Book Review: According to Plan (Graeme Goldsworthy)

One of the most important things every Christian needs to understand about the Bible is that it’s not a random collection of unrelated books. There is a whole grand storyline running from beginning to end. Understanding this storyline will enable us to read the Bible rightly, as God intended us to.

This is Graeme Goldsworthy’s goal in According to Plan. He lays out his three-fold purpose:

  1. To introduce readers to an integrated theology of the whole Bible
  2. To do this from the acceptance of the full inspiration and authority of Scripture
  3. To write for ordinary Christians

He wanted to get biblical theology out of the cloistered seminary walls, and into the hands and minds of ordinary, untrained Christians.

Graeme Goldsworthy is renowned around the world for his work on biblical theology. This book is a concise summary of the unfolding revelation of God in the Bible, as its subtitle proclaims. It serves as an invaluable introduction to biblical theology.

The basis of Goldsworthy’s book is that we need to interpret the Bible in light of itself. He explains the progressive nature of revelation—all throughout history, God has revealed more and more of his salvation plan, culminating in the full revelation we have in Jesus Christ.

Thus Goldsworthy shows how we must interpret the Old Testament in light of the New Testament—interpreting the shadows based on the fullness of light. To an extent, it works the other way too. We cannot fully understand the New Testament, or the person and work of Christ, without the Old Testament. Jesus comes as the suffering servant, Messiah, and Son of Man, fulfilling those ancient prophecies.

Goldsworthy explains the unfolding revelation of the kingdom of God by considering each section of the Bible in turn, from beginning to end. Along the way he summarises the revelation using the lens of how the kingdom is expressed through God, mankind, and the world. For example, during the time of Moses God revealed himself as the Lord, Israel were his people, and they would possess the land of Canaan. After Jesus came, we were given the new vision: the Trinitarian God living forever with his people in the new heavens and the new earth. The former pointed forward to the later reality.

This is all done through concise chapters, with summary diagrams and discussion questions at the end of each one. These features make it particularly digestible for ordinary Christians, who may not be used the lengthy and complex chapters of scholarly works.

The actual content of biblical theology (the ‘what’) is sandwiched between other parts—the why, how, and where of biblical theology. Goldsworthy first establishes the underlying perspective of Christian theism, in contrast to other philosophies like atheistic and theistic humanism. He considers how we can trust the these elemental assumptions—that the Bible is the Word of God, and Jesus is the core message of it. In the final part of the book, he looks deeper at the practical application of biblical theology—specifically, its application to guidance and resurrection.

The content of this book was not entirely new—Goldsworthy provides further reading at the end each chapter, indicating that he has drawn heavily from more scholarly works like Vos’ Biblical Theology. But its critical contribution is putting this grand storyline into a format and language that the everyday Christian can access.

Of course, there are limitations in a book like this. By his own admission, Goldsworthy wanted to keep this as a barebones introduction to the theology. So he couldn’t consider every single theme or part of the Bible. I found it to be particularly sparse on the minor prophets (I was studying Micah at the time and hoped for guidance on how that fits into the revelation). Overall though, this didn’t detract from the value of the book. It needed to be concise to fulfil its purpose. I’ve now got a taste to learn more, so I’m grateful for his suggestions for further reading that will fill in some of the gaps.

I’m not new to biblical theology. I’ve taken courses, read books, and heard it preached from the pulpit at my church. But I still found it an extremely helpful primer and refresher. There were certain points there were new to me, or clarified things in new ways. For example, how God gave the Law to us only after grace, in response it, as he had already delivered Israel and established them as his people. I also got a better understanding of corporate solidarity, how our whole race sins in Adam, relies on priests and kings as our mediator, and ultimately Jesus comes as our substitute. I’ll keep coming back to this volume as a reference as I study the Bible. Every Christian would benefit from reading this book as a way of better understanding the God’s Word.

Biblical theology isn’t about merely filling our heads with more knowledge. The deeper I’ve dived into its depths, the more I have loved and praised our amazing God. I’ve seen how our holy God has relentlessly pursued his sinful, rebellious, broken people, to the point of shedding his own blood for us. I stand amazed at what he has done for me, who deserved nothing.

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