Book Review for Graeme Goldworthy’s Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture.

Preaching the Whole Bible As Christian Scripture :
The Application of Biblical Theology to Expository Preaching

by Graeme Goldsworthy
Paperback - 287 pages (July 2000)
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
ISBN: 0802847307

Graeme Goldworthy’s recent book Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture is an appropriate response to methods and messages of preaching which communicate God’s word to contemporary people without recognizing the whole Bible as God’s self-revelation in His mighty acts of salvation culminating in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Thus, his book offers itself as a help for preaching in a biblical theological manner which is more consistent with the Bible’s own message and means of communication. To this end, this book is corrective and instructional for preachers and all who are interested in reading the Bible in a Christocentric manner. What follows is a summary of the intentions of this book, and my assessment of how well the book achieves those ends. The major parts of the book are also examined, and a conclusion is given which recommends the book but summarizes some of its shortcomings.

The Intentions of the Book

The introduction provides some major reasons why Graeme Goldsworthy felt it was necessary to write this book. The first reason is a stereotype that biblical theological preaching tends to be boring because the message is always predictably the same: Jesus! In response, Rev. Goldsworthy advocates a Christ-centered preaching which is not predictable, but creatively faithful to and reflective of the depths of the inexhaustible riches of Christ made available to us. For the most part, the book supports this concern. The “Index of Subjects” shows that his interest for the subject of “Christ” surpasses other subjects, but also covers a plurality of dimensions concerning His person and work. His form and style of writing about Jesus is not quite as stimulating as Vos, Gaffin, or Kline, but is genuinely interesting, thoughtful, and easy to comprehend.1 However, the book’s methodology of applying the gospel structure as “a starting point to show us what the real structure and significance of the OT”(p. 97) may actually introduce into the preaching of Jesus a predictability he hopes for preachers to avoid.2

Next, Rev. Goldsworthy recognizes the instinctive difficulty that Christians have when preaching from the Old Testament, but he admits being especially troubled by the rigid separation of the Old and New Testaments by modern scholars and teachers, and the lack of effort in producing a theology of the whole Bible. The rest of the book reflects this biblical concern and thus endeavors more to underline and emphasize the progressive unity of the whole revelation rather than to identify points at which the NT seems to surprise us in its departure from the grammatical/historical use of the Old Testament texts.3

He is also concerned with the misleading comfort Christians have with the NT while ignoring the biblical theological and narrative contexts. For example, Christian preachers who plan a sermon series through a book may deal with the gospel indicatives in one sermon and then a week later teach over the ethical imperatives without reference to the gospel. Rev. Goldsworthy is not afraid to be redundant in his polemic against legalist preaching which does not clearly communicate imperatives as flowing from gospel indicatives. He has similar concerns for the misapplication of elements within a gospel narrative (parables, commands, character examples) apart from the biblical theological movements within a book as a whole. These warnings are a strength for this book. However, because of his concern against such misuses of preaching, he lacks emphasis in how preachers should properly direct (or apply) gospel-imperatives to the church in Christ.4

The Structure and Content of the Book

The book is divided up into two major sections:

PART 1: Basic Questions We Ask About Preaching and the Bible.
PART 2: The Practical Application of Biblical Theology to Preaching.

Part 1 addresses possible questions by evangelical preachers which uncover the basic convictions of biblical theology, its understanding of the bible and preaching. This part is fairly solid and comprehensive. Chapter 5 “Was Jesus a Biblical Theologian?” and the ‘Promise-Fulfillment’ section of Chapter 6 seemed especially interesting and successful at showing the relationship between Jesus' conviction of the absolute authority of the OT and His own self-consciousness as the one who fulfills the Scriptures in a way which challenges and re-orients our understanding of OT prophetic expectations. Chapter 8 “What is the Structure of Biblical Revelation?” provides a helpful big-picture summary of how the Old Testament history leads us to Christ in three major epochs: 1) the history leading up to the establishment of the nation of Israel, 2) the downward spiral of Israel’s apostasy and the prophetic eschatology of judgment and future salvation, and 3) the kingdom fulfilled in Christ. However, one important thing to note about Graeme Goldsworthy’s presentation of biblical theology: it lacks a clear Vosian/Klinean recognition that “eschatology precedes soteriology” and thus tends towards a flattened salvation-equals-restoration eschatology.5

Part 2 shows how texts from all biblical literary genres are understood in their own biblical theological context as a witness to what God would finally do in Jesus Christ; how these texts have been understood historically and literarily by others; and how a preacher might prepare sermons for each of the Bible’s literary genres. Most preachers can benefit from this section by getting a feel for how literary and biblical theological considerations help us understand any particular genre of biblical literature as Christian scripture. Among the OT sections, I found Chapter 14 “Preaching from the Psalms” to be especially interesting, because it gives suggestions for how to view the Psalms as a canonically arranged whole. The NT sections raise some interesting questions related to the normative character of individual events or commands within historical narratives which communicate transitions in redemptive history. Rev. Goldsworthy encourages us to spend more time expositing books as a whole in order to avoid making naive one-to-one correspondences between the church now and the church as it was in transition (eg. Jesus’ ministry on the earth in the flesh to Jesus’ ministry in the Spirit). However, while Rev. Goldsworthy makes us sensitive to these issues, he often does not go far enough to flesh some of these considerations out for us.


