Book Review

"Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation" by Graeme Goldsworthy

Rick Ritchie
Graeme Goldsworthy
Wednesday, May 2nd 2007
May/Jun 2007

As the proverbial saying has it, "Well begun is half done." Graeme Goldsworthy seems to have followed that maxim when he set out to write his textbook on hermeneutics. First off, he dedicated it to his mentor, Alan Cole, who, among other things, had an "irrepressible Irish humor." While I often ignore dedications and prefaces, I thought I would myself be applying a shallow hermeneutic if I did so with Goldsworthy's book. I trust a book on reading an historical revelation more when an author sees the importance of his own personal history. Second, Goldsworthy, though he writes an academic book, acknowledges that Scripture achieves its purpose among many who never read such a book. This humility is lacking even in many a popular book on hermeneutics. Third, Goldsworthy's first long quotation from Scripture is from Romans 12, including the verse, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." Goldsworthy sees that Scripture sanctifies the mind. So many people miss this point, either thinking that their minds need no renewing, or that the renewal is instantaneous leaving them with no need of instruction.

While all Goldsworthy's hermeneutical eggs are put into a presuppositional basket, this basket is overflowing with good eggs. Whatever our disagreements on apologetics, I think his approach to Scripture is laudable. He knows that the act of interpretation is not something we should learn autonomously. God has not left us on our own here.

The section, "Towards a Biblical Theology of Interpretation" allows different parts of the Bible (e.g. Creation and Fall, Torah, Prophets, Gospels) as lenses through which we see all of history. We are not only taught how to read the different genres contained in Scripture, but reminded what those genres say about us and the world. (When I took my class on New Testament Interpretation, I was almost given the impression that God inspired an inerrant message, but into the wrong genres, and it was our task to translate it all into flat prose.)

There is another section, "Challenges to Evangelical Hermeneutics," that includes an historical survey of the different ways the gospel has been eclipsed by bad hermeneutics at different periods. Any professor should work to expand his or her knowledge of hermeneutics in these periods both for their strengths and weaknesses. The strengths of some of these earlier periods are often overlooked. His final section, "Reconstructing Evangelical Hermeneutics," suggests how we can learn from secular findings on the topic even from those who do not share our basic convictions.

This book was written to be a textbook, and will make a good one. It almost shouts "I'm a ready-made syllabus!" I would hope that any professor who uses it, however, would not put all the weight on this text alone. The bibliography would be a great help in finding other texts for use in such a class (texts listed included ones by Robert Alter, Oscar Cullman, Greg Beale, David Steinmetz, and Geerhardus Vos.) The book would make a great outline for framing a broader conversation. I think a good professor will want to devote some time, however, to actual application, perhaps offering students some examples of sermons that are flawed but recoverable, and apply Goldsworthy's "principles of evangelical interpretation" to them, to show how they might be rescued. Or perhaps sharpening the "Antiochene" strengths of a particular sermon, using the insights Goldsworthy describes on pages 97-99. (The sections on the eclipses are not all negative. This is not your father's presuppostional textbook!) This is not a book to just dump on a student to read under the belief that its sound principles will easily find application later when the student sits down to write. At the very end of the book, Goldsworthy offers a few pages to hands-on interpretation. That section may provide some hints as to how to create in-class exercises that should accompany discussion at all points.

Much contemporary discussion from the academic world is ignored. (Such names as Gadamer and Habermas are conspicuously missing from the bibliography.) Goldsworthy probably made such selections more based on perceived needs of actual students rather than a worry over academic prestige. This was not snootiness or ignorance, but mature mentoring.

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Rick Ritchie
Rick Ritchie is a long-time contributor to Modern Reformation. He blogs at www.1517legacy. com.
Wednesday, May 2nd 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

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