Christ-Centered Biblical Theology Coming in May

Graeme Goldsworthy is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors when it comes to seeing the unity of the Bible, and he will release a new book in May called Christ-Centered Biblical Theology

In case you missed it a couple weeks ago, I talked about what it means to be a biblical theologian. A biblical theologian is concerned with the grand narrative of the Bible, taking parts and relating them to the whole. Biblical theology, for the minister or the average saint in the seat on Sunday, is vital because it keeps each individual story in perspective and helps guard against taking passages out of context. Coffee mugs at Christian bookstores are notorious for this.

In an interview with Collin Hansen on the Gospel Coalition blog, Goldsworthy talked about biblical theology’s importance for pastoral ministry. I think laypeople can learn from this too:

A sound biblical theology should prevent the misuse of Scripture, such as when texts are relieved of their biblical context and allowed to mean something quite other from what they mean in that context. When Scripture is treated as a lucky-dip of texts that assumes Christians stand in one, flat, undifferentiated relationship to all biblical texts, it can be made to mean anything we like. This is no basis for a sound and faithful pastoral ministry. I understand pastoral ministry to be the valid application of biblical truth to the various situations that arise and affect individuals and whole congregations. Biblical theology provides the means for understanding every part of the Bible in its final canonical context. Biblical theology, then, is at the heart of the pastor’s correct understanding of how Scripture can be thus applied to people’s lives. I also believe that the main emphasis in preaching should be the regular exposition of Scripture. Expository preaching, as the norm, really requires biblical theology in the preparation of sermons. Ideally, everyone who has the task of teaching the Bible to others should understand something of biblical theology.

When I told a friend and co-pastor about Goldsworthy’s new book, he said, “Maybe eventually this kind of book will replace classic systematic theology books in Christian colleges.” There is nothing wrong with systematic theology, as far as it goes, but if the only way we think about the Bible is in compartments (creation, atonement, Holy Spirit, end times, the Church, etc.) we will always study doctrines in isolation from each other. The Bible will then become a book of doctrine, rather than God’s story of redemption in the world.

What is your experience with biblical theology? Do you find that is the heartbeat of your personal ministry, whether a pastor, teacher, or small group leader?


What is the Gospel?

Graeme Goldsworthy gives a stirring answer:

Predestination, or creation, or the new birth, or the baptism o the Spirit is not…the gospel. All of these things are related to the gospel and are necessary for the working of the gospel, but they are not the essential message to be believed for salvation. Furthermore, unlike the gospel message, they do not directly address the matter of our justification and assurance of salvation. Only the message that another true and obedient human being has come on our behalf, that he has lived for us the kind of life we should live but can’t, that he has paid fully the penalty we deserve for the life we do but shouldn’t–only this message can give assurance that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

– Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2000), 83-84.


Getting to Christ in the Old Testament

Part 7 in a 10 part series. View series intro and index.

In the most recent post in our series (back in September!), we talked about how Jesus is the Word made flesh; that is, he is God’s perfect word communicated to humans. In this post, we will examine how to actually “get to Jesus” during a devotional time when reading the Old Testament. A word of caution: this is a long post and some of it may seem “academic.” Hang in there. The fruit that will come from implementing this into your devotions will be worth it.

In Scripture, ultimately Christ is the God-Man who speaks for God; he is the message communicated by God; and he is the only infallible receiver of God’s message and thus serves as our representative and substitute.[1] This changes everything for our study of the Old Testament. Can Christ really be the message communicated in Deuteronomy or Leviticus when you read about pigeons or goat’s blood? Yes. Christians usually see this in bits and pieces. In fact, most only see this in “explicit” prophetic Messianic passages like Isaiah 52-53, Psalm 22, Micah 5, or other famous prophesies quoted in the New Testament.

The average preacher teaches that an Old Testament passage only points to Christ when there is an explicit “type of Christ.” A type (or typology) is “an Old Testament redemptive event, person, or institution that functions as type prefiguring Jesus to Jesus himself by showing the analogies and escalations.”[2] Whether or not you have heard of the word typology, you have probably thought along those lines. You may think that to “get to Christ” in another way might take some acrobatic interpretation or weird allegorizing of a passage. However, if what Jesus said in Luke 24:25-27 is true–that all the law and prophets point to him–we can get to Christ organically from any text.

A key to Scripture interpretation is to remember that the Bible is one, unified story. Stories have themes and tensions and so does the Bible. The main theme in the Bible is that God is creating a people for himself to be ruled by him in his kingdom. The main tension is that because of sin we cannot have relationship with God. Each individual Bible story contributes in its own way to the whole of dramatic tension in Scripture. As you read, you will discover that in each story the tension seems insoluble (think of an exciting movie that leaves you wondering how the hero saves the day). As the plot begins to thicken in each story, our goal is to discover how the tensions are resolved and fulfilled only in Jesus. As Tim Keller points out, “We should look for the questions the text raises to which only Jesus can be the answer.”[3]

Keller and Goldsworthy have helped me to see the broad themes of Scripture and how the tensions in Scripture are only solved in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Most of what I have below comes from them.[4] Hopefully these meta-themes will help as you seek to find Christ in the Old Testament.

