Christocentric Theology

In the world today, there is much that is written over the subject of Christocentric theology and there are many different approaches are taken to define what this means. How you view Scripture in its relation to Christ radically informs how you read the Bible. Within Christendom, I found three definitions of the subject.

Definition 1: Goldsworthy defines it as “all texts in the whole bible bear a discernible relationship to Christ and are primarily intended as a testimony to Christ.”[1] He is in basic agreement with Alan Miller: “Christ must stand as the big idea of every text.”[2]

Definition 2: Christopher Peppier defines Christocentrism as “the nature of God as revealed in the words and works of the Lord Jesus Christ is a lens for interpreting God’s word and discerning his will.” [3] And further he says, “the Christocentric Principle is an approach to biblical interpretation that seeks to understand all parts of scripture from a Jesus-perspective. In other words, it is a way of interpreting scripture primarily from the perspective of what Jesus taught and modelled, and from what he revealed concerning the nature, character, values, principles, and priorities of the Godhead.”[4]

Definition 3: There is another definition, as explained by Peppier, about the Christocentric hermeneutic. He said that some people view Christocentrism as “the life, teaching, and person of the Lord Jesus Christ as the locus of doctrinal formulation and proclamation” as for example Barth and Chapell.

So, what is the proper definition of Christocentric Hermeneutics? Definition 3 tends to neglect the rest of the Bible for the “pure teaching of Christ in the Gospels.” Thus, much of the Scripture becomes ignored in the study of Christ. Also, the proponents often pursue the quest for the historical Jesus, and in doing so they reject much of what is actually recorded in the Gospels and label it as myth. On the scientific-method level, much of the quest for the historical Jesus is very arbitrary and often reflects the practitioners own preconceived view on the subject, thus rendering a Jesus remarkably like his own self. So, I do not take this view seriously because there the method is imprecise and arbitrary. On a spiritual level, the practitioner’s often come from do not trust the God of the Bible. And so much of their method, scholarly though it be, comes from an unbelieving heart. Thus, as 1 Corinthians 2 says, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.”[5] This reason is the primary reason I reject this definition, because it comes from a heart of unbelief.

Definition 2 asks the question, how did Jesus interpret the Bible? It attempts to view the Bible as Jesus viewed the Bible. This view is an interesting way to define Christocentrism. Instead of declaring Christ as the center to which the whole Bible points, although not denying that in every case, it is saying that we should interpret the Bible the way Christ interpreted the Bible. This idea has some merits. First, Jesus viewed the Bible as literal history, citing David, Jonah, and Noah as past examples of present realities. Second, Jesus viewed the OT as authoritative to the lives of believers, citing the Law (e.g. Mat. 5, “You have heard that it was said. . .”) and drawing implications from it (“But I say unto you. . .”). Other areas of Christ’s interpretation of the law could be explored and more written on this subject.

Definition 1 however, asks an altogether different question. It asks, what is the center of the Bible? Thus, when the answer is, “the Bible is Christocentric,” it means that the whole of the text is/points to Christ. This statement is true, but there are some necessary boundaries that we must add to it.

First, in one sense, the whole Bible is not directly about Christ. Christ is not the subject matter of much of the OT, even if you do include Messianic foreshadowing/prophecy. The OT is not the record of ancient sages contemplating the future Messiah. Though He is mentioned and discussed, there are a substantial number of other passages—Proverbs, for example—which do not talk directly about Jesus. This precludes, then the tendency to allegorize all the passages of the Old Testament, which can be so extreme so that even the tree shading Abraham and the angels is Christ.

Second, Christ is not the fulfillment of all the Old Testament. Yes, he is the fulfillment of many of the prophesies of the OT, but there are many prophecies where he is not. For example, God promises to Abraham a land. The only thing that could fulfill that promise is the land which God promised. Yes, Jesus will be the agent who will bring about that promise, but for that promise, he is not the direct fulfilment. To spiritualize the land promise as fulfilled in Christ negates the promise that God actually made. Reformed interpreters often do this practice, even some of the most respectable ones, so that the land promises are negated from all literal fulfillment in this world. Thus, it is necessary to make sure that the correct referent of the promise is distinguished.

