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The Anonymous Blackhamite

I was there eight years ago in Oak Hill chapel.  Graeme Goldsworthy and Paul Blackham debating the object of faith in the Old Testament (yes that was the issue - I know these things get muddled up, but that really was the issue).

If you haven't heard of these names, sorry - this post won't make a lot of sense to you...

A little background.  I had grown up and been converted in Sydney Anglican churches (my Canberra church, St Matthew's, was essentially a Sydney church plant and all its clergy have been Moore College educated).

On the other hand, I had been working at All Souls, Langham Place for the previous 9 months and, against all my background and initial protests, I had begun to lean towards Blackham's view on Christ in the OT.  Nonetheless, my mind was not completely made up and I was extremely interested to hear Goldsworthy.

I can pinpoint the moment when I swung decisively against the Goldsworthy position.  A young student I'd never heard of called Mike Reeves asked the first question from the floor:

"What exactly is faith? And what exactly is the proper object of faith? The importance of that is to do with whether it has changed or not."

Blackham answered:

"Faith is trusting, loving, knowledge of Jesus Christ. That is always the object of faith. From the beginning until the end. So Martin Luther, “All the promises of God lead back to the first promise concerning Christ of Genesis 3:15. The faith of the fathers in the Old Testament era, and our faith in the New Testament are one and the same faith in Christ Jesus… The faith of the fathers was directed at Christ… Time does not change the object of true faith, or the Holy Spirit. There has always been and always will be one mind, one impression, one faith concerning Christ among true believers whether they live in times past, now, or in times to come.” The object of faith is the person of Christ, explicitly so. A trusting knowledge of him."

Goldsworthy answered:

"How can I disagree? Faith is defined by its object. There are all kinds of faith that people have: the truckdriver has faith in his truck that it will get across the bridge; he has faith in the bridge that it will bear him up. A Christian has faith that God’s assurances in his word that what he has done in his Son Jesus is sufficient for his salvation. The point where we may disagree is that to me if God puts the person and work of Christ in the form of shadows and types and images in the OT and assures people that if they put their trust in that they are undoubtedly saved, then that is deemed to be faith in Christ. It is faith in Christ in the form in which he is given, and the work of the Spirit all through the Bible is with regard to Christ as he is presented."

It was hearing that question and those two answers that tipped me decisively towards Blackham on this question.

Goldsworthy rightly identifies the point of disagreement.  For him, God puts Christ in the form of shadows etc such that Israelites who trusted the shadows and had no knowledge of the Person were deemed to have trusted in the Person.

Now to me that's a bad reading of the OT, a bad reading of the NT and a bad reading of systematics - doctrine of God and soteriology for starters.

But here's the point of this post.  Eight years on it's very encouraging to hear more and more people who say that OT faith was in the Person of Christ.  Wonderful.  What intrigues me though is when they still identify themselves on the Goldsworthy side of the debate. 

Now don't get me wrong.  I'm not into drawing lines for no reason.  And no-one wants to make it into some 'foul wide ditch' dividing evangelicalism.  It's nothing of the sort.  But there is a point of disagreement here.  And Goldsworthy himself has identified it.  He says God put Christ in the form of shadows, OT saints trusted the shadows only, God deemed it faith in Christ.  Blackham says God presented Christ explicitly in the OT (shadows being one consciously understood means) and the OT saints explicitly trusted Him.  That's the point of departure.

Now to me, a person who says 'OT saints hoped in the Messiah but were fuzzy on details' lies decisively on the Blackham side of this debate.  But often they are an anonymous Blackhamite.  And anonymous even to themselves.

Here's what tends to happen.  It is assumed that the debate is merely a disagreement over the degree of progress in revelation.  And so a person figures that they're with Goldsworthy because they acknowledge progress and Blackham doesn't so much. 

But really, the debate is not about progress.  It's about the object of faith.  If you say they hoped in the Messiah, Goldsworthy has told you which side of this debate you're on.  And it's not his.

We can still all be friends, brothers, sisters, co-workers in the gospel.  But let's at least acknowledge that there are distinctions and on what side we stand. 

Maybe you believe they trusted Christ, but still you identify as Goldsworthian.  That's ok.  I say you're speaking better than you know.  I deem you to have trusted Blackham anyway.


0 thoughts on “The Anonymous Blackhamite

  1. Gav

    And thats another thing that I've learnt here........and I think definately the most significant. God bless you and your family

  2. Little Mo


    I think this is a false dichotomy. Sorry. If you are trusting in the shadow of something - its shape, its form, its type, and that shadow becomes more and more clearly filled in and defined until at last you can see the whole real thing - is it not right to say that the object of your faith was in fact the real thing all along? Its shades of grey between these views, not black and white.

    To be honest, what seems to define someone as a Blackhamite to me is not the view they hold on how much exactly OT saints knew, but the excitement over which they chase controversy on this issue.

