Do We Need The New Testament?, Goldingay Asks – Review Part I (Gupta)

GoldingayJohn Goldingay is one of my favorite OT theologians. So, I had to get my hands on his latest book, Do We Need The New Testament: Letting the Old Testament Speak for Itself (IVP, 2015). I would like to do a two part review of this interesting little book; in the first post, I am going to highlight my favorite parts of this book. In a second post I will delve into my concerns with Goldingay’s book.

Two preliminary items to note before we jump in. Firstly, the title is facetious – of course we need the NT! Goldingay isn’t really worried about needing to defend this. He is just sick of hearing Christians ask, do we need the OT? He wants to turn this around, arguing for the foundational nature of the OT, and how the NT builds on it, but does not replace it. In that sense, a better title for the book (one Goldingay actually notes towards the end), is: What is “new” about the New Testament?

Second preliminary item – this is not a systematic or comprehensive biblical-theological work. It is more of a series of reflections and mini-essays. I might use this as a supplemental textbook for a biblical theology course, but not a primary book. His interaction with scholarship is minimal. OK, now on to the book’s content.

Goldingay is Right!

My first word on this matter is – “Goldingay is Right!” I love this book because I worry that too many Christians play favorites, preferring the New Testament over the Old Testament. To the early Christians, this would be absurd. The New Testament is literally meaningless without the Old Testament. Goldingay writes: “In a sense God did nothing new in Jesus. God was simply taking to its logical and ultimate extreme the activity in which he had been involved throughout the First Testament story” (12). Perhaps the best chapter of the book is the first one where Goldingay debunks all the assumed theories about why the NT is superior to the OT. The New Testament does not conceive of a superior form of salvation (in Old and New it is by God’s grace, within a covenant). The NT does not give a deeper revelation of God. The NT does not have a higher ethic. The NT does not care more for the nations. If this were so, it would be very hard for Christians today to maintain a full commitment, especially ethically, to the OT as Christian Scripture. Yet, sadly, many Christians do that in practice without acknowledging it.

Goldingay’s “big idea” (if the book could be boiled down to just one) is that Jesus does not bring something “new,” but he “embodies” what was taught and hoped for in the Old Testament. One cannot grasp any of this without the OT.

We need the First Testament for an understanding of the story of God’s working out his purpose, for its theology, for its spirituality, for its hope, for its understanding of mission, for its understanding of salvation and for its ethics. (32)

Costly Loss of First Testament Spirituality

Probably my favorite chapter (aside from the introduction) is chapter six on “The Costly Loss of First Testament Spirituality” (Goldingay’s title is adapted from a Brueggemann statement).

When I listen to Christians pray, I hear little evidence of our praying being shaped by [the Psalms]. (103).

In this chapter, Goldingay argues that if we do not patiently learn how to worship from the First Testament, our spiritual lives will be impoverished. This is a powerful, convicting chapter.

Theological Interpretation

Perhaps my next favorite chapter is the last one on trends in theological interpretation, especially reading the Old Testament christo-centrically, by the Rule of Faith, and looking for the Trinity. While it may seem unfashionable, Goldingay challenges each of these trends. He argues, first, that the OT is not about Jesus, it is about God. Lest this offend some (or perhaps it will offend more!), he adds: “Christ is not christocentric” (162).

On Trinity, he writes, “Christian theological interpretation will be trinitarian in the sense that it knows that Yahweh the God of Israel is the God who is Trinity. It will not be trinitarian in the sense that it looks for references to the Trinity in Isaiah or Genesis” (169).

On the Rule of Faith, he urges: “its role is to enable us to see things that are there; it does not determine what is allowed to be there” (173).

In vintage Goldingay-like fashion, he can come across as kind of grumpy in this book, but “grumpy” can be a form of prophetic resistance! Again, I love this book, so make sure you give it a read.

Ahem… the next post will be subtitled: “Goldingay is Wrong!” Stay Tuned.