely important and should be recognized as fundamental to the preaching task (131).  The theme of the sermon should be the theme of the text.  Greidanus argues that not every verse has a theme, but every literary unit of scripture, on which, by definition, “textual-thematic preaching” is based, does (132).  It is important that the search for a theme does not lead to a distortion of the text.  Greidanus further believes that the implementation and use of rhetorical criticism, especially the use of repetition, may aid the preacher in coming to identify a text’s theme (133-134).

In continuing to construct a foundation for “textual-thematic preaching,” Greidanus calls for the preacher to formulate the theme as an assertion.  This assertion should grow out of the very nature of biblical texts which, by definition, are texts with a message (134).  Furthermore, when attempting to identify and formulate a theme, the author’s viewpoint should take precedence over any other characters’ viewpoints in the text (135).  This will help keep the theme in context.

Next, the theme of the sermon is to be formulated (136-137).  The sermon’s theme is born out of the text’s theme.  The sermon theme keeps the sermon “on track,” helps it to maintain unity, gives a sense of movement to the sermon, and assists in the application of the sermon (139-140).  The theme of the text is the foundation for the sermon its theme.  Greidanus next proposes that the preacher never overemphasize the text theme to the exclusion of the sermon theme or the sermon theme to the exclusion of the text them.  This proposal is meant to ground the sermon simultaneously in the “then and now,” and to guard against the sermon becoming a history lesson with no application on the one hand or a talk to modern people with no application to the text on the other (137).

In proposing “textual-thematic preaching,” Greidanus has done the modern preacher a great service.  Many preachers feel or sense or type of “either/or” tension regarding text and theme.  Some use the text as a mere springboard to develop their theme.  Others are wedded to the text alone and make no thematic proclamations or applications.  As such, their sermons become microscopic examinations of passages of scripture.  This is done in an attempt to remain truly biblical in preaching.

Against these two fallacies stands Greidanus’s fascinating concept of “textual-thematic preaching.”  It is thoroughly biblical in its inception, execution, scope, and goal, yet it places a high emphasis on current thematic implication.  What is more, this model provides room for creativity in the preaching task.

Undoubtedly, the defining of a textual theme and sermonic theme will require a change in much popular sermonizing.  It will in mine.  I believe it will cause me and any who seek to adhere to its tenets to be more cautious and deliberate in the construction of sermons.  However, his will prove ultimately very fruitful and will serve as an extremely helpful model in the forming and delivering of sermons.

Greidanus next turns his attention to the issue of form.  He rightly argues that form may either help or hinder a sermon.  Furthermore, a sermon should have as its goal to bring the people into the same experience that is arrived at through a reading of the text in its form (141).  This will necessarily involving not only an evaluation of the form of the text, but also an evaluation of the form of the sermon.  Form’s importance is found in the fact that, among other things, it ushers the audience along to a response, affects the hearers’ expectations for the sermon, keeps the people’s interest, and “shapes the hearers’ attitudes” (141-142).

Greidanus mentions the strengths of deductive and inductive preaching and then moves to an evaluation of didactic preaching.  Deductive preaching is the most popular form.  It begins by stating a theme and then interacting with that theme in particular ways throughout the sermon.  Inductive preaching, advocated by Fred Craddock, begins with particulars and moves towards a statement of the general theme.  This form of preaching is effective with narratives and, according to Haddon Robinson, helps create “a sense of discovery in listeners” (143-144).

In his treatment of didactic preaching, Greidanus notes that it is thoroughly biblical and lends itself well to an easy-to-follow structure that follows and comments upon the text.  However, many feel that didactic preaching relies too much on structured points.  Furthermore, the desire to fit a text into a didactic structure may actually lead to a distortion of that text and often leads the preacher to neglect the form of the text and its potential implications upon the sermon (146-147).

Greidanus next turns to narrative preaching.  This form of preaching delivers the sermon in the form of a story.  It is claimed that this is the most effective way to communicate, if not the whole Bible, then certainly narrative passages (148).  A narrative preaching of a narrative text would bring out the particular importance of that biblical form to the congregation.  Also, the narrative form is dynamic and maintains movement.  Third, the narrative form importantly utilizes the imagination of the audience in their hearing of the sermon. (151).

That being said, however, it must also be recognized that the narrative form is not appropriate for the preaching of all biblical forms.  Second, the narrative form lends itself to an isolation from the overall flow of biblical truth.  The preacher must take serious precautions against this.  Also, by its indirect nature, the narrative form may not be communicating as clearly and forthrightly as, say, the didactic form would (152-154).

Finally, Greidanus considers textual forms.  He reiterates that sermons should seek to follow the form of the text unless there is some legitimate reason to alter it.  This means that neither didactic nor narrative forms will ever be adhered to exclusively.  The sermonic form should be largely determined by the form of the text.  Thus, Greidanus calls for a consideration of “textual forms” (154).

One of Greidanus’s strengths in his discussion of the forms of sermons is his moderation. He lists the relative strengths and weaknesses of didactic and narrative forms and then calls for a level of flexibility on the part of the preacher.  He very wisely locates the need for this flexibility in an acknowledgment of the textual varieties of scripture.  The point is well made.  What would be the use of slavish devotion to one form or another if the Bible itself is not slavishly married to one form.

Preachers will greatly benefit from this concept of choosing our sermon form on the basis of the textual form.  This is, quite frankly, a revolutionary thought to me.  Have spent my entire life beneath didactic teaching I find that moving away from it is difficult to do.  Nonetheless, honesty and a desire to effectively communicate scripture should cause me to set aside my preferences, or, more precisely, my comfort zone, and step out into preaching forms that will be more faithful to the form of the text itself.

Without a doubt, the desire to make the sermon relevant is one of the greatest desires of a preacher.  Greidanus helpfully points out that the preachers’ task is not to make the Bible relevant.  The Bible is already relevant and, if it was not, it is doubtful that preachers would be able to make it so.  Instead, the preacher’s job is to show the relevance of the Bible.  Part of this process is choosing a passage of scripture that will be relevant to the audience (158).  The great challenge of making the sermon relevant, of course, is the wide distance of the cultural makeup of our world from the world of scripture.

Greidanus outlines a number of inappropriate attempts at being relevant.  Allegory is inappropriate for a variety of hermeneutical reasons (159-160).  Spiritualizing a text is also deficient as it almost always deemphasizes or ignores the historical reality behind that text (160-161).  There is also a problem in pointing to biblical figures as examples or models to be imitated.  Namely, this is not how the way in the Bible presents historical figures (161-163).  Greidanus also points to moralizing as a flawed attempt to be relevant.  This attempt plays to loose with the actual text and its intention (163-166).

Greidanus turns next to a consideration of how to make the sermon relevant.  To begin with, the sermon must stay closely wedded to the text (166).  The desire to step away from the original message in order to assert some point of relevance must be resisted.  The intention of the passage in its entirety must be asserted throughout.

In order to arrive at relevancy, Greidanus asserts that the original message of the text must be evaluated in a number of ways.  First of all, the principle of progressive revelation would dictate that a text’s meaning be evaluated and affirmed in light of the whole Bible’s witness (167-168).  Second, the message must be evaluated in terms of the text’s standing in kingdom history.  Third, the cultural changes between the culture surrounding the events of the text and our own must be taken into account (168-169).

