Seeing Christ in All of Scripture (Review)

Published: RTR 75, no. 2, 2016

Seeing Christ in All of Scripture: Hermeneutics at Westminster Theological Seminary

by Peter A. Lillback, (editor), Westminster Seminary Press, Philadelphia, 2016. 87pp

In the opening endorsements of this little book, Allan Harman explains that it sets out ‘in a superb way the basic hermeneutical principles that must underlie a Reformed evangelical approach to Scripture’. Indeed, this is the case.

The apparent purpose is to demonstrate the current unity of the Westminster Philadelphia faculty in hermeneutical matters, over against its past division. Lillback characterises the dispute as about whether Christ is seen as the ‘organic center’ of the Bible’s message (Christocentric), or only as the goal of the OT (Christotelic). The premise is that Westminster has returned to treating Christ as alpha and omega, not omega only (citing the typical percipience of Gaffin).

In the main section, there are four chapters, on hermeneutics in general, OT hermeneutics, NT hermeneutics, and Systematic Theology and hermeneutics, written by Poythress, Duguid, Beale and Gaffin respectively. Those familiar with redemptive-historical interpretation will find no surprises.

The only point of demurral is with the Westminster tendency to say that the OT prophets wrote better than they knew. The OT prophets did not have full understanding of partial prophecy, but partial understanding of partial prophecy. Their writing was limited by virtue of being only old covenant revelation, but if they did not understand this limited revelation that they wrote, is this not a form of the sensus plenior, which lays the seed-bed for the Christotelic position? The apocalyptic of Daniel and Zechariah is cited, but even for this complex method of revelation, they wrote what they saw and they meant what they wrote. That which they did not know, they did not write. We have greater historically-specific knowledge of events referenced broadly in the OT, but this is not better knowledge of the text but more knowledge beyond the text.

The appendices make up four-fifths of the book, and operate in effect as positional and clarifying statements on hermeneutics from Machen, the board of trustees (citing a date would have helped), and Gaffin. Machen’s words upon the opening of Westminster especially endorse the centrality of systematic theology. The message always bears repeating that systematics is not ‘one whit less biblical than biblical theology is’.

If one was not aware of the debate, a degree of mirror reading would be needed to ascertain the Christotelicism that the book is responding to, but overall, the book is as straightforward as possible and readily accessible.