Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics

imageGospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation by Graeme Goldsworthy, InterVarsity Press, 2006.

Goldsworthy packs a lot into these 317 pages, and its all worth the time and energy to understand. In his words, “Gospel-centered hermeneutics is above all the endeavor to understand the meaning of any aspect of reality, including the Bible, in the light of him who is the Light of the World” (315). Hermeneutics becomes about how we understand all of life, the Bible included, in relationship to Christ.

The book itself is broken down into three parts: evangelical presuppositions[1], a brief history of philosophical intrusions on hermeneutics, and a biblical theology of hermeneutics. It was particularly Goldsworthy’s presuppositional approach to hermeneutics that got me excited about this book; let me explain why.

There is no neutrality in any area of life, hermeneutics included. Goldsworthy recognizes this, and flushes it out in relationship to biblical interpretation. When a person opens the Bible, they bring their presuppositions with them. Either the interpreter is in submission to the Lordship of Christ, and by extension believes in the unity and authority of Scripture, or else they are not and do not. Whatever the core beliefs are which a person brings with them, they will find ways of reinforcing those beliefs with the text; certain gnostics might even have to disregard the entire Old Testament, or certain unitarians might have to cut out the miracles, the resurrection, and call things dandy. The evangelical Trinitarian, however, must submit to the Scripture as the self-authenticating word of God, which points ultimately to the Word of God made flesh.

The second part of the book deals with all the ungodly philosophical methods that have been brought in, one way or another, into the way Christians read the Bible. Goldsworthy deals helpfully, albeit briefly, with everything from the Platonism in the early Church to the existentialism of our own day, and shows how these vary from a hermeneutic derived solely from the Scripture. This portion of the book can get somewhat technical if you are not philosophically minded, but is still crucial and helpful for identifying the various encroachments in our thought.

The last section of the book, dealing with biblical theology, was very helpful in laying out all the elements that go into a serious study of the bible and hermeneutics. One particularly helpful chapter dealt with all of the issues relating to the continuity or discontinuity between the Testaments, for example. If you are a student of the Bible, or a layperson who wants to understand the Bible better, go and read this book.

Application

The Bible doesn’t need the autonomous philosophizing of men to critique it. Quite the opposite, actually. The Bible provides the ultimate critique of all our godless philosophizing: we have suppressed the truth of God for a lie. We need, now just as much as ever, to go through a presuppositional, and hermeneutical, detox. And I mean evangelicals. We need to assess what we assume about the Bible, where it came from, and how it applies to us. We need to take every thought captive to the cause of Christ, including our thoughts about the Bible itself. This book is a great place to start. Goldsworthy covers a lot of important ground in a relatively little space, and hopefully can help start a much broader and deeper conversation. I look forward to joining it.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. John Frame describes presuppositions this way: “A presupposition is a belief that takes precedence over another and therefore serves as a criterion for another. An ultimate presupposition is a belief over which no other takes precedence.” Quoted on page 39. From The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, P&R 1987, pg. 45.
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