There are, however, some points of continuity that Greidanus points to as well.  The immutability of God serves as an obvious and all important point of continuity between the biblical culture and ours (169-170).  A strong recognition of this fact will aid the preacher tremendously in thinking through the implications of a text for today.  Second, the covenantal aspect of God’s relationship with His people is a point of continuity.  This means that when God addresses His covenant people three thousand years ago, He likewise addresses His covenant people today (171-173).

Another key to establishing the relevance of a passage for today is ascertaining the goal of the original text.  Why, in other words, was it written?  Greidanus contends that establishing this goal is the first half of the journey towards relevancy.  The second is finding a point of contact whereby that goal is applied to a modern audience (173).  This can be achieved through defining modern parallels to the specific situations surrounding the original text as well as delineating the principles of the text (173-174).

Greidanus finally proposes that the preacher consider the specific concrete needs of his people, address the whole person, use dialogue, and use concrete, vivid language (184-186).  Addressing the needs of individuals will serve to draw them into the sermon and will establish relevancy (184).  Addressing the whole person means speaking to the person’s intellect, will and emotions (184-185).  This will be difficult for preachers who prefer a certain style of application or who respond well themselves to certain styles.  Regardless, if the goal is to communicate God effectively, comfort zones will have to be left behind.  The concept of using dialogue is particularly helpful as well.  Greidanus is not calling here for verbal dialogue as much as for a an awareness of how the audience will respond to the message throughout its delivery (185).  This will add a new dimension to preaching that is too often presented as a monologue.  Finally, the idea of vivid language is more than crucial in a day and age when people’s attention spans have already been reduced in length.  There is simply no excuse for the preacher to employ dull and uninspired language.

I was particularly moved by Greidanus’s discussion of relevance.  I realize that I have often resorted to bad or ineffectual methods in an attempt to relate.  The most striking thought that Greidanus verbalizes in this section was the idea that it is not the preacher’s job to bring relevance to the text but rather to show the inherent relevance of the text.  This humbled me greatly.  It caused me to realize that there is something prideful and arrogant in the assumption that it is up to the preacher to make a “boring” Bible relevant.  Greidanus’s perspective makes all of the difference in the world.  It informs the preacher that he is a communicator of relevance, not a creator of it.  The power and creativity of God’s word stands alone without human aid.  Preachers are merely given the great honor of pointing people to it.

In The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text, Sidney Greidanus offers a thorough, provocative, and careful analysis of the major issues leading up to the preaching task.  He calls for creativity and freshness in the pulpit, but, most importantly, he calls for a radical faithfulness to the written word of God.  In a day of faddish sermonizing and a-biblical pontifications, this is very refreshing.  This is a tremendous book.

Millard Erickson’s Evangelical Interpretation

Millard Erickson’s Evangelical Interpretation delineates and interacts with a number of key interpretive issues that are facing the modern evangelical church.  He discusses the idea of authorial intent, the role of the Holy Spirit in the interpretive task, the issue of contemporization, the question of whether or not and how church history, theology, and cross-cultural studies can contribute to the hermeneutical task, and the question of how the Church should respond to postmodernism.  The book’s goal is to lead the interpreter to better define his or her hermeneutical approach and to think more clearly on the overall trends affecting the interpretive task today.

In Part I of Evangelical Interpretation, Erickson outlines and interacts with the authorial intent position.  He uses Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.’s treatment and defense of this position as a prototype of other Evangelical treatments of it, and notes that evangelical proponents of the authorial intent position are indebted to and have made wide use of  E.D. Hirsch, Jr.’s work in this regard (11).  Erickson’s strategy is to define the emphases of this position, note the criticisms of this view, show the authorial intent proponents’ response to these criticisms, and then provide his own analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of this position.

Simply stated, the authorial intent position holds that any passage has only one meaning, that the meaning is the author’s intention, and that the author’s intention correlates to God’s intention as well (11,13).  The overriding goal of the authorial intent position is to combat, or, more precisely, to close the door on potentially subjective, existentialist interpretations of scripture.  Erickson notes specifically that this position seeks to correct, presumably among other things, the abuses of Gadamer’s two horizons concept, the Roman Catholic Church’s concept of sensus plenior, allegorical approaches to interpretation, and eschatological interpretations that allow the interpreter to posit meanings apparently not intended by the author (12).

Erickson next outlines four criticisms of this approach.  First, there is a problem in the fact that the New Testament writers apparently did not employ such a method in their own approach to the interpretation of Old Testament passages (14).  Second, critics note that there is evidence within scripture itself that the Old Testament writers did not always understand themselves what they were writing (15).  This, obviously, would create problems with a hermeneutical system that is predicated upon the identification of authorial intent.  Third, some critics attack the assumption behind the authorial intent position that the author’s intent and God’s intent are one and the same.  They point specifically to the fact that the original authors could not have known our unique situations and the potential implications of their writings on our lives.  As such, these critics maintain that proponents of authorial intent have not sufficiently worked through the question of how scripture reflects both divine and human authorship (16-17). Lastly, critics point to the complexity of the concepts of “intention” and “meaning” (17).

Authorial intent proponents respond to these criticisms in a number of ways.  They argue, for instance, that prophecies may be said to have multiple fulfillments while still having only one meaning.  They challenge the assertion that some biblical writers did not understand what they were writing by pointing out that some passages reveal only authorial uncertainty concerning the times of fulfillment not authorial uncertainty about what they were actually saying (18).  Thirdly, authorial intent proponents reassert that God’s intentions cannot differ from the intentions of the author (19).

Erickson spends the remainder of Part I giving his own analysis of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the authorial intent position.  Erickson begins by commenting on a semantic problem.  He notes that the authorial intent positions argues for a distinction between “meaning” and “significance.”  “Meaning,” here, is what the author actually said.  Significance refers to the impact of its application today.  However, in popular usage, people often use the word “meaningful” in a way that makes it synonymous with the authorial intent position’s word “significance”.  However, there is another popular usage of “significant” (i.e., unusual) that varies from the definition of this word used by adherents of the authorial intent position (19-20).

In response to this, Erickson is particularly judicious and careful.  He notes that popular usage is a secondary issue in a sense.  We must look at what words actually mean, not at how they have come to be defined.  On the other hand, Erickson notes the problem in insisting upon one definition of a term that places it at odds with the popular usage of that term.  As a result, he argues that a neutral terminology should be sought that will be more conducive to dialogue. (20).

I think that Erickson’s assertion concerning the need for a neutral terminology is wise and, most importantly, possible.  His argument that the authorial intent categories of “meaning and significance” be changed to “signification and significance,” and that the word “meaning” be allowed a wider definition in accordance with popular usage is particularly judicious (20).  What lends credence to Erickson’s proposition concerning neutral terminology, whether one agrees with his specific proposed categories or not, is the fact that the nature of the vernacular must come to bear on the construction as well as the communication of hermeneutical systems.  One may, of course, argue that their terms should be defined in such a way, or that their definitions vie most consistently with proper semantic categories, but, in reality, the inevitability and force of popular semantic variety and dynamics will necessarily place limitations on the applicability of these assertions.  Furthermore, if a neutral terminology can be attained, what would be the purpose of sticking doggedly to the categories and definitions you prefer even though those categories are the source of such contention?

