John Goldingay on God’s Plan

Due to a recent decision I have been presented with, I decided to pick up John Goldingay’s Old Testament Theology series and do some casual reading from it. This paragraph resonated with me:

The First Testament story never talks about God having a plan for the world or a plan of salvation or a plan for people’s individual lives, and the story it tells does not look like one that resulted from a plan. God certainly had an aim, a vision, some goals, and sometimes formulates a plan for a particular context, but works out a purpose in the world in interaction with the human beings who are designed to be key to the fulfilling of those goals. God is not a micro-manager who seeks to make every decision for the company, but the wiser kind of executive who formulates clear goals but involves the work force in determining how to implement them, and also recognizes that the failure of members of the work force will require ongoing flexibility in pursuing these goals. The story does not give the impression that from the beginning God had planned the flood, or the summons of Abraham, or the exodus, or the introduction to the monarchy, or the building of the temple, or the exile, or the sending of a messiah. It portrays these as responses to concrete situations, while all are outworkings of God’s purpose and character. Our security lies not in the world’s actual story being the outworking of God’s plan (that would be scary) but in its unfolding within the control of an executive who will go to any lengths to see that the vision gets fulfilled–even dying for it. In this sense the lamb of God was slain before the world’s foundation. God has always been that kind of God. (1:60)

I love how Goldingay is asking what impression the biblical story leaves us with. This is methodologically challenging to those who would assert that certain attributes, say divine sovereignty, should serve as our hermeneutical foil for understanding God and Scripture. Goldingay places greater emphasis on the impression left by the story than on anything we might impress upon the story.

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6 thoughts on “John Goldingay on God’s Plan

  1. That is a great quote.

    I like to say, that in the scriptures, God’s sovereignty is not dictated by controlling men’s actions but by judging them.

  2. I disagreed with Goldingay at the beginning of the quote, but when I saw how he was able to flesh it out I can get on board with that. I originally thought he was attempting to distance God from wayward, obstinate creation (which I have encountered way too often in my work on deception in the Jacob cycle), but at the end he went in another direction–similar to Fretheim, I would say–and I can resonate with that as well.

  3. (that would be scary

    I’m glad to hear him say that. On balance, my students tend to be *way enthused* about “God’s plan,” and it becomes a kind of default answer to any and all theological moral conundrums. (“Too bad people suffer like hell: oh, well, God’s plan and sovereignty and stuff; too bad my theological claims result in the marginalization of the Other: oh, well, God’s plan and sovereignty and stuff.”) And as I formulate my responses from the front of the room, I think, “Whoa; scary.”

  4. Perhaps you could clarify how a God who makes it up as He goes along also committed to “the lamb of God was slain before the world’s foundation”?

    I suppose this brings comfort to some; lowering this kind of god into a reactionary being; reactionary to the almighty man with its decisions and ideas; but to me, nothing is more scary than that proposition.

    Seems to me the biggest objections that I have heard arise because we don’t know everything; and we are not gods. This results in man then trying to discover the hidden things of God like ‘why people suffer’ or why He has decreed anything the way that He has. It is when these questions are asked that dangerous and insane explanations come (like Open Theism). I think that perhaps what is scary to some people the most is that they are, in fact, not God. Kind of reminds me of Genesis 3.

  5. John, glad you read through the end! The quote itself sort of took me by surprise in context.

    Anumma, I liked that part as well!

    Jr, I think you fail to recognize/engage the logic of Goldingay’s statement. He isn’t arguing about what may be in theory the most sovereign God, or even the most comforting God (though he suggests comfort by describing the alternative as scary). He is saying that the biblical story line does not give the impression that God had every single detail worked out from all eternity. I think even the most committed Calvinist could recognize this point and still hold a high view of sovereignty (of the exhaustive foreknowledge variety). It all comes down to the relationship between one’s doctrinal theology and one’s confessional story. As long as you aren’t pursuing a storied theology, you have no reason to dismiss this kind of discussion.

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