Graeme Goldsworthy, According to Plan - The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible - An Introductory Biblical Theology (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2002)
There are very few books that I recommend that everyone who is a follower of Christ read. I am particularly careful in how I go about recommending books that have "Theology" written somewhere on the cover. I found out after moving to Nashville that the word "Theology" can cause some church folk to twitch in fear that you are about to split hairs about some meaningless thick book you have read. I think many times theology is just not presented well to normal folks and I find this tragic. So today I want to recommend According to Plan - The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible - An Introductory Biblical Theology by Graeme Goldsworthy.
I remember one of the challenges I faced as a young Christian was looking at the big book called the Bible and knowing how it all fits together...understanding what the whole book was about. I could read various books in the canon but I needed a big picture view of how the many parts made up the unified whole. Goldsworthy's book does just that - it gives a unified thematic view of the Scriptures centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ.
One the strong points of this book is that it succeeds greatly in its goal to introduce the reader to Biblical Theology. In differentiating this form of theology Goldsworthy does the reader a great service in chapter 2 by introducing the various forms of Christian theological inquiry. I'll summarize some of this here (and add my own take) for the readers of the POCBlog
"Systematic Theology asks: What should Christians believe now about any aspect of Christianity. Its results: Christian Doctrine" (Goldsworthy, 30).
Systematic theology takes up the task of seeing what every relevant passage of Scripture teaches on a various topic. It looks at all the passages in order to form a clear and succinct statement of Christian teaching. Any time a church or a Christian person says anything about God it is an exercise in systematic theology. Mistakes can often be made by not looking at ALL the texts relevant to a topic and thereby teaching a reductionist view of a subject.
"Historical Theology asks: What have Christians believed about their faith at any given time? Its results: A record of the development of Christian doctrine." (31)
Historical Theology is looking at what various Christian people and traditions have taught at various times in Church history. Historical Theology is helpful in that it assists us in our understanding of the faith as we look at what others who have gone before us. It is not authoritative, but helps us see the truths and errors of the past.
"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)
Pastoral theological is the application of biblical truth and the study of how the gospel shapes and changes people's lives. It focuses on the importance of a theology of ministry and how we rightly relate to God in shaping one another's lives.
"Biblical Exegesis asks: What was the text intended to convey to those for whom it was originally written? Its results: Understanding the intended meaning of the text." (34)
Exegesis is the unpacking and explaining of particular passages of Scripture in their original historical, grammatical and literary contexts.
"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)
Biblical theology looks at large themes in various sections of Scripture. It treats major themes in the Old Testament, the New Testament or the major sections of the biblical corpus. I find the best way to understand the subjects treated by biblical theology is by example. The following I hope you find helpful as well:
- What is the focus of sacrifice in the Pentateuch?
- What is Paul's theology of Grace?
- What do the Gospels teach about the Kingdom of God?
- What is the central theme of the entire Bible?
Whereas systematic theology is concerned with Christian Doctrine treating all passages relevant to a topic and teaching it for today, biblical theology brings to us the major themes of Scripture seeing its subject as a unified whole. Systematics break down the teaching of Scriptures into its parts to unify doctrine, whereas biblical theology steps out to see the big picture. One makes sure you do not miss some of the trees that are actually in the forest (Systematics) the other makes sure we don't miss the forest from closely examining the trees (biblical theology). Both are extremely valuable and important to the church and the believer.
Goldsworthy does a fantastic job introducing the discipline of biblical theology but also convincingly laying out the central theme of the Christian Scriptures...namely, the person and work of Jesus who is called the Christ.
Central Theme of The Bible - Jesus Christ
Many times Christians have been so exposed to systematic theology that they can recite certain doctrines or somethign learned in Sunday school, but find it difficult to see how the whole Bible is relevant to the faith. What does a man cutting off the foreskins of his son have to do with me? Biblical theology explains just how integrated Scripture is and the unique unfolding of God's purposes throughout redemptive history. Just what does circumcision mean? Why was this given? How does it relate to God's ways of dealing with people? How does this continue today? Or does it?
Biblical Theology sees a beautiful line of continuity in God's revelation in Scripture which reaches its zenith in Jesus Christ and then sees our life as the church as his sent community continuing his mission until this age comes to a close. If you ever wondered how the big Old Testament narratives reveal God's purposes in Jesus Christ I cannot recommend this volume enough.
Another strength of According to Plan is the way in which the material is structured and laid out. After each major idea or paragraph the author porvides a succinct summary of the major point. These are so well done that you could get the entire thrust of the book by just reading these summaries. Now I did read the book and did not attempt said path, but I will say that after reading a section and then the summary I continually thought - what a great way to review this book. Additionally each chapter has a summary, listing of main themes, keywords and a preview of what is ahead. Also each chapter includes a study guide at the end for further discussion. Finally, the book also has several helpful illustrations and diagrams though you need to follow how the diagrams "build" up throughout the book. Overall, the structure of the book makes it very helpful for learning and review; the author goes to great length to help a more popular audience find traction in biblical theology.
In conclusion I want to commend this book to anyone who wants to investigate the theological teaching of the Scriptures as a whole. Read it slowly, enjoy it greatly and see what the Bible is really about. His name is Jesus. If you have ever been bogged down by what seems like the excessive minutia of Systematic Theology (let alone speculative theology) then take biblical theology a spin. Rather than a naive trust in Scripture, the discipline of biblical theology gives a robust and deep faith in the wonderful message of the Holy Bible. There were and are not accidental stories in redemptive history, they all have a purpose in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God. This book has helped me marvel at the unity and glory of the story of God...and it has helped me love him more deeply. For this I thank God and give According to Plan a hearty POCBlog recommendation.