Erickson next critiques the use of “intention” by authorial intent proponents.  The word is apparently used to refer to an author’s conscious intentions.  Erickson points out, however, the human beings often communicate what and when they do not intend to communicate.  He refers to Freudian slips, body language, and the occasional experience of communicating more than we thought we had.  Erickson notes that the authorial intent position’s understanding of “intention” “appears to be a pre-twentieth-century understanding of psychology.  It proceeds as if Freud had never written” (21).  He argues that opposing such Freudian understandings of communication is akin to opposing the Copernican revolution.  Furthermore, he notes the problem of Hirsch’s treatment of the unconscious communication.  Essentially, Hirsch’s defines unconscious communication as intention as long as that unconscious communication is intended and not unintended.  Erickson correctly points out that this position creates the dual problem of taking the concept of conscious intention to almost indefinable grounds as well as putting the concept at odds with the seemingly overwhelming evidence that much of our unconscious communication that is elsewhere considered valid is itself unwilled.  Finally, Erickson proposes that the concept of conscious intention be jettisoned in favor of an emphasis on what the author “affirms” (23)

In all, I believe that Erickson has hit on something very important here.  While his use of hyperbole regarding the certainty of Freudian categories is lamentable and comical (i.e., Freudianism akin to the Copernican revolution) his point is nonetheless correct and important.  It would seem nearly impossible to discount cases of unintended unconscious communication.  If this is established then seemingly interminable problems arise when one limits the idea of intent to the idea of conscious intention.  Halfway efforts to included so-called willed unconscious communication is unacceptable.  Thus, as Erickson notes, it is preferable to place the emphasis on the writer’s final product by appealing to the author’s affirmation rather than to place it on the process leading to the final product by appealing to the author’s intention.

Erickson also highlights the inability of authorial intent proponents to construct a viable model whereby modern readers can delineate between the meaning and significance of the text and ultimately arrive at the modern significance of the text for today.  He contends that the Hirschian concept of intent, as expressed above, is to blame for this quandary.  By defining intent as being only what the author consciously intended to say, authorial intent proponents put a straight-jacket on the text and leave no room for a wider possibility of meanings (26).  Erickson’s answer to this is to change the categories of meaning and significance to affirmation and implication.  The change from meaning to affirmation is preferable, for reasons noted above.

Erickson goes on to assert that the authorial intent position does not adequately address the complexities of communication.  If, for instance, a writer is making an argument, are the assertions leading up to that argument not to be expounded upon simply because they are not the “central meaning”?  Furthermore, the single-meaning concept cannot adequately account for the New Testament’s use of Old Testament prophecies.  The New Testament writers frequently find in the Old Testament prophecies meanings that were apparently not germane to the original writers (28-29).  Most serious of all, however, is Erickson’s contention that the focus of authorial intent proponents leaves very little room for the Holy Spirit.  The Bible is treated as if it was written like any secular work (30-31).  This is obviously troublesome given the importance of the Spirit’s role recognized in most theories of biblical inspiration.

Ultimately, Erickson’s treatment of the authorial intent position is careful, stringent, and informative.  He is sympathetic with the desire to avoid subjectivism in the interpretive task (31). Furthermore, he is somewhat sympathetic with many authorial intent categories insofar as they are defined more precisely than they have traditionally been.  His own proposed definitions are wise and would go a long way towards avoiding an oversimplification of complex issues.  In all, Erickson’s call for authorial intent proponents to reexamine their treatment of the Holy Spirit is refreshing.

The implications of this discussion bear enormously upon the preaching task.  This is due to the fact that the authorial intent position, and the corollary issues Erickson discusses, bear markedly and dramatically upon the preacher’s hermeneutics.  A preacher will ideally proclaim what he believes the scriptures say.  But what do they say?  What do they mean?  What do they intend?  What principles do they offer?  How the preacher defines such terms as “meaning,” “intention,” and “significance” weighs heavily here.  Homiletics rises and falls with hermeneutics.  I believe that Erickson has constructed a sufficient corrective to many of the weaknesses of the authorial intent position and has therefore aided the preacher in his tasking of understanding and communicating the Bible.

In Part II of the book, Erickson turns his attention to the question of the role of the Holy Spirit in interpretation.  He chooses to do this by interacting with Daniel P. Fuller’s theories in this area.  Basically, Fuller distances himself from the classical view of the role of the Spirit’s work in interpretation by noting that the Spirit does not contribute to the exegetical task per se, but only to the reception of the findings of that exegetical task in the believer’s life.  Thus, a believing exegete has no advantage over an unbelieving exegete in terms of his or her ability to cognitively understand a passage.  The believing exegete, however, through the ministration of the Holy Spirit, will find himself or herself receptive to the exegetical findings and desirous of obeying them.  Erickson calls this view “a radically different view of the role of the Holy Spirit” as it stands in opposition to classical exegetical pneumatology (33).

Fuller’s position is like Hirsch’s insofar as both are reacting in fairly extreme ways to the hermeneutical and exegetical fallacies of many in the Church.  Hirsch was reacting to the encroachment of subjectivity into the interpretive task through the use of the two horizons concept, reader-response criticism, sensus plenior, allegory, and palsied eschatological exegesis.  Fuller is responding and reacting to an exegetical system that ostensibly depends wholly on the Holy Spirit to the complete exclusion of sound exegetical criteria and technical implementation as it was embodied most notably in Origen and the allegory school (34).  As with his treatment of Hirsch, Erickson wants to show that Fuller has overreacted by refusing to see a mediating position between his own and that which he is reacting against.

Fuller’s theory leads him to interpret 1 Corinthians 2:13-14 very carefully, for it would seem at first glance that these verses would pose a serious threat to his concept of the role of the Spirit in interpretation.  In these verses, Paul writes, “which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.  But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (NASB).

He handles these verses by noting that “accept” or “receive” (dechomai) in the beginning of 14 refers not to an intellectual understanding of “the things of the Spirit of God” but a welcoming of that understanding in his life (34).  Furthermore, that the unbeliever sees the things of God as “foolishness” means that he refuses to acknowledge their truthfulness not that he is unable of understanding what they are (35).  Thus, Fuller hopes to maintain exegetical integrity by showing that the New Testament does not teach that the unbeliever is incapable of understanding scripture.  Understanding may be gained by anybody, believer or not, skilled in exegetical techniques.  Rather, the New Testament teaches that the unbeliever without the Spirit of God will refuse to acknowledge the truthfulness of the things of God and will subsequently refuse to obey them.  Thus, the Spirit’s work in the interpretive task is to grant receptivity to the believer, not to reveal the contents of a passage’s expressions.

Erickson gives a rather thorough evaluation of the assumptions underlying this position.  Most are mentioned above in the description of the position itself.  Erickson’s evaluation of these assumptions is very good, with one exception.  In his fifth comment on the evaluation of Fuller’s assumptions, Erickson notes that Fuller “seems to assume that exegesis is presuppositionless” (39).  Erickson goes on to note that the “fact that the unbeliever may come with a very different worldview than does the believer apparently does not affect in any significant way the forger’s understanding of the biblical text” (39).

It most be noted, in all deference to Fuller, that Erickson’s conclusion in this regard is not necessarily true.  Erickson earlier acknowledges Fuller’s belief that an unbeliever can come to the signification of a text through the use of sound exegetical skills (36).  Certainly these sound exegetical skills would include an evaluation of one’s own presuppositions.  It seems to me that in this particular point Erickson has pitched an unnecessary battle.  The truthfulness of Erickson’s overall critique of Fuller is neither aided nor hindered by this.  Certainly unbelieving exegetes could and, if skilled, do seek to evaluate their presuppositions as any good exegete will.  Strictly speaking, however, presuppositions do not bear definitively on the central question of whether or not an unbeliever is capable without the aid of the Holy Spirit to exegete a passage well.  Presuppositions affect believers and unbelievers alike.  Fuller’s schema does not imply a presuppositionless approach.  In this particular criticism, then, Erickson has probably gone on a largely unnecessary offensive.

