I’ve been wanting to read Graeme Goldsworthy’s According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible for about 18 months. A number of people I knew were reading it, so many that I thought it was new, not written in 1991 as it was.
I began it while on vacation, but got bogged down with adoption stuff. It was well worth the wait. This is an excellent book, with summaries, simple charts, suggested reading and a study guide to each chapter. As such, it lends itself toward use in a Sunday School setting or other discipleship setting. And this is important because there are many things he lays out in this introduction to Biblical Theology that would benefit most American/Western Christians. In fact, the first 7 chapters alone were worth the price of this book.
He begins by setting out the need for Biblical Theology. “When Christians agree that the Bible is the highest authority, then the differences tend to emerge at the level of questioning what the text of the Bible actually says and how it should be interpreted.” He then presents some examples that have been the source of disagreement for hundreds of years. What often gets lost in the exegetical shuffle is that the Bible presents one message, everything is a part of that one message. When we lose sight of that, we begin to misinterpret and misapply the individual texts. “Biblical theology is a means of looking at one particular event in relation to the total picture.” He summarizes it this way: “Biblical theology shows the relationship of all parts of the Old Testament to the person and work of Jesus Christ, and therefore, to the Christian.” Goldsworthy is taking a redemptive-historical approach to understanding Scripture. This means that the Bible is primarily about Jesus, and secondarily about us and the rest of creation. You examine texts within their place in the history of redemption, see their fulfillment in Christ and their application to us. This methodology is sorely lacking today, supplanted by any number of Bible-distorting approaches.
That is a pretty bold statement, I agree. But Scripture teaches us how to interpret the Bible by how newer portions interpret older portions. I read one blog that said you should never interpret Scripture like the Apostles did. Huh? The Apostles were teaching us how to understand the Old Testament. Problem is, it didn’t fit this guy’s dispensational viewpoint. If I have to choose between my theological assumptions and how Scripture interprets Scripture… I’m going with the latter!
Goldsworthy summarizes systematic theology, historical theology, pastoral theology biblical theology and exegetical theology. He’s not trying to pit one against the other, but see how they are inter-related and have differing uses. We are to work with all of them to hold our working theology in proper balance.
The 3rd chapter summarizes epistemology, or the study of how we can know things. He groups them into secular humanism (knowledge is independent of God), theistic humanism (knowledge is partially independent of God) and Christian theism. We are dependent upon God for all knowledge, though it may come to us in varying forms (general and special revelation). This means that even general revelation is properly interpreted through special revelation.
In the 4th chapter, he explains why we should see all of Scripture through Christ. “The one problem we have in the interpretation of the Bible is the failure to interpret the texts by the definitive event of the gospel. This has its outworking in both directions. What went before Christ in the Old Testament, as well as what comes after him, finds its meaning in him. So the Old Testament must be understood in its relationship to the gospel event.” This is what the Apostles did, repeatedly.
The next chapter tackles the idea that we know Christ through Scripture. As such, he again focuses on how we should approach the Old Testament. Chapter 6 gets into the question of general and special revelation again, as well as literalism, allegory and typology. Literalism is the pitfall of a dispensational approach to Scripture because it fails to see what the New Testament says about its fulfillment on a consistent basis. Allegory is dangerous because it assumes that history is worthless, looking for hidden meanings instead. Goldsworthy argues for the use of typology, which affirms the historicity of the text while recognizing its role in the progress of revelation and fulfilment in Christ. So the Old Testament points to Jesus, and is fulfilled in Jesus.
In the next major section of the book, Goldsworthy works with large sections of biblical text to show the themes and typology present there. He introduces you to how biblical theology works. It is a survey of sorts. I didn’t find this section very helpful simply because I’ve been thinking this way for awhile. But to the person new to biblical theology, this would probably be very helpful.
That being said, chapters 25 & 25 were fantastic. His chart on page 219 summarizes the past, present and future nature of our salvation. One of the helpful ways he expresses this is “All the promises of the Old Testament have been fulfilled for us in Christ” regarding the past aspects (justification). When speaking of the present aspects (sanctification) he puts it this way: “All the promises of the Old Testament are being fufilled in and among us.” Note the shift as the gospel is progressively applied to us. In the future “all the promises of the Old Testament will be fulfilled in us and the whole creation.” Creation is added- its restoration in Christ is delayed until the Second Coming. Many Fundamentalists minimize the restoration of creation. Many emergent people talk as if the restoration of creation is happening now (an over-realized eschatology). Goldsworthy puts for a simple already/not yet approach, showing the overlap of the 2 ages with the focus being that the new age has come in Christ, continues as He regenerates people, and will be consummated at the regeneration/restoration of all of creation.
As I noted earlier, I think this is an excellent book. It is not difficult to read. The chapters are short and the Study Guide can help you process the information. Many pastors would benefit from walking their people through this, teaching them how to interpret Scripture for the well-being and progress of the gospel among them.