In the first part of this review series, I talked about what I really liked about this book. Check that out.
Now I am going to explain my concerns with this book.
Goldingay is Wrong!
Despite my overall appreciation for how Goldingay advocates for the ongoing authority and importance of the Old Testament for the believer, I think Goldingay goes too far, arguing for almost no “newness” to the New Testament. Put another way, I think he is right in what he denies, but wrong in what he affirms!
Probably the most repeated argument he makes in the book is that the present world is not in a recognizably better place than it was before Christ. Thus, Christ and the Spirit (while obviously important for eternal life) did not transform this world with the indwelling on the Spirit.
Our lives do not look to be morally superior to Israel’s, nor do we seem to have a closer relationship with God than the one the First Testament speaks of. (98)
Now, I am not arguing that all Christians past and present are perfect, but Goldingay seems to argue that nothing has changed from the era before Christ to after. He assumes here a kind of phenomenological approach, but avoids the issue of what Jesus says in the Gospels. For example, Goldingay argues that people in the OT had the Spirit, and the Pentecost outpouring is not a guarantee that God can’t take away his Spirit from someone. Goldingay sees prophecies as able to be repeated and to be fulfilled multiple times, so the quote of Joel is not a one-to-one prophecy-fulfillment. But this downplays the significance of the Christ-event and Pentecost too much, I think. I agree that prophecies and fulfillments are not static, but the Gospels do imagine a monumental transformation of the world in Jesus as he proclaims the kingdom of God.
I might point to the wineskins teaching (Mark 2:22) to demonstrate how the Jesus-era is transformative. Also, how would Goldingay explain Jesus’ teaching in Matthew about the least in the kingdom surpassing the great John the Baptist (Matt 11:11)? Or his teaching in John that those who follow Jesus will do even greater works than his because “I am going to the Father” (14:12)?
Again, I don’t know how Goldingay can say “God did nothing new in Jesus” (12). What about St. Paul’s teaching: If anyone is in Christ –NEW CREATION! Former things are set aside. Behold – it is time for new things! (my translation of 2 Cor 5:17). This is more than simply a “fresh” vision of God (see Goldingay 21), it is wholly transformative (while not being complete).
Another plank in Goldingay’s argument is that there is no new revelation about God in the New Testament. I am sympathetic to Goldingay’s concern here, but I would argue that the cross is “new.” Now, certainly we see a covenant God who suffers and holds faithful to Israel in the OT, but I think Jesus’ obedience on the cross takes the revelation of God to another plane. If that weren’t so – and I think Goldingay doesn’t treat this concern directly – surely more Jews would have accepted Jesus as Messiah. If the NT is simply a “fresh” vision of God, why was it so hard for Jews to accept, especially a crucified messiah?
Goldingay, when he talks about the mission and purpose of Jesus, notes that Jesus talked about eternal life, heaven, and hell (see 23-25). When I read this section, I wondered if Goldingay didn’t miss the “inaugurated” part of Jesus’ message. Was Jesus only focused on life after death? I am not sure if Goldingay articulated what he thinks Jesus was trying to do here on earth with the lives of people.
This ties into another concern of mine, Goldingay’s argument that social justice is an Old Testament concern, but not a New Testament concern (46).
The church has also given itself to involvement for the betterment of the conditions of people’s lives, to what is often called a concern for social justice or for peace and justice. That concern is a biblical one, though not really a New Testament one. (46)
The New Testament’s not speaking about social justice makes the First Testament important in this connection, because the First Testament does so, and offers profound and wide-ranging understandings of what social justice means. (46)
And why does Goldingay think the NT does not focus on social justice? The NT “encourages believers to focus on the appearing of Jesus” (46).
Yes, of course apocalyptic is [a?] mother of Christian theology, but Goldingay overstates his case. He is operating under a very old, outdated reading of the New Testament that the early Christians worked under an interim ethic until Jesus returns. I can’t believe I need to defend the NT’s concern for social justice, but here goes anyway (briefly)
-The Sermon on the Mount (do I need to go on?)
-Luke-Acts, specifically Luke’s concern for the poor, women, marginalized, his focus on “sharing possessions”
-“remember the poor” – the key clause of the apostolic acceptance of Paul’s ministry
-Paul’s critical, ministry-making-or-breaking collection for the poor
-James (he can hold his own with against of the OT prophets on the subject of economic injustice!)
Let me add, 1 Thessalonians is probably the first extant NT document we have, and there Paul very clearly says “devote yourself to the weak” (1 Thess 5:14). Not “tolerate” or “help.” But devote. It can’t really get any clearer than that.
Now, perhaps Goldingay is right that justice issues are clearer in the OT, but that may be because so much of the OT is prophetic texts that play a corrective covenantal role. The NT does not contain prophetic texts (aside from Revelation), so you have to read closely and read between the lines to see the justice focus – but my point is it is there! (Read Mike Gorman’s new Becoming the Gospel)
And what about Revelation – one of the NT’s longest books, one which plays strongly on themes of poverty and wealth (see Mark Mathews excellent dissertation, Riches, Poverty, and the Faithful)? Just one example – the revelation of the “whore of Babylon” who is “clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her fornication” (Rev 17:4).
Ultimately, in his attempt to argue for continuity and a level playing field for OT and NT (which I admire), Goldingay has to ignore or downplay too much of what the New Testament promises, the shocking, unexpected “newness” of the gospel, the one foretold in Isaiah and yet nothing like anyone could have imagined. Thus, N.T. Wright’s pithy statement: “God is acting in a surprising new way–as he always said he would” – there it is, the “new” thing as if out of nowhere, and yet as we look back, truly it was anticipated and we missed it.
Well, I have said enough. I encourage you to engage with this book – again, Goldingay is one of the best. What I appreciate about Goldingay is that he takes nothing for granted. He reads carefully and makes his own judgments. He cares little for “consensus” scholarship or defending camps. That makes him refreshing – and dangerous!