This criticism not withstanding, Erickson does an admirable job of defining the assumptions undergirding Fuller’s position as well as evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the position.  To begin with, Erickson challenges Fuller on his interpretation of 1 Corinthians 2:14.  Erickson points out that Fuller’s treatment of dechomai is not necessarily correct.  Fuller is correct in asserting that the word carries with it the connotation of approval or accepting, but it could nonetheless mean that the unbeliever does not accept the things of God not because he finds them disagreeable but because he finds them incomprehensible.  Erickson notes that this word does not tell us which of these is the case (40).  With this, Erickson argues that other passages seem to refute Fuller’s handling of 1 Corinthians 2:14.  In particular, he references John 14-16, 2 Corinthians 4:3-4, and Matthew 16:17.

I believe that Erickson does a tremendous job in these instances of showing that scripture elsewhere, and probably in 1 Corinthians 2:14 as well, carries the idea of an unbelieving person not being able to fully understand the things of God.  His treatment of Matthew 16:17 and Peter’s affirmation of Christ as the Son of God is compelling.  Jesus’s response to Peter clearly implies that the Spirit of God gave him some type of cognitive affirmation that an unbeliever would not have had.  Thus, in his treatment of this episode as well as Jesus’s teaching on the Holy Spirit in John and the contrast of the believer and unbeliever in 1 Corinthians 4:3-4, Erickson has exposed what might, in the final analysis, prove to be the Achilles heel of Fuller’s position, namely the existence of fairly explicit biblical passages that refute its foundational contentions.

Erickson also challenges Fuller on theological grounds.  He notes that Fuller’s position does not account for total depravity.  Rather, it leaves the mind capable of discerning the things of God.  Erickson here coins the rather unique term, “epistemological Palagianism” (45).  Erickson notes in response to Fuller that “the mind or reason is negatively affected” by sin (45).

While I agree with Erickson’s contention, it must be pointed out that this argument is on tenuous ground due to the variety of approaches to the concept of total depravity that exist even among those who would all agree with Erickson’s assertion that Fuller’s theory is insufficient.  In other words, a classical Arminian would almost certainly agree with the overall thrust of Erickson’s position while not agreeing on the Reformed understanding of total depravity.  Thus, it would seem unfortunate to point too stringently to total depravity as a refutation of Fuller, for to do this would isolate many who may not necessarily agree with such an articulation but would agree with the refutation of Fuller in general.

Erickson also accuses Fuller of resorting to faculty psychology and compartmentalizing the nature of man into false categories of intellect, emotions, and will.  He does qualify this criticism by noting that this is only implicit in Fuller’s position (45).  Against this, Erickson asserts, correctly, a more unified, holistic view of man.

Compellingly, Erickson also asserts that Fuller has essentially overreacted to the extreme views of Origin and others.  Put simply, the answer to a system which sees the Holy Spirit as the only means of achieving interpretation is not to construct a system in which the Holy Spirit has no part whatsoever in achieving interpretation.  Erickson states that it is possible to find mediating positions in this (48).  By rejecting the categories that Fuller has defined as the only options, Erickson points to a major fallacy in his system.  I believe that he is absolutely correct in this assertion.  Fuller is as extreme as those he would argue against.  Both misunderstand the Spirit in the role of interpretation.  Some degree of moderation is needed here.

Erickson ends his critique of Fuller by arguing that the Spirit’s role in illumination is to give the believing interpreter insight into the meaning of the text that may not necessarily be revealed through the application of exegetical tools (52).  Erickson appears here to be offering his own mediating position.  At the risk of oversimplification, he seems to be arguing for what might be called a “pneumatic sixth sense” whereby the interpreter gleams new insights into a text, not at the expense or in violation of a sound exegetical evaluation of a passage, but with and through it.  He argues for this even while noting that the core salvific teachings of scripture are readily apparent to the believing or unbelieving exegete and do not depend upon any such deeper perceptions of a text (54).

Erickson has done a tremendous, though occasionally flawed, job of critiquing Fuller and offering his own alternative.  Fuller’s position, in the final analysis, leaves too small a role for the Spirit and is fraught with difficulties.  Erickson’s position seems to honor Fuller’s desire to combat subjectivism while honoring the role of the Spirit in the interpretive task and avoiding the more damaging pitfalls of Fuller’s position at the same time.

This issue also bears strikingly on the task of preaching.  To begin with, it affects to the pastor’s approach to the crafting of sermons.  Is he bound to grapple with the text alone?  Could his sermon not technically be written by an unbeliever if the Spirit has no cognitive role in exegesis?  Or is there more to this?  Should the preacher approach the task prayerfully as well as with exegetical caution?  The truthfulness or falsity of Fuller’s position would seem to have direct bearing on this.  Furthermore, it will have direct bearing on what and how he communicates.  Does he communicate with the authority of the Spirit or merely with the authority of the exegete?  Is his homiletic pneumatic or not?  It would appear that an adherence to Fuller’s position would necessarily relegate the preaching task the dissemination of information and not to the proclamation of revealed truth.  Thus, this question is of extreme important to the preacher.

In Part III, Erickson turns his attention to the question of how to apply scripture to the modern day.  This issue contains a whole host of unique problems that arise from a conflict between the cultural surroundings of the writings of scripture and the ever changing culture of modern times.  Nonetheless, Erickson sees this issue, the issue of contemporization, as “possibly the single most important issue facing evangelical hermeneutics today” (56).  This is so because the question of contemporization is a question that bears upon the relevance and applicability of scripture.  Erickson sees himself as a “translator”, to use a terms coined by William Hordern, as opposed to a “transformer”.  That is, Erickson  believes that the truths of Christianity need not be neglected or jettisoned in an attempt to apply them to today (57).

Erickson sets the stage for this discussion by appealing again to the Hirschian categories of “meaning” and “significance”.  As he does earlier, Erickson proposes that the categories be redefined as “signification” and “significance” and that both of these terms be placed beneath the more inclusive umbrella term “meaning”.  Erickson see “signification” as referring to what the words of a text technically say.  “Significance,” in this schema, refers to a reader’s perception of that “signification” (59).  The task of contemporization involves seeking to understand the implications of a text for today.

Erickson proceeds to critique a popular hermeneutical approach to contemporization.  This “two-step” approach has as its goal (1) the identification of the signification of the text and (2) the application of that signification to present society.  Erickson appeals instead to Charles Kraft’s concept of “dynamic equivalence” whereby the hermeneutical approach to contemporization is comprised of  (1) the identification of the signification of the text, (2) the identification of the originally intended impact on the original audience, and (3) the application of this significance to the modern day (63-64).  Erickson refers to this as “preserving ‘the signification behind the signification’” (64).

The next task, Erickson argues, is to identify the timeless, transcultural principles that may be applied today.  Here he proposes his “third step” to the “two-step” approach to contemporization mentioned above.  He contends that between the signification of a text and the significance of the text, we should seek to identify the timeless, transcultural principle of the text.  This is Erickson’s “third step” (64).

To identify principles, Erickson recommends the rather interesting technique of asking the question “Why?” of any text we encounter.   For instance, we might ask of a text, “Why did God do this?”  The answer to such questions will generally begin to take on the form of a principle.  Interestingly, as Erickson points out, these answers are usually theological in nature.  This leads Erickson to expound upon the importance of the discipline of theology in the interpretive task (67-68).

