Review of ACCORDING TO PLAN

Graeme Goldsworthy, ACCORDING TO PLAN: THE UNFOLDING REVELATION OF GOD IN THE BIBLE. Published by InterVarsity Press in 1991. ISBN# 0-8308-2696-3. 251 pages.

Goldsworthy’s book, ACCORDING TO PLAN, is still being presented as a watershed piece by those who know and teach Biblical Theology. My plan for this post and the next (and possibly the one after that) is to summarize and discuss some of the issues of Biblical Theology. I will be reviewing Goldsworthy’s book in this post. And next time, I will review Michael Lawrence’s brand new book on Biblical Theology.

First, Goldsworthy states on page 7 that he has attempted to do three things: “First, to introduce the reader to an integrated theology of the whole Bible. Second, to write this introduction fully accepting the full inspiration and authority of the Bible as the word of God. Third, to write for ordinary Christians at a level that avoids unnecessary technicalities.” The book is then broken into four parts. Part one asks the why question: Why do Biblical Theology? Part two: How do we do Biblical Theology? Part three: What is Biblical Theology? And Part four: Where do we do Biblical Theology? Also, at the outset, I would like to note that there are several charts, graphs, and visual aids in this book that are immensely helpful for the reader to make sure they understand everything that is being discussed in the book.

Summary of ACCORDING TO PLAN

Part one consists of one chapter. Here, Goldsworthy argues that individual texts of Scripture raise difficult interpretive questions and Biblical Theology helps the reader answer these questions. For examples, Goldsworthy picks various passages in Scripture and talks about the multiple ways these passages could be interpreted i.e. questions about the Sabbath. Biblical Theology is meant to give the Bible reader the tools to faithfully interpret individual scriptural texts.

Part two consists of six chapters. Here Goldsworthy establishes his foundational presuppositions regarding God’s self revelation to humanity. In so doing, the author points out the universality of theology. Theology is simply speaking words about God – and every human being does this all of the time. We may speak true or untrue words about God, but we all do theology. Goldsworthy helpfully points out in this section that Christ is the full revelation of God and we know Christ through the Scriptures. This leads us to one of the most important parts of the book, Christ and His redeeming work as summed up in the Gospel, informs how we interpret Scripture (see page 55). This issue will be discussed at more length below.

Goldsworthy continues his discussion by showing the reader how God has progressively revealed Himself in Scripture. The farther along the reader goes in the storyline of Scripture, the more we come to know about God and the plan of redemption.

Goldsworthy finishes this section by establishing that faithful interpretation of Scripture begins and ends with Christ. This includes taking into consideration the literature genre, historical context, and the actual revelatory content of any given passage that the reader is working with.

Part three is the longest section of the book at 18 chapters. Goldsworthy walks the reader through the storyline of the Bible and lays out the major themes of Biblical Theology. For a helpful visual aid, see the chart on page 80. In 154 pages, Goldsworthy spells out how the Gospel of Jesus Christ is central in all of Scripture and how all of Biblical Theology points us toward Him.

Goldsworthy’s conclusion is summed up in the chart on page 232 and this is the crux of his entire argument. God progressively reveals Himself to His people throughout the biblical storyline. This revelation can be divided into four categories: Kingdom, God, Mankind, and World. This issue will be discussed at more length below.

Part four concludes the book with two chapters. Here, Goldsworthy’s goal is to show the real life process of Biblical Theology in the context of the life of the Church. His two test cases are: “What is God’s will for my life?” and “Is there life after death?” These are admittedly brief statements, but Goldsworthy is aware of this and intentionally did not want to lengthen the book for his readers.

Strengths of ACCORDING TO PLAN

The strengths are many, so I am going to confine myself to three points. First, Goldsworthy’s statement on page 55 that Christ is the interpretive key to all of Scripture is immensely important. He lays out a “Christian approach to the Old Testament.” Goldsworthy writes:

As Christians, we must return to the principles of Old Testament interpretation dictated by the New Testament. When Jesus says that he gives the Old Testament its meaning, he is also saying that we need the Old Testament to understand what he says about himself. Jesus drives us back to the Old Testament to examine it through Christian eyes, teaching that it leads us back to him.

In doing biblical theology as Christians, we do not start at Genesis 1 and work our way forward until we discover where it is all leading. Rather we first come to Christ, and he directs us to study the Old Testament in the light of the gospel. The gospel will interpret the Old Testament by showing its goal and meaning. The Old Testament will increase our understanding of the gospel by showing us what Christ fulfills.

