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Gospel-Centred Hermeneutics: Biblical-Theological foundations & Principlies

Author: Graeme Goldsworthy
Published By: Apollos (Nottingham)
Pages: 341
Price: £16.99
ISBN: 1 84474 145 1

Reviewed by David Faulkner.

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In this book, Graeme Goldsworthy argues that (to adapt one of Bultmann's catchphrases) 'there is no such thing as presuppositionless hermeneutics'. Even post-Enlightenment claims to objective neutrality are themselves based on a worldview. He argues that, for the Christian approaching Scripture, it is the Gospel that provides our presuppositions. He finds this in the Trinitarian God witnessed to in the Incarnation, and as expressed by the four 'alones' of Reformed doctrine: grace alone, Scripture alone, faith alone and supremely Christ alone. He knows this amounts to accepting the criticism that this is a closed circle: the Gospel is found in the Bible and that Gospel then determines how we interpret the Scriptures. However, he says that would be more serious if the Church had determined the canon rather than in fact having sat under the canon; and in any case it leads not to a closed hermeneutical circle, but a hermeneutical spiral, where there is constant checking and re-checking of our understanding.

From this basis he goes on to examine weaknesses in many influential schools of hermeneutical thought. These range from the Fathers, through mediaeval Catholicism, to the Enlightenment, existentialism, on into postmodernity, and finally in evangelicalism itself. His criticisms are wide-ranging and robust. Not to be thoroughly Gospel-centred is often to commit 'hermeneutical atheism'. This reviewer, who is by no means unsympathetic to postmodern concerns, cheered his criticism of those who utterly dismiss the importance of authorial intent in sole favour of reader response, despite the fact that their books demand that you take authorial intent seriously in order to receive their message!

But having done that he is keen to reconstruct a positive evangelical Gospel-centred hermeneutic. And he is not afraid to draw on the strengths of insights from outside evangelicalism. He has particular praise for speech-act theory, as giving proper attention to the Author/author, the text and the reader. He also sees it as supporting a revised understanding of inerrancy (although that seemed convoluted to me).

The book is a tour de force, and Goldsworthy has done evangelical Christianity a great service. He properly puts Christ at the centre, focus and climax of Holy Writ. Where this reviewer disagrees with him is in his Calvinist account of the Gospel. Everything centres on the sovereignty of God, and it takes until page 226 before there is any mention of God's redeeming love. It is a clinical and cold account of the God of outrageous grace. This reviewer would argue (following Darrell W Johnson, Experiencing The Trinity, Regent College Publishing, 2002) that the foundational statement about God the Trinity is 1 John 4:16, 'God is love'.

So should pastors read this book? Without a doubt. If you are a Calvinist you will lap up every word, and even if you are more Arminian, you will be provoked to formulate your own Gospel-centred hermeneutic.

David Faulkner

Methodist Minister, Chelmsford Circuit

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You are reading Issue 39 of Ministry Today, published in March 2007.

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