“According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible” by Graeme Goldsworthy

“According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible” by Graeme Goldsworthy

Goldsworthy, Graeme. According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible. Downers Grove:  IVP Academic, 1991.

According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible is an edifying display of how to practice biblical hermeneutics (interpretation) and how to approach the Bible in the discipline called Biblical Theology Graeme Goldsworthy shows the wisdom, which he gained from his former experience a lecturer in Old Testament, Biblical Theology, and hermeneutics at Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia.  Goldsworthy has also written numerous other theological works [1] and is a faithful scholar.

He begins According to Plan by outlining the books practical use: “It is my deep conviction that every part of the Bible is given its fullest meaning by the saving work of Christ, who restores a sinful, fallen creation and makes all things new.” (8) Goldsworthy has three intentions with this work: First, he intends to present an integrated theology of the whole Bible. Secondly, he intends to give a presentation of this integrated theology presupposing the full inspiration and authority of the Bible as the word of God. Thirdly, he intends to write in a way that he can be easily understood because he avoids unnecessary technicalities. (8)  Further, he gives a useful introduction in explaining how the reader can use this book. According to Plan has four parts:  First, Biblical Theology – Why?; second, Biblical Theology – How?; third, Biblical Theology – What?; and fourth, Biblical Theology – Where? Part one describes why Christians should be concerned with Biblical Theology. (15) Part two answers how it is possible to know God, and what the sources of our knowledge are. (27) Part three describes some of the main themes that God reveals which are progressively unfolded in the Bible until they are given their fullest revelation in the person and work of Jesus Christ. (79) [2] Part four illustrates how once one has grasped a biblical theological overview one’s general understanding of the Bible permanently changes. (235)

The meaning of Biblical Theology is that it considers each individual event in biblical history in relation to the big picture of the Bible. (21) In considering this point the first section consists of one chapter.  In this chapter Goldsworthy highlights a basic approach to the authority of the Bible; (18) how the Old Testament is pre-Christian; (22) [3] how Biblical Theology seeks to discover interrelationships; (23) and that it assumes unity in one overall message. (23) This chapter is a preparation for some of the heavier material that is to come in the second and third sections. It also gives examples of passages that are problematic in interpretation and how one should approach them. (19-20)

Knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and of the gospel can only come through supernatural revelation. The second section of the book deals with the pragmatics how one approaches the Bible epistemologically (the study of knowledge/knowing). It deals with the ways that people think about and understand the Bible. [4]  Generally, exegetical theology encompasses all of the other ways of understanding Scripture in answering the following questions:  (1) what is the text?, (33) (2) what is the source of the text?, (33) (3) what is the meaning of the text?, (34) and (4) how did the text come to be recognized as uniquely revelational and authoritative? (34) He also discusses three ways human beings perceive what they believe to be real and true. [5]  After posing all of these possibilities he clearly describes the biblical view and how an understanding of the Bible should be approached. First, we cannot come to Biblical truth by ourselves; we need supernatural revelation. (40) The fact that one can only know God in relation to what one knows about oneself is the reason he or she needs supernatural revelation. If God does not reveal the true condition of mankind one cannot truly know the condition and nature of God. Goldsworthy wrote regarding this, “The image of God in us means that we know ourselves only as we know God, and know God only as we know ourselves.” (41) If one works to understand Scripture without the aid of the Holy Spirit his or her presuppositions can keep the Bible from speaking for itself. (44) [6]  At this point the work gives a principle that that one should build his or her understanding of Scripture upon:

Biblical Theology should be done with a constant self-conscious effort to be consistent with biblical presuppositions[.] (45)

Goldsworthy works in some intertextual work of his own developing themes that he will build on later. [7]  He seems to be modeling what it means to, “do theology correctly.” (49)

Further, this section describes how the gospel is the “fixed point” of reference by which one is to understand the entirety of the Bible. (60, 71) Jesus Christ is the idée fixe of the Bible to which countless leitmotifs point.  Goldsworthy points out that Jesus is the subject of the Old Testament, (52) that the Old Testament is a book about Jesus, (53) that one should start with the Christ and the gospel not Genesis, (55) that Jesus sums up Scripture and Interprets it, (60) the whole Bible is God’s testimony to Christ, (62) etc.  He gave a helpful check at this point in warning that although the Bible is infallible, Scripture is not God and it is not to be worshiped. (63) He discussed the mysterious tension between human transmission and personality of Scripture in light of inerrancy. (61, 63) He made a parallel to the mystery that God’s sovereignty is in harmony with human responsibility. (62)

Goldsworthy wrote in an edifying way pointing to the spectrum of thought that exists and then funneled the reader to the correct biblical approach. One example of this was in his discussion of the three models of interpretation: (1) Literalism, (67) [8] (2) Allegory, (68) [9] and (3) Typology. (68) [10] Typology identifies that Jesus Christ is the final and fullest revelation of what the promises of the Old Testament are about. (65) It was instructive to consider that while some Old Testament promises were literally fulfilled in the New Testament there is not an established principle of literal interpretation. (66) The main reason for this is because the clear fulfillment to the promises is nowhere to be explicitly found in the Old Testament. (69) The Bible begins and ends with Christ, (71) and all facts in the universe must be interpreted in light of Jesus Christ. (72) Toward the end of the second section Goldsworthy also began to point out some established themes that begin in the Old Testament. [11] It is common that many Christians count the themes in the Old Testament with less respect than they merit. The New Testament refers to these themes as shadows. (Colossians 2:17; Hebrews 8:5; 10:1) Goldsworthy gives a helpful corrective that Jesus cannot be understood in isolation from the shadows in the Old Testament. (76) As Christians embrace this truth faith will deepen and growth will be rooted with more confidence in the reality of the gospel.

