According to Plan is an overview of the Bible, showcasing the way that the Bible fits together as the story of God’s plan for salvation. The thesis that Goldsworthy sets out to prove throughout the pages of According to Plan is that the gospel and revelation of God is woven throughout the pages of Scripture, from Genesis through Revelation. This thesis is proven in four parts: why we study biblical theology, how we can really know God, what the content of biblical theology is, and where the content and methods of biblical theology may be applied.
The first part of According to Plan examines why we study biblical theology. Goldsworthy asserts that the discipline of studying biblical theology should not just be for church ministers and lay-people; but rather is a concept that should be embraced by all Christians. It is essential as believers to have a working knowledge of biblical theology. The reason for biblical theology is to be able to properly interpret and articulate what the Bible says, and what the significance is. Goldsworthy writes: “I am suggesting any Christian who wants to understand the reasons for the differences, and who wants to develop a sound method of approaching the text of the Bible in order to find out what it really says and means, needs an understanding of biblical theology” (19). Having knowledge of biblical theology is important when it comes to dealing with passages that seem to be contradictory. Goldsworthy asserts: “Biblical theology gives us the means of dealing with problematic passages in the Bible by relating them to the one message of the Bible” (21).
The next part of According to Plan deals with how it is possible to know God, and what the sources of the knowledge of God are. This section of the book is larger than the first one, and spans six chapters. It is here that Goldsworthy discusses the number of ways that Christians study biblical doctrines. The first method Goldsworthy lists is systematic theology: “Systematic theology asks: what should Christians believe now about any aspect of Christianity? Its results: Christian doctrine” (30). Through studying systematic theology, Christians can glean understanding on what the Christian faith is, and what the total doctrine system is. The next method of theology that Goldsworthy mentions is historical theology: “Historical theology asks: what have Christians believed about their faith at any given time? Its results: A record of development of Christian doctrine” (31). Historical theology gives Christians a chance to examine what theologians who have come before have believed and the reasoning behind their doctrinal convictions. Goldsworthy also mentioned pastoral theology: “Pastoral theology asks: how should Christians minister to one another so that they grow to maturity in Christian living? Its results: Care and growth in the local church” (31). Finally, Goldsworthy speaks to biblical theology: “Biblical theology asks: By what process has God revealed himself to mankind? Its results: The relating of the whole Bible to our Christian life now” (32). Goldsworthy continues this second part of According to Plan by introducing the idea that Jesus Christ is the center of all biblical theology (49). Jesus makes it clear that the Old Testament testified about His coming (John 5:39-40). Christ and the gospel are the fulfillment of the prophecies and messianic hopes of the Old Testament (50). Finally, part two concludes with a discussion about our beginning and end being found in Christ. Christians hope for eternal salvation begins with the gospel of the good news of the substitutionary work Christ did for us on the cross ( 72-73). “Jesus Christ shows us that biblical theology is about God bringing His kingdom in which all relationships are restored to perfection” (76). Without the hope of eternal life with Christ, Christians would have no reason to live according to the laws of Scripture. God promises that if we are faithful to the task, as the Israelites were when they wandered in the wilderness for forty years, His promises will be fulfilled (156-157). When God fulfills His promises, His power will be displayed and all of the nations will be blessed (159).
The third part of According to Plan deals with what the content of biblical theology is. As stated in the previous section, the center of biblical theology is the work of Christ on the cross, which was an act of mercy that demonstrates God’s incredible love and amazing grace for sinners who He has called to be His children. This third section is the central part of According to Plan, and is the longest section of the book. This is where Goldsworthy connects the stories of the Bible to create one story that showcases the Bible’s theology (81). Goldsworthy begins with the gospel story, stating: “Jesus is our starting point for all true knowledge, and therefore for theology. He is the goal toward which we move. We see this in our Christian existence, for we begin life as God’s children when we are united to Christ by faith in His saving work, and our destiny is to be finally made like His image.” (87). Goldsworthy moves from the gospel into the story of Creation. Goldsworthy speaks of how God created the entire world by His word (91-94) and of God’s rich love for His creation (94). At the time of Creation, the world and everything in it was perfect. Man, however, struggled with temptation. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve were tempted, and sin entered the world. This parallels the story in the New Testament, where Christ was tempted by Satan in Matthew 4. Unlike Adam and Eve, Christ was perfect, and overcame temptation without sin (103). Goldsworthy then takes us to Exodus, and shows the pattern of redemption that is seen throughout Exodus. Redemption is: “God’s act of releasing His people from an alien power, and of bringing them to freedom so that they can live as His people according to the covenant promises” (137). The Israelites were given new life when they escaped from Egypt. While new life was a substantial gift, it also was a task (140-142). Similarly, while Christians new life found in Christ is a wonderful gift, it also comes with a task. The task is to live according to the laws of the Lord, and to strive to live righteous lives free from sin.
The final section of According to Plan examines where the content of biblical theology can be applied. The first part of being able to properly apply the content of biblical theology is to understand and know God’s will. It is important to realize: “God’s glory is for us to be like Christ, Christ has already reached this goal for us through His work on the cross, and by faith we are united to Him and have reached the goal in Him. Between conversion and glorification, our lives are governed by the gospel” (239). The next part of this final section deals with life after death. Goldsworthy lists eight concerns that individuals may have about understanding death. Some of these concerns include: can we be sure of eternal life, what happens when we die, what is the role of grief for bereaved Christians, and is there any place for a doctrine of reincarnation (241). These are all relevant and important concerns and fears that are voiced by individuals. As Christians attempt to answer some of these questions, it is important to start at the very heart of the gospel with the resurrection of Jesus; and investigate what the Bible has to say about some key terms including: die, sleep, death, grave, hell, heaven, eternal life, resurrection (242). Through thorough study of biblical theology, the answers to even these difficult questions can be found. The question of can we be sure of eternal life can be answered by remembering that “Creation shows God’s original and permanent commitment to a creation that includes the physical universe” (243). God is eternally committed to creation, so Christians can be sure that there is eternal life through the very aspect of God’s eternal character.
That was a really long summary – much longer than I usually do! I prefer to spend most of my commentary evaluating the book; but I thought we could mix it up today! I really did enjoy this book, but I definitely didn’t at first. If you start it and are like why the heck did Sydney recommend this, don’t worry! You are not alone. It took me a few tries to get into it, but once I got past the first few pages I really loved it. I love reading about how the Bible is tied together as one story ,and how we can see Jesus and the gospel in each book. According to Plan ranks highly for me, if this sounds like something that you would enjoy, I would recommend you check out the book!
NOTE: This book review has been adapted from my summary of According to Plan that I handed in as a part of my Hermeneutics class at Boyce College. It will be a different [and lengthier] style than my usual book reviews, but I hope you enjoyed a more in-depth look at this book.
If you want to purchase According to Plan, you can do so here.
Goldsworthy, Graeme. According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible. Downers Grove, IL. InterVarsity Press, 1991. 244pp. $25.00