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The Anonymous Blackhamite [repost]

It's been ten years.  Ten years since that fateful afternoon in Oak Hill chapel.  And I was there.  Graeme Goldsworthy and Paul Blackham debated 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 grew up and was 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.  (You can read more on my current position here).   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 over the past decade that answer has seemed to me to be less and less satisfactory.  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.  Ten years on it's very encouraging to hear more and more people who say that OT faith was in the Person of Christ.  Wonderful.  But it's interesting that they still might identify themselves on the Goldsworthy side of the debate.

And, hey, whatever, I don't really mind.  "The LORD is my banner" not men, right?  Absolutely.  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 to be 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.  Forget the names - the positions are significantly different.

Now to me, a person who says 'OT saints hoped in the Messiah but were fuzzy on details' lies decisively on Blackham's 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.  Therefore if you say OT believers hoped in the Messiah Himself, 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.  This is not some 'foul, wide ditch' dividing evangelicalism and I'm not interested in creating one.  But let's at least acknowledge that there are distinctions and on which 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.



11 thoughts on “The Anonymous Blackhamite [repost]

  1. Chris Oldfield

    i must confess I feel a little bit confused by the straw men which seem to be made in this debate. It feels each side seems to be talking in ways the other side never really does.

    Here's my point of view: Maybe it's because my background's more in apologetics, but but first of all, behind this I hear Schleiermacher/Hick on anonymous christianity - the feeling (though we dont know what of) of dependence is faith, which is what counts. Yuck. In both schemes, God (or the Real) for all we know, is hidden behind a million masks.

    Second of all, I often hear people making distinctions in these debates between trusting Christ and trusting propositions. If you mean the Schleiermacher thing of trusting in promises rather than in Christ, then I'm with you all the way Glen, but I'm not sure that's always what people are meaning. But if you have a personal speech act view of the promise, or of a proposition, then when you're trusting a promise or a proposition you're trusting the person making that promise or proposition. It comes with all the weight of the one who promises. His name hangs on it. Now, what's in a name? I'd say it's the difference between who and what. I'd say with Paul Ricoeur that character is the what of the who. It all depends what the name is, and if there's any glory to it. But to find what the name is (in this case "I AM WHO I AM", which I take to mean "watch and learn") you need to watch and learn. Namely you need to wait and see. And over time, you see the name has glory to it, here is a character you can trust, who becomes flesh in Jesus. Outside of his incarnation, we really wouldnt have any reason to sing the psalms with gratitude in our hearts, because outside Christ in the gospel, the word of YHWH would have come back to him empty. We CANNOT say "the earth is full of the glory of the lord" apart from his resurrection. Without his resurrection, we can only know vanity vanity...

    Third, to come to the immanent economic thing (I guess I'm actually referring more to the Trueman/Goldsworthy 'revolutionary balancing act' debate here), it seems like the Calvin/Barth distinction going on. Both are saying "we cannot have speculative (ie creedal) knowledge of God apart from his revelation in the gospel except in fear, hiddenness, guilt and law". But Calvin's emphasis is "we cannot have speculative knowledge of God apart from his revelation in the gospel except in fear, hiddenness, guilt and law", while Barth's might be more on "we cannot have speculative knowledge of God apart from his revelation in the gospel except in fear, hiddenness, guilt and law". One is saying "God is revealed in the gospel"; the other saying "GOD is revealed in the gospel" - what other kind of knowledge of God (or yourself) is there? Isn't it clearly both? The God who is revealed is a God who is revealed in the gospel - the immanent trinity is the economic trinity. But the immanent trinity is the economic trinity. He's the God you have to "watch and learn". To quote Bill Clinton, I guess it comes down to what "is" means! I'll try to blog this but basically I'm just following Vanhoozer's essay, Angling in the Rubicon - Identifying God, in in The Trinity in a Pluralistic Age.

    Personally I'd say that a Lutheran emphasis of law/gospel would help here - to do with the fear, hiddenness, guilt and law. In other words there is a kind of knowledge that is bound up with Adam. This frames my whole approach to apologetics by the way. There really is no other god than the God who gives himself away for us in the gospel and makes himself known (which is why I'm with James Denney - "I have no interest whatsoever in any theology which doesn't help me to evangelise" - because there there is no other theos except the theos whose logos gives him away in love. My inclination to trust such a God comes from his very nature - he is light, in him there is no darkness at all. Nothing is hidden, nothing is covered up. So here's the thing: where Barth says "the christian doctrine of God doesn't face the questions man asks God but the questions God asks man", I'd say amen, but with Tillich "God answers man's questions, and under the impact of God's answers man asks them." In other words, They are not merely an analysis of the questions man (in Adam) asks, they are spoken to human existence. Otherwise they would not be answers. But they answer man (in Adam)'s questions - the questions he faces from being in sin, death, futility, guilt, shame, hiding from God, hiding in creation, knowing vanity, broken relationships. These are the "implicit questions" raised by being human that only the gospel can make sense of. We can and must raise those questions, knowing we are touching a nerve, with confidence that they really will connect".

    Longest musing ever.

  2. James S

    I guess the audio of that debate is not available? I've searched all over the web for a long time to no avail. I'd sure love to have it.

  3. childcare yorba linda

    I must say that this the best post ever i read..really very different and very sensible..the very deep thing about the faith is discussed here. I specially like the answer of Blackham that "Faith is trusting, loving, knowledge of Jesus Christ. That is always the object of faith".Its really true that faith is really a knowledge about the that Eternal power Jesus Christ.If we have that knowledge we surely have faith in each thing which connect to Him.I also like the Goldsworthy answer and the way he explaining.really very nice post thank you so much for sharing such a wonderful post..

    Blessings and Love..

  4. Andy Cordle

    Hi Glen - just came across this post, great to hear a first-hand report! I read the debate in full for the first time just last week. Was it you who asked the second question by any chance?! A couple of questions:

    What would you say to Goldsworthy's point that it seems like Blackham is saying the OT authors wrote less than they knew? Do you think it only seems like that to us because of the presuppositions we bring to the OT regarding doctrine of God etc?

    Also what do you do with Hebrews 1:1-2 which often comes up in conversations about this?

  5. Glen

    Hi Andy,

    No, that second questioner is a friend of mine. But, unusually, I was quiet throughout!

    On the degree of knowledge for OT saints... Personally, I think it's entirely reasonable (and probably to be expected) that they spoke less than they knew - after all, that's how most other kinds of authorship work! But even if you don't say that, I reckon you should at least assume that they knew what they were talking about. I submit that Goldsworthy's position is disproved if only you grant that David *did* understand the Messianic meanings of his Psalms (which Jesus, Peter and Paul all say he did! - Mark 12; Acts 2; Acts 13).

    Have you read my post on the myths we all know?

    As for Hebrews 1:1-2 - I just blogged you a response:

  6. Andy Cordle

    Yes I have read the post on myths - I recognise all of them very well! Thanks for this, really helpful stuff

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