Christ-Centered Preaching and Other Hermeneutical Approaches
I wish that when I encounter Christ in the Scriptures, whether the First Testament or the New Testament, I would be able to communicate all that those texts say about Christ. He does indeed represent the heart of biblical revelation, and a clear vision of Christ should be the long range goal of all our teaching and preaching. But to me, Christo-centrism is primarily a communication issue rather than a hermeneutical issue. Authoritative interpretation will focus first on the message of any given text, and once this is established reflect on its place and significance in the broader revelatory scheme that climaxes in Jesus. Not all First Testament texts point to Christ, but all texts reveal something about God or humanity or the universe that is necessary ultimately to understand the work of Christ.
We should also realize that not everything about the New Testament's message of Jesus is Christological. In its narrowest sense the word "Christ" reflects a particular office and role played by Jesus: he is the Messiah, the long awaited son of David, the king of Israel and ultimately cosmic King of Kings. But this is only one of the two primary points the New Testament makes about Jesus. The other concern is that Jesus is YHWH, the God of Israel incarnate in the flesh, as reflected in Paul's application of Joel 2:32 to Jesus: "Whoever will call upon the name of Yahweh will be saved" (Rom 10:13) and other texts. Technically the issue here is not "messianic," but incarnational: Jesus is "God with us." The response to the last question will show that this distinction is fundamental and not merely semantic.
The Use of the Old Testament in the New Testament
We may legitimately resort to allegory for rhetorical purposes—as Paul did in Gal 4:21-31, but this should not be confused with exegetical interpretation. Paul's allegory bypasses a grammatical historical reading of the Exodus and Sinai narratives. To true believers in ancient Israel, Sinai was not a symbol of bondage, but of freedom. However, if Judaizers insist on adherence to the law as the way to saving favor with God, the law is transformed into a despotic oppressor rather than the graciously revealed will of the Redeemer. As a hermeneutical principle, we should allegorize biblical texts only when they invite us to do so, but such invitations are rare.
Typology is a slightly different matter—though only slightly so. As a hermeneutical principle typology assumes correspondence between earlier and later phenomena—whether events, persons, or objects— and imagines that the earlier (the type) point to or anticipate the latter (antitype).
In principle, searching for these links is not objectionable. However, because of the widespread abuse of the method, I rarely use the word "type" or "typology." I prefer to speak of "correspondences" between phenomena, or "analogies."
Just because an earlier person or event corresponds in some respect to a later person or event, does not mean the former anticipates, let alone predicts the latter. Often the account of the earlier phenomenon simply provides the vocabulary for describing the later phenomenon. For this reason understanding the earlier is necessary for grasping the significance of the later, but this does not mean the earlier points to the later.
Sometimes Christological typologizing may actually reflect a low Christology. Although Joshua shares his name with Jesus (both mean "YHWH saves"), this is insufficient ground for viewing Joshua as a type of Christ.
Actually Joshua's name was never intended to describe his role or reflect his mission. He was indeed Israel's general in their battle against the Amalekites in Exodus 17:8-16, and in the offensive charge against the Canaanites in the book of Joshua, but neither of these represents the paradigmatic "saving" event; that is reserved for the Exodus from Egypt. Joshua had no hand in that whatsoever.
In fact, his name says nothing about his role. To think otherwise is to obscure the direct hand of YHWH in Israel's salvation and to obscure the etiology of the name. According to Num 13:16, Moses renamed Hoshea ben Nun ("He has saved") as Jehoshua ("YHWH has saved") not because of Joshua's military accomplishments, but in fulfillment of YHWH's intention in the signs and wonders of Egypt and the Exodus itself: "Then you will know that I am YHWH" (Exod 10:2).
Joshua's name is not a commentary on the man, but on the God of Israel. Accordingly, the angel's word to Joseph, "You shall call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins," alludes not to the man Joshua, but to YHWH who "saved" Israel from the "sins" of Pharaoh. This is Exodus language.
If we preach Joshua as a type of Christ, we minimize the role and work of Jesus and obscure the message of the book of Joshua. Jesus is not a second Joshua; Joshua was his agent! Jesus is YHWH who commissioned Joshua to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land and hand the land into their hands.