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."
"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."
"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.