He also argues that the task of arriving at principles will be aided by the process of “decontextualization.”  In this process, the specific cultural elements of the original environment in which the text was written are removed.  The goal of this is to arrive most nearly as possible to pure principles that are timeless in their scope (69).  Along with this, the interpreter should ask if the principle was intended to be universal or is wedded specifically to that particular cultural setting.

Erickson also deals with the question of how to handle supposed contradictions in a text.  He notes that contradictions are occasionally actually complementary.  Each statement is sometimes commenting on one part of the truth and highlighting some aspect of that part.  Second, the statements may in actuality be two different principles.  Third, he notes that in some situations more than one principle comes to bear (73-74).

Erickson’s treatment of contemporization bears the markings of care and thoroughness.  He does not seek to avoid the difficulties of this process, difficulties which are more than readily apparent to any preacher.  Of particular interest is his concept of a “three-step” hermeneutic.  Erickson’s argument concerning the importance of identifying the timeless principle of a text is convincing and worthy of serious consideration.  Furthermore, his treatment of the importance of theology in the interpretive task is especially poignant.  Preachers feel an almost unbearable desirable to be “relevant,” as the term has come to be defined in American cultural.  This greatly impacts their choice of reading material.  Erickson’s contention that the nature of biblical principles is usually doctrinal highlights rather effectively the importance of pastors spending time in vigorous theological reflection.

Of the first three sections of this book, this section perhaps has the most dramatic implications on the preaching task today.  The modern preacher is faced with a weekly, and, often, daily demand to contemporize the scriptures.  He is painfully aware of how desperately the people in the pews need a word for today.  This means, then, that he is painfully aware of the necessity of proper and careful contemporization.

The beauty of Erickson’s proposals in this regard is that they recognize the importance of this contemporization yet are not willing to sacrifice biblical fidelity in the process of achieving it.  Preachers must have the same conviction.  Helpfully, Erickson offers the modern preacher a framework by which he may honor both the need for contemporization and the need for biblical fidelity.  This framework is practical, cautious, thorough, and likely to push the preacher to a greater study and exposition of the text.

Part IV of Erickson’s study concerns itself with the fallacy of not having “the biblical and practical disciplines” informed by church history, theology, and cross-cultural studies.  Erickson’s task is not essentially negative however.  On the contrary, after bemoaning the lamentable failure of many to see history, theology, and cross-cultural studies as crucial to the hermeneutical task, he proceeds to lay out the potential contributions that are to be found in each of these disciplines and, particularly, in their impact on the hermeneutical task.

In his treatment of history, Erickson contends that there are five positive contributions that can be made to the hermeneutical task.  First, Erickson finds in the study of history a potential safeguard against an unnecessary absolutizing of our own hermeneutical expressions.  This safeguard comes to light when we consider the variety of expressions and applications that the Church has made in its hermeneutical endeavors throughout history.  In other words, the student of history can have his own hermeneutical applications better informed by considering how the Church has expressed itself regarding any given text over the last twenty centuries (78-79).

Second, history reveals to us how and why the Church arrived at certain hermeneutical expressions by giving us insight into the particular cultural and societal surroundings of that day.  This will cause the interpreter to evaluate his or her own cultural surroundings and whether or not they are being influenced unduly by them as well.  Third, by showing us the hermeneutical work of various theologians and hermeneuticists in the Church’s history, a study of history can strengthen the interpreter in the art of contextualization.  Studying the outcome and approach of many historical figures’ hermeneutics will serve to strengthen the modern interpreter in his own (80-81).

Fourth, the study of history will ideally give the modern interpreter a sense of humility as he or she approaches the hermeneutical task.  By simply seeing the wide variety of hermeneutical approaches and conclusions throughout the history of the Church, today’s interpreter will realize that his or her presuppositions, cultural surroundings, and societal makeup are almost certainly  impacting his or her own hermeneutical approach as well.  Consequently, today’s interpreter will have an added impetus to evaluate more stringently the assumptions undergirding their approach to scripture (81-82).

Fifth, Erickson notes that the potential implications of a modern hermeneutical conclusion may often be seen or informed by the implications of like conclusions drawn throughout history (82).  This is an intriguing argument as it establishes an historical criteria for judging the potential validity of one’s interpretation.  In this sense, the old maxim concerning the inevitability of those who know no history recommitting old mistakes comes into play (82-82).

It is not surprising, given Erickson’s standing as a theologian, that he spends most of the fourth part of his book on the question of how theology may contribute to the hermeneutical task. To begin with, Erickson points to the doctrinal character of the timeless, transcultural principles which are the goal of the hermeneutical task.  Especially given the nature of historical narratives, these principles are theological or doctrinal in their content.  Thus a firm grasp and careful theological analysis of a text in order to ascertain the principle within it is crucial to hermeneutics (83-85).

Second, by granting the interpreter a more holistic theological understanding of the implications of their interpretation, theology safeguards the interpreter against taking a contextualized application too far (85-86).  Third, a theological analysis of concepts will force the interpreter to evaluate the truthfulness and implications of the concept more thoroughly.  It will reveal a deeper meaning and implications of assertions that would be missed if such a theological analysis did not take place (86-87).

Fourth, theology bears upon the hermeneutical task by informing us of the current flows of cultural theological thought that may be affecting and shaping our presuppositions and a priori assumptions (88-89).  Fifth, theology will provide a framework in which interpretive methodologies may be evaluated.  This might be done by asking of these methodologies questions concerning their theological assumptions, theological weight and gravity, and theological direction (89-90).  Sixth, theology provides a doctrinal framework by which the implications of an interpretation may be determined.  In this sense, a theological evaluation of the hermeneutical task would entail asking what a particular interpretation means for and in light of other theological assertions of scripture.  This would shed further light on the validity or lack thereof of an interpretation (90).

Seventh, theology will help determine the validity of the arguments undergirding a particular hermeneutical approach to a passage.  Thus, the argumentation leading up to a conclusion may be evaluated in light of an overall theology of scripture (91-93).  Finally, Erickson sees a strength in a theological approach to hermeneutics in that theology will force the interpreter to place his or her conclusions in the broader flow of biblical theology.  Thus, any interpretation will be measured against the doctrinal pronouncements of scripture itself and not treated as an independent entity (94-95).

Erickson next considers cross-cultural studies and how they come to bear on hermeneutics.  Cross-cultural studies have bearing on the hermeneutical task in that they provide new insights derived from interpreters who are outside of our own particular cultural setting.  Erickson wisely cautions against a wholesale, uncritical acceptance of a view simply because it emanates from another cultural situation.  Yet, on the other hand, it must be admitted that those outside of our own culture often see new insights by looking at the text from angles that we would not naturally consider (95-96).  The second contribution that Erickson sees cross-cultural studies giving to the hermeneutical task is closely related to the first.  Cross-cultural studies, merely by virtue of showing us interpretations and presuppositions that differ from our own, cause us to evaluate our own presuppositions and approach to the text (96-97).

Finally, Erickson believes the interpreter will benefit from cross-cultural studies by being shown new questions that can be asked of a text.  The questions we naturally ask of a text usually arise from our own life experiences and limited cultural environment.  However, when one from another culture asks questions of a text that seem to us to be foreign and unique, we will be forced not only to question the validity of our own questions, but to evaluate the rationale for theirs (97-98).  This can only serve to enrich the hermeneutical process.