  3. Glen

    ...while Goldsworthians with even-tempered sobriety are above chasing controversy. lol.

    Your comment does not show that the point of disagreement in this debate consists in 'shades of grey'. Quite the opposite. Your comment proves that you believe the object of faith to progress through shades of grey. For you the object of faith can be a less than Personal 'thing'. Ok. That just means you fall decidedly on the Goldsworthian side of this clearly demarcated line.

    God bless.

  4. I Love Graeme Goldsworthy

    It is bad though isn't it - chasing controversy like that. That is the one thing that has always put me off Jesus. He was always so black and white on things.

    What seems to define a NON-Blackhamite is how quickly they play that particular card.

    How disapointing.

  5. Daniel

    Okay... I'm not understanding this disagreement at all. Perhaps it could be clarified for me? A couple of questions...

    1. Given that faith in Christ is never faith in his person alone, per se, but faith in him as offered to us in the promises - what difference would it make if faith in the OT were in Christ as represented somewhat obscurely there? Could it not still be faith in his person, ultimately?

    2. Given that Jesus Christ did not exist in the OT period, are we talking about faith in the Son of God - logos asarkos? Or we talking about faith in a not-yet-existent person, in which case how could he be represented except as shadow and promise?

    I'd appreciate any clarification. At the moment I can't see the significance of the disagreement.

  6. Glen

    Hey Daniel,

    1. Christ comes clothed in His promises (as Calvin says). We must not preach a nude Christ, you're right. But pointing to a pile of clothes is not, has never been and must not be deemed the same as pointing to the Person. On this the fathers and reformers were adamant.

    This again demonstrates the point of departure. For Blackham, faith is irreducibly consciously Personal. For Goldsworthy it doesn't have to be. From your comments it sounds like you're on the Goldsworthy side of that particular disagreement.

    2. From Gen 3:15 onwards we have the protoevangelium (not just protochristologia). So yes it is always faith fixed on the Son's work as Seed, but nonetheless the Son is present - not simply through types, but in actual appearances and in consciously understood prophecies. (And the NT is happy to call Him 'Jesus' and 'Christ' in this regard).

    So not logos asarkos, but logos incarnandus.

    For one take on this position, see the Edwards quotes I've just posted. You'll appreciate that this is markedly different to Goldworthy's position.

  7. Will

    Hi Glen,

    I thought of this issue last night as I was working on another verse (the 19th!) of my poem about Come-by-Chance (I think I had the first 8 verses when I recited it to you in the car).

    Anyway do you think the following is OK?

    For on a Sunday long ago a risen Son had come to reign
    And he was reigning to the Father's glory still
    And he was moving every item in his very big domain
    toward the purpose of his ever-loving will.

    That is, do you think it would be right to say that in his resurrection Jesus, in a sense, began to "reign" in a way that he hadn't done before?


  8. Will

    I should probably add that at this point the poem is relating an event which took place earlier this year - hence the "was" and "still" in the second line.

  9. jacky

    hey glen!

    hope all is well with you, haven't commented here for a while!

    this is in conjunction w/ the poem which Will is composing above. what is the 'reality' of Christ taking on flesh in his incarnation, crucifying it, redeeming it and renewing it upon his resurrection and ascension - as compared to Christ 'ensarkos' pre-creation (Rev 13:8)? i'm positive something 'forensically' and 'in reality' occured with respect to the redemption of all of creation when Christ died, rose and ascended... but i also know that this is true before any of that happened in his incarnation.

    i guess this might touch a bit on the theology of time...

  10. Glen

    Hey Will and Jacky - yes... time eh? What's that all about?

    No idea myself but let's acknowledge that the eternal Christ has a history. A history in which decisive things happen - like incarnation, cross, resurrection, ascension, reign, return. And a history that establishes His very Person - the One who is Son becomes Son in resurrection (Ps 2:7), the One who is Lord and Christ becomes Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). (see this post)

    The very being of Christ is a being-towards-resurrection and the very nature of time is the unfolding of this being-in-action.

    I don't know if I can do any better than the post above and the links there.

    But yes Christ reigns because of His resurrection - always has done and always will. And the bible doesn't flinch from talking about 'beginning to reign' either - see eg Rev 11:17 for an example about the new creation.

  11. Will

    Thanks! I think I've come up with something a bit better though:

    For in his mighty resurrection Jesus took again the reins,
    and he was reigning to the Father's glory still.

    It's supposed to be bush ballad so a bit of horsey imagery mightn't go astray either.

  12. Will

    Mmm this is getting a bit complex! I suppose I would say that with the ascension Jesus comes to reign over the whole universe in a way he hadn't before. But I suppose in this line I am just saying that when Jesus rose on the third day he must have resumed whatever "reign" he had on the Friday. Does that make sense?

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