Friday, October 21, 2005

The Allure of Australian Biblical Theology

Like the duckbilled platypus, contemporary Biblical Theology is an Australian animal the existence of which many have doubted and even mocked. Is it a hybrid? A joke? An aberration? An impossibility?

So begins a review of Interpreting God's Plan: Biblical Theology and the Pastor, ed. by RJ Gibson, in the open-evangelical (see here for term) Anglican journal Anvil (Vol 16, No.2, 1999, p. 139). Unlike the duckbilled platypus Biblical Theology is not a peculiarly Australian animal (despite what the reviewer says), but there is something special about the Australian variety. The reviewer continues:

[for Gibson et al] unless we understand the promise properly, our grasp of the gospel will be attenuated and sentimental, and probably lack an adequate eschatology. In other words, most of what passes for preaching is judged shallow and unchristian.

Although they are too polite to say so, the Australians are making an important and formidable intellectual assult on normal Anglo Saxon Evangelical theology, and the find us seriously lacking as exegetes, systematicians and pastors - in fact, since their hermeneutical key is the gospel itself, they find us lacking as self-professing evangelicals. Their case is, to my mind, unanswerable, and for all the rough edges and unanswered question which work in progress produces, this is material which must be taken on board. These are not naive fundamentalists by serious-minded theologians of considerable calibre, and their relative obscurity is a result of distance, not inability.

Probably nobody reading here has ever read the Anvil journal (my explanation is that my Dad used to subscribe), but this is a review that stands out from the rest of their reviews like a beacon. You just do not get such enthusiastic reviews of conservative books in it. Reading Tom Wright's Paul: Fresh Perspectives over the last couple of days, my mind has gone back to the effect that the other grand-narrative-theology I have been exposed to had on me at university. I give thanks to God for it. It opened up the bible for me, and although I am not a died in the wool Goldsworthyite, I would not be without it.

Elsewhere I recently discovered the blog of Brian Hedges (who I know of through his many Amazon reviews), who has just discovered Goldsworthy and crowned him his 'author of the year'. He is now posting a review of his Gospel and Kingdom in parts (so far 1, 2, and 3).

So on the testimony of two or three witnesses trust me that there is something especially alluring about Australian Biblical Theology.

To find out more try as a beginning:

PS of course there is an American variety as well but I think it's less alluring (why is another question), and the best bits of the British version are Australian anyway.

book cover


At 2:40 pm, Blogger thebluefish said...

man if I'd thought of this we could have called the website instead of beginningwithmoses - would have been classic!

At 7:30 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, BT Briefings is like if was hip!

And I would have never understood Covenant Theology if it wasn't for Graeme Goldsworthy,
"...the reformers were establishing a method of biblical interpretation in which the natural historical sense of the Old Testament has significance for Christians because of its organic relationship to Christ. God's grace seen in his dealings with Israel is part of a living process which comes to its climax in his work of grace, the gospel, that is in the historical events of the Christ who is Jesus of Nazareth. Just as it is important to assert that this Old Testament 'sacred history' or 'salvation history' must be interpreted by the Word, Jesus Christ, it is also important to recognise that the gospel is God acting in history more specifically, through the history of Jesus."
Gospel & Kingdom\Why Read the Old Testament\The Reformation Path

At 6:02 pm, Blogger Michael F. Bird said...

By Australian Biblical Theology I think you must meant either Moore Theological College or Sydney Anglican Biblical THeology.

At 7:32 pm, Blogger Dave K said...

Wow, look at all the comments!

Junior: Good quote. I am coming to think that the NT writers themselves were far more radical in their Christ-centred OT interpretation than even the reformers or their followers. Although I am probably talking about stuff outside my knowledge so don't pay much attention.

Yes Michael, you are right that that is what I meant. I probably should have thought more about the terms I used, but I'm only human. It is probably a result of my ignorance as much as my lack of thought as well - I know of know other Australian Biblical Theology than the Moore Theological College type!