Catch the Broad Themes of Scripture
There are many broad themes that the whole Bible deals with (even the New Testament). These come up implicitly or explicitly in many passages. The first three, especially, are the primary themes that the Old Testament deals with.

  • King and the Kingdom: Every nation needs a good king. A kingdom will not survive without one. The successes and failures of Israel’s leaders show the need for a true and perfect king. Man cannot accomplish this; only the Creator can come and properly rule over his people. Jesus is the liberator king who overwhelms the depth of the brokenness and enslavement we have to sin and brings about a true, everlasting kingdom that is ruled perfectly.
  • Grace and Law: There is a conservative way to read the Old Testament: that God’s love is conditional on obedience. There is a liberal way to read the Old Testament: that God’s love is unconditional because God loves everybody. How can God be holy and still remain faithful? Jesus only resolves this tension. He makes God’s covenant conditional and unconditional. He provides the perfection (the condition) we needed through his death, which invites everyone into relationship with him (unconditional). Notice, too, that the Israelites were saved from Egypt first, then they were given the law at Sinai. In the same way, God saves us by grace through faith in Christ’s finished work on the cross, then he calls us to walk in a manner worthy of Christ by growing in holiness.
  • True God vs. Idols: Any good thing that becomes an ultimate thing becomes a god. It is possible to be compliant with the behavioral law yet being idolatrous in the heart. The only way a person and society can be renovated is if a true Beauty captures their hearts more than the lure of idols. Jesus is that true Beauty and Treasure who captures the hearts of his people so that idols are smashed and he is loved.
  • Covenant and Calling: How can man be made right from the heart? God promises a new covenant that will eventually take place of the old. Jesus is the true partner of God who is the faithful Son, who inaugurates a new covenant with his blood, and sends his Holy Spirit in order to empower his people.
  • Worship in the sanctuary/temple: How can people connect with the presence of God? How can we truly worship him and adore his beauty? Christ has come to dwell among us and provides direct access to the Father, because he is the true temple where man meets God.
  • Promised Land and Inheritance: When will God’s people have true rest? The people of God will return to the promised land and be great and the nations will share in the kingdom of Zion. Jesus provides entrance into the new land–the new heavens and new earth. Jesus is the place God’s people long for and he is the light to the nations.
  • Marriage and Faithfulness: God depicts his relationship to his people through the example of marriage. Jesus is the true Bridegroom who sacrificially loves his spouse, wins her love, and presents her to himself as a radiant bride.
  • Image and Likeness: How can we become fully human? The image of God in us is marred and broken because of sin. In his incarnation, Jesus showed us the perfect image of God. In his death and resurrection, Christ provided a way for the image of God in us to be restored.
  • Rest and Sabbath: How can we find harmony in life, with ourselves, and with others?  Sabbath was designed to bring rest because God rested from his work of creation. Christ ultimately brings rest from our good works so that we can have final rest in God’s kingdom..
  • Judgment and Justice: If there were no ultimate judge, what hope would there be for the world? But if there is an ultimate judge, what hope would there be for you and me? Only in Christ can there be hope, because he is the Judge who took our judgment on the cross.
  • Destruction of Israel and Exile: The exile into Babylon will lead to a redemptive act. Israel is restored to their promised land. Ultimately, Jesus goes into exile for his people so that he can lead them out of the captivity of sin and death.

In this approach, we take one of the many moral or ethical principles and listen very carefully to it. Rather than reading a text and thinking, “Oh, I should not gossip,” only to white-knuckle it all day at the office, we must see how Christ has fulfilled the principle as our representative and substitute. Why? Because if we listen honestly and thoroughly to these principles, we realize that it is simply impossible to keep them! We can’t explain why we should not steal unless we look at Jesus’ ultimate generosity who did not think it wise to stay in heaven but rather became poor for your sake. We can’t explain why we should not commit adultery unless we look at the faithfulness and jealous love Jesus has shown to us on the cross. His jealous love does not only define sexual fidelity, but it gives us the only sufficient motive and power to practice it ourselves. Jesus is not simply the ultimate example, but as the one who fulfills these morals and ethics for us, he is the only one who can change our hearts, by his Spirit, to be obedient to God’s commands.

A Few More Helpful Hints
Anytime you read a story in the Bible about how God uses backwards means to accomplish his purposes, you are seeing the gospel in action. God chooses Joseph and David, the youngest in the family; he uses Ruth, a Gentile woman, and Rahab, a Gentile prostitute in a male-dominated culture; he elects Abram to start a nation though he was old and fragile and the son of a moon worshiper. Jesus was born in a manger to a teenage mother. He lived a simple life and was executed on a cross. God used the foolishness of the world to bring redemption to his people.

