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On the christo-centricity of Scripture.
The moment we tire of hearing about the crucified One, we’ve accepted a substitute for the Substitute.
Several times on this blog I have contended for the Christo-centricity of Scripture through the redemptive-narrative proclamation of the Word. That is, preaching the gospel through the unfurling history of grace. That theme persists as, perhaps, the most critical component of my ministry. In every venue in which the Word is opened, my singular aim is to present to the listeners Jesus’s sufficiency in and for all things. My endeavor has been (and will continue to be) to show how Jesus himself is the thread of the Scriptures — not the amplification of one’s morals or ethics or anything of the sort. To be sure, the Bible contains morals and ethics and do’s and don’ts, with which we must all come to grips. But the overriding message of the Bible is not a moral, ethical, or even obediential one — it is a revelatory one. “The Bible is not first a recipe book for Christian living,” Tullian Tchividjian writes, “but a revelation book of Jesus who is the answer to our un-Christian living” (31).
In an exceptional article over on 9Marks, entitled, “Why Mature Christians Need Gospel-Centered Preaching,” author and pastor Jeramie Linne makes the same argument. “The Bible,” Linne asserts, “is not ultimately an instruction book for life, or a moral encyclopedia of do’s and don’ts. It’s a great drama, an epic saga in which Jesus Christ is the heroic leading man who’s death and resurrection enables us to know him and be like him.” Sometimes it’s hard to see that saga unfold. But such is the calling and duty of the pastor: to diligently, delightfully, and faithfully divulge himself in the Scripture’s story so that he may relay that story to sinners. “We all need someone,” Linne continues, “to stand before us weekly and call us to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” In that sense, then, “Christ-centered preaching” is more than just a vogue style of ministerial speaking. It’s “more than a theological trend or one interpretive approach among many,” writes Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary president Dr. Jason K. Allen, “it is a biblical mandate, a Great Commission necessity, and the primary aim of biblical preaching” (94).
Even though it shouldn’t, ascribing to the mission of preaching Christ alone week in and week out opens the door for criticism. The critics will rail that preaching the same thing every week does nothing. It’s the same old, same old and causes “Jesus fatigue.” Such notions, however, are utterly false, fueled primarily by a tragically mistaken interpretation of the “milk and meat” St. Paul offered the Corinthians (1 Cor. 3:1–4). The “milk vs. solid food” dichotomy presented 1 Corinthians 3 and Hebrews 5, coupled with what the writer to the Hebrews says regarding leaving “the elementary teaching about Christ” (Heb. 6:1–3), lends itself to the precarious notion that Christian maturity is realized as one graduates from the gospel. That simply preaching Jesus is only for new believers, “babies in Christ” (1 Cor. 3:1). But when the new believer wants to enter “spiritual adulthood,” he has to “put aside childish things” (1 Cor. 13:11) and dive into the more auspicious and hazardous nitty-gritty of God’s Word.
Such assumptions are more than false, however. In fact, I hasten to call them treacherous. They are precisely anti-scripture, running counter to not only the Pauline gospel presented in the epistolary works of Scripture but are, likewise, the antithesis of the gospel itself, which is entirely comprised of Jesus’s person and work. Christian maturity is not growth away from but deeper into the grand redemptive story of Christ crucified. “Gospel-centered preaching,” Linne writes, “threads together the Bible’s precious texts into a sparkling necklace, and Jesus is the crown jewel in the center.” Professor, author, and speaker Jared C. Wilson attests similarly:
The Bible is about Jesus. Front to back, page to page, Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21, the written Word of God is primarily and essentially about the saving revelation of the divine Word of God . . . everything the Bible teaches, whether theological or practical, and everywhere it teaches, whether historical or poetical or applicational or prophetic, is meant to draw us closer to Christ, seeing him with more clarity and loving him with more of our affections. The Bible is about Jesus. (77–79)
The moment we grow tired of hearing about the crucified One, we’ve accepted a substitute for the Substitute and put ourselves on the path to salvation by works. To that end, in a sermon entitled “The Silence of Scripture,” Alexander Maclaren echoes this sentiment in rapturous declaration:
[The] Gospels, and the whole Bible, New Testament and Old, have this for their purpose, to produce in men’s hearts the faith in Jesus as “the Christ” and as “the Son of God” . . . Christ, the Son of God, is the centre of Scripture; and the Book — whatever be the historical facts about its origin, its authorship, and the date of the several portions of which it is composed — the Book is a unity, because there is driven right through it, like a core of gold, either in the way of prophecy and onward-looking anticipation, or in the way of history and grateful retrospect, the reference to the one “Name that is above every name,” the name of the Christ, the Son of God.
Scripture is not given to us merely to make us know something about God in Christ, nor only in order that we may have faith in the Christ thus revealed to us but for a further end — great, glorious, but, blessed be His Name! not distant — namely, that we may “have life in His name” . . . It is not meant to wrangle over, it is not meant to be read as an interesting product of the religious consciousness, it is not to be admired as all that remains of the literature of a nation that had a genius for religion; but it is to be taken as being God’s great Word to the world, the record of the revelation He has given us in His Son. The Eternal Word is the theme of all the written word. (331, 334, 336–38)
Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.
Jason K. Allen, Letters to My Students, Vol. 1: On Preaching (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2019).
Alexander Maclaren, The Gospel According to St. John: Chapter XV to XXI (New York: Armstrong & Son, 1908).
Tullian Tchividjian, One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World (Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2013).
Jared C. Wilson, The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto Against the Status Quo (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015).