Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Christ Centred Interpretation Only?

Earlier I posted on Jason Hood's article about "Christ Centred Interpretation Only?" published in SBET. As a follow up, in the latest issue of CT, Colin Hansen has a piece on "Christ-Centred Cautions" that highlights Hood's concerns that Christ Centred preaching can denigrate those who preach a message of moral exhoration from Scripture. Hood's concern is that Jesus and the biblical authors themselves use Scripture for a great deal of moral exhortation. Hood accepts the premise that Christ is the centre of Scripture and rejects crass moralizations. But there is no escaping the fact that much of the NT use of the OT focuses on moral exhortation.

A few other thoughts:

1. While it might sound a bit neat, there is clearly a "both/and" balance here. Undoubtedly when NT authors and the Church Fathers came to a biblical text they brought with them the story of Scripture itself, they read the Bible christocentically, because the Bible explicitly told them to (e.g., Luke 24:27; John 5:45-47; Rom 10:4, etc.). And yet we should also read the Bible ecclesiocentrically because we are supplied with the example of this as well. How much of the NT's use of the OT talks about the church in the context of its coming into existence, warnings from Isael's past, and its hostility with the world around it (e.g., Romans 9-11!). In my mind 1 Corinthians 10 shows both elements since in 10.4 we see that the rock that followed Israel in the wilderness was "Christ" and then in 10.11 the wilderness narrative was written "as warnings for us on whom the end of ages had come". In fact, Richard Hays argues that the ecclesiocentric element is more prolific than the christocentric element in Paul.

2. In certain Reformed circles it is common to see the necessary application of every sermon to be, somehow, about the Law vs. Gospel distinction. This seems like an odd thing to interject into every sermon. Yes, Gal 3:12, "The Law is not of faith", but let's note also Rom 3:27 with the "law of faith" and by faith "we uphold the Law". There is undoubtedly two epochs of Law and Christ (Gal. 3.10-14 and Rom. 3.21), but they are part of a single story in which there are continuities and discontinuities and focusing on the discontinuities seems like an odd thing to trump out twice on Sunday.

3. As someone who preaches a fair bit around the traps, I tend to think that the goal of preaching is transformation. Transformation in terms of conforming our minds to the Word of God and conforming our lives to the pattern of Jesus Christ.


Tim Bertolet said...

Great thoughts. I find there is sort of a pendulum swing here. Some preaching in evangelical circles finds nothing in the text but examples that are highly spiritualizeds, e.g. 'Goliath becomes the giants we all face'. The other side, can be an abuse of a Christocentric method so that we have almost nothing to learn about the Christian walk from the OT.

As a pastor who is favorable towards Christocentric preaching, I have found that, particularly when I am in the Old Testament, if I respect the continuity of redemptive history, it is much easier to respect a Christocentric (Christotelic, if you prefer) focus and not miss out of moral exhortations that correct, rebuke and train us in righteousness.

I find in preparing for application the more I meditate on the idea that for the church "the end of the ages has come" and the 'already/not yet' the less likely it will be that my overall Christotelic approach unduly eliminates any notion of the OT being an example (which would go against 1 Cor 10 and other passages).

Your comments on the purpose of preaching seem to be right out of Colossians 1:28.

John Thomson said...

I agree with the above comments. I would add...

Given the OT is Christotelic then it is also typological; it privides patterns that describe the life of the age to come. So it is legitimate to see Israel in Egypt, the desert and Canaan as different aspects of church experience.

Even observations about not muzzling the ox, Paul considers as principles about paying christian workers.

If the OT is Christotelic then it points to the End.
It seems to me the End (the Kingdom, already and not Yet) must govern our interpretation.

This is one reason why I find Goldingay's OT commentaries and theology so frustrating; he resists the NT lens. I cannot see how a Christian commentator can do this. The NT explicitly tells us the hermeneutical key to the OT is the fulfilment in Christ. Any interpretation that ignores this is inadequate. Any interpretation that interprets in a way that negates this is mistaken.

Nick said...

The Catholic Church agrees with you, Michael F (from the Catechism):

The senses of Scripture

115 According to an ancient tradition, one can distinguish between two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral and anagogical senses. the profound concordance of the four senses guarantees all its richness to the living reading of Scripture in the Church.

116 The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: "All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal."83

117 The spiritual sense. Thanks to the unity of God's plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs.
1. the allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ's victory and also of Christian Baptism.84
2. the moral sense. the events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written "for our instruction".85
3. the anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, "leading"). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem.86

118 A medieval couplet summarizes the significance of the four senses:

The Letter speaks of deeds; Allegory to faith;
The Moral how to act; Anagogy our destiny.87

119 "It is the task of exegetes to work, according to these rules, towards a better understanding and explanation of the meaning of Sacred Scripture in order that their research may help the Church to form a firmer judgement. For, of course, all that has been said about the manner of interpreting Scripture is ultimately subject to the judgement of the Church which exercises the divinely conferred commission and ministry of watching over and interpreting the Word of God."88

But I would not believe in the Gospel, had not the authority of the Catholic Church already moved me.89