Christ-Centered Hermeneutics

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In a recent series of posts on his website, “The Exchange“, Ed Stetzer has begun a discussion of Christ-centered hermeneutics. (Part 1part 2) In this series of posts, Stetzer will discuss Christ-centered preaching through the engagement of several leading theologians.  Additionally, he has challenged others to post discussions regarding this topic on their blogs.

This is what has given rise to this post.  While I do not confess to a grand theologian, I simply want to make a few observations on the topic.

Overall thesis of the Bible “The Person and Work of Jesus Christ”

We must read Scripture in light of this thesis.  Not as a loosely-connected collection of 66 books, but rather one book with multiple authors who speak to the central theme of Scripture, “the glory of God revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ.”

Scriptural Basis

There is a Scriptural basis for this Christ-centered hermeneutic.  If we are to remain true to our overall thesis, we must accurately proclaim the Bible in its entirety.  For example, we should consider the following texts:

  • Jesus said, “You search the Scripture because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” (John 5:39, emphasis added)
  • It is quite clear that Jesus and the Apostles interpreted the Bible as all about Jesus. In Luke 24, Jesus says that each division of the OT (Law, Prophets, and Psalms) was about him.
  • Paul said that it is “Him we proclaim” (Col 1:28).
  • Paul states that the purpose of the Holy Scriptures, specifically the OT in that context, is to make one “wise for salvation” through faith in Jesus.   (2 Timothy 3:15)

The point of the entirety of scripture (including Leviticus, Numbers, Proverbs, Esther) is to bring us to saving faith in Jesus.

Authorial Intent

One of the foundations of a good hermeneutic is “authorial intent.”  Based on the overall thesis stated above, we must view authorial intent under the lens of dual-authorship, human and Holy Spirit.

While the human authors of scripture were divinely inspired and anticipated the coming Messiah, they probably did not have complete understanding of how the words they penned fit into to overall meta-narrative of Scripture.  Conversely, the Holy Spirit guiding them had full knowledge of how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together.

Theological Guardrail

By not following a Christocentric approach, we have the potential to fall into several types of sermon traps.  These traps include moralism, misapplication, and individualism.

Moralistic preaching separates good biblical theology from expository preaching.  Many moralistic sermons take the form of “golden-rule Christianity”.  Rather than focusing on how the text points to God’s grace and Christ’s redemptive work on the cross, these types of sermons concentrate on moralistic lessons to be learned from the character’s life.

A non-christocentric reading of the text can also lead to misapplication.  Take, for example, the story of David and Goliath can be misapplied as how we can defeat the giants in our life through faith. (Lucado, Facing Your Giants, Thomas Nelson, 2006).  A christocentric approach to the text identifies the reader with the Israelites, whose hope lies not in themselves, but in a champion who can meet the challenge of God’s enemy (1 Sam 17:11).

Finally, a christocentric approach can protect from individualism or “self-help” sermons.  These types of sermons seem to be prevalent in the seeker-sensitive movement.   How many of us have heard or seen sermon series such as “5 Steps to a Healthy ….”?  These sermons tend to inform rather than transform the hearer.

Bridge

Dr. Akin describes this Christocentric approach as the, “Bridge between Hermeneutics and Homiletics.”  (Engaging Exposition, B & H Publishing, 2011)

In his chapter on “Developing the Main Ideas of the Text and Message” Akin states, “The faithful interpreter and preach of God’s Word must bridge the gap or horizon between the cultural elements present in the text of Scripture and those in our own time.  He must move from the hermeneutical to the homiletical.”

He goes on to discuss five (5) crucial questions for every sermon to raise and answer:

1.  What does this text teach about God and His character and ways? This question is intentionally theological and focused on God. It is the first question you should always ask in sermon development. This question looks for the vision of God” in the text. It probes the text to discover what it teaches about God’s person, character, and attributes. It seeks to discover what we learn about God’s purposes and ways. We are trying to learn more about the God who has made us and redeemed us, the God who tells us to call Him Father.

