According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible begins with Goldsworthy’s explanation of why the discipline of biblical theology should be embraced by any Christian who desires to understand the Scriptures rightly.
Goldsworthy does not take for granted that his readers understand the reasons for the existence of this type of book, so he explains the purpose in the first section.
The simple Christian may think this type of exercise to be unnecessary. After all, should we not simply decide to be biblical and therefore believe and act upon the Bible’s teachings?
Goldsworthy does not believe that this type of decision regarding biblical authority solves our problems. After all, people who are committed to the authority of the Bible disagree on very important matters.
Goldsworthy does not believe biblical theology should be seen as a solution to denominational squabbles, but he suggests that “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).
Biblical theology provides us with certain tools that help us interpret the Bible rightly. This discipline helps us understand problematic or difficult passages of Scripture in light of the overall biblical Story. It gives us the power to relate particular Bible stories to the whole message of the Bible. It helps us understand the Old Testament as pointing ahead to the person and work of Jesus Christ. And by providing a map of the Bible’s narrative, it helps us see the unity of the different biblical books in telling that story (21-25).
Next, Goldsworthy answers the question of how biblical theology is done. He begins by helpfully affirming that every Christian is a theologian (29). The question is not whether Christians will do theology, but how well they will do theology.
Goldsworthy compares and contrasts the discipline of biblical theology to other types of theological inquiry, namely systematic, historical, and pastoral theology (30-32). Biblical theology is set within the wider discipline of exegetical theology, but biblical theology asks this specific question: “By what process has God revealed himself to mankind?” and as a result is able to relate the “whole Bible to our Christian life now” (32).
Goldsworthy is wise to spend a chapter dealing with issues of knowledge. He divides the views of knowledge into three categories: secular humanism, theistic humanism, and Christian theism – arguing of course for the latter as the proper view for studying the Bible as God’s revelation (37-43).
Rather than seeing our study of Scripture as an encounter with mere facts about God, Goldsworthy maintains that theology is about an encounter with God himself, in the person of Jesus Christ. Biblical theology shines a spotlight on Jesus Christ as the one who perfectly reveals God to us.
Personal knowledge of Jesus Christ is vital to correctly understanding the Bible (47). The unbeliever approaches the Old Testament without any presuppositions that would point him to see the progressive nature of Old Testament theology as leading to the New Testament fulfillment. But the Christian approaches the Old Testament after first believing in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Knowing that the gospel revealed in the New Testament is in accordance with the Scriptures (the Old Testament), the Christian can follow the progressive revelation of the Old Testament to its fulfillment in the New (55).
Pointing to the incarnation of Jesus Christ (the Word of God that is both divine and human), Goldsworthy argues for a similar understanding of Scripture. We must not downplay the divine or human aspects of the Word of God. The Bible is the very Word of God – a divine revelation that points to Jesus Christ.
On the other hand, the Bible is given to us through human beings within their own history and culture. The individuality of each author is highlighted, not obliterated. Being a word that is both divine and human, Goldsworthy argues that the truth of God is conveyed without error. “When we speak about the infallibility of the Bible, we mean that it conveys exactly what God intended it to” (63).
Goldsworthy challenges us to avoid the allegorical interpretations that remove history as the stage for revelation. Likewise, we should avoid literalistic interpretations that leave little room for revelation as the interpreter of historical events (67-69).
Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at the rest of According to Plan, and then on Thursday, I will offer a few reflections.