Erickson’s contentions concerning the usefulness of history, theology, and cross-cultural studies as it pertains to the hermeneutical task if thoughtful and provocative.  It is provocative in that it goes against much of “the Bible and me” mentality that seems to be so pervasive in Protestant Evangelical circles.  Yet he nowhere uses these disciplines to minimize the importance of scripture.  On the contrary, he is arguing that these other disciplines may grant a more well-rounded approach to the task.  Thus, the hermeneutical task will be enriched by the application of these often neglected studies.

It must be pointed out that the effectiveness of preaching depends often on the effectiveness of one’s hermeneutics.  If bringing history, theology, and cross-cultural studies to bear on the hermeneutical task will aid our interpretation, it will aid our preaching as well.  This means that the preacher who hopes to be truly biblical in his homiletic endeavors will seek to be informed by history, theology, and cross-cultural studies.  On a practical level, an evaluation of the methodology and preaching of some of the most well loved, well known, and effective preachers will bear the truthfulness of this out.  This also means that the preacher’s task involves more than a low view of preaching assumes.  It is not enough to approach the scriptures in a surface way.  Rather, Erickson makes an extremely valid case that the preacher should approach the text with the aid of these other disciplines as well.
Erickson concludes his book with a discussion of postmodernism, its effects on the interpretive task, and the need for the Church to proactively engage the postmodern culture in which it resides.  His language concerning the danger of postmodernism and, particularly, deconstructionism could scarcely be more intense.  For instance, Erickson points to deconstructive postmodernism as “the most serious threat to orthodox or evangelical Christianity” today (103).  Furthermore, Erickson believes that “the very future of Western culture may depend on the outcome of this struggle” (104).  Unfortunately, Erickson is only too right in these dire assertions.

Erickson sees postmodernism as rejecting three major premises shared by premodernism and modernism.  The premises are the objectivity of reality, a referential understanding of language, and a belief in the correspondence theory of truth (100).  He does not argue that the premodern and modern periods were alike.  On the contrary, they were radically different in their particular approaches to these premises, but, nonetheless, they were shared in at least some fashion.

Postmodernism rejects these foundational tenets of modernism.  In fact, postmodernism rejects any concept of the objectivity or existence of truth.  Furthermore, to the postmodernist, language refers to nothing concrete, but merely to language.  Words come to rest in no ultimate port.  They are forever in interaction with other words, equally meaningless in any ultimate sense.  Thus the interpreter is not bound by any notion of finding a “meaning” of a text.  There is no meaning to be found.  Interpretation is unendingly fluid and dynamic and serves as an end unto itself (102-103).

Postmodernism is a reaction to the failings of modernism.  Specifically, subatomic discoveries have hinted at a randomness in nature and have undermined the modernist conception of universal “fixed patterns.”  Second, the atrocities of the twentieth century have been seen as evidence of the moral insufficiency of modernism.  Third, postmodernism has rejected the modernist concept of progress.  Fourth, it has rejected the modernist idea of the goodness of knowledge (108-110).

Erickson chooses to interact primarily with deconstructionism, though he does not deny the existence of variant strains within postmodernism, a frustratingly elusive term to define.  The ravages of postmodernism upon hermeneutics are both disheartening and undeniable.  Words have no reference point.  They have no meaning.  There is no meaning to be had (110-111).  The evangelical interpreter finds himself a pilgrim in a strange land.

In response to this, Erickson proposes a number of guidelines for the construction of a postmodern evangelical hermeneutic.  I agree with his idea that this is necessary.  Importantly, he argues that this hermeneutic must proceed cautiously and critically.  There will be moments, in other words, when the evangelical interpreter must simply refute a postmodernism tenet.  Otherwise, as Erickson’s proposals reveal, the evangelical interpreter has some room to respond to the particular assumptions of postmodernism.  A few of his proposals are evaluated below.

Erickson’s proposal that we reduce the tenets of foundationalism in response to the postmodern rejection of foundationalism is wise but dangerous (114-116).  How much are we willing to sacrifice here?  I agree that a more careful evaluation of these tenets in accordance with postmodern assumptions will allow us a point of dialogue while not falling into the type of epistemological despair that comprises so much of postmodernism, but it seems that great care should be taken when we essentially concede the inadequacy of certain truth claims in an attempt to establish a point of contact.  Erickson’s concern seems primarily relational, and this is admirable.  He seems to be saying that such concessions must be made in deference to the potential viability or at least in deference to a serious recognition of postmodern categories, but the tenableness of this assertion still needs to be scrutinized.

His assertion that we speak in terms of concepts and not concrete realities behind words is likewise wise but also in need of a closer examination (118).  An appeal to concepts would seem to remove an obstacle in communicating with a postmodern mindset which certainly rejects such notions, but, again, it must be asked what is being sacrificed to do this, what forces are being set in motion by this, and whether or not there are more negative philosophical ramifications that will be gained by this than positive.  What is more, the feasibility of such a notion is a serious question.  Exactly how does one go about this?

I believe Erickson is right in his belief that we should stress meaningfulness more than meaning, or, at least, that we should keep this postmodern characteristic in mind (119).  However, as I am sure Erickson would agree, it must be made clear that meaning is still of paramount importance to the task of hermeneutics.  He seems to be saying, however, that the modern interpreter and communicator should seek to communicate signification in ways that will lay emphasis on significance but that will not deny signification.

Erickson’s belief that an individualistic approach to hermeneutics must change in favor of a community approach is absolutely correct (122-123).  Not only, as he says, is this due to the wealth of knowledge available to the individual interpreter today, but also to postmodernism’s rejecting of the modernist concept of the worth and value of the individual.

Erickson wisely calls for a reevaluation of the philosophical assumptions undergirding hermeneutics and a renewed emphasis on metahermeneutics (123-124).  The evangelical interpreter cannot proceed blindly as if his or her postmodern culture does not simply reject the philosophical underpinnings of his hermeneutical approach.  To do so is to severely limit his or her influence as well as his or her own understanding of his or her task.   Furthermore, Erickson is correct in his call for a multicultural hermeneutic.  Evangelicals have too often rejected the political baggage of multiculturalism while not appreciate the strengths inherent in such a concept.

I would argue that postmodernism is not only the most crucial issue facing the modern interpreter, but it is also the most crucial issue facing the modern preacher as well.  Painful experience has shown me that postmodernism does not reside merely in the ivory towers of academia.  It has been absorbed, largely through the media and overall flow of cultural thought, by the average person in the pew.  This means that the preacher will simply have to reconsider how he communicates.  To speak in premodern or modern categories, as if the congregation shares those assumptions, is to fail to be a good steward of the gospel.  Truth must always be proclaimed.  Concessions of truth cannot be made.  However, the form in which truth is conveyed will change with the cultural assumptions of the audience.

Erickson’s proposals for a postmodern evangelical hermeneutic may by and large be applied to the preaching task as well.  The modern preacher would be wise to evaluate his sermon along the lines of the proposals Erickson makes.  This will mean hard work, some painful changing of the way we have always done it, and a high commitment towards reaching the people in the pews.  Furthermore, this will require the preacher to become a student of his congregation.  Postmodernism is not a unified coherent concept.  Strains of it vary in their numerous and often subtly different emphases.  This means that the preacher must know exactly how his people think, what they read, what they assume, what they accept, what they reject, and who they are.  To this end, Erickson’s work may be used to great benefit.

Graeme Goldsworthy’s Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture

In Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, Graeme Goldsworthy is concerned primarily with a return to a Christocentric understanding of the whole Bible.  He feels that this understanding will ensue with the recovery of biblical theology and a renewed understanding of salvation history.  He argues that the scriptures must be read within the context of these two frameworks and that, subsequently, our preaching must reflect their influence as well.

