A BOOK REVIEW OF GRAEME GOLDSWORTHY’S ACCORDING TO PLAN: THE UNFOLDING REVELATION OF GOD IN THE BIBLEPosted: November 6, 2008
My purpose in reviewing Graeme Goldsworthy’s According to Plan is not to merely repeat and summarize what he has already said, but is to bring out the truths in it which highlight his major ideas. His approach and intent in writing this book is not to speak only to an audience of the typical scholar or even seminarian, rather, it is for the layman that works five days a week, 40 hours a week, and sits in the pew on Sunday. Goldsworthy works out this objective by three means:
1. To introduce the reader to an integrated theology of the whole Bible.
2. To write this introduction wholly accepting the full inspiration and authority of the Bible as the Word of God.
3. To write for ordinary Christians at a level that avoids technicalities.
Goldsworthy is like no other in today’s realm of Reformed evangelicals. When discussing a person or a ministry that is gospel-centered, we Americans so often mention the best known of today – John Piper, or Tim Keller, 9-Marks Ministry or Resurgence Ministries. However, in my personal opinion, there is no one that compares to Graeme Goldsworthy, especially on his level of compassion.
Goldsworthy’s introduction is simple and can be easily read. No matter who the reader is, they can come with as little as they may know and have the major questions answered that one often asks about Old Testament Biblical theology. Goldsworthy explains that the reader is to find the meaning of the Bible as the basis of their understanding. He even shows how to deal with problematic passages which individuals often times struggle with. Goldsworthy sees the significance and meaning of Biblical theology as to understand and deal with the hardest of passages so one can see the truth about God in what they are reading. In addition, he sees the importance of not only dealing with the major or most well-known stories, but stresses how every section of the Old Testament is a framework in the whole message of the Bible. He brings out this view of the Old Testament in four ways:
1. The Old Testament is pre-Christian, and even though it never mentions the distinctions of the faith, the Christian can still look at Israel’s life for example.
2. The Old Testament contains many areas that apply to the Christian life that are still in effect to the New Testament Christian. Example: the Sabbath.
3. Although the prophets, when talking about God’s final saving work, may not make any reference of Jesus Christ by name, the kingdom of God – which includes Christ – is still portrayed.
4. The Old Testament is the preparation of the grounds that lie before the New Testament for Christianity.
Understanding the importance of Old Testament Biblical theology aids one’s understanding of the interpretation of Scripture for hermeneutics. Goldsworthy, at the end of every chapter, provides four unique questions designed in helping the reader look deeper into the importance of Biblical theology in the Old Testament. These questions are crucial for the reader because with them the reader is able to take what he has read and put it into practical use with the Scriptures.
The second part of Goldsworthy’s book deals with how every Christian should “do” Biblical theology. Here he discusses the number of ways that the Christian studies doctrine: through systematic theology, historical theology, pastoral theology, and Biblical theology. His emphasis is placed upon exegetical theology – that is, in how to deal with the text, what the source and meaning of the text is, and how the text is to be recognized as authoritative. Here Goldsworthy gives an apologetic approach to how one is to do this in his own practice. With the vast multitude of individuals that are falling into secular humanism, it is important – especially in the post modern culture – for the believer to know how to properly exegete a text. Goldsworthy gives three ways – or three presuppositions – that the believer is to stand firm on first and foremost, before even coming to the text.
1. God is completely different in being and is infinitely higher than mankind.
2. Mankind is partially independent of God, and there is truth that is far beyond man’s understanding.
3. As the creator of everything, this means that God knows everything.
Unfortunately, in today’s culture, evangelicals no longer hold to having presuppositions from the Scriptures before dealing with them. Goldsworthy places value and importance on this because he knows that man is still sinful and far from knowing all truth. He places a large emphasis and much import upon molding the mind of the believer before dealing with the text. This will help an individual stay away from a humanistic view, and instead will help to see the significance and magnitude of what God originally intended in His Word. Holding to this, Goldsworthy gives five presuppositions of Biblical theology that every Reformed evangelical should hold to, for no other reason but that they are Scriptural:
1. God made and decided every fact in the universe, and He alone can interpret all things and events.
2. Because we are created in the image of God, we know that we are dependent on God for truth.
3. As sinners we suppress this knowledge and reinterpret the universe on an assumption that we, not God, give things their meaning.
4. Special revelation through God’s redemptive Word, reaching its high point in Jesus Christ, is needed to deal with our suppression of the truth and hostility to God.
5. A special work of the Holy Spirit brings repentance and faith so that sinners acknowledge the truth that is in Scripture.
It is crucial to take time in this review to draw out the importance of number four from the above. Goldsworthy reveals Christ to the believer more than most writers today. This is exactly what Goldsworthy does here, as he shows ways in which the Christian believer is to see how Christ has made himself known – not only in the gospel event itself, but in the whole of the gospel story. It is imperative when dealing with theology that the believer understands that man is restored in Christ. Grasping this assurance will then allow the believer to see the truth that lies in the gospel and in the whole of the Old Testament. The believer is to look at how Christ interprets the whole Bible, and that there is truth of the gospel through the entire Bible. Christ’s relationship to the Old Testament is clearly seen in his completion and fulfillment of prophesy and foretold stories about him in the Old Testament.
