Thursday, 15 September 2011

According to Plan

I've just begun my second half-unit of theological studies at Trinity (Systematic Theology), and have just embarked on reading The Everlasting God by Broughton Knox, for my book review for this unit. So I thought I'd post the book review I submitted for the first half-unit, Biblical Theology.

Please keep in mind that my word limit was 750 words +/- 10% ... I managed to get my report down to 818 including footnotes, which was massively difficult. I spent as much time editing and re-wording as I did writing the first draft, if not more. The effect of this is that, if I were to write all my thoughts on the book, there would be a lot more here. But I don't have time for that... I have another book report to write, as I've already mentioned! So here is my "tight" book report on According to Plan, by Graeme Goldsworthy:


Graeme Goldsworthy’s According to Plan provides an explanation of the progression of God’s revelation in the Bible, identifying the Bible’s main message as God’s redemption and regeneration of his people through Jesus Christ.

The book begins with an apologetic for the study of biblical theology (part one), and a rationale for Goldsworthy’s presuppositions about knowledge, and process of typology (part two). He establishes a “Christian approach to the Old Testament” (p.55), whereby the gospel is used to interpret the Old Testament. At the core of the book (part three) is a detailed examination of biblical content, divided into 17 eras treated in chronological order. This begins with the most significant chapter of the entire book, (chapter 8), where Goldsworthy argues from the four gospels “the progression of events [in the Old Testament] will only find its true meaning in Christ.” (p.88). The gradually refined concept of the Kingdom of God, and its three ingredients (God, Mankind, World [Footnote:Goldsworthy (p.11) describes these in his introduction as “the three elements of the kingdom: God as ruling Lord, his people and the created order in which God and his people relate.” “Mankind” and “World” are signifiers of the latter two. Roberts (2002) replaces these terms with the apt descriptors “God’s people” and “God’s land”.]), is examined. The theme of regeneration is followed through stages of foreshadowing, prophecy and consummation in Christ. The book concludes (part four) by providing examples of how this applies in the study of doctrinal topics.

The descriptions of the varying modes of theological study in chapter 2 were personally relevant; explaining why my husband’s preaching has been a major change for our church. Previously, many of the preachers taught on some area of systematic theology, using the Bible passage to define the area of doctrine to be taught. In contrast, the majority of the preaching is now conducted by a pastoral theologian (p.31), seeking to apply everything in the passage to the everyday lives of the congregation.

In part two, Goldsworthy argues against humanism, literalism and liberalism, but does not address Catholic and Pentecostal claims regarding post-apostolic, non-salvific revelation. I do not think that Goldsworthy’s establishment of Jesus Christ as the fulfilment of God’s salvation promises precludes some of these claims, though it does rule out such heretical claims to ongoing salvific revelation such as those of the Latter-day Saints.

One of the major concepts is that of God working through one person to reach many. Goldsworthy writes “mediation of God’s acts through certain chosen people is a constant biblical theme.” (p.158). He gives multiple instances, such as God’s fatherhood being mediated through Abraham; his rule through Moses and David; his salvation and deliverance through Noah and the Judges; and his message through the prophets. Goldsworthy uses the concept of mediation to illustrate our need for something better, which is provided only in Christ. Jesus fulfils the roles of Son of God, sinless Adam, faithful Israel, true prophet, perfect priest, supreme king and also wisest man (p.204-206).

Several times Goldsworthy uses God’s choice of mediator as an illustration of God’s sovereignty in the election of his people, which helped clarify the Old Testament basis of the doctrine of election.

I applied these ideas recently when preparing a Sunday School lesson, connecting God’s choice of David to be his king on the basis of the obedience he saw in his heart (Acts 13:22) with the perfect obedience of Jesus, God’s final chosen King, who is our King now. Previously, I would have used David’s obedience as a positive example in exhorting the children to obey God, without pointing the children to Jesus and his sufficiency for our salvation.

The complex relationship between types and faith is clearly explained: “those who by faith grasp[ed] the shadow [were] undoubtedly thereby grasping the reality of salvation in Jesus Christ.” (p.186) This comment helped me understand that the religious cult of Israel never achieved salvation through the prescribed acts, although the acts gave the people a tangible means of demonstrating their saving faith in God. Faithful obedience to the law was a proxy for God’s true means of salvation: the death, resurrection, reign and return of Jesus Christ.

Understanding the role of typology in God’s revelation has led me to consider the validity of using the Christ-types found in non-biblical literary sources written by Christian authors (such as Aslan in Lewis’s Narnia series and Harry Potter in Rowling’s books) to begin an explanation of the significance of Jesus to unchurched people, who have no knowledge of Old Testament promises and patterns. I think this would be acceptable, provided Jesus is clearly presented as the antitype and the literary characters as metaphorical types, and the “divine-human” (p.62-63) source of biblical revelation is distinguished from the (Christian) worldview of authors.

