Are “Authorial Intent” and “Christ-Centered” Mutually Exclusive?

As interpreters, teachers, and preachers of God’s word we desire to be faithful to the Biblical text. We know that this entails interpreting Scripture according to the Biblical authors’ original intent, historical context, and literary context, among other things. We don’t want to be guilty of eisegesis–reading our own thoughts and ideas into the text rather than getting our conclusions from out of the text (exegesis).

But at the same time, we know that Christ said the entirety of Scripture speaks of Him (Luke 24:25-27; cf. 1 Pet 1:10-12; Rom 1:2). And so as Paul, we would love to say that even in our expositional preaching “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2).

But what about the majority of texts where Christ is not mentioned? How do we preach Christ then? Do we preach the authorial intent and then sort of arbitrarily jump to Christ at the end, tack on an altar call or two with some repeated “Just as I am” choruses?

We want to avoid moralism; so we want to preach Christ. We don’t simply want to draw conclusions like, “don’t be like Saul,” “don’t be like the Israelites,” or “be more like David,” as if this alternative is somehow more honest to the authorial intent. But how do we preach Christ-centered in passages that have seemingly little to do with Christ at all?

I think you get my drift.

In order to help provide an answer to this issue, let me share with you, first, an excellent excerpt from Tony Merida’s recent blog post, “Christ-Centered Preaching,” and second, some portions from the book Kingdom Through Covenant.

First…

…an excerpt from Tony Merida’s “Christ-Centered Preaching”:

Essentially, expository preaching attempts to explain and apply the biblical text in its context. This poses an interesting dilemma for Christian preachers. How is one to preach Christ where he may not seem to be present in the text?  In asking this question, two assumptions are being made:

  • Expositors should be faithful to the context of a passage.
  • Christian preachers should desire to proclaim the glories of Christ.

How does one deal with the text with integrity and preach Christ from a text like Nehemiah? After all, many Old Testament instructors declare that “you should not look for Jesus under every rock!” Students are taught to respect and consider the “original” hearers. Thus, the question remains as to whether the preacher can accomplish these two goals (exposition and Christ-centeredness) without arbitrarily inserting Jesus into the text or simply “leapfrogging to Jesus” at the end of the sermon.

Bryan Chapell argues that one of the solutions to this dilemma is for the expositor to see the Bible as a unified book of redemptive history which culminates in the person and work of Christ. Chapell argues that preachers cannot properly explain a portion of biblical revelation, even if they say many true things about it, unless they relate it to the redeeming work of God that all Scripture ultimately purposes to disclose. In this sense, the entire Bible is Christ-centered because his redemptive work in all of its incarnational, atoning, rising, interceding, and reigning dimensions is the capstone of all of God’s revelation of his dealings with his people. Thus, no aspect of revelation can be thoroughly understood or explained in isolation of Christ’s redeeming work.

Therefore, the goal for Christ-centered expositors is not to “look for Jesus under every rock,” but rather to find out how a particular text fits into the whole redemptive story that culminates in Christ. Ultimately, the particular book is within the wider biblical context. In other words, it is a short story within the meta-narrative of Scripture. The discipline that deals with the unfolding of God’s redemptive work in history is often called biblical theology.[1]

Three cheers for Biblical Theology!

Second…

…some portions from Kingdom Through Covenant’s chapter, “Hermeneutical Issues in ‘Putting Together’ the Covenants”[2]:

Wellum helpfully addresses the three “horizons” according to which we must interpret passages of Scripture–the textual horizon, the epochal horizon, and the canonical horizon. “Context is king;” and it is these three contexts which must “reign” in our hermeneutic.

According to the first horizon, the textual horizon,

biblical hermeneutic has sought to read texts according to the grammatical-historical method, seeking to discern God’s intent though the human author’s intent by setting the text in its historical setting, understanding the rules of language the author is using, analyzing the syntax, textual variants, word meanings, figures of speech, and the literary structure, including the genre of the text. ~ pg. 93

According to the epochal horizon,

we seek to read texts in light of where they are in redemptive history, or where they are in terms of the unfolding plan of God. ~ pg. 94

Here, biblical

authors…begin to identify God-given patterns between earlier and later events, persons, and institutions within the unfolding of God’s plan, what is rightly labelled “typology.” It is by this means, but not limited to it, that God’s plan moves forward and ultimately reaches its consummation in Christ. ~ pg.94

The final context in which we must understand scripture is the canonical horizon,

Given the fact that the Scripture is God’s Word and thus a unified revelation, in the final analysis texts must be understood in relation to the entire Canon. … It is only when we read Scripture in terms of the canonical horizon that we are interpreting it in a truly “biblical” manner…. ~ pg. 99

Interpreting Scripture canonically or christocentrically was not invented out of thin air by imaginative preachers who thought it was a nice Christian idea.

Given what Scripture is, a canonical reading is not an optional way to interpret Scripture. In fact, to read the bible canonically is demanded by the nature of Scripture and its claim regarding itself [divinely inspired and unified]. ~ pg.87

Scripture as an entire Canon must interpret Scripture. ~ pg. 86.

So then…

…As C.J. Mahaney says,

Every passage of Scripture–in both the Old and New Testaments–either predicts, prepares for, reflects, or results from the work of Christ.[3]

That’s key to our hermeneutic.

That’s key to understanding and preaching our Bibles like Jesus and His apostles did–typologically, canonically, christotelically.

That’s why Biblical theology is so essential to our preaching.

Further Reading:

See my previous post, Christ in the Old Testament: Christocentric or Christotelic Hermeneutic?

Pick up Kingdom Through Covenant and read the chapter on hermeneutics, “Hermeneutical Issues in ‘Putting Together’ the Covenants.”

Tomorrow I will be publishing a post entitled The Difference Between Typology and Allegory. Look for it.

Notes

[1] Taken from Tony Merida’s “Christ-Centered Preaching (Part 1): The “Dilemma” of Christ-Centered Expository Preaching.”

[2] Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom Through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012).

[3] C.J. Mahaney, Living the Cross-Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel the Main Thing (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books, 2006).

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