I have been somewhat surprised and enthused by the amount of traffic we have received on the site during our series on Christ-centered hermeneutics. Certainly, this is an important issue. However, I underestimated the amount of interest and passion that Christ-centered hermeneutics would stir up.
Why is there resurgence in a discussion primarily about hermeneutics? Perhaps, some of the popularity of the Christ-centered hermeneutic comes from a generation of Christians that have grown up with teaching that promotes moralism and legalism, and they long for a more biblically grounded understanding of Scripture.
Interestingly enough, I have found that while many pastors argue for the importance of Christ-centeredness, there is disagreement on what it should look like. Charles Spurgeon aptly illustrates what seems to be a popular caricature of Christ-centered hermeneutics, making a bee-line to the cross:
"I have never yet found a text that had not got a road to Christ in it, and if I ever do find one that has not a road to Christ in it, I will make one; I will go over hedge and ditch but I would get at my Master, for the sermon cannot do any good unless there is a savor of Christ in it."
What is the biblical and theological basis for this type of Christ-centered hermeneutics? Much of the discussion centers on answering this question.
A few weeks ago I moderated a panel discussion (audio available here) sponsored by The Gospel Project on this very issue. The panelists included Trevin Wax (Managing Editor, The Gospel Project), Jon Akin (Pastor of Fairview Church, Lebanon TN), and Eric Hankins (Pastor of First Baptist Church, Oxford MS).
What should we do with David and Goliath?
At the very beginning of the discussion Akin argued that the main points of most Old Testament stories understood in a moralistic framework end up as something like "Be brave like David", referring to his encounter with Goliath. Akin echoed the argument Sidney Greidanus made in his book Preaching Christ from the Old Testament.
"…we may not isolate this narrative from the flow of redemptive history and hold David up to the congregation as a hero whose courage we should imitate in fighting our individual Goliaths. Instead, we should endeavor to discover the meaning of this narrative in the context of the whole of redemptive history." (238)
For Greidanus, and many in the Christ-centered movement, the story of David and Goliath is about much more than Israel's story, and David, God's anointed king, delivering Israel and securing her safety in the Promised Land. At a higher level, this is a story about the Lord defeating the enemy of his people through his servant David.
However, perhaps there is a call to be brave in the narrative? Or does the call to be brave require that people read themselves into the narrative? How do we teach or preach a story like that in a way that's helpful? In our panel discussion Trevin Wax commented on this very point:
"I think you can pull courageous principles for living from David and Goliath. I think you can find moral example in David. But there is something else there. Going back to the context of the story, you have the people of Israel being oppressed. You have the enemy of God that's there and the king is AWOL. He's not where he's supposed to be. Then, you have David who has been anointed king, but he's still under the radar. He comes and slays this giant. God uses this very ordinary person that no one would expect. So, with David and Goliath, you see that God keeps His covenant promises to His people by raising up an unlikely savior.
I think we need to use that as a picture to show this is the way God works. That helps people understand this is the way God works. When you are preaching the New Testament you can say, look God did this in the Old Testament, too.
David is a picture of Christ in the future, but you wouldn't want to press it to the point that people would leave with the idea that the story is only about Jesus or that the story doesn't have its immediate context."
With that, I turned to Jonathan Akin and asked where he would you go with the story of David and Goliath, and how he would preach it?
"If somebody were to ask me is David and Goliath about the courage to face your enemies, I would say yes. Now, the problem is that I think a strict approach to historical grammatical method in homiletics flattens the text. I'm going to argue that misses something. You cannot jump from David to your church member. There's one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, so this text applies to me in Christ or outside of Christ. But, it's mediated through Christ. So, how do you preach that?"
Akin then told the story of David and Goliath from a Christ-centered perspective:
"You have the anointed one of God who receives the Spirit, goes out into the wilderness where an enemy is presenting himself before the people of God, 40 days and 40 nights. He crushes the enemy's head. In the Hebrew text it describes the enemy as wearing snake armor. That sure sounds familiar doesn't it?
Jesus baptized and receives the Holy Spirit. Out in the wilderness, the serpent is presenting himself 40 days and 40 nights. Then, Jesus withstands the temptation to bypass the cross and in doing that crushes the serpent's head. In Revelation 12, how do we overcome the evil one? Through the blood of the Lamb. That's the instrumentality by which the evil one is defeated.
So, the way I would preach David and Goliath is to start with, first and foremost, we are not David. We are the Israelites who are cowering in fear in the corner because we can't face the giant on our own. We can't beat our enemies on our own. So, we need a David to stand in our place and to defeat our enemies. But then what happens after that? David slings the rock that crushed the enemy's head. Then, David takes his sword and cuts his head off. Their enemies run. The Israelite army pursues.
That's how I would preach that. You can face your enemies and you have the courage to face your enemies, but you only do that once you recognize, as Jerry Vines says, we don't fight for victory in the Christian life we fight from victory. So, it's a picture of sanctification, but a sanctification that is based in what Jesus has done in saving us."
At this point Eric Hankins spoke up and acknowledged that he was uncomfortable with Jonathan's hermeneutic because he thought it drifted from typology to allegory. And we've all heard of the expression: "one man's typology is another man's allegory." So, I asked Eric to clarify.
"In the reading I did in preparation for today, a lot of the scholars speak of the historical rootedness of typology. That it is history. It's not symbolism. It's not allegory. It's looking for historical patterns that can be gleaned from the Old Testament text. I'm more comfortable saying the plot of the David and Goliath story is about a savior who stands before the enemy and acts and saves. I'm less comfortable with the snakeskin and the head. I think we should be very careful about moving into the specifics so that this is this and that is that. Then it becomes allegorical."
Jonathan Akin quickly responded by stating that everything he said was rooted in history, and then stated "I think you cross into allegory when you start saying the five stones represent this and that."
Now, I think all of us would agree that the story of David and Goliath is not about David and his rocks. When we pay attention to the details and the context of David and Goliath, we see that this is not primarily a morality tale about courage in the face of one's giants.
At the same time, we want to avoid turning it into an allegory, in which every detail represents a spiritual truth. Out of curiosity, I wanted to see how other writers, teachers, and preaches handled this text from a Christ-centered perspective. While there was a lot of similarity, interestingly enough, the focal points were different.
- Michael Williams, How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens: For Williams, the narrative fits within the theme of God exalts the weak and humbles the proud. The account of young David Goliath shows us how God can turn the humble trust of a shepherd boy into victory over a giant ego. (45-46)
- Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel and Kingdom: Goldsworthy paints a picture of David standing alone as the one in the place of many, and through him God works salvation for Israel. He writes, "It is a saving event in which the chosen mediator wins the victory, while the ordinary people stand by until they can share in the fruits of the saviors' victory. Preparation is thus made for the gospel events in which God's Christ (Anointed One) wins the victory over sin and death on behalf of his people." (86)
- Peter Leithart, A House for My Name: Leithart focuses on the grammatical historical details to connect the narrative with the larger story of Scripture. He writes, "Goliath wears 'scale armor,' dressing himself like a serpent (1 Samuel 17:5)… David faces his serpent and passes his test by crushing Goliath's head (17:49). David is the head crusher…and once the head is broken, the Israelite army wins a great victory." (142)
How would you preach or teach the story of David and Goliath? I would love to hear your thoughts on this discussion. Later this week, I will post part of our similar discussion pertaining to the story of Samson.