Review of Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture

(Originally a paper for PM 503 – Biblical Preaching: Theory & Practice at Urbana Theological Seminary)

Summary

Graeme Goldsworthy lays out a foundation for Christocentric preaching in Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture.  The book is divided into two parts:  part one deals with Biblical Theology and part two takes a closer look at genre.  Together these parts argue for the preacher to use and view Scripture within both the larger salvation historical narrative, the canonical genre, and the immediate context of the passage with the ultimate goal of interpreting all Scripture through a Christological lens. Goldsworthy’s main question, which shows up in almost every chapter, is “How does this passage testify to Christ?” By setting up a Biblical framework for the unity of the Bible about God’s salvation (Chapter 2), Biblical theology as redemptive-salvation history (Chapter 3), the words preached as pointing to the Word (Chapter 4), Jesus’ own Christological lens on Scripture (Chapter 5), Biblical literary diversity as ultimately unified (Chapter 6), the Gospel as the objective work of Christ for, in and with us (Chapter 7), Biblical revelation as judgment and redemption moving towards an ultimate eschatological redemption (Chapter 8), Jesus as the ultimate telos of all preaching (Chapter 9) Goldsworthy discusses large sections of the canon organized by Genre: Old Testament historical narrative (Chapter 10), Old Testament law (Chapter 11), Old Testament prophets (Chapter 12), wisdom literature (Chapter 13), Psalms (Chapter 14), apocalyptic (Chapter 15), the Gospels (Chapter 16), Acts and Epistles (Chapter 17).  The book closes with a discussion on how to preach Biblical theology in general (Chapter 18).

Strengths and Weaknesses

The most salient strength of the entire work is that Goldsworthy is “unashamed of the Gospel” in a very powerful way.  His repeated insistence on asking how the text points to Christ is not only a necessary reminder but a norm and standard of measurement for any preaching.  Goldsworthy enables us to preach this way with integrity and confidence because he plainly lays out the Biblical plan of salvation and helps us place any text within the flow of that history.  In short, Goldsworthy saves us from arbitrarily “finding Jesus” in every letter and story and instead allows us to preach the original text by showing that Christ is the ultimate telos of all Scripture.

Two weaknesses tarnish Goldsworthy’s work: his outline of salvation history is too reductionist and his genre categories are too rigid.  The boundaries on the epochs of salvation history seem to be somewhat arbitrary, and he spends a great deal of time trying to distinguish between David and Solomon to place an epoch boundary marker.  Ultimately, classifying certain periods of time as one epoch can distort the theological message of a book: Can we really say that the period of the Judges was primarily positive? Genre identification suffers from a similar problem: Is the purpose of Job to show where true wisdom can be found, or is it displaying righteous suffering and the spiritual powers behind it?

Reflections

If all Scripture testifies to Christ, then all preaching must testify to Christ! This is an excellent point to remind ourselves with.  The content of revelation is not just information but grace, the Word of God spoken into our lives.  And pragmatically we say that there may be someone in the audience who’s first and last Sunday is today so we should always preach the Gospel.  While this is true and certainly important (as salvation is on the line), this type of reasoning does not provide a theological reason for such preaching.  The best part of Goldsworthy’s argument and the part that impacted me the most is his reframing of Christological preaching: the question is not “Should Christ be preached from every sermon?” but “Why wouldn’t you want to preach Christ from every sermon?” Which question we ask ultimately betrays our convictions, and while I can confess an evangelical and high view of Scripture, not preaching Christ as the telos of all revelation seems to undermine that.  Similarly, I may confess that I want to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified, or that certain truths are of “first importance”, but if my preaching boils down to conveying information at best or how clever my idiosyncratic interpretation is at worst then I have not grasped the Gospel.

I found this book incredibly stimulating to read and very powerful in shaping my convictions about not only the content but the ultimate purpose and direction of preaching.  Nonetheless, at times I found this book difficult to read for a number of reasons.  First, I think the title is slightly misleading, or rather I was expecting more of Dr. Sunukjian’s book rather than a treatment on Biblical theology and genre. Ultimately, I think the emphasis in the title is not “Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture” nor “Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture” but “Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture” – the first one being very different than the last.

Second, there was some repetitive material and I felt that the same essential message could have been brought across more succinctly.  If I’ve made it to part two, I probably agree with your assumptions and you can stop defending them, nor do I need to be led by the hand through every genre.  Simply stating the distinctive features of each genre with a few illustrative examples would be equivalent to the extended discourses on it.  Maybe I’m just burned on out genre because every class except Hebrew I’m taking this semester is talking about genre.

Third, I found his picture of salvation history too reductionist.  Rather than marking out large portions of history as one epoch, I would say that every epoch is marked with both judgment and redemption, and that the two are never apart.  That is why character studies are fundamentally dangerous – we don’t want to imitate anyone but Christ! Goldsworthy himself identifies this principle: “Once again we see that the salvation that God works for his people is inseparable from his deeds as the mighty judge.  Salvation and judgment in the Bible are the two sides of one coin.” (207)

Fourth, I found Goldsworthy’s use of genre too rigid.  This was especially evident in his discussion on the wisdom literature.  Job is not about the where wisdom can be found but about the possibility of righteous suffering and the spiritual reality of suffering.  Ecclesiastes is about wisdom from “under the sun” and without reference to God such pursuits are vain or meaningless. The preaching of  Revelation should not be “mainly … determined by the particular eschatological stance adopted.” (215) In Goldsworthy’s own words, “It is a book about the gospel and the triumphs of Christ in his gospel.” (217)

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