Seeing Christ In All of Scripture

I received in the mail a copy of this little gem from my alma mater. It is a fast read. I read it this morning.

Normally, I wouldn’t expect to have about 35 endorsements on a book that is only 87 pages long. However, in this case, what you get is actually a snapshot of scholars who agree with the trajectory that WTS is establishing (and has established in the past). I found these statements interesting and, in some cases, revealing (see John Frame’s puff, for instance).

The book has four essays, by Vern Poythress, Iain Duguid, G.K. Beale, and Richard Gaffin, Jr, all preceded by a good little introduction by Peter Lillback. Also included are three appendices. The first is Machen’s essay on the purpose and plan for the Seminary. The second is the document of affirmations and denials that the seminary promulgated in response to the recent debates at the seminary. The third is Dr. Gaffin’s short piece on biblical theology at WTS.

Dr. Lillback can now say that there is a “harmony among the theological disciplines at Westminster” (p. 1). This wasn’t the case when I was attending. The exegetical departments were, in general, at odds with the ST, AP, and CH departments. I, for one, am grateful for the present unity among the faculty and disciplines.

Dr. Poythress’s point is that true biblical hermeneutics is a spiral, not a circle, that needs to start from a self-consciously Christian perspective. In this context, he says that God’s “presence and his special work in inspiration do not make human beings less than human. Rather, he transforms sinful humanity toward humanity as God originally designed it” (p. 13). Some advocates of other hermeneutical approaches seem to suggest that if God had anything to do with revelation at all, then that “interference” would make the humans automatons, and thus less than human.

Duguid’s point is that Christ is the whole point of the Old Testament. Period. It is a book about Christ (p. 17). Against the Christotelic interpretation, Duguid writes, “It is not that the New Testament writers were creatively assigning new and alien meanings to these old texts. Rather, the force of Jesus’s statement that it was ‘necessary that the Christ should suffer these things’ (Luke 24:26) suggests that a proper reading of the Old Testament expectation of the messiah necessarily compelled them to recognize Jesus Christ as its true fulfillment” (p. 21). While the OT prophets were not fully aware of the complete meaning of what they wrote (p. 20), we must not overstress their ignorance (p. 21). Again, taking direct aim at the Christotelic view, he says, “In other words, our astonishment will not be because the fulfillment differed from the promise, or because some parts of the promise proved to be dead ends, but because we had not begun to grasp the height and depth of the wisdom of God that is at work for our salvation in Christ” (p. 23).

Beale’s essay addresses New Testament hermeneutics. Context is king in Beale’s hermeneutics, but that context has to be defined as including more than the immediate literary and historical context. It also includes its canonical context (p. 26). Biblical Theology is given a thoroughly Vossian definition (pp. 27-28). New Testament interpretation of the Old is the correct way to read the Old Testament.

Gaffin’s article addresses the place of Systematic Theology in relation to Biblical Theology (a hallmark of his entire career). Some money quotes: “Systematic Theology, accordingly, does not have a ‘special’ hermeneutic of its own but one it shares with all other theological disciplines (p. 39). “Negatively, the difference (between ST and BT, LK) is not, as is too often maintained, that biblical theology considers the Bible purely in terms of its humanity and historically diverse make-up, leaving systematic theology to attend to whatever may be said about its divinely qualified unity (p. 49). Instead, biblical theology always presupposes the unity of God’s speech (ibid.). “At any one point in actual practice, the relationship between biblical theology and systematic theology is reciprocal” (p. 50). I might add something here to Gaffin’s remarks, and note that it is always reciprocal, whether the interpreter realizes it or not, and even if the interpreter denies that it is reciprocal.

It is clear that Machen was a Vossian. No doubt this quotation is why the essay was included: “[A]n error should be avoided: it must not be thought that systematic theology is one whit less biblical than biblical theology is” (p. 57). This is pure Vos.

