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By Jonathan Akin
In preparation for the discussion of Christ-centered preaching that will be held on June 11 from 630-8AM in Houston at the SBC, I wanted to re-post a summary of my defense of Christ-centered exposition. I hope all of you will join Eric Hankins, Trevin Wax, Ed Stetzer and myself in Houston for beneficial discussion and free books!
I am committed to the Christ-centered exposition of the entire Bible because textually the Bible argues for this kind of interpretation, and practically I don’t want to preach in a way that could produce moralism.
Christ-centered interpretation was the method of Jesus and the Apostles
Jesus and the Apostles interpreted the Bible as all about Jesus. In Luke 24, Jesus says that each division of the OT was about him, and he rebukes the 2 disciples on the way to Emmaus for not seeing this. Also, Jesus tells his opponents that Moses wrote about Him (John 5:46). These men were experts in the OT, and yet they didn’t read it rightly because they didn’t see that it was all about Jesus. The apostles followed Jesus’ teaching. Each sermon in the NT is a Christ-centered proclamation of the OT, whether evangelistic ones like in Acts or the “exhortation” of the book of Hebrews. And Paul says that the purpose of the OT is to bring you to saving faith in Jesus (2 Tim 3:15).
Christ-centered interpretation takes into account the dual authorship of the Bible and treats it as one book instead of a collection of 66 books.
A common approach to the Bible today is the historical-grammatical method of interpretation. Among many things, this position says that the valid interpretation of a text can only be the meaning intended by the human author for his original audience. However, this doesn’t do full justice to the unique nature of the Bible. We should consider the authorial intent, but there is a dual authorship to the Bible in which we have to take into account the Divine Author. This doesn’t mean that there is a contradiction or tension between the Divine and human author, but it does mean that the human author could’ve been inspired to write more than he knew at the time (1 Peter 1:10-12).
Also, this method primarily approaches the Bible as a collection of 66 books and not one book. However, the NT’s use of the OT means that we have to read it backwards to make sense of it. Similar to reading a mystery novel, once you read a story and know the end, you can never read it the same way again. And rereading with the end in mind you see clues and hints along the way that point you to the final outcome. That is the way the New Testament tells us to read the OT to see all the shadows of Christ!
We should never let our hermeneutical methods allow us to disqualify the approach of Jesus and the Apostles. Like them, we must read the OT through the lens of the NT. Their method should be the criterion for our day, not vice-versa!
Christ-centered exposition avoids moralism by basing the imperatives to live faithfully in the gospel indicatives of what Christ has already done for us
How do we interpret the story of David and Goliath?
First, in my judgment, to say that the intention of the author of 1 Samuel was for his readers to face giants fails both to account for the intention of the Divine Author or the human author. 1 and 2 Samuel are about the rise of the Davidic monarchy. The intention of the author in this narrative is to show that David is a better king than Saul.
Second, we can’t assume that the Old Testament author wants us to read each OT account as examples to follow. What then is the point of Genesis 12? If you lie about your wife and let another man take her into his harem then God will plague the man and enrich you? This moral example approach is inconsistent at best and often incompatible with OT accounts.
Third, why is it that we always identify with the Spirit-anointed hero who produces the line of the Messiah? This betrays our own pride. Why don’t we assume that the author intends for his audience to primarily identify with the cowardly people who can’t face the giant? Why not see this as communicating “you need a champion to save you”?
Fourth, we also misinterpret the NT in this way. One key example is the temptation narratives. We act like the point of the text is that because Jesus learned his verses in RA’s he was able to quote them to defeat Satan’s temptation. However, Jesus isn’t first an example showing us how to fight sin; He is a Savior who succeeds where Adam, Israel, and we have failed. He defeats the serpent for us by not bypassing the cross. We are not ready to face temptation until we recognize that we’ve failed to perfectly fight off temptation, flee to Jesus for salvation, receive His Spirit and are enabled to fight a foe that has already been defeated.
The text does have something to say about faithful living, but only IN Christ and mediated through him. Once the enemy is defeated and you have the Spirit (like David/Jesus), then you can face down the enemies like the Israelites, but not before. Don’t miss that step! If we remove Christ from our exposition we give our people hollow moralism.
CONCLUSION- One of the first places I learned Christ-centered exposition was listening to great SBC preachers like W.A. Criswell and Adrian Rogers preaching Christ from the story of Joseph’s bones (Gen 50), the wilderness serpents (Num 21), and the healing of Namaan (2 Kings 5). I pray that God would raise up another generation filled with men like this who preach Christ from ALL the Scriptures!