Book Review: Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, by Graeme Goldsworthy
“How in the world do I get to Jesus from here?” Sound familiar? It does to me. I’ve heard it from myself twice in the last month.
If you’ve ever preached a hard text from the Old Testament, or even a tricky one from the New, you know what I’m talking about. You might be awash in lexical and grammatical analysis and surrounded by the best evangelical commentaries you can find. But the text still feels locked, and you’re fumbling around for the key. Brother, we’ve all been there. Welcome to the fraternity of the well-intentioned but confused.
For all those who know what I’m talking about, Graeme Goldsworthy’s book may be a sermon-saver. He’ll help keep preachers from preaching moralism from the Old Testament or legalistic browbeating from the New. More positively, Goldsworthy teaches a hermeneutic that should help preachers discover Jesus Christ on every page of Scripture—even on the pages in which his name does not show up.
Goldsworthy’s aim is “to provide a handbook for preachers that will help them apply a consistently Christ-centered approach to their sermons” (ix). Part 1 lays out his method. Part 2 applies that method to every kind of biblical literature.
Goldsworthy contends that “the center and reference point for the meaning of all Scripture is the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God” (16). That means that we preachers are not simply preachers of the Bible. We are preachers of the gospel—preachers of Christ and him crucified (1 Cor 2:1-5). Jesus says the whole Bible is about him (Luke 24:24-26, 44-47; John 5:39). Paul agrees (Rom 10:4; 2 Cor 1:20). Armed with such assurances, Goldsworthy affirms that “Jesus is the interpretive key to the Bible” (25), and challenges preachers to ask ourselves every week, “How does this passage of Scripture, and consequently my sermon, testify to Christ” (21)? What a searching and harrowing question.
Goldsworthy’s method is biblical theology, which is theology that is “understood from the perspective of the biblical writers” and is sensitive to the biblical writer’s location in the history of God’s saving plan (26). Instead of the snap shot that we get from systematic theology, biblical theology gives us a moving picture (27). It may trace a single theme as it develops through Scripture, or it may trace the entire overarching plot line of salvation in biblical history. Behind this kind of theologizing is the assumption that the sixty-six books of the Bible tell a single story that climaxes in the person and work of Jesus, and it applies only to those who are in spiritual union with him.
Goldsworthy argues that a preacher can get to Jesus in a number of different ways: by moving from type to antitype, from promise to fulfillment, or through salvation history all the way to its eschatological goal. But the meat of his method, especially as it relates to preaching Christ from the OT, is what he calls macro-typology. It’s not just isolated OT texts that point to Christ. The whole framework of revelation points to Jesus:
The epoch of Israel’s history from Abraham to David is, as a whole, a type of the fulfillment it finds in Christ. Between that historic epoch (type) and Christ (antitype) comes the whole prophetic recapitulation that confirms this typological structure. We have here the structural basis for the preacher’s application of OT texts, from anywhere in the OT, to the contemporary Christian. I repeat, however, the antitype is not first and foremost the Christian, but Christ. (112-113)
Practically speaking, what this means is that “the application of the meaning of any text must proceed theologically via the application it has to Christ” (113). We can’t get away with “be courageous like David was courageous – and by the way, don’t commit adultery like David did!” because it skips over the antitype to whom David as a type points—Christ.
In other words, we must never move immediately from ancient text to modern hearer. We must always go from the text to Christ to whom the text testifies, and only then to the hearer. This order is as true experientially as it is theologically and hermeneutically. Relating to God outside of Jesus Christ is to relate to him as Judge, not as Savior. Why would we want to apply any text of God’s Word without first moving through the text’s fulfillment in Jesus’ saving person and work? “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord?” asks the Psalmist. “He who has clean hands and a pure heart” is the answer (Ps. 24:3-4). That’s not me. My heart isn’t pure. But Christ’s is, and because I am united to him by faith I can boldly ascend to the Lord’s throne (Heb. 4:16)!
Goldsworthy’s point is simply that every text of Scripture teaches that, as Christians, we have everything we need in Christ. Everything that belongs to him now belongs to us (1 Cor. 3:21-23). As preachers then apply the Bible to Christians, they are simply exposing the riches of what Christ has already won for them, and on that basis encouraging Christians “to become who they already are” by virtue of their spiritual union with Christ.
In Goldsworthy’s words, “The Scriptures testify to Jesus. If this be the case, then the Scriptures only testify to us insofar as we are in him” (116). Goodbye, moralism. Hello, Christ-centered sermon.
APPLYING THE METHOD
The second half of the book applies this method consecutively to each kind of literature in the Old Testament and the New. Each of these last few chapters treats the genre in its biblical-theological context, gives multiple examples from specific texts, considers literary and historical matters, and concludes with tips for planning sermons from that type of literature.
Goldsworthy ends with a chapter on how to construct a sermon series that traces a biblical-theological theme, or one that traces the movement of salvation history.
Preacher, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture is a must read. It is theologically rich, intellectually stimulating, spiritually engaging, and practically helpful. But even more, it is absolutely exhilarating in its panoramic display of the Christ-centeredness of all Scripture. Read this book, and you’ll not only want to re-read it, you’ll want to re-read your Bible.