Christ, Christ at the Center series, Christocentricism

>Searching for a Center (Christ at the Center pt 1)

It seems different traditions will have a different central focus. Roman Catholicism starts with Ecclesiology and builds a theology from there. Restorationist Stone-Campbellites seem to do the same. Open theism builds a theology from a certain concept of the will. Dispensationalism emphasizes eschatology and much of American evangelicalism seems built on Bibliology or a certain concept of a gospel offer.

Even within the Reformed camp there seems to be a debate on the “center” of the faith. There is a large TULIP-happy, soteriologically-centered crowd that sees everything centered around the Reformed concept of Soteriology and predestination. Another crowd seems to have, what I would term, a Theo-centric view. This sees God as transcendent and grand and builds everything off of such a view, with much talk about how not to view things as man-centric.

Both of these approaches are correct in their teaching, yet also slightly askew as the question of emphasis, center, and the foundation of your theology affects how you look at other aspects of theology, even if the basics are the same. The Soteriology-centered crowd seems to have little concern for the detail of worship, other than mentioning our depravity often and never giving an invitation. The Theo-centric crowd can sometimes talk of God in such grand ways as to make God impersonal, and while God may be too humanized in other parts of evangelicalism, a full swing to the other extreme is problematic as well.

I’ve been stuck as I study theology how true is the statement of Karl Barth: “show me your Christology, and I will show you the rest of your theology.” Concurrently, while reading Alister McGrath’s Iustitia Dei, I was struck by his description of Calvin’s approach to theology. While Luther centered everything around justification and Beza had more of the Theo-centric approach (like above), Calvin centered all talk of ecclesiology, Soteriology, and Theology Proper around the person of Christ. It was more than a throw away line about how important Jesus is, or an add on line to please the folks who prefer to talk to God through Jesus “thank you Jesus, help me Jesus, Come Lord Jesus, etc.” No, every aspect of Salvation related to the question, “how does Christ teach us about salvation?” Christ becomes type, teacher and image in any discussion. Ecclesiology is a question about: how do we understand the church as the Bride of Christ, or the Body of Christ? Theology proper is about how do we learn about God through Christ. Soteriology is about how Christ saves us. The Galations phrase “the revelation of Jesus Christ” is a great method to Theology. In Greek, we learned that the use of the genitive in the title means it can also be translated: “Jesus Christ reveals.” I like three word theological guides (see “God saves sinners.”) While “God saves sinners” can be a good summary of theology, “Jesus Christ reveals” can be a beginning to a hermeneutic or methodology within our theological study. This emphasis has particularly hit me over the past year. Before that, I had a well developed Soteriology, a poor Theology Proper, a non-existent Ecclesiology and a skeletal Bibliology. All of which was due to an underdeveloped Christology; and all of which I have seen invigorated by robust, and centric Christology. At the least, it is a good question to ask when looking at a new area of theology: What does Jesus Christ reveal about this…



19 thoughts on “>Searching for a Center (Christ at the Center pt 1)

  1. >Point of clarification:When I addressed Matt in the previous comment, I was referring to Matthew Bradley. Sorry for the confusion this may have caused.

    Posted by M. Jay Bennett | June 25, 2008, 6:43 pm
  2. >Matt,I think your assessment is right.Jared,I’m going to read that now. Can’t wait! 🙂

    Posted by M. Jay Bennett | June 23, 2008, 4:44 pm
  3. >Jay – there you go, I just posted something where I tell you I do in fact think Christ is the absolute start of our knowledge and threw some big names you respect at you for good measure! 🙂

    Posted by Jared Nelson | June 23, 2008, 2:43 pm
  4. >I think Matt’s comments knocked this sting off course a bit. The point of being Christ-centered isn’t that Christ becomes the absolute starting point for knowing (as Jay pointed out) but that instead he is the one that we are seeking in the text throughout. Ironically, although Christcentred’s comments near the bottom sounds contrarian, I think they are in line with the original blogpost and with the view of Jared and the Bennett.Besides, it isn’t that we must have a well developed anthropology in order to understand Christ. It is that in coming to know Christ our anthropology becomes better developed.

    Posted by Matthew Bradley | June 23, 2008, 1:54 pm
  5. >Congratulations on your graduation! We attend St. Nicks in the city centre.

    Posted by Mark Mathews | June 23, 2008, 10:28 am
  6. >Ah yes. I think Jeff mentioned it on another post.Unfortunately I won’t be at Durham Uni much longer as I graduate on Wednesday. However, I will be sticking around in the much less attractive Stockton.Which church are you going to up there?

    Posted by christcentred | June 23, 2008, 9:25 am
  7. >Tim,I just noticed you are in Durham (although at Queen’s campus). I am in the PhD program at Durham in the Theology and Religion department. Nice to see your comments!Mark

    Posted by Mark Mathews | June 23, 2008, 8:56 am
  8. >Jeff I don’t know what lead you to that fanciful conclusion :p!On a more serious note: I think these follow up points, whilst interesting, lack a little practicality.When I look at the Bible what should I be thinking? That I should view it christocentrically (that is surely made up word) bearing in mind the anthropological and theological presupositions that are the foundation for that view, these foundations in turn dependent on other presuppositions in an endless spiral?No. You do that sort of study if you wish!I look at a passage and interpret it through Christ. I say this trying desperately not to be contentious…but it’s not all that difficult. Jesus died for my sins to get me to God and I received this gift by faith. No philosophy is more ultimate than that for the Christian (or so is my reading of Col 2:8). So we don’t need to understand anthropology to understand Christ. And Christ isn’t all that difficult to understand. If you just read what he says his point is pretty obvious, with the Holy Spirit’s help anyway.Jesus interpreted the whole Scriptures in light of himself. I don’t think it needs to get any more complex. We just make it sound like only clever people who know a lot of words that end in -ical or -ology can get doctrine.Maybe as Frame says God can see ultimately stepping back and seeing everything. But he lisps to us. And his lisp makes clear “Just read through my Son”.Am I missing something?(Sorry this is well past the point of anyone looking at this post!)

