It is always a delight for a theological college to welcome a renowned scholar to speak on a subject of importance. Should that delight bring with it a whole day of cancelled lectures, then it is easy to imagine the anticipation surrounding such an event, particularly for those students who normally have Greek first thing on a Friday!
Such was the case on 6 November as students and staff at WEST, along with local church leaders, gathered to hear Dr Richard B. Gaffin Jr, Emeritus Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology, at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, USA.
The theme for the day was biblical theology, the discipline of tracing the unfolding story of redemption through the whole Bible.
In three sessions Dr Gaffin directed our thoughts to the role that biblical theology plays in our interpretation of the New Testament. He focused particularly on understanding Christ from the Old Testament, and the resurrection in the theology of Paul.
The day began with Dr Gaffin proposing that biblical theology is the indispensible servant of systematic theology. This was supported by detailed discussion on the interplay between the two disciplines. Our hearts and minds were drawn to the wonder of God’s self-revelation as we considered its redemptive-historical nature – God’s speech unfolding alongside his actions.
The nature and the methods of systematic theology were examined, bearing in mind that their context is always redemptive-historical. Systematic theologies must be non-speculative and tightly exegetical.
Dr Gaffin drew on John Murray’s comment that ‘biblical theology prevents systematic theology from a tendency to abstraction’. If biblical theology is the epic drama of God’s redemption, then systematic theology is the plot analysis.
The middle part of the day was centred upon Luke 24:44-49, the famous conversation between the risen Christ and his two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
The question of how exactly the Old Testament reveals Christ was explored, focusing on ways in which the Old Testament predicts that ‘Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem’ (Luke 24:46-47).
This triad of death, resurrection and church was shown to be the centre that unifies the Lord’s teaching from the Old Testament concerning himself. This is taken up by the apostles in the book of Acts, with their focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus and their call to repentance and faith in him.
Dr Gaffin highlighted the importance of asserting that the Old Testament Scriptures are definitely about Christ. The law, prophets and psalms all speak of him. In answering the question ‘Is Christ in every sentence of the Old Testament?’, we were encouraged to distinguish between a reductionist atomistic and redemptive-historical answer.
It is true that Christ may not be revealed clearly in every sentence of the Old Testament, but every sentence is part of a wider redemptive-historical context, with all its twists and turns. That context does indeed clearly point to Christ and salvation in his name.
To round off the day, we were treated to some reflection on the resurrection in the theology of Paul, a theme that Dr Gaffin has done much work on (see his book Resurrection and redemption: a study in Paul’s soteriology (P&R Publishing).
Topics covered in this included the unity between the resurrections of Christ and believers, and the believer’s resurrection as a present reality.
Themes from the New Testament that have their origin in the Old were highlighted for these vital areas of understanding. These included Christ as the ‘first fruits’ of a larger resurrection harvest (1 Corinthians 15:20) and as the ‘firstborn’ from among the dead (Colossians 1:18). It was refreshing to be reminded of our union with Christ.
Throughout the day, Dr Gaffin spoke with great clarity and answered questions thoroughly and charitably. It was a joy for those who attended to benefit from the brief time we shared together.
MA student, Wales Evangelical School of Theology