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Christ-Centered Hermeneutics and Typology

Dr. David Murray, part four
Christ-Centered Hermeneutics and Typology

This is the fourth installment in a series of posts examining Christ-Centered hermeneutics and their impact on preaching. I have asked several well-known leaders and thinkers to examine and discuss Christ-Centered preaching over the next few weeks.

  • Dr. Daniel Block (Wheaton College) — part one, part two

  • Dr. David Murray (Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary) — part one

  • Dr. Walt Kaiser (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary)

  • Dr. Bryan Chapell (Grace Presbyterian in Peoria, IL)

  • We will also post sections of a discussion panel between me, Trevin Wax, Dr. Eric Hankins, and Dr. Jon Akin that was recently hosted by The Gospel Project.

This post is written by David Murray. David is the author of the forthcoming Jesus on Every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament. He is professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, and blogs regularly at HeadHeartHand.

We also think this is an important enough conversation that we want to have it elsewhere-- like on your blog. So, here is the plan:

If you will write a post with substantive discussion about the series on your blog, and let us know about it in the comments here, want to give away some books. Just post an excerpt of your post, and a link to it, and we'll send you a free copy of one of these books on preaching until we run out. Then, we'll take the best of those posts and excerpt them here at my blog to add to the conversation.

Here is part two of Dr. Murray's essay.

More Christ-centeredness

In his two posts (see the links above), Daniel Block suggested that we need to be less Christocentric and more Christotelic in our Old Testament interpretation. By this he means that we need to shift our emphasis from seeking Christ in the Old Testament and more towards seeing Christ as the end, as the destination, as the climax of the Old Testament, which each Old Testament text plays a preparatory part in. I agree with him that the Christotelic method is a valid way to interpret the Old Testament in a Christ-centered way. However, this again falls into the trap of limiting ourselves to one method.

This also crystallizes what is one of the main weaknesses of some Christ-centered Old Testament preaching. It's not Christ-centered enough. By that I mean that it's too focused on getting from the Old Testament text to the New Testament fulfillment as quickly as possible, with not enough time spent on seeing Christ in that particular Old Testament passage. It tends to view Old Testament passages as stepping-stones which we skip quickly over until we get to the New Testament side where we find Christ in all His beauty and glory.

How were Old Testament believers saved?

But is Christ not also in the stepping-stones? What about the original characters in the original passage? Noah, Moses, Ruth, David, etc? Did they have any saving faith, any Messiah-centered faith? And what about the original readers, the Israelites? Did they have any saving faith in the promised Messiah? What did they find in these passages to create, cultivate, and nourish saving faith? Remember they didn't have the benefit of a completed Old Testament or any of the New.

All of which raises perhaps the biggest question of all: How were Old Testament believers saved? All evangelicals believe that Old Testament believers were saved, the question is "How?" Within Evangelicalism there appears to be two main schools of thought:

  • They were saved by grace through faith in the promised Messiah.
  • They were saved by grace, through faith in God (general theism), plus their own effort and some sacrifices.

If it's the latter, then the Old Testament believers were a bunch of mixed up legalists and ritualists that God nevertheless accepted because, well, at least they made an effort. If that's the case, then we will want to get to the New Testament as quickly as we can to contrast the "darkness" and need of the Old Testament with the brightness and supply of the New. In other words, we will definitely want to take the Christotelic approach.

What does this tell me about God? What does this tell me about the promised Messiah?

But if it's the former, and I believe it is, if they were saved by grace through faith in the promised Messiah, then we don't need to skip as fast as we can to the New Testament. We can linger in the Old Testament passage and ask, "What did this event, sacrifice, item, person, vision, etc., teach them about God?" And especially, "What did it teach them about the coming Redeemer?" These were the two questions that each believing Israelite asked as they experienced God's providence and read His Word. What does this tell me about God? What does this tell me about the promised Messiah?

And these are the two questions that will produce more and better Christ-centered Old Testament preaching and teaching. They also force us to get into the original setting with the original readers and to stay there with them to figure out their faith, their experience of God, their spirituality, their relationship to God's promises, etc. We don't just use them as stepping stones to the New Testament. Like the author of Hebrews 11, we see them as brothers and sisters in Christ and learn from their faith in Christ.

Typology

Consider, for example, how the Israelites interacted with the Old Testament types, the visual theology or "picture-ology of the Old Testament. My quick definition of a type? A type is a real person, place, object, or event that God ordained to act as a predictive pattern or resemblance of Christ's person and work (or of opposition to it). Vern Poythress explains the believing Israelite's experience of the types:

As they looked ahead through the shadows, longing for something better, they took hold on the promises of God that He would send the Messiah….In pictorial form God was saying, as it were, "Look at My provisions for you. This is how I redeem you and bring you to My presence. But look again, and you will see that it is all an earthly symbol of something better. Do not rely on it as if it were the end. Trust Me to save you fully when I fully accomplish My plans." Israelites had genuine communion with God when they responded to what He was saying in the tabernacle. They trusted in the Messiah, without knowing all the details of how fulfillment would finally come. And so they were saved, and they received forgiveness, even before the Messiah came. The animal sacrifices in themselves did not bring forgiveness (Hebrews 10:1-4), but Christ did as He met with them through the symbolism of the sacrifices.[1]

That's why we have to anchor ourselves in the original setting and ask, "What was the type designed to teach the original audience?" Remember the original audience did not have the benefit of the later fulfillment to help them. However they did have the help of previous revelation and of the earlier promises of God that the types built upon and expanded. They also had the help of the Eastern mind-set which was much better attuned to learning through symbols than our empirical Western minds. And, of course, they had the help of the Holy Spirit to open their minds and hearts, though not to the same degree as we do in the New Testament.

That fundamental Christ-centered unity with the Old Testament believers is why Jesus says that we will feast at the same heavenly table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Matt. 8:11), all of us praising the same Savior, and none of us polishing our medals.

[1] Poythress, 11.

Read part five of the Christ-centered teaching and preaching series here.

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