Overall, I commend Graeme Goldsworthy’s efforts in writing a book which defends and encourages a biblical theological approach to preaching which is both Christ-centered and interesting. A gospel centered approach to the whole Bible should be the heart of all preachers and believers who bear the name of Christian. The structure of the book is fairly easy to follow, and the simple diagrams are memorable, providing pastors with big pictures for understanding God’s plan of redemption as a whole as it finds fullness in Jesus Christ. However, there are a few points where I think Rev. Goldsworthy could have been more helpful to preachers.

1) Rev. Goldsworthy recognizes that “the nature of [Christ’s] fulfillment [of OT prophecy] is not self-evident [nor] simply fulfillment [for] He is also further and final revelation” (p. 76). He also acknowledges the necessity of both a synthetic/diachronic (exegetical theology) and an analytic/synchronic (biblical theology) approach for a Christian understanding of Scripture (p. 26). But my overall impression is that he tends to make biblical theology seem too easy, almost self-evident. The gospel reading which “shapes our structure for biblical theology” can dominate the biblical theological methodology to the point that a preacher can catch an impatience for allowing a grammatical/historical OT exegesis to shape, correct, and refine his understanding of the NT and its gospel. And an over-eagerness to make any text answer the question, “How does this text testify to Christ?” may result in the “predictable Jesus bit” the book wishes preachers to avoid, let alone God's own theological intention as a text for His people.

3) While Rev. Goldsworthy certainly identifies a relationship between eschatology and the gospel, a further treatment of biblical eschatology (ie. the function of symbols, sacramentology, angels/demons, heaven/hell, theocratic holy war, theophanies, heavenly archetypes, etc.) would be helpful to draw out the many dynamics involved in preaching the coming of the Kingdom of God. Most of his diagrams present a dominantly linear (flat) representation of biblical theology, which could promote an eschatology which falls short of the glory of God. Also, since his primary concern is to show how eschatology refers to what Christ has already accomplished in history, he lacks emphasis on how the past-and-present-historical fulfillment in Christ carries its own prophetic expectation of the future-coming of the Kingdom.

4) While Rev. Goldsworthy does remind us of the gospel’s relationship to the church (pp. 92-96, 150) both in terms of our identity and our responsibility in Christ, his book does not expand enough upon the ecclesiological focus of preaching.6 Namely, the book attempts to answer the question, “How do the Scripture testify to Christ?” but does not help much in answering “How do the Scriptures explain my church in Christ?” It does provide the foundation for an answer to the latter question by teaching us to draw the connections to Christ (not directly to ourselves). But he does not spend enough time stressing how Christ’s story is our story and the high responsibilities which that heavenly gospel-indicative carries for us in Christ. I suppose the main reason for the lack of teaching us how to exegete the church by Scriptures is because applying a text to the ‘contemporary’ church seems entirely context dependent (subjective/relative), whereas the information about what Christ has done for us is independent (objective/absolute).7 Anyhow a study of how the NT uses Scripture to address the congregations in their struggles would be helpful, along with samples of how he has ‘translated’ imperatives for the church today in his own sermons. If Paul did not ever envision his imperatives to be given to the church without his indicatives (p. 237), we must also expect that he never intended his indicatives to be without imperatives for the church.8

Eric Pyle
June 7, 2001

1 We should note that the book itself is not a sermon, but an aid for sermons.

2 He recognizes that "It is not empirically demonstrable that Jesus was the fulfiller of the prophetic expectations. It was his self-authenticating word that proclaimed him as the fulfillment."(p. 97). But his concern to show the unity of the Bible gives the impression of a straightforward unity, rather than a unity which arises through many textual tribulations.

3 One notable exception to this pattern is showing how Jesus' self-consciousness as Daniel's Son of Man is surprisingly united with the Suffering Servant of Isaiah (pp. 48-49).

4 This is notably weak in many fellow-advocates of Biblical Theology.

5 While this model is arguable, many feel that a recognition of a pre-lapsarian goal of glorification for man and creation is essential to BT.

6 Notice that "Church" is not listed in the Subject Index (p.265).

7 Even gospel-indicatives while absolute/objective are not abstract from the message directed towards the congregations in their struggles.

8 The Epistle of James is another a good litmus test for challenging the way we think about the biblical theological relationship of indicatives and imperatives. This book largely avoids this test by not making use of the homiletics of James. He does, however, suggest that it fits genre of wisdom literature.