2.  What does this text teach about fallen humanity? This question naturally follows the first one, and it should always follow it. It will keep us from being man-centered or anthropocentric in our preaching…What does this text reveal and teach about human persons made in God’s image who now bear the curse of sin and a depraved nature? Here is wisdom and balance. We are made in God’s image. This is good. We are sinners by nature and choice. That is bad.

3.   How does this text point to Christ? Since this question is central in the sermon construction process, we locate it “under the bridge” to support the entire structure…In short, Jesus is the hero of the Bible. The Old Testament anticipated Him, and the New Testament explains Him. This affirmation is not a novel idea. The church fathers were thoroughly Christocentric in their preaching.

4.  What does God want my people to know? Every exposition of Scripture will have an element of conveying knowledge. There will be biblical and theological content. Biblical and theological illiteracy is rampant in our churches. It is a malady that afflicts far too many congregations. A faithful expositor will always strive to teach his people how to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3:18).

5.  What does God want my people to do?  Doing follows knowing. Having immersed my people in God’s Word as to what it says and means, I will now craft an action plan that paves a clearly marked road for obedience. If we answer the knowledge question but fail to follow up with an outlet for concrete and specific action, our people will become confused and frustrated. They may not see the relevance and practical nature of the Bible for how they should think and act today.

Concluding Thoughts

As a billboard for a local car dealer states, “It’s All About You.”  We need to beware of reading things into the text based on our presuppositions.  We want to believe everything applies DIRECTLY to us.  Rather, we should see how the text points to Christ in the light of the Grand Redemptive Narrative of Scripture.

As Tim Keller has stated, “It’s All About Jesus

  • Jesus is the true and better Adam who passed the test in the wilderness not the garden, and whose obedience is imputed to us.
  • Jesus is the true and better Abel who, thought innocently slain by wicked hands, has blood that now cries out, not for our condemnation, but for our acquittal.
  • Jesus is the better Ark of Noah who carries us safely thru the wrath of God revealed from heaven and delivers us to a new earth.
  • Jesus is the true and better Abraham who answered the call of God to leave all that is comfortable and familiar and go out into the world not knowing where he went to create a new people of God.
  • Jesus is the true and better Isaac who was not just offered up by his father on the mount but was truly sacrificed for us. And when God said to Abraham, “Now I know you love me because you did not withhold your son, your only son whom you love from me,” now we can look at God taking his Son up the mountain of Calvary and sacrificing him and say, “Now we know that you love us because you did not withhold your Son, you only Son, whom you love, from us.”
  • Jesus is the true and better Jacob who wrestled and took the blow of justice we deserved, so we, like Jacob, only receive the wounds of grace to wake us up and discipline us.
  • Jesus is the true and better Joseph who, at the right hand of the king, forgives those who betrayed him and sold him, and uses his new power to save them.
  • Jesus is the true and better Moses who stands in the gap between the people and the Lord and who mediates a new covenant.
  • Jesus is the true and better Rock of Moses who, struck with the rod of God’s justice, now gives us living water in the desert.
  • Jesus is the true and better Joshua, who leads us into a land of eternal rest and heavenly blessing.
  • Jesus is the better Ark of the Covenant who topples and disarms the idols of this world, going Himself into enemy territory, and making an open spectacle of them all.
  • Jesus is the true and better Job, the truly innocent sufferer, who then intercedes for and saves his stupid friends.
  • Jesus is the true and better David whose victory becomes his people’s victory, though they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves.
  • Jesus is the true and better Esther who didn’t just risk leaving an earthly palace but lost the ultimate and heavenly one, who didn’t just risk his life, but gave his life to save his people.
  • Jesus is the true and better Daniel, having been lowered into a lion;s den of death, emerges early the next morning alive and vindicated by His God.
  • Jesus is the true and better Jonah who was cast into the storm so that we safely could be brought in.
  • Jesus is the real Passover Lamb, innocent, perfect, helpless, slain, so the angel of death will pass over us. He’s the true temple, the true prophet, the true priest, the true king, the true sacrifice, the true lamb, the true light, and the true bread.
  • The Bible really is not about you is it? – It really is all about Him.

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