Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation

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Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation. By Graeme Goldsworthy. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2006, 341 pp., $29.00.

Goldsworthy is a praiseworthy author of a string of books and articles on biblical theology, and he identifies with conservative evangelicalism, Anglicanism, Calvinism, amillennialism, and presuppositional apologetics. He is now a retired lecturer at Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia, where he has taught hermeneutics since 1995.

The title reflects Goldsworthy's conviction that "hermeneutics focuses on the gospel as it has its outworking in the realm of our understanding of the Scriptures" (p. 16). The subtitle, however, may be partly misleading, because unlike many other hermeneutics texts, this one does not focus on general and genre-specific interpretational "principles." Rather, it constructively criticizes hermeneutics that obscure the gospel.

The body of the book has three major sections. In the first, "Evangelical Prolegomena to Hermeneutics" (pp. 21-85), Goldsworthy addresses evangelical foundations and presuppositions. One presupposition is that the Bible is God's infallible word because it says so (pp. 32-35). God created humans to have knowledge that is "true though finite," not "absolute and exhaustive" (p. 35; cf. pp. 53, 55). Augustine's epistemological stance, "I believe in order to understand," rightly subordinates "human reason and understanding" to "divine truth and revelation" (pp. 41-42). "Non-Christian presuppositions" are "self-referentially incoherent" (p. 42; cf. 184). "The gospel is the interpretational norm for the whole Bible" as well as all reality (p. 63). Biblical theology, which "is essentially the examination of the individual parts to see how they fit into the big picture," is "uniquely appropriate for" understanding "what kind of hermeneutical model fits the world-view of Christian theism" (p. 68).

The section major section, entitled "Challenges to Evangelical Hermeneutics" (pp. 87-180), selectively highlights eight significant hermeneutical errors that "eclipse" the gospel. The metaphor recognizes "that eclipses are not always total and can even be partial enough to pass unnoticed by all but those trained to look for them" (p. 90). Although they have many positive features, the hermeneutics of the following eight frameworks eclipse the gospel: the early church's unwarranted allegory and typology; the medieval church's "unbiblical philosophical categories" (p. 108); Roman Catholicism's contradiction of justification by faith alone; liberalism's domestication of God; philosophical hermeneutics' proud self-subjectivity; historical criticism's naturalistic presuppositions; literary criticism's focus on the text and reader rather than the Author/ author; and evangelicalism's "hermeneutical perfectionism" that views their positions on key issues as infallible. Many evangelical readers will likely find the chapter on evangelicalism (pp. 167-80) to be the most interesting, insightful, convicting, and controversial. It surveys eight evangelical aberrations that approach Scripture naively: (1) Quietism: evangelical Docetism; (2) literalism: evangelical Zionism; (3) legalism: evangelical Judaism; (4) decisionism: evangelical Bultmannism; (5) subjectivism: evangelical Schleiermacherism; (6) "Jesus-in-my-heart-ism": evangelical Catholicism; (7) evangelical pluralism; and (8) evangelical pragmatism.

The book's third major section, "Reconstructing Evangelical Hermeneutics" (pp. 181313), evaluates how to reconstruct gospel-centered hermeneutics, which includes delineating the extent to which evangelicals can profitably use other hermeneutical frameworks without compromise (p. …