According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible raises several important questions for further discussion. Goldsworthy cannot be blamed for not substantively answering these questions. Had he chosen to do so, According to Plan would have taken on a shape quite different than its current form. But there are several questions raised by Goldsworthy’s work that readers will want to consider.
The Nature of “Biblical Theology”
The first question regards the nature of biblical theology itself.
The very title of “biblical theology” tends to place itself in a higher position over the other types of theology that Goldsworthy lists. After all, if faced with a choice between systematic theology, historical theology or biblical theology, most people would probably choose “biblical theology” as being the most helpful.
Not only that, because of the title, some would be inclined to believe that “biblical theology” is somehow more biblical and trustworthy than the other types.
Of course, the discipline of biblical theology is sorely needed in evangelicalism today. We have plenty of systematic theologians and pastor/teachers and too few historical and biblical theologians.
But the point needs to be made that each of these disciplines is necessary. When one discipline is emphasized over the others, it can lead to a lopsided view of Christian theology.
When systematic theology is emphasized to the exclusion of biblical theology, the theological enterprise can quickly turn into a rigid, categorization of theological concepts, some of which may be completely foreign to the mind of the biblical author.
When historical theology is overemphasized, theology becomes less about the biblical text itself and more about the historical developments surrounding theological reflection.
Pastoral theology, likewise, can lead to a downplaying of the difficult texts of Scripture that seem to have little pastoral or pragmatic value.
And biblical theology, by itself, can sometimes result in a neglect of the other disciplines, especially systematic theology.
Goldsworthy cannot be faulted for only treating “biblical theology” in this book. After all, According to Plan is an introduction to this type of theological work.
But as readers finish the book, they should remember that biblical theology is merely one tool in our theological tool belt. It is not the belt itself. Other theological tools deserve time and attention and will need to be consulted, depending upon the task at hand. Maintaining the proper balance is imperative.
The Question of Authorial Intent
The second question raised by Goldsworthy’s work centers on the question of authorial intent.
Jesus Christ is indeed the center of the Bible. The Old Testament points ahead to the fulfillment of God’s promises in Jesus. Goldsworthy is right to see the foreshadowing and typology of the Old Testament that shines a spotlight on Jesus. In fact, the Christ-centeredness of Goldsworthy’s approach is one of the greatest strengths of According to Plan.
But one can hardly survey the landscape of evangelical hermeneutics and homiletics today without bumping into the roadblock of “authorial intent” as the overarching principle for interpreting Scripture. Some evangelicals go so far as to tell preachers to only preach that which the original author intended to communicate.
For example, if preaching a text in Isaiah that points ahead to Christ, one should preach only those truths that Isaiah had in mind (a Messianic servant representing Israel) and not the fulfillment that only appears later.
Surely there are strengths to this hermeneutical approach. It puts brakes on the imaginative preacher who would take a text and run with it wherever he wants. It keeps teachers grounded in the text and the original historical context of the author.
But how does authorial intent fit with Goldsworthy’s Christ-centered approach to Scripture? At what point do we allow the New Testament explanation of Old Testament texts to tear down the roadblock of authorial intent?
If the Bible has both a divine author (God himself) and a human author (the original writer), at what point do we go beyond the intent of the human author in order to see the divine purpose running throughout the whole of Scripture?
Do we focus on Jesus in the Old Testament only where the New Testament does so? Or are we allowed to see Christ in the Old Testament, even in those places not given explicit Christological connections?
If Goldsworthy is right (and I believe he is), many other evangelical teachers are wrong. (Ironically, the great early proponent of authorial intent as the primary hermeneutical tool was Friedrich Schleiermacher, the father of liberalism.) So Goldsworthy’s Christ-centered reading of Scripture leads to further questions of hermeneutics and homiletics that evangelicals should consider.
The Limitations of the Incarnational Analogy
A third question raised by Goldsworthy’s book is the incarnational analogy he employs when speaking of the divine/human nature of Scripture.
This analogy has become quite controversial since Goldsworthy’s book was first published in 1991. Since then, Peter Enns, former professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, has published a book that takes this incarnational analogy to a new level. Enns believes that the incarnational model helps us to understand the historical context within which the human authors lived. They could, therefore, incorporate into Scriptures various myths and legends common to the time and place in which they lived. The question that arises within Enns’ work is whether or not these incorporations represent true historical events.
Goldsworthy spends little time addressing the way in which he applies the incarnational analogy. This brevity is understandable considering the purpose of According to Plan.
But the incarnational approach today raises some of these important questions, issues which Goldsworthy hints at but never fully develops one way or the other. He rightly reminds us that the divine/human analogy breaks down at some crucial points, not least of which is the temptation of worshipping the Bible itself.
But when dealing with issues of infallibility and inerrancy, Goldsworthy makes statements that do not clarify the question of historicity (63). This question and others beg for further reflection and discussion.
Some Christians are experts in mastering the details of Scripture. They win Bible drills, know answers to trivia questions, and can recount all of the stories. But when it comes to the overall Story of the Bible, their answers leave much to be desired.
Others know very little about the Bible or how the Old Testament has anything to do with the New or how the Bible applies to our life today. They too have missed the big picture that the Bible provides.
According to Plan is an immensely helpful guide to understanding the theology and unity of the Bible. I know of no better resource that helps connect the dots of the Scriptural storyline until the image of Christ is clearly represented. Goldsworthy’s book raises some important questions regarding the nature of Scripture, methods of interpretation, and the relationship of biblical theology to other disciplines.
Overall, this text is a wonderful introduction to the exciting discipline of biblical theology and one that remains accessible to laypeople who want to know what the Bible is all about.