I believe it is hard to overestimate the importance of these two paragraphs for the Church. We must read the entire Bible as Christians. And this means we must approach the text with the expectation that it can only be rightly interpreted in view of the person and work of Jesus Christ. Think long and hard about this as you read passages like Luke 24 regarding Jesus’ teaching on the Emmaus Road.

The second strength to discuss is Goldsworthy’s conviction of how progressive revelation is centered on Jesus Christ. This is laid out in the chart on page 232, but the entire 18 chapters of part three drives the reader to this conclusion. The Old Testament points forward to Christ and the New Testament looks backward to Christ.

To summarize his conclusion: The Kingdom begins as the original creation (generation). God has revealed Himself as God, the Creator. Adam and Eve are Mankind and the World is Eden. This is where the “Kingdom pattern [is] established.” Then, after the Fall, the regeneration of the Kingdom is foreshadowed. God begins to progressively reveal Himself as God and then as LORD. The regeneration of mankind begins in God’s call and covenant with Abraham and his descendants first, and then in Israel, and then specifically in David’s line as king. The regenerated world is revealed as Canaan and then centers on the Temple in Jerusalem during the reign of the Davidic kings. So here the “Kingdom [is] revealed in Israel’s history.” After this comes the regeneration revealed in prophecy. God is still revealing Himself as the Covenant God whose name is the LORD. Mankind has been narrowed down to the faithful remnant of Israel. And the World is now prophetically identified in the New Temple and Jerusalem. So, the “Kingdom [is] revealed in prophetic eschatology.

It is at this point that Goldsworthy’s interpretive scheme really comes into focus. The stage is set for the “regeneration for us and in us and in the whole of creation” to begin. And it begins in Jesus Christ. So, God reveals Himself in His Son, Jesus Christ. Mankind is found in Jesus Christ – the faithful Man of God. And the World is found in Jesus Christ – as the firstborn of all creation, the first one to be fully glorified after resurrection and the one who begins to reverse the curse of sin. So, the “Kingdom [is] revealed in Jesus.” [Note that Goldsworthy’s theological usage of these words in no way suggests universalism, the idea that all people will be saved in the end. This summary would become unwieldy in length if I reproduced all of his argumentation. Suffice it to say that Goldsworthy explains his position fully and adequately in the chapters of ACCORDING TO PLAN.]

And at this point, the accomplishment of redemption is now applied to us. So, God has now revealed Himself as Trinity. Regenerated mankind is made up of those who are “in Christ.” And the regenerated world is where Christ is. His Kingdom is invading this present darkness. This marks a period of transition that will be consummated in the Age to Come. There, God still reveals Himself as Trinity. Mankind is at that point the people who are literally in the presence of God. And the world is the New Heaven’s and the New Earth.

All I have done here is taken the chart on page 232 and written it out in paragraph form. But, what you have here is the storyline of Scripture. What you have is the foundation for doing Biblical Theology.

The final strength I will discuss is Goldsworthy’s overall confidence in the Word of God. Scripture, when rightly interpreted, is sufficient because in the Bible the Church hears the voice of her Savior. So, the practical concerns of everyday life are spoken to in the Word of God. Our responsibility is to read and hear and see what the Lord says.

Weaknesses of ACCORDING TO PLAN

As far as weaknesses go, there were not many. One I will mention was a strange statement on page 221 about Jesus Christ being our “alter ego.” I think that is an unfortunate phrase because it suggests that Christ’s Spirit in us, conforming us to His image, might only be a figment of our imagination. I am sure this is not what the author intended to convey, but I wish he had worded the statement differently.

Further Thinking in view of ACCORDING TO PLAN

There is need for further thinking after reading this book. The obvious starting place is drawing out more details on practical theological issues by building on these principles. The Church needs a steady diet of Scripture rightly interpreted in order to be doers and hearers of the Word. Also, for preachers and teachers, we must take care to handle individual passages carefully while using these principles so that each sermon exposits the individual text and does not turn into the same sermon every week with a different starting point.

All in all, this is an excellent introduction to Biblical Theology. It is nearly 20 years old, but if you have not read it yet, buy a copy or get one at your library and read it soon. Your Bible study, preaching, and Christian life will be stronger for it. ACCORDING TO PLAN by Graeme Goldsworthy comes highly recommended for everyone.

Jason Sturkie

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