Over the last month, I've brought a number of scholars to this blog to discuss the importance of Christ-centered preaching and teaching. We've looked at the strengths and weaknesses of adopting this kind of hermeneutic.
This series leaves us with the question that prompted these discussions in the first place: How should we point to Jesus in our teaching? As general editor of The Gospel Project, a small group curriculum for all ages that promises to show Christ in all the Scripture, this is a question that I've come back to again and again. The team of people working on The Gospel Project believe (as I do) that we should indeed be Christ-centered in our biblical interpretation, but that this Christ-centeredness must be built on balanced hermeneutical principles.
Here are a few guidelines we try to abide by:
1. Without Jesus, your message is not Christian.
There isn't a Gospel Project session without Jesus. Even when we're dealing with Old Testament stories or systematic theology (such as the attributes of God), we inevitably turn attention back to Christ. Why? Because it's what makes our study distinctively Christian. The attributes of God we see in Scripture are embodied in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The stories of the Old Testament have their ultimate fulfillment in Him. There is no Christianity apart from Christ.
2. Authorial intent matters. The canonical context should not supersede the original context.
Charles Spurgeon is quoted as having said we should jump over highways and hedges to get to Jesus, no matter what road we take. We admire Spurgeon's zeal, but we don't believe this to be the best hermeneutical guideline. It's important that we turn people's attention to Jesus, yes. But it's also important how we get to Jesus. The hermeneutics we present in our teaching will be the hermeneutics people adopt in their personal Bible study. It's possible to get to the right place in the wrong way, and though that may be better than failing to get to the right place at all, we shouldn't have to choose between proper hermeneutics and a Christological destination. We can do both.
How does this work out in our study? We are careful to expound on a text in its original context before placing it in canonical context. in other words, we should respect the original author's intent - focusing on the passage at hand as is - before broadening our view to see how the passage fits into the overarching story of God. It's important that we do both: see what the original author is doing, and then look to see how the Spirit more fully invests a passage with layers of application and significance in light of Christ's coming. The canonical context should not supersede the original; neither should the original context be treated in total isolation from the rest of Scripture.
3. Avoid the tendency to moralize or allegorize Old Testament stories.
Much of our work on The Gospel Project is showing how the Bible fits together by highlighting specific New Testament references to Old Testament accounts. We believe we can accomplish this without falling into the trap of moralism or allegory. Moralizing an account is gleaning principles from a text without showing how these "do's" and "don'ts" connect back to Christ's finished work for us. The Bible is shot through with moral teaching (just read the Proverbs), and yet it is important to position this moral teaching within the good news that Christ lived, died, and rose for us. Allegorizing an account is when we press the details of a text to the point we have found a correlation in some higher spiritual truth.
Allegorical excesses were common in the writings of many church fathers, and though we can find allegorical elements in the Scriptures themselves, we do not believe this is the best way to engage in biblical interpretation, since it often bypasses the original author's intent. We prefer to think of the Old Testament stories as providing hints and tastes and foreshadowing of what is to come - not true stories fulfilled by allegorical significance.
Much of the discussion on Christ-centered preaching is about hermeneutics and the problems we encounter when we embrace one method to the exclusion of everything else. We've personally benefited from each of the scholars who have joined this conversation. We all desire to be focused on Christ and to interpret His Word responsibly and accurately. May God help us to that end!