    Posted by christcentred | June 23, 2008, 7:30 am
  9. >I don’t mean to pick. I think Christocentricity is a good thing, as long as we understand that we are not thinking of Christ as an absolute starting point for knowing (in whatever sphere we are discussing). I don’t think there is such a thing as an absolute starting point of knowledge for finite creatures. Christ is both start and finish, alpha and omega, simultaneously. Here’s my point:When defining the person of Christ (along with Chalcedon) we use phrases like “fully man” and “fully God.” So, even in our definition of Christ we presuppose some knowledge of theology proper and anthropology. Likewise, when we define our anthropology and theology proper, our understanding will be insufficient if Christ, the God-man, is not incorporated in a fundamental way. I think we need multiple perspectives from which to perceive anything in order to know anything.

    Posted by M. Jay Bennett | June 21, 2008, 8:33 pm
  10. >Just to push your buttons Jay, I did get my start on this Christo-centric kick through posts and conversations with you and Dr. Svigel.

    Posted by Jared Nelson | June 21, 2008, 7:16 pm
  11. >The desire for a center is for a key to other parts of theology, not an isolated doctrine and screw the other doctrines. As, Jay, we taught in our class, Christology serves as a basis for talking about Soteriology, since if Christ was not either fully man or fully God we would be left in our sins. A bad Christology affects every other doctrine. I want to do a few follow ups on how it relates to other doctrines but you guys keep picking on me first! 😦

    Posted by Jared Nelson | June 21, 2008, 7:08 pm
  12. >Sorry, I meant to end my last comment with this: Maybe rather than searching for a center we should seek to be centered by finding the edges (i.e. the multiple perspectives from which God has revealed himself to his people).

    Posted by M. Jay Bennett | June 21, 2008, 6:27 pm
  13. >I just started reading John Frame’s The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. Frame argues for a multi-perspectival epistemology. In other words, he argues that as finite creatures we know individual things as they exist in relationship to other things. Therefore, the quest to find the one true starting point is impossible. As Frame says, only God can “relate everything to everything else all at once” (10). So we need many doctrines in order to understand Christology (or anything else) and vice versa. We cannot know the Father without knowing the Son, and we cannot know the Son without knowing the Father. But if we know the Father and Son and the Son’s teaching about the Helper, then we have also begun to know something of the trinity. All of these doctrines are fundamentally interrelated. In other words, at some point if you do away with one you lose the others and vice versa. I think Frame may be on to something.

    Posted by M. Jay Bennett | June 21, 2008, 6:23 pm
  14. >Matt- valid critique. If all we have is a vague view of Christ in mind, then yes, it is a bad way to do Theology. A blog post is sometimes not a forum where you can say everything you want to. I am working on writing a follow up on Christ and Scripture according to the Early Church. On my personal blog I have touched on the relationship briefly, but I would like to flesh it out a little bit more. Tune in!

    Posted by Jared Nelson | June 21, 2008, 3:57 pm
  15. >The Christocentric view of reality sounds nice (it’s all the rage now), but I have a tough time seeing how it works out practically. My question is: How does Christ reveal himself? Or, How do we know Christ?Is it through mystical promptings of the Spirit? If so, doesn’t this reduce the faith to existentialism?Is it through the Bible? If so, how do we navigate through the myriads of interpretations of the Jesus of the Scriptures? Is there a rule of interpretation? The problem with a Christocentric rule of faith is that the objective Jesus is unavailable to us. When most people say they “start with Jesus” they mean they start with “my opiion of what Jesus should be.” It amounts to little more than existentialism.

    Posted by Matt | June 21, 2008, 2:54 pm
  16. >christcentred, I had an idea you’d agree with his post. I wonder what gave it away? 😉

    Posted by Jeff Wright | June 21, 2008, 1:51 pm
  17. >I couldn’t agree with you more Jared. It is so easy for even sound movements to go off track. I’ve found Colossians 2 a very helpful challenge, especially v6-7:”Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”The other day I heard a sound pastor say that his three foundations were the Bible, the Trinity and congregational church government. I was nearly sick.You could say Christ is implicit in Trinity but should he EVER be implicit?The worrying thing is that its not just at a denominational level but at a personal level. I myself can be TULIP-centred, Bible-centred or mission-centred and these all result in bad stuff. It’s a real call to repentance.Thanks for a great postTim

    Posted by christcentred | June 21, 2008, 9:45 am
  18. >”Before that, I had a well developed Soteriology, a poor Theology Proper, a non-existent Ecclesiology and a skeletal Bibliology.”Great line. Sad but true. I am/was right there with you as so many of us are as well. There is theological life beyond Soteriology!

    Posted by Jeff Wright | June 21, 2008, 3:58 am
  19. >I like your thinking here. Calvin does not make the connection explicitly, but I have always thought that his famous opening premise to The Institutes that all our wisdom comes from our knowledge of God and ourselves springs from Christology. Calvin is saying, in other words, all our wisdom comes from the God-man knowledge. Who is the God-man? Where do we best learn about humanity and divinity? Christ Jesus.

    Posted by M. Jay Bennett | June 21, 2008, 1:00 am

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