Jesus is also the fulfillment of corporate story lines. Jesus is the true Israel, the Seed of Abraham and God’s true Son (Gal. 3:16-17; cf. Matt. 2:15). He did all that Israel was required to do, but was unable to and did not do. This video also describes well how Jesus is the one who fulfills individual story lines.

One Word of Caution
The temptation now when reading an Old Testament passage is not to figure out what the human author intended. When we are looking for Christ in the text, we are seeking to figure out what the divine author intended. In order to be faithful to Scripture, we must understand both. Ultimately, however, seeing and relishing God’s intention in the message is what will bring about true joy and obedience.

These are categories you simply must think in when you read the Bible, and hopefully this brief survey will help you. I don’t claim to be an expert at this, but it is more fulfilling to read the Old Testament and say, “How does this point to Jesus?” rather than “How does this apply to my life?” It will not be easy at first. The only way to do this well is practice, practice, practice!

In the final post of this series, I will address where the oft-quoted phrase “personal application” fits into your devotion time. Truly though, when you start to read the Old Testament this way–when you see that Jesus is the fulfillment of everything, your complete all-in-all–you will not be able to stop yourself from worshiping God and ultimately growing in sanctification.

Feel free to ask questions and strike up a conversation below so we can dialogue about this and learn from each other.

[1] Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2006), 56-57.
[2] Collin Hansen, “Preaching Christ from the OT: An Interview with Sidney Greidanus,” The Gospel Coalition Blog, 2/17/11 (accessed 12/20/11). For an example, see “the sign of Jonah” in Matthew 12:38-42.
[3] Tim Keller, “Applying Christ: Introduction Into Christ-Centered Application,” in Preaching Christ in a Postmodern World, Lecture 7 (accessed 12/20/11).
[4] Ibid. I have not provided all of Keller’s themes, and even he admits that what he gives in the lecture above is not an exhaustive list of themes and tensions. See also Goldsworthy, Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics, 253-256, who lists dozens of what he calls “macro-typologies” which correlate to Keller’s “broad themes.”



Ask the average Christian how they were saved and most will include, at some point in their story, that “I asked Jesus into my heart.” I’ve said it before, too. I think it’s okay to say with the right theological framework; however it is a very loaded phrase.

I am currently reading Graeme Goldsworthy’s Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics, and he talks about how this notion of salvation obscures the true biblical gospel. He calls “Jesus-in-my-heart-ism” ‘evangelical Catholicism’. He explains:

Many evangelicals use the evangelistic appeal to ‘ask Jesus into your heart.’ The positive aspect of this is that the New Testament speaks of ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’ (Col. 1:27); of Christ dwelling ‘in your hearts through faith’ (Eph. 3:17), and the like. It speaks of the Christian as having ‘received Christ the Lord’ (Col. 2:6). But it also makes clear that Christ dwells in or among his people by his Spirit, for the bodily risen Jesus is in heaven. Furthermore, there are no examples or principles of evangelism or conversion in the New Testament involving the asking of Jesus into one’s heart. In many cases this practice represents a loss of confidence in faith alone, for it needs to resort to a Catholic style of infused grace to assure us that something has happened.

Now, when people are genuinely converted by asking Jesus into their hearts, and I have no doubt that there are many, it can only be because they have understood the gospel sufficiently well for this prayer to be a decision to believe that this Jesus is the one who lived and died for their salvation. Why, then, have I called this section ‘evangelical Catholicism’? An aspect of Catholicism that Protestants have rejected is the reversal of the relationship of objective justification to is subjective outworking or sanctification. Another way of putting this is that the focus on the grace of God at work in the historic gospel even of Jesus Christ is muted compared to the emphasis on the grace of God as a kind of spiritual infusion into the life of the Christian. The gospel is see more as what God is doing in me now, rather than what God did for me then…When the legitimate subjective dimension of our salvation begins to eclipse the historically and spirituality prior objective dimension, we are in trouble.

– Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics, p. 176.


Jesus Hermeneutics

Hermeneutics is the work of interpreting what a text says. A biblical text is a communication of God that has three main components: the communicator (speaker), what is communicated (message), and who it is communicated to (hearer).

In order to interpret Scripture properly, it must be interpreted through the gospel, namely, the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Graeme Goldsworthy writes why this is true in his book Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics (p.69):

  • Jesus Christ, the God/Man, is the eternally communicating God, the creator of all speech and understanding.
  • He is God, the author of special revelation (i.e. the Bible).
  • As the incarnate Word of God, he is the ultimate divine message and sums up the meaning of all revelation both natural and special.
  • As a perfect human being, he is the compliant listener who receives the address of God to man with perfect interpretation, understanding, and acceptance.
  • Jesus’ relationship to the Father includes his making the only sinless human response to the word of God to man.

Ultimately, Jesus is the divine speaker, the message communicated, and the only one who was faithful to hear and be obedient.