Monday, April 06, 2009

The Centrality of the Cross in Biblical Theology

In Spring 2008 Graeme Goldsworthy delivered the Gheens lectures at Southern on:
These links take you to both the audio and to PDFs of his remarks.

The essays have been published in the latest (Winter 2008) issue of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (not yet available online).

Robert Yarbrough was asked to respond to these essays. He of course expresses a number of things he appreciates, but then expresses a few concerns, or "some tensions and liabilities of Goldsworthy's proposals that occurred to me as I pondered with great appreciation what he had to say."

His final point, I think, is worth quoting at length as a reminder that the cross must be absolutely central in all of our biblical, theological, and biblical-theological endeavors:
If I had one serious misgiving about the way “biblical theology” was described and summarized in Goldsworthy’s lectures, it was the way in which the cross seemed to receive short shrift. I have no doubt of Goldsworthy’s intention for it to be central. But repeatedly in various formulations throughout these lectures, other aspects of God’s redemptive work, or our study of it, occupy center stage: creation-new creation, incarnation, promise-fulfillment, Christology, unity of the Bible, coherence of the canon, relationship of Old Testament and New. One could get the impression that to get all these things (and more) right is really what biblical theology is about. The seven-point taxonomy by Donald Robinson (presented at the beginning of lecture two) says nothing explicit about the cross. Robinson’s structure may indeed be, as Goldsworthy declares, “the one that best lays bare the matrix of progressive revelation,” but don’t we want the central saving act of God to be explicit in the matrix? In the third lecture Goldsworthy states he wants “to emphasize that there is much, much more to Jesus than his being the Son of God who died on the cross for our sins.” Well, yes and no. It will not do to make our functional biblical theology John 3:16 and an altar call. Yet there is that narrow gate through which all must have entered, and I thought repenting of our sins and coming to God through the one who died for us, to bring us to God (1 Pet 3:18), was the start of all new covenantal knowledge of God. Goldsworthy essentially affirms this in the first lecture, stressing “the need for regeneration and the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit if one is to grasp both the authority and the meaning of Scripture.”

Once we know cross-mediated entrance to the kingdom, the panoramic sweep of God’s redemptive work as biblical theology so wonderfully renders it becomes light and life. But any theological enterprise or interpretive method that claims to grasp the center, but centers something other than the cross, seems out of sync with Scripture itself seen as a whole. Given the sagacity, spiritual discernment, and scriptural heft of what Goldsworthy proposes overall, it would not require major adjustments to assure that Christ’s saving death and its very explicit implications for Christian life, mission, and yes theologizing today receive a more central role.