In these and other ways I found this book useful for understanding the biblical basis of doctrines and improving my teaching about Jesus.


Mrs. Edwards said...

With so many balls in the air right now that I'm juggling, I haven't been able to give this or the other book reviews the thought that I would like to. Not only that, I have a draft email to you following up on our thread about Isaiah and prophecy that I haven't been able to finish up and send.

It turns out that mothering and educating five kids is increasingly time consuming!

Something I wish I could squeeze into my schedule, but fear trying (because of lack of self-discipline) is reading the Harry Potter series. I notice here that you seem to suggest that Rowling is a "Christian author" putting her in company with Lewis. That's quite a comment.

Your comment about applying the account of David's obedience differently thanks to your improved understanding of Christ's fulfillment of the OT and typology reminds me of something that David and Sally Michael talk about in their Children Desiring God curriculum introduction. A big emphasis of CDG is that God is the hero of His Word, not the flawed human people that He redeems and uses for His Glory. They use the specific example of David and David Michael sings in the presentation, "Only a boy named David..." but then, with tears in their eyes, they drive home the point that songs like this have it all wrong.

It isn't that a boy named David conquered a giant.
GOD did it!

Anyway, they do a very powerful presentation that impacted me deeply. I now am very careful not to teach kids about the Biblical heroes without being sure that I am emphasizing that it is God at work in sinful people, etc. Yes, they sometimes give us a pattern to follow, but their lives need to point us to Christ, not inspire our behavior.

It was a watershed moment for me when I realized, probably through teaching CDG, that the OT believers were saved by their forward-looking faith in Christ and that the power of the cross transcended time in a way, to save them by grace. Before that I think I misunderstood that the OT system of sacrifice "saved" them.

If I could get together with you for a nice visit (talk), I would ask you more about literalism, ask for your advice in equipping my daughters in their encounters with some LDS neighbor girls, and tell you about what I've been learning from God's Word, Tozer, and the life of William Wilberforce. Wouldn't that be fun?

Sharon said...

Don't worry about the email - I see Shelley in the flesh twice a week and she and I haven't finished that conversation either.

Did someone confuse you with a promise that mothering/educating 5 would not take much time? Who was that person? Make them stop telling lies! But you are right, it comes as a shock when things don't settle down immediately just because the b'feeding is over or the nappies done away with. There will always be something more we could do, or something we could do better.

JK Rowling is a member of the Church of Scotland. Which doesn't necessarily make her a author of books with a Christian message, of course. But I would be happy to say that her books are similar in some ways to the Narnia series, though more complex in narrative plot. Different in terms of the approach it takes in expressing the underlying theology, but the fact that the theology is there and is Christian is pretty hard to ignore (once you realise what you are reading) I think.

It would be great to talk! The only problem - if we ignore the whole different continents thing - is that our internet connection seems patchy at the moment. I will be up late Monday night if you want to try Skype early Monday morning. Or Tuesday.

I'd love to hear what you have been learning about Wilberforce. Have you read the biography on him that was written by the same man who wrote the one on Bonhoeffer? Or is that something else you haven't had time for lately?


Mrs. Edwards said...

Oh, I forgot that Eric Metaxas had a Wilberforce book! I wish I'd read it. Instead, our curriculum recommended one by Kevin Belmonte that turned out to be very good, but too challenging of a read for Hope and Sydney. Too much expository writing and not enough narrative to keep them engaged, I think.

There are lots of interesting things about Wilberforce, but perhaps most of all I'm impressed that in every age as denominational churches grow cold, God continues to regenerate people and new Evangelical believers rise up. In Wilberforce's day the Methodists were the "evangelicals." I'm fascinated by the fact that the Spirit seems to blow through different denominations through the ages to preserve His remnant. I hope that communicated what I meant.

Another observation: Wilberforce realized that the truth of Christ had to impact everything about life and could not just be a private part of his life. Nominal Christians at the time described it, as he himself once did, as "taking it too far," but it reminds me that if Christ doesn't change about how we see the world and what our lives' aims should be, then it really doesn't change anything.

As Bonhoeffer would say, grace isn't cheap.

I know, why do I continue to overestimate what I think I should be able to accomplish? I'm continually disappointed with myself!

Sharon said...

What you observed about the truth of Christ impacting all of life was also a critical realisation of Bonhoeffer, wasn't it? The moment of this realisation is the point which Jeffrey now pinpoints as his conversion, although he had a knowledge of the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ well before that realisation hit.

Strange that - for me it was the reverse: my sudden and complete submission to the certainty that there was nothing I could do that would make me acceptable to God but that He had done it all, already, on the cross.