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New Hermeneutics Books

Two new volumes are now available for purchase from InterVarsity Press on biblical hermeneutics. Both books seem like they will be great resources for the church.

The first is a book by now retired professor at Moore Theological College, Graeme Goldsworthy. Many of us are already well familiar with his work on biblical interpretation and Christ-centered homiletics. This volume is a great addition to his already prolific bibliography. Drawing upon the work of men familiar to many of use here at Reformed Forum (i.e., Richard B. Gaffin, Geerhardus Vos, Edmund Clowney, Meredith Kline, and Greg Beale, and Vern Poythress), Goldsworthy outlines a way for us to understand the unfolding drama of God’s plan of redemption in the Old Testament which has its eschatological fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Bible, for Goldsworthy, had a grand unity and meta-narrative which is Christ himself.

The second volume is a part of IVP’s new Spectrum series (roughly equivalent to Zondervan’s five view series) entitled Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views. The editors for this volume are Stanley E. Porter and Beth M. Stovell, and the contributors are:

 

Craig L. Blomberg representing the historical-critical/grammatical view.

F. Scott Spencer who sets forth the case for the literary or postmodern view.

Merold Westphal as the philosophical-theological advocate.

Richard B. Gaffin who sets forth the case for the redemptive-historical view.

Robert Wall as the representative for the canonical approach.

One of the first things that anyone with some level of careful observation will notice is that these five perspectives are not necessarily all antithetical to one another. And that much is acknowledged throughout the book. And while so much more can and should be said about the volume, I want to spend the rest of my space here focusing one of the contributions. Readers and listeners of this website will no doubt already know which one I have in mind.

Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. offers a piece to this volume which really is a must-read for anyone convinced that a Reformed, covenantal approach to interpreting the Bible is the most faithful hermeneutic to the Bible itself. Before getting into the particulars, I might add that what I find so helpful about this contribution is that all the other hermeneutical approaches offered are not excluded by it. For example, the Biblical Theology advanced here, in the tradition of Geerhardus Vos, can and does provide a theological grid through which grammatical-historical, literary, theological, and canonical approaches may be biblically vetted, evaluated, transformed and made serviceable for the task of a Reformed hermeneutic.

That said, I would add just some comment about two quotes from the “Redemptive-Historical View” article. First, Gaffin helpfully relates and distinguishes general and special revelation. General revelation is the context in which special revelation is given. Without general revelation, special revelation can only hang in the air (p. 93). Likewise, I might add, general revelation without special revelation is but a brute fact, meaningless and uninterpreted for fallen image-bearers.

Further, Gaffin goes on to explain that special revelation has two different-but-related modes: deed revelation and word revelation, or redemptive deed and revelatory word (p. 91). To elucidate further, God performs acts in history, but the meaning and significance of those acts can be known to man only by way of God’s own self-interpretation given in his verbal word. Or, to put it more simply, the only way we can know what God did and why he did it is because he has told us in his word. But, also, the only reason why God’s word means anything at all is because there is a real, redemptive-historical deed which stands behind it as its referent. Word and deed are mutually necessary in the task of hermeneutics.

Without this intimate connection between deed and word one must necessarily adopt a fundamental dualism in one’s own epistemology. Without this mutually interpreting relation between redemptive deed and revelatory word, Lessing’s ugly ditch remains unbridged and the modern philosophical project since Kant remains alive and well.

But, if this foundational principle is adopted, any and all other potential pits are avoided. Gaffin gives us another example of that in his article. In his point about the subject matter of revelation being redemption, he offers an important qualifier. He articulates matters in this way:

As verbal revelation documents and explains God’s activity in history, so it also points beyond history to his antecedent self-existence (aseity) in its ultimate incomprehensibility and the ultimate impenetrability of his all-controlling pretemporal purpose…God is not exhausted in his redemptive/revelatory activity, nor is his person actualized in that activity. As Creator and Redeemer he is more than Creator and Redeemer, infinitely and incomprehensibly more (92-93).

The assumed gap which epistemologically exists in the mind of modern man has caused many a theologian to trip up at this point. It is assumed that the dualism between God and the creation cannot be bridged, not even by God. Karl Barth tries to bridge the unbridgeable (because he assumes Kant’s dualism) by way of an actualistic ontology (temporally conceived). However, he only shifts the problem, but doesn’t solve it. The epistemological gap still exists for Barth, for God ever remains the unknowable. Which means that Barth never ends up resolving the metaphysical problem either. He never gets rid of the analogia entis. He only replaces the idea of being with the idea of a time-act (we don’t have the space here to get into Barth’s notion of God’s act in time. This will be the subject of my thesis at WTS, so stay tuned – though don’t hold your breath, you may suffocate waiting!).

So, the problem with 19th Biblical Theology (as Gaffin notes, it has its origins in Johann Gabler, p. 90) is that it assumed the unbridgeable gap between God and man. Therefore, the interpretation of both creation and redemption was left to man and the rational categories of the human mind. In other words, the Biblical Theologian was left on his own to interpret redemptive deeds (not to mention creation and general revelation). The Bible was relativized. It became merely one phenomenal source among many through which we might hope to get a glimpse of what in the world God is doing. Vos, of course, was the Reformed counter to that dualism and its ugly implications. He did it by intimately connecting and relating God’s deeds and words. And that has implications for the relation between not only general and special revelation, but also God in se and God pro nobis in his works ad extra, creation and redemption, and common and special grace. In Reformed epistemology, the two sides are always mutually interpreting while remaining distinct. It is Chalcedonian Christology applied to our doctrine of knowledge.

By way of a final word of exhortation, we need to ever be vigilant against becoming more Nestorian than Chalcedonian in the way we understand the relation between general and special revelation, the two modes of revelation, creation and redemption, and common relative to special grace. Such epistemological Nestorianism has more in common with Gabler than it does Vos. By God’s graciousness, the ditch has, in fact, been bridged. It has been bridged by way of the condescension of God in covenant in both his deeds of creation and redemption on the one had, and his words of general and special revelation on the other.

 

 

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