Christocentric readings of the Bible in the blogosphere

Although I was once critical of “Christocentric” readings of Scripture in general, I have recently considered that there is really only one brand of it that I have major problems with.

Specifically, I dislike a Christocentric bibliology that views the entirety of the Bible as sub-consciously or self-consciously about Jesus. Jesus’ foot was the one who would crush the serpent’s head; Jesus was (typologically at least) the ram in the thicket; Jesus stood with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace; Jesus was the one in view when David was promised that his line would endure forever; etc.

I disagree strongly. The authors of Scripture were entirely children of their own times alone, and while it certainly appears that they began to be hopeful for some of the right things (and missed others dramatically), viewing the NT’s deliberate attempts to reinterpret current events in the terms of OT themes as the decisive “actual meaning” of those OT passages is anachronistic. Inasmuch as they violently commandeer the ancient writings that comprise Scripture ex post facto and thereby prohibit us from seeing certain insights (such as a development of early believers’ understandings of God), these Christocentric interpolations really amount to the truly revisionist readings of the Bible.

Yet there is a way of viewing Scripture that I have an affinity for which I have lately decided qualifies as a “Christocentric” reading. It views the whole of Scripture not so much as “pointing to” Christ (which, again, implies a consciousness on the part of the authors, or at least a more direct divine editorial hand than the evidence suggests) but culminating in Christ. It is much more of an evolutionary approach that mirrors, or perhaps rather, is part of the warp and woof of the development of the universe. It results in an encouragement to judge the Scriptures by Christ instead of revising his theology to make it compatible with some of even the OT’s most disgusting portrayals of God. If Jesus was the definitive Word of God, putting him as he truly was into those wineskins should, occasionally at least, result in a bit of a mess.

Anyway, there have been a few posts on other blogs during this last week that have been complementary to the better aspects of Christocentric bibliology. First was a post by Jeff Dunn on Internet Monk that, while occasionally straying into some classic Christocentrism-of-the-wrong-sort language, did contain this gem:

A woman asked me if I knew of any DVD series that used New Testament characters to teach positive character traits. Another woman, a teacher in a Christian school, needed it for her middle school classes. I said, “No, I don’t know of any.” Then I continued, “And that would be the wrong use of Scripture.”

“What do you mean?”

“Scripture is given to us for one reason only,” I said. “And that is to reveal Jesus to us. If you want to teach positive character traits, try a book like Mickey Mantle’s The Quality Of Courage. That’s much better to use to teach that kind of thing.”

While I wince a little at the idea of the Bible being “given” to us in the direct manner implied here, I do think his main point is a good one. We can look at the saints in the Bible and see some good character traits — heck, Hebrews 11 is full of them — but if we insist that we want to take what they had to tell us seriously, we’ll not lose sight of the fact that the NT authors were firmly, thoroughly Christocentric. The Gospel writers (especially Mark) and certainly Paul were intent on showing even the Apostles to be fallible, while never once intimating the same for Jesus. We even have people go so far as to discern and prescribe “character traits” supposedly exhibited by any and every animal mentioned in the Bible (but only those in the Bible), because of course, “God mentioned the bat in His Word for as many good reasons as we can think of, and more.” There are good character traits in Scripture, and I wouldn’t go as far as Dunn does to say that highlighting those traits in order to teach them was “wrong”, at very least it bolsters Protestantism’s characteristic and problematic bibliocentrism. It also tends towards very silly, misguided, and often sidetracking emphases such as the Prayer of Jabez craze of yesteryear: Jabez prayed that prayer, so we should at least give it a go!

A post that describes bibliology in terms I quite like is Diglot’s “My Take on the Bible“. It’s short, sweet, and to the well-stated point. His points coincide so closely with my own views that I will not even try to start quoting the post here. What I will do is quote a verse mentioned in the post that I think stands as a good summary of the NT writers’ own Christocentric bibliology.

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. (John 5.39-40)

As both Jeff Dunn and Diglot pointed out, as self-professed Christians we’ve got to be careful that we don’t major on the minors. Anything in Scripture worth fighting for will be found in Christ. Maybe we should spend less time systematizing or arguing the “fundamental” importance of certain teachings within the Bible (“recovered” by some sect or another), and spend more time listening to the actual Word of God, if that’s who we believe he is.

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  • Anonymous

    you are really not going to like the rest of my series on preaching the OT as Christian scripture then! oh well, you can’t please all the people all the time. 🙁

  • “It results in an encouragement to judge the Scriptures by Christ instead of revising his theology to make it compatible with some of even the OT’s most disgusting portrayals of God.”

    Pastor Greg Boyd (of Minneapolis) is currently writing a book in which I think he takes a similar approach. He has a Christocentric hermeneutic of judging the Old Testament by the revelation of God given to us in Jesus (and recorded in the gospels).

    “Jesus stood with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace”

    I was always unsure about ascribing the appearance of the fourth person in the fiery furnace (and other OT visitations of “the angel of the Lord”) to the preincarnate Jesus.