As we think through the Christocentric hermeneutic, we need to take a step back and think about the importance of preaching. Preaching is mandated by God, vital to the church, pivotal in our ministries, and of course then, important to God. Think about the wording in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” Our accountability in preaching ultimately goes before the Lord. We need to, therefore, care about preaching, and teaching, and getting the text right as much as God cares about it. We need to determine if we should preach Christ from every text.
Therefore, it is of the utmost seriousness when people suggest that preaching which is not Christocentric does not honor Christ. I’m confident that none of us want to be guilty of dishonoring our Savior. Rather, we want to exalt Christ and proclaim the truth. Such a suggestion should make us wonder if expository preaching, based upon a grammatical historical hermeneutic, is sufficient to honor the Lord Jesus Christ.
Explaining the Christocentreic Hermeneutic
In essence, the Christocentric hermeneutic attempts to find Christ as the subject or topic of every text. It desires to show that every text relates directly to Christ. Which is why some say it is the only true Christian preaching.
The problem ensues when the Christocentric hermeneutic applies that mindset to texts that don’t call for it. Some of the results should make you feel a little bit uncomfortable. For example, the Christocentric hermeneutic has argued the darkness that surrounded Abraham at the founding of the Abrahamic covenant parallels Christ’s own darkness at the cross. Samson’s rejection of his tribe mirrors how Jesus would be rejected. David and Goliath is a picture of how the ultimate David will re-vanquish sin, Satan, and death. Nathan’s death at the hand of false witness is a picture of Christ own death at the hand of false witness. Esther’s willingness to sacrifice her own life is a picture of Jesus willingness to sacrifice his own life. These are just some of the ways the Christocentric hermeneutic interprets Scripture.1
Why does the Christocentric hermeneutic approach the text the way it does?
- Scripture Passages: Supporters point to texts like 1 Corinthians 1:23, 1 Corinthians 2:2, and 2 Corinthians 4:5 which speak of preaching Christ. Therefore, they say, there is a biblical mandate to do this in every sermon.
- Biblical Theological Rationale: People using the Christocentric hermeneutic argue that the way the NT uses the OT justifies their method. They contend that based upon Jesus’ own words (Luke 24:45), there is a deeper meaning of the OT scriptures, one that the prophets were not necessarily aware of. Thus, to fully understand the OT, the believer should access the full Christological and typological meaning of the OT unlocked by Christ.
Evaluating the Christocentric Hermeneutic
We should first look at the positives. It’s great that they want to stress theology in an age devoid of doctrine. It’s wonderful that they stress the unity of Scripture and redemptive history. God does have a plan and we need to acknowledge it. It is also good that they want to support their position based on Scripture.
However, there are problems with the method as well. The passages that the Christocentric hermeneutic appeals to do not necessarily warrant their approach. 1 Corinthians 1:23, 1 Corinthians 2:2, or 2 Corinthians 4:5 contextually do not speak of preaching Christ as the only doctrine of Scripture. After all, Paul does not do that. He speaks of various doctrines from the OT, like the resurrection (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:54-55). Instead, these passages speak of preaching Christ as opposed to one’s self (2 Corinthians 4:5) and thereby as the central point of the gospel message (1 Corinthians 2:2). These texts do not go as far as the Christocentric hermeneutic desires.
Likewise, the NT’s use of the OT also does not justify the Christocentric hermeneutic. Although the issue demands more space than we have here, we can at least observe our Lord’s hermeneutic for answers. He uses the OT to speak of marriage (Matthew 19:5-6), eschatology (Matthew 24:15), and loving God (Luke 10:27). He does not reinterpret those OT texts but appeals to what they say. Along that line, Luke 24:25, a passage often cited by the Christocentric hermeneutic, states that Jesus affirms “all the prophets have spoken.” With that, He affirms the OT writers’ intent as what the OT meant in all its details. That is in essence a grammatical-historical hermeneutic. Thus, our Lord’s hermeneutic does not support a Christocentric hermeneutic but a grammatical-historical one.
At this point you might say, “Well, who cares? Does this have any ramification on my life? Is this just an academic issue?” This does matter.
You see, when we elevate one truth, it begins to exclude and distort other parts of Scripture. If we preach Christ from every text, we lose out on what those passages say on other doctrines. We might miss key truths for our lives. Even more, Scripture has a perfect articulation of the truth. It is inerrant. It is God’s Word. By not handling Scripture carefully, we can easily misconstrue doctrines and the precise ramifications they should have on our lives. If we are going handle all of life, we need the whole counsel of God’s Word and that demands proper interpretation.
Establishing the sufficiency of a grammatical historical approach
How do we honor Christ in our study and proclamation of Scripture? We revere Christ not only by exalting Him in the pulpit but also by hermeneutical obedience in the study. After all, we have seen that Jesus affirmed the prophets’ intent as the meaning of the OT. This grammatical-historical approach is the approach of the prophets who are climaxed in Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2) and the apostles who are sent by Him (John 16:13). This is the hermeneutic of Scripture.
This does not lessen Christ’s glory in Scripture. Rather, it unleashes it. By studying all the theology of the OT, we gain the full theological breadth of Scripture. That framework not only tells us truth and how to live but also amplifies the person and work of Christ. We need to have confidence the method prescribed in Scripture is sufficient to showcase the complete glory of Christ. We do not need to force a text to connect with Christ but rather need to invest the time and effort in seeing the way the biblical writers connect God’s Word with the Word. Then, as we exposit the full counsel of God, we can glorify Christ in hermeneutical obedience as we proclaim Him fully.
1 Chou, Abner. “A Hermeneutical Evaluation of the Christocentric Hermeneutic.” Master’s Seminary Journal 27 (2016): 113–39.