At 1:25 am, Blogger Doug Green said...

This comment catches my eye:
"of course there is an American variety [of Biblical Theology] as well but I think it's less alluring (why is another question), and the best bits of the British version are Australian anyway."

I have no particular axe to grind but I'd be intrigued to hear how you distinguish American BT from its Australian (or as Michael points out, it Moore College/Sydney Anglican) counterpart.

At 10:08 am, Blogger Dave K said...


I am clearly out of my league on this one.

I still think my comment is right on my own limited experience, but I dare not even begin to answer the question.

Curse generalisations. I should never have posted one that included so many and was based only on thoughts on the top of my head at the time of writing without the depth of knowledge to back them up.

Maybe it would be wise to turn the question back and ask for your opinion, seeing as you lecture on the subject.

Do you not think there is a difference; at least of empahasis and approach?

Maybe its pathetic but when two profesional bible scholars come commenting on your post, one of them asking questions of you, and you only know what you have learnt in 4 years of reading for pleasure, backing away seems the best thing to do.

At 2:33 am, Blogger Doug Green said...


Sorry to put you on the spot. Don't worry. This happens to me all the time. I make some generalization or throw away comment and some student comes along and asks me to "unpack" it ... and there's nothing there to unpack!!

I was honestly intrigued by your comment. Certainly, there is an identifiable coherence and unity in the way that the Sydney Anglican tradition (Goldsworthy, Dumbrell et al) does BT. They have also published a lot, so when you refer to "Australian Biblical Theology" most people who have read in this area would probably know what you are talking about.

You ask if I could distinguish Australian and American BT. Probably not! I don't think I can identify a distinct American BT in the same way you can with the Sydney Anglicans. There is a tradition which flows out of Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia (where I teach) but that would only be one (small) strand. It is quite similar in many ways to the Sydney Anglicans since both traditions seem to be influenced by the BT of Geerhardus Vos.

I'm afraid that is hardly an attempt to characterize American BT.

Maybe Michael (another expatriate Australian) might have some wisdom on the subject.

At 4:18 pm, Blogger Dave K said...

Interesting comment Doug, thanks.

I have had a bit of time to think about it, but still will resist offering a ill-informed opinions.

However, I may try and float an idea (n.b. an 'idea' and not not 'my opinion').

From my very limited experience it seems that Goldsworthy and co. are much keener to set-up what they are doing as better than other readings of the OT, particularly those found in a great number of sermons by evangelical preachers. I think the Moore College perspective is very concerned to satisfy the desires of those who are disatisfied with much of this teaching, and who long to get Christ into the OT. It perhaps sees itself with a mission in the local church to propogate (as you insightfully pointed out) a shared coherent vision. (The sense of mission and coherence of thought usually go together I think). I'm not sure American BT has either the same sense of mission or superiority.

The chapter by Goldsworthy in the book I mentioned would probably answer our question much, much, better than me. Beginning with Moses says:

'[Goldsworthy's] chapter is probably one of the best brief overviews of the kind of biblical theology that has become associated with Moore College - it interacts explicitly with other evangelical attempts at biblical theology (Bright, Vos, Clowney, VanGemeren) showing where they falter'.

Now if only it wasn't out of print. [Worth noting that this is just one of many books concerned with the preacher from the Moore College stable.]

At 2:27 pm, Blogger s said...

Gospel and Kingdom is not out of print - rather it is available in paperback in The Goldsworthy Trilogy which conatains Gospel and Kingdom, Gospel and Wisdom, The Gospel in Revelation.

If you can't get it through Amazon, Koorong books in Oz carries it and may do overseas shipping (not sure but you can ask)

To me if there is any difference in American vs U.S is that the Aussie approach places covenant in context of kingdom whereas some U.S. books I've read emphasize covenant and don't put kingdom in context...and lose some of the corporate/cosmic dimensions of Kingdom. But only some.

This said by a layperson (me!) who has no formal training in these matters and knows next to nothing.


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