Today's Theologians: Dr. Richard Gaffin
December 13, 2016
As we continue our series of interviews with notable theologians, we sit down with Dr. Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. Dr. Gaffin is Emeritus Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology, Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA. He is the author of numerous books, including Resurrection and Redemption, Perspectives on Pentecost, Calvin and the Sabbath, By Faith, Not By Sight and No Adam, No Gospel. Additionally, Dr. Gaffin has contributed articles to the Westminster Theological Journal and the Banner of Truth.
1. Dr. Gaffin, was there a particular point of time when you first became interested in the theological discipline of biblical theology? Was there a particular book that sparked your interest?
My interest in biblical theology stems from my student days at Westminster Seminary, particularly the teaching of Edmund Clowney, Meredith Kline and Ned Stonehouse. At a later point I became aware how much the implicitly biblical-theological outlook that conditioned the exegetical approach that marked much of John Murray's classroom lecturing on systematic theology had also influenced me. I can't point to a single influential book but certainly to the writings of Geerhardus Vos, fairly dubbed the "father" of Reformed biblical theology (or for that matter, any biblical theology faithful to Scripture worth doing!). In particular, the impact of his Biblical Theology and The Pauline Eschatology on me, like many others, has been huge. There is as well his little book on the kingdom teaching of Jesus, The Kingdom and the Church. Dr. Stonehouse used to tell his classes that every minister of the gospel ought to read it at least once a year; though I can't say I've done that, it, too, has permanently shaped my thinking. I might mention also that reading and working through for the first time his magisterial chapter in the volume commemorating the 1912 centenary of Princeton Seminary, "Eschatology and the Spirit in Paul," was a singular eye-opening moment for me into basic aspects of the theology of Paul, particularly for the way the forensic and renovative benefits of Christ's work are integrated in union with him as the exalted life-giving Spirit (1 Cor 15:45; 2 Cor 3:17). Additionally, I would be remiss not to mention the importance of Herman Ridderbos, particularly his major works on the kingdom teaching of Jesus and the theology of Paul. 2. Which of your works did you enjoy writing the most? Why? I can't say that I "enjoyed" writing any of them! Writing, for me, is like sweating bullets. If I could answer in terms of a sense of fulfillment with the result of what I set out to produce, while it would be difficult for me to single out one work, I suppose Resurrection and Redemption and Perspectives on Pentecost come to mind as much as any for setting the direction of much of my teaching and other publishing. 3. Would you make any revisions to things that you have written or taught today, as your theology has developed over the years? I've tried to listen carefully for correction to various criticisms of my views over the years and, more importantly, continually to Scripture, but I'm not aware of anything that requires substantive revision. So I won't be contributing to the "How I Changed My Mind" genre. My primary interest in biblical theology has always been not for its own sake but for the relationship and interface between it and systematic theology, as the former serves to provide the latter with its life-blood: sound exegesis, and for that, attention to the text within its context in the unfolding history of special revelation is essential. In that regard, over the years I've come to a greater appreciation than I had initially of the indispensable facilitating role of historical theology (both the history of interpretation and the history of doctrine) for a sound understanding of that relationship. 4. There has been a great deal of work done by various scholars on different biblical theological themes. Are there any biblical-theological themes that you believe should receive more attention and development? Could you elaborate? Picking up on my comments about the integral relationship between biblical and systematic theology, it's safe to say that there is no biblical-theological theme that is properly considered in isolation from systematic theology or does not carry implications, often important, for systematic theology. Here, for Reformed theology especially, issues related to redemptive history understood more specifically as the history of the covenant of grace that begins following the covenant of works and the fall come to mind as much as any. What distinguishes biblical theology is its focus on the history of special revelation as it is tethered to and interprets the history of redemption in its once-for-all accomplishment realized in the culminating work of Christ "in the fullness of time" (historia salutis). Key in this regard is the challenge to do justice to the unified diversity of that long unfolding covenant history, particularly as it includes the Mosaic economy, without at the same time eclipsing or compromising the one way of applying and appropriating that accomplished salvation for both old and new covenant believers--by faith in Christ and his work, whether, prospectively, as promised or, retrospectively, as completed (ordo salutis). Yet this must also be done in a way that keeps clear that new covenant believers experience that applied salvation in its entirety by virtue of their union with the Christ as he is now exalted, a union that believers under the old covenant did not yet enjoy. Clarifying this new covenant privilege and its implications remains a fruitful area for exploration. 5. What books would you recommend on redemptive history and preaching? Dennis Johnson's recent Him We Proclaim. Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures especially comes to mind; it also serves as a helpful primer to a redemptive-historical approach in general. Still valuable is Clowney's Preaching and Biblical Theology. Worth mentioning as well is C. Trimp's Preaching and the History of Salvation. 6. If you could give just one piece of advice to a man who is just beginning his theological training and wishing to go into pastoral ministry, what would it be? If I may, I'll offer two. "If a man is not willing to exegete, neither let him preach" (true to the spirit if not the letter of 2 Thessalonians 3:10!). There can be no higher aspiration for the pastoral ministry, having God's own explicit approval, than a right or accurate handling of the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15). Everything about the theological training one seeks ought to contribute above all to realizing that aspiration. Then there are the rhetorical questions of Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:7: "What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?" I can think of no spiritual exercise more valuable, particularly for young and aspiring pastors and teachers in the church (and those older as well), with their gifts routinely recognized and their exercise often praised by others, than to put these questions to ourselves first thing every morning when we look in the mirror (and perhaps other times in the day as well).