The affirmations and denials are available online here, but it is good to see them in print, as well. They are extremely sophisticated, and yet very clear. I commend them to your perusal, especially the parts about private interpretation (p. 68, for example). It has some very important things to say about Ancient Near Eastern background, as well (see p. 71, for instance).

Gaffin’s last piece is a response to Clair Davis’s lament over the supposed fall of biblical theology at Westminster Seminary. Gaffin says that the reports of biblical theology’s death at WTS have been greatly exaggerated. This is the money quote from that piece: “There can be no objection to ‘Christotelic’ in itself. But Scripture is Christotelic just because it is Christocentric. It is Christotelic only as it is Christocentric, and as it is that in every part, the Old Testament included. Or, as we may, in fact must, put the issue here in its most ultimate consideration, Christ is the mediatorial Lord and Savior of redemptive history not only at its end but also from beginning to end. He is not only its omega but also its alpha, and he is and can be its omega only as he is its alpha” (p. 86).

This short book clarifies the doctrinal issues surrounding the recent debates at Westminster like no other resource of which I am aware. Get a copy of it.

8 Comments

  1. Reed Here said,

    March 24, 2016 at 9:14 am

    Hmmm, I passed on getting a copy, thinking I would only be reading what I already get and affirm. You’ve convinced me that there is some sharpening here worth my time. Thanks.

  2. March 30, 2016 at 12:06 am

    […] the Presbyterian Church in America and is pastor of Lebanon Presbyterian Church in Winnsboro, S.C. This article appeared on his blog and is used with […]

  3. March 30, 2016 at 6:26 am

    […] the Presbyterian Church in America and is pastor of Lebanon Presbyterian Church in Winnsboro, S.C. This article appeared on his blog and is used with […]

  4. tominaz said,

    March 30, 2016 at 1:51 pm

    Bravo! Nailed it! Home run! This is the WTS I attended (’73). Vintage Gaffin and Clowney. A good review, Lane, thanks!

  5. March 31, 2016 at 1:00 am

    […] Seeing Christ In All of Scripture | Lane Keister “This short book clarifies the doctrinal issues surrounding the recent debates at Westminster [Seminary]like no other resource of which I am aware. Get a copy of it.” […]

  6. Joe said,

    March 31, 2016 at 1:19 am

    Was there really any recent debate at WTS? I always viewed Christotelic vs Christocentric conversation as the WTS administration looking for an excuse to get rid of faculty they didn’t want. Lets be honest, if Green was that far outside the confession he wouldn’t be teaching at a conservative confessional school right now. So the book is a feel good victory lap over a debate that never really happened.

    As a side note do you know that WTS tried to shut down the Groves center under the excuse of financial hardship? When they found out they didn’t actually have IP ownership over the Groves center material they had to back off and now lease space to the Grove center as a third party who has a partnership with the seminary. It just goes to show that this is as much about attempting to erase legacies and exert control with a specific personal vendetta against a group of people as it is about anything else.

    We can still call it a debate if you want, though…

  7. greenbaggins said,

    March 31, 2016 at 8:46 am

    Joe, you seem determined to put WTS in the worst possible light. WTS did want to let go any faculty that didn’t believe that Christ is actually in the Old Testament, because that is not a confessional position. They have basically said so.

    Your point about Green is wide of the mark. People with non-confessional views get hired at confessional schools/churches all the time. You seem to be living in a different world than I am.

    The book is a message to the world about where their position is. Why else would they have so many puffs on an 86 page book? A lot of people have wondered what WTS is committed to teach. Now they know.

    I have no inside knowledge of the Groves center, but again you are reading motivation into the seminary’s actions. Reading motivation is a terribly perilous thing to do.

  8. April 18, 2016 at 7:15 am

    Your ending is very strange, but seems inline with seem other articles, indicating that you seem to think by saying “Christ is the mediatorial Lord” that Jesus would be God as a mediator, but Jesus is the mediator between God and man, and not God himself. According to the Bible Jesus is the son of man and the son of God, not God the son.


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