In many ways, Goldsworthy’s concerns are imminently practical and pastoral.  They arise out of a conviction concerning the popular misunderstanding of the nature and place of the Old Testament within the greater framework of scripture as well as a crucial misunderstanding of the nature of the gospel and its relationship to the greater framework of scripture.  These misunderstandings have manifested themselves not only in the presuppositions of the laity, but, more tragically, in shallow homiletic moralizings of the Old Testament as well as the New which divorce the ethical mandates of the scriptures from the framework of the gospel and thereby reduce them to legalistic pieties.  As such, the modern Evangelical neglect of salvation history and biblical theology has resulted in preaching that is focused on man and his own efforts at self-reformation.

Goldsworthy’s theological foundation upon which he builds his argument is the assertion that Christ is the center not only of the scriptures, but of theology itself (33).  This means that all of our theological pronouncements as well as our expositions of scripture must point to and be grounded in the gospel, not as a strained homiletic ploy but rather necessarily.  Specifically, he appeals to two scriptural concepts:  Paul’s assertion in 1 Corinthians 2:2 that he had “determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified,” and Jesus’ own attestation in passages such as John 2:39-40 and Luke 24:27 that all of the scriptures point to Himself (1, 21).  These two concepts reflect Goldsworthy’s two major concerns, the former dealing with the importance of the gospel in all of our preaching and the latter with biblical theology itself.

Before considering Goldsworthy’s remedy, it must be asked whether or not his diagnoses of the problem is sound.  His charge that the Evangelical church has either misunderstood the Old Testament, ignored it, reduced it to mere character studies or pietistic moralizations, or all three, is the easiest to assess.  He is absolutely correct.  Perhaps he hits closest to the mark in trying to understand this when he points to the division of the studies of the testaments in our formal education structures as a possible reason why pastors and lay people alike seem to have such confusion over the nature and place of the Old Testament (xii).  It is truly not surprising that such misunderstandings persist when Christian ministers quite likely go through college, seminary, and beyond studying the testaments in different classes, and possibly in different semesters or years with little or no conversations in either class about how they relate.  His assertions are also verified by the day by day experiences of any pastor who frequently encounters lay, and even personal, confusion over this crucial matter.

Directly related to this is the charge that Evangelicals have neglected biblical theology (32).  He is also correct in this assertion.  Perhaps formal education shares some of the blame in this as well.  More likely, however, the Church is caught in a cycle.  It is producing what it teaches.  Evangelicals are inundated by calls to be “New Testament Christians,” preaching that largely neglects the Old Testament or uses it, as Goldsworthy laments, for teaching only moral lessons, and Sunday School and Bible study literature that does not itself integrate a truly biblical theology in its presentation of the scriptures.

The charge concerning the Evangelical neglect of salvation history is also true.  It must be argued, in the North American Evangelical context, that the mass and often blind acceptance of dispensationalism has and is contributing to this problem.  There seems to be an assumption that the gospel was God’s “Plan B,” once the children of Israel rejected the “Plan A” offer of salvation through adherence to the Mosaic law, or that Christ was sent in and for a particular dispensation as opposed to all of them.  Furthermore, the radical distinctions drawn between Israel and the Church in dispensationalism lend themselves to the erroneous assumption that God is dealing in some sense with two different groups of people in almost two different ways.  It could be argued that classical dispensationalism is not inherently opposed to salvation history.  This is true.  However, the popular dissemination of dispensationalism has resulted in these assumptions.  Regardless, the problem is certainly not germane to and, in fact, expands well outside the borders of any particular school of prophecy.

Goldsworthy hits upon a crucial point later in his work in noting that the Evangelical aversion to salvation history is merely symptomatic of a larger aversion to history itself (72).  That is, coming to see how God’s works through history have typified and culminated in Christ’s coming would require a study and appreciation of history.  Goldsworthy rightly assesses that such a study is not in vogue in churches which are fixated primarily on bringing its members into an existentialist experience with Christ through the moment of “decision.”  We might say, then, that the Evangelical neglect of salvation history is part of the larger issue of the neglect of the mind in many churches.

Later, Goldsworthy offers a proposal for a Christian education plan that will responsibly teach the people the fundamental truths of salvation history and biblical theology (129).  He also offers a proposed outline of biblical history that will help people understand the basic movements of biblical history (101).  This is not only admirable, it is important.  Goldsworthy is correct in his apparent belief that it is not enough for the pastor alone to understand biblical theology.  The challenge is to bring the people to the point where they will understand how to correctly understand the scriptures themselves.   The great challenge will be in trying to communicate the verities of biblical theology and church history in a church climate in which little is expected on the parts of the parishioners.

What, then, of Goldsworthy’s proposed solution?  To begin with, his call for a return to biblical theology and, more generally, to a hermeneutic which sees the reality of Christ and the gospels in all that the scriptures teach and point to, is sound primarily because it is itself scriptural.  As mentioned above, Christ did Himself claim that all of the scriptures point to Himself and Paul did, in fact, assert that all proclamation ought to be of “Christ and Him crucified.”  Thus, Goldsworthy is not grasping at straws or proposing a merely academic solution to the problem.  It is founded in the scriptures.  Furthermore, whatever disagreements might exist about the interpretation of these passages and their implications on biblical theology, it must be agreed that the modern Church, by in large, is not adhering to what Paul and Christ both say.  The Old Testament is frequently expounded upon with no reference to the gospel, and preaching has been reduced to the dissemination of pithy maxims.

Thus, the crucial issue concerning the validity of biblical theology is that Christ Himself believed in it.  Goldsworthy is right in this regard (48).  Furthermore, he is right in believing that Christ understood His coming and work and nature to be the consummation of God’s plan of salvation.  That is, Christ believed in what we have come to call “salvation history” (51).  Goldsworthy makes his argument primarily on the basis of the tremendous focus on “the kingdom of God” in the New Testament and on Christ’s fulfillment of it.  “The kingdom of God,” argues Goldsworthy, is the rightful theme of the entire Bible and Christ’s proclamation concerning its arrival in His coming would have been understood by His Jewish audience to have been a “salvation historical” statement (52).  We are right to heed Goldsworthy’s warning about trying to find in the New Testament or Jesus a precise articulation of our own theological systems, but we are also right to claim that God’s mighty works throughout history have reached their apex in Christ and that, most importantly, Christ Himself acknowledged this fact.

Goldsworthy’s movements are methodical and logical.  Once he has grounded both biblical theology and salvation history in the scriptures themselves, he develops a thoroughly biblical justification for suggesting that preaching that does not proclaim Christ in all of the scriptures and point to Him as the fulfillment of God’s works from Genesis onward stands in violation of the biblical pattern and spirit of proclamation.  It stands to reason that the only way of refuting Goldsworthy’s central argument is to attack its hermeneutical underpinnings.  These underpinnings, however, are well argued and firmly grounded in the biblical text.

When he moves to the specifics of how to read the Bible from the perspective of biblical theology and the vantage point of salvation history, Goldsworthy rather surprisingly argues for the restoration of typology as a valid hermeneutical construct.  This is surprising because there does seem to be fairly widespread uneasiness about typology in many Evangelical circles.  Goldsworthy knows this and realizes that this uneasiness is a result of the frequent abuses of typology that denigrate into allegory (76-77).  Therefore, he more than once addresses the topic and the proper uses of it.  Interestingly, he argues for a “macro-typology” which seems to simply be a recognition of the overall movement of salvation history in the Bible which is affirmed by the New Testament’s use of the Old (111).