Goldsworthy clearly marks the importance of knowing Christ in and throughout the Scriptures. This helps the believer to understand that the Old Testament – as the Word of God – was fully about Christ. This realization (that the Old Testament is about Christ) gives light to the New Testament usage of interpretation. It is utterly crucial for the believer to know Christ in Old Testament Biblical theology in the way Christ told his disciples to know it (Luke 24:25-27 and John 5: 39-40). It is also tremendously important to view the Old Testament the way he taught the disciples – that is, showing that the New Testament interprets the Old Testament. Often times mainstream evangelicals – fundamentalist and classical dispensationalist – leave out this importance of Biblical theology. I can think of no better way of saying it than how Goldsworthy says it himself:
“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 us its goal and meaning. The Old Testament will increase our understanding of the gospel by showing us what Christ fulfills.”
Goldsworthy emphasizes the importance of seeing the whole Canon as the divine Word when doing Biblical theology. He says it best when he states, “The relationship of Jesus Christ is that he sums it up, brings it to fulfillment and interprets it, thus the word of God is Jesus Christ. Every word in Scripture points us to Jesus and finds its meaning in him. When dealing with the Word of God it is essential to understand the full revelation of Christ as being both God and man. Here lies the discovery that the Scripture itself is a divine-human Word. This human-word is summarized and fulfilled completely in the work and person of Jesus Christ. There are a number of ways to see this literalism, allegory and typology. When understanding these methods of hermeneutics, the individual will grasp how to do proper Biblical theology – seeing Christ and proclaiming the gospel in the way that God intended.
In part three of According to Plan, Graeme Goldsworthy deals with explaining exactly what Biblical theology is. He helps describe some of the main themes of Revelation so that the reader can understand the Old Testament in a way that they are able to see the person and work of Jesus Christ more clearly. Goldsworthy does this is by answering the “what” questions in 18 short chapters. While doing so, he highlights the key events of the Bible, such as creation, the fall, the promises to Noah, the call of Abraham, the Exodus from Egypt to Israel, the giving of the law, the wilderness temptation, the conquest of Canaan, the beginning of the monarchy, the Exile of Israel to Babylon, the prophetic promises, the coming of Christ, the outpouring of the Spirit, and the future consummation. Goldsworthy uses all these different storylines from throughout the Bible and intertwines them with a number of different theological themes, such as creation, covenant, kingdom, and regeneration.
The section that can be appreciated most is Goldsworthy’s illustration and clear revealing of the climax of history and the centerpiece of the Bible – Jesus Christ. He makes this clear in the beginning of part three when he states:
“The main message of the Bible about Jesus Christ can easily become mixed with all sorts of things that are related to it. We see in the way people define or preach the gospel. But it is important to keep the gospel itself clearly distinct form out response to it or from the results of it in our lives and in the world. If our proper response to the gospel is faith, then we should not make faith part of the gospel itself. It would be absurd to call people to have faith in the faith! While the new birth bears a close relationship to faith in Christ, it is a mistake to speak of the new birth as if it were itself the gospel. Faith in the new birth as such will not save us.”
When studying Biblical theology in this day and age of post modernity, many theologians, critics, and scholars seem to look so deep and try to find hidden meanings, that as a result they miss the cross as being central to both Old and New Testament theology. Throughout Goldsworthy’s outline of Biblical history, he reveals over and over again the main themes, key words, and gives the path in which each step unfolds in dealing with Old Testament Biblical theology.
To me, the key chapter of part three is chapter 22, The New Creation for Us. After summarizing the whole outline of the Old Testament, Goldsworthy brings together the unity of it, which lies in the New Testament gospels. He then shows that the climax of redemption is unquestionably that of Christ being the true God – that is, the true person of God. He spends a good portion of time showing this fact, as Jesus was the ‘new Adam,’ had the role of a servant, a true prophet, the role of priest, was in the kingship of David, and was the fulfillment of all prophecy through his existence. Here Goldsworthy shows that Jesus is the new creation and the promise of redemption. He also states, “The divine strategy of salvation now emerges with greater clarity. All that God has promised in the Old Testament is fulfilled in Christ, especially in his resurrection from the dead.”
In the final part of Goldsworthy’s book in dealing with Old Testament Biblical theology, he addresses the topic of how the Biblical theologian is to apply what he has learned. Goldsworthy sees the importance of not only intellectual knowledge or the learning of Old Testament theology, but also the necessity of understanding the simple fact that ‘what one knows, he must apply.’ Here Goldsworthy covers two topics on how to apply Old Testament theology. These are:
1. Knowing God’s Will- This is the guidance for the life of a believer.
2. Life After Death- This is dealing with the problem of death.
Goldsworthy addresses both of these by showing what the common problem is for the Christian, and how that problem is played out in their life. From there he gives some of the pitfalls that the Christian may develop from their problem (for example, a problem in knowing God’s will). Here Goldsworthy gives tremendous help as he lays out a number of suggested approaches from Scripture for the Christian to live out gospel-centered Biblical theology. All of his approaches are focused with the same intent as his Biblical method in studying Old Testament Biblical theology. That is, his focus for the layman in the pew to gain a personal piety so that he will know the will of God the way in which God has intended it to be known. Goldsworthy gives a number of different conclusions that one can apply, and which also lead to a careful self-examination one’s own life and what they view from Biblical theology. Lastly, Goldsworthy gives a few questions to help focus the minds of the reader so that he may put into practice what he has read in the two-hundred-plus pages of this book. For example:
• Many ideas about being called by God to a particular ministry or to be a missionary in some particular place have little biblical basis. Work out a biblical theology of “calling.” Pay special attention to what kinds of ministry people in the Bible are called to do. What does the New Testament say about the way people are appointed to the various ministries in the church?
• There is much mythology about the human soul. Part of the problem is the word is used with a number of meanings in both the Old and New Testaments. With the aid of a concordance, investigate the biblical usage of the word. What biblical data can you bring to bear on the question of whether or not the dead consciously enjoy the presence of Christ while awaiting the resurrection?