The Bible is limitless in the number of bunny trails (or if your from an urban background “rat trails”) that one can chase. Goldsworthy gives an exhortation to avoid this getting sidetracked, “The main message of the Bible about Jesus Christ can easily become mixed with all sorts of things that are related to it.” (81) Christians must establish their understanding of the Bible upon the foundation of the gospel. The third section of this work attempts to do just that by focusing in on specific themes found in narrative order and attempts to show how they expand after their initial points. [12] Some of the most notable themes are that Jesus is the starting point of all knowledge and therefore all theology; (87) that man is uniquely responsible to God in the requirement to answer for what he or she has chosen to do; (97) that the fall was a giant leap upward that went horribly wrong. (105) If the Holy Spirit would bring about an understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ then an understanding of the sinful condition of humanity would result. An understanding of the command for repentance would result. An understanding of why all mankind needs a sacrifice to be made – similar to the Old Testament – to atone for sin would result. Judgment results from what mankind has done out of God’s nature of justice and love. Goldsworthy’s clarification of what the kingdom is also helpful in this day and age, “The kingdom is God’s rule over his people in a realm in which all relationships are perfect. The fallen universe is the very opposite of the kingdom.” (111) In light of so much of the contemporary neo-liberal vagueness about the “kingdom” Goldsworthy clearly outlines a helpful, biblical, way forward.

This is an excellent book! I would recommend this book to anyone who would like to gain a clearer understanding of the message of the entire Bible. There is so much material contained in this book prime for both older and younger Christians’ meditation on the gospel. Goldsworthy clearly introduces ideas and gives concise definitions to more difficult words that one must use in discussing what the Bible teaches. The main themes of regeneration, sanctification, glorification, and consummation are developed throughout the course of the entire book. According to Plan could have benefited from a more thorough development of some of the Bible’s implications for other doctrines, but I can’t complain.
[13] I would highly recommend this book to those who desire to have a more sharpened understanding of how the meaning of the Bible is determined by its Author, Yahweh. Further, Goldsworthy clearly shows that the meaning of the Bible, as expressed by its Author, is that it is first and foremost a book about the Lord Jesus Christ.

[1] Some of which are Gospel & Kingdom, The Gospel in Revelation, The Gospel and Wisdom, and Prayer and the Knowledge of God.
[2] This is the largest section of the book.
[3] This section also considers how the Old Testament is full of directives we see but do not observe, contains no specific reference to Christ, and contains only shadows of something to come, namely Christ.
[4] (1) Systematic theology (30), (2) Historical Theology (30), (3) Pastoral Theology (31), (4) Biblical Theology (31), and (5) Exegetical Theology (32).
[5] (1) Atheistic humanism (43):  independence from God (37); (2) Theistic humanism (43):  partially independent of God (37); (3) Christian theism (37):  God knows everything (43).
[6] This can even happen if one is regenerate.
[7] For example he wrote that the gospel converts (which later he describes as regeneration and justification), sustains (which later he describes as sanctification), brings to maturity (which he later describes as consummation), and brings us to perfection (which he later describes as glorification) (47).
[8] This type of interpretation says historical promises lead to exactly corresponding historical fulfillments (68).
[9] This type of interpretation says the historical promises and events are of significance only for the hidden meanings, which lie beneath them (68).
[10] This type of interpretation says the historical promises are the first stages of progressively revealed truths.  The historical fulfillments correspond to and develop the promises (68).
[11] The themes of covenant (73), and Rule/Kingdom of God (77).
[12] (1) First and the Last (81); (2) Creation by Word  (90); (3) The Fall (102); (4) Revelation of Redemption  (112);  (5) Abraham Our Father  (120); (6) Exodus:  Pattern of Redemption (130); (7) New Life:  Gift and Task (140); (8) The Temptation in the Wilderness (149); (9) Into the Good Land (156); (10) God’s Rule in God’s Land (164); (11) The Life of Faith (172); (12) The Fading Shadow (180); (13) There is a New Creation (187); (14) The Second Exodus (195); (15) The New Creation for Us (201); (16) The New Creation in Us Initiated (210); (17) The New Creation in Us Now (218); and (18) The New Creation Consummated (226).
[13] Such as the church and a more explicit development of the Trinity.

Noah Braymen is an elder at Redeemer Baptist Church and lives with his wife and three children in Des Moines, Iowa. You can find him on Twitter at @NoahBraymen.