In truth, Goldsworthy’s treatment of typology is refreshing insofar as it is a well-reasoned attempt at turning back what is perhaps an undue skepticism in some quarters concerning its validity.  The strength of his argument is in the idea that typology is a natural and organic implication of salvation history itself.  If all of salvation history points to, leads to, and finds its fulfillment in Christ, then all of its events must rightfully point to Him.  The key, here, is not to force a connection between the Old Testament event and Christ or to allow interpretation of the Old Testament to decay into an eisegetical allegoricalism which pours meaning into details which are not germane to the text.

Goldsworthy turns next to the main movements of salvation history.  He proposes that there are three:  from creation to Abraham, Abraham to the first part of the reign of Solomon, and Solomon to Christ.  He finds the foundation of this structure within the Matthean genealogy (89). He further argues that salvation history advances through the history of Israel even when the society of Israel declines (107).  It does so through types: in the movement from Abraham to Solomon through Israel’s history, and in the movement from Solomon to Christ through the voice of the prophets.  Christ and the new creation stand as the antitype to which all of the preceding types point (139).  Goldsworthy next moves, most helpfully, through a consideration of how to preach from all of the major divisions of the Bible as they relate to and stand within the major movements of salvation history.

The implications of Goldsworthy’s proposal are tremendous.  First of all, by arguing that we must first see how and where the text we are approaching stands within the movement of salvation history and what their biblical theological implications are, he is arguing that all preaching is gospel preaching just as all of the scriptures point to Christ.  Thus, Goldsworthy concludes, there can be no direct application of a text to modern hearers without recourse to the gospel to which it stands in direct relationship (117).  To do so would be to introduce a new legalism into the church, for the teaching of the ethical mandates of scripture outside of the context of the gospel implies that the gospel is nothing more than a mere starting point after which we may pursue the difficult business of living.

Goldsworthy’s arguments in this regard are not only compelling, but convicting.  His frequently-stated claim that there is an inherent danger in preaching the ethical mandates of an epistle without a frequent and consistent assertion of the gospel framework in which they stand must be heard by modern Evangelical preachers, especially those preaching “through” certain books.  Furthermore, it has direct bearing on preaching about ethical issues on the basis of these portions of scripture alone.  Goldsworthy’s arguments suggest the compelling notion that the household codes of Ephesians 6, for instance, cannot be proclaimed without the theological gospel foundation of Ephesians 1.  The question seems to be one of how to articulate and re-articulate this gospel foundation throughout a series in a natural way.  Perhaps the answer to this lies not so much in the employment of specific hermeneutical means as much as in the creation of an overall homiletic climate in which the pervasiveness of the gospel and the schema of salvation history is established as an a priori to all proclamation.  This is not to suggest that we reach a point where we try to create the assumption of a gospel foundation in our people.  Clearly, any text’s standing within the framework of salvation history must be asserted again and again.  But it is to be hoped that the theme of salvation history might in time come to be naturally used and heard through a consistent pattern of preaching in this way.

There are also implications in Goldsworthy’s proposals for evangelism.  He rather movingly points to these himself when he notes that many modern evangelistic tactics do not appear to appreciate the power of the gospel insofar as they seem to strive for a decision rather than to allow the gospel message to convict (95).  Goldsworthy is correct that it is the gospel itself, not our emphasis on a person’s need to respond to it, that convicts.  This is crucial, for Goldsworthy’s high view of the power of the gospel stands in direct contrast to the man-centered philosophy which has come to dominate the Church and which is itself a product of the wider shift in the Church from theology to anthropology.

Goldsworthy’s survey of how the preacher might choose to approach the various genres of biblical literature bears the mark of consistency in its application of the principles he espouses up to that point.  His divisions of these texts suggest that preachers must understand the characteristics of these various genres if they are to understand the texts’ place within salvation history and biblical theology and especially if they are to effectively communicate it (137).   He suggests that preachers intentionally plan to preach from these areas with an eye towards leading the people to understand how each text relates to the theology of the book as well as biblical theology in general.  He proposes that the minister lead his people to ask, “How does this event (or character) testify to Christ?” (151).  He then shows how this might be done.

The strength of Goldsworthy’s proposals concerning the examples he gives is not only that their consistency to the framework which he suggests rests at the heart of all true interpretation, but also in his humble approach to these texts.  Quite often, as in his treatment of Ecclesiastes or the Song of Solomon, he suggests that a book’s place within salvation history is not always readily apparent (190-191).  This is yet another example of how preachers are going to have to rise to the occasion and be willing and able to grapple with the text in an effort to understand it.

One of the strength’s of Goldsworthy’s propositions is that it challenges preachers to know more and delve deeper than a mere surface reading and, most tragically, a mere surface preaching of a text.  Goldsworthy suggests throughout that not only preaching, but reading the Bible, is going to require greater care than is often times given to these acts.  One wonders if preachers who preach within church settings in which congregations are used to brief, moralistic sermons will be convicted enough to go about the further study required for a truly effective reading and proclaiming of the text.  It is to be hoped that preachers will be, for nothing less than an accurate proclamation of the gospel is at stake.

Goldsworthy’s discussion of prophetic literature and preachers’ uses of it is more than pertinent today.  Our modern church context presents ministers with serious temptations to try to interpret prophecies as applicable to modern society in just the same way that they were applicable to Israel so many years ago.  Goldsworthy offers severe warnings about this and asks preachers to make sure their applications are valid.  Furthermore, he more generally warns ministers about falling into certain traps concerning preaching on prophecy, such as trying to find modern fulfillments for all of the prophecies of the Old Testament and the New (181-182).  He tellingly warns preachers about the temptation to become “second-coming gurus” (221).

It simply cannot be overstated that these warnings desperately need to be heard today.  In the aftermath of the momentous calendar change into the new millennium as well as the presence of best selling prophecy novels with staggering sales, it is abundantly clear that the Church wants desperately to find the fulfillments of all the details of prophecy in our current setting.  Furthermore, many within the Church are titillated by the more exotic pictures within prophetic and apocalyptic literature and are not afraid to ask the minister to preach on them.  Goldsworthy’s proposals concerning the reading, understanding, and proclamation of scripture mean that ministers must be willing to keep Christ and the text’s relationship to Him as preeminent.  It seems as if the great temptation concerning preaching on prophetic and apocalyptic texts is to preach with the goal in mind of satiating the people’s curiosity.  This should never happen.  If all of the scriptures are about Christ, this means that prophetic and apocalyptic texts must proclaim Him as well.

It is more than evident that Goldsworthy has adequately pinpointed and diagnosed the problem behind much contemporary preaching.  The problem is not that ministers are not sufficiently trained or that our pulpits have too many unskilled ministers.  Rather, the problem of shallow, ineffectual, and legalistic preaching is a result of a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of the scriptures themselves.  Goldsworthy’s call for a renewed understanding of biblical theology and the place of the scriptures within salvation history should be heeded by the Church.  For if it is, then Christ will once more be proclaimed as the head of His body and our parishioners will be freed from the delusion that adherence to the ethical teachings of the scripture, independent of the gospel, will usher us into the kingdom.  Furthermore, if his call is heeded, the gospel will be seen for what it truly is:  the thread that runs throughout the entire scriptures, the proper subject of all proclamation, and the hope of God’s people not only since the incarnation, but in the past ages as well.