Within these limits, I will begin to answer the question of “what is the center of the Bible?” I begin with noting that the Bible discusses several different themes which Scholars are attempting to harmonize into one theme. Some of the most commonly proposed themes are Kingdom, Covenant, Redemption, and People of God. Such a harmonization of these themes can be quite difficult to achieve because of the Bible’s vast content.

Personally, I think that People of God is the unifying theme. The kingdom in the culmination of the people of God. The covenants are made with the people of God. Redemption makes the people of God, etc. Yet, there is a unifying fact, rather, person who brings all these themes together: Jesus. Each part of the Bible is in someway connected with Jesus. Creation finds its restoration in Jesus. The fall finds its redemption in Jesus. The seed promised to Eve and Abraham both point to Jesus. The Abrahamic covenant is given to Jesus. The Mosaic Covent points to the need for Jesus. The Davidic Covenant points to the rule of Jesus. The New Covenant is established by Jesus. The Land is conquered by Jesus. Ad infinitum, ad gaudium.

Thus, in this sense, Jesus can be said to be the center of the Bible. He is the Person through whom all the promises of God are established and through whom redemption is secured.

 

Response One: “So if Jesus is the center of the Bible and “without Him all the other factors would fall apart,” wouldn’t it be safe to say that Bible is indeed all about Jesus? You can’t all the other things mentioned without Him. From the beginning He is introduced to us in Scripture and we see in the end that we’ll spend all of eternity with him. He’s the solution for many problems and sufficient for a people in need.”

Answer: When I ask, “what is this book all about?” I am not asking, “what are the key details of the book?” I’m asking what is the general subject matter of the book? If I turn anywhere in the book, it will be discussing that subject matter in some way. It is like an old wagon wheel: you have a hub, spokes, and a rim. The hub is the key argument/character; the spokes perinate topics and the rim overarching storyline.

When it comes to the Bible, the hub is Jesus, the spokes are foreshadowing and predictions concerning him, and the wheel is the grand metanarrative of Scripture. To say that the whole wheel is about the hub is preposterous, because the wheel is not just a hub. But to say that the rest of the wheel can function without the hub is as equally preposterous, because without the hub the wheel would be crushed and worthless.

So why is Christ not the wheel? There are many passages where Christ is mentioned, but there are many more where he is not. For example, Proverbs and many of the Psalms do not discuss Christ. Song of Solomon also does not relate to Christ directly. Esther, Job, etc. do not directly discuss the Messiah. So, one must choose a theme for the Bible that can encompass even the themes of these books. What you find everywhere is people and functioning in relation to God. That relationship can only be established by the work of Christ, and so He truly is the center.

Response Two: “I really appreciate your idea of the People of God as the theme of Scripture. I think we shouldn’t be overly dogmatic on these idea[s] though. For example, it would be easy to blend all of those themes together. One could say, God is building His Kingdom through bringing His covenant people to Himself through His redemption all for His glory. I think you could say that is an accurate theme of Scripture.”

Answer: You bring up a good point, as they said of Paul, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible.”[6] Emboldened by the written word, sometimes I state things categorically that really should be stated as a proposition.

May I humbly suggest, good sir, that your statement is more of an excellent summary statement of the Bible, but not an actual theme. A theme is an idea that I can find anywhere I turn in the book. Thus, if the Bible has a central theme, it must unify all the book. Your proposed statement is actually four different themes bound together by logical connectors (God is (1) building His Kingdom through (2) bringing His covenant people to Himself (3) through His redemption (4) all for His glory). Thus, you have multiple themes within your statement. You have good backing, for D. A. Carson, from what I understand, does not believe in one central theme of the Bible, but several key themes that appear through the Bible.

 

Thanks guys for your input,

Your fellow students,

Nate

[1] Christopher Peppier, “The Christocentric Principle: A Jesus-Centered Hermeneutic,” Conspectus, 13:1 (Mar 2012): 119.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Kevin Smith, “The Christocentric Principle: Promise, Pitfalls, and Proposal,” Conspectus 13:1 (Mar 2012): 158.

[4] Peppier, 120.

[5] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Co 2:14.

[6] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 2 Co 10:10.

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