Cover Image: According to Plan

According to Plan:
The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible

Graeme Goldsworthy (IVP, 1991)

Blurb Review by Peter Sanlon

Review by Peter Sanlon

I first read this book ten years ago - and was amazed that the Bible made so much more sense as a result! "According to Plan" both equips you to read the Bible, and gives a hunger to do so. Today in evangelical circles, it is common to refer to Biblical Theology and the need to interpret passages in the context of the Bible's plot line. This book is the classic that did much to equip a generation with the tools for reading the Bible as one book, rather than a collection of disconnected stories.

The book has four sections, dealing with why Biblical Theology is essential, how it is done, what it consists of and where it leads. Almost half the space is spent on the third section, which outlines the Bible's narrative from start to end.

A great strength of "According to Plan" is the way Goldsworthy puts Jesus at the centre of the Bible's plot and hence the central interpretative key to Scripture. For anybody who has been raised on the Old Testament as a collection of inspirational character studies, it is spiritually refreshing to see what was written before Christ as a rich tapestry that gives colour to our picture of the Saviour- and hence deepens faith. It is difficult to underestimate the positive contribution Goldsworthy has made to the Church with his reclaiming of the Old Testament as truly Christian Scripture.

The central chapters that outline the content of the Bible constantly drive the reader to turn to the passages that are discussed. Huge amounts of material are covered concisely. Summaries and study guides help the key lessons sink in - hopefully to shape future sermons and Bible reading! Diagrams and charts are helpfully included. Many speakers and authors have plundered them over the past few years, but this is where they originally appeared.

The unity of Old and New Testaments is often opened. A typical comment from Goldsworthy is, "While the gospel will reveal the final significance of all God's promises to Israel, the redemptive revelation in the Old Testament will deepen our appreciation of what it means for Jesus to be the Christ" (pg. 198).

One of the most thoughtful sections of the book is Goldsworthy's presentation of the New Creation in four chapters- the new creation for us, the new creation in us initiated, the new creation in us now and The new creation consummated. This approach allows the crucial importance of the New Creation as the climax of the story to be seen, and also offers a sensitive delineation of the tension between what we experience now directly and what we own in the future by faith. This is one of the main issues that is dealt with in the New Testament, and demands to be addressed by Biblical Theology. These chapters form a powerful conclusion to the central section of "According to Plan."

The coherence and clarity of Goldsworthy's presentation of the biblical witness is undeniable. If there is a weakness to this book it is these strengths! The author admits he has made a selective decision to arrange the themes as he does: "I have chosen the linked themes of the covenant and new creation as a unifying element in the Bible message. Time and space do not permit us to explore in detail all the different themes that might be regarded as the basis for Biblical unity. Most of them will appear in some way or another in our examination of Biblical Theology, but we need to focus on one in order to highlight the fact of unity" (pg. 77). There are other ways of presenting the Bible story, but Goldsworthy's arrangement is so simple and clear that it is difficult to set it aside to give other options a thorough investigation. For example, the emphasis in this book is on the unity or similarity between the Old and New Testaments. That there is difference is clearly acknowledged - but the implications of it are not developed much beyond the way they prepare the way for Jesus. Further study of this area could yield more rich and surprising ways of viewing Jesus that stir up faith in him.

After summarising and shaping the Bible story, the book concludes with two chapters about where Biblical Theology leads. These chapters take two issues, knowing God's will and life after death, and asks what insights the Biblical Theological approach can shed on them. This is refreshing as it reminds readers that reading the Bible shapes daily life, and is not a merely intellectual exercise. Having completed these two chapters, the reader is left thinking that there is a great need to address more issues of life with the rich tools of Biblical Theology. Picking up a Bible and reading it eagerly - start to finish - theme through theme - Christ in view - would be a good response to reading "According to Plan."

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