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What Is Christ-Centered Hermeneutics? A Conversation with Bryan Chapell

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What is Christ-centered hermeneutics? Where did it come from, and how has it developed over time?

Bryan Chapell, Senior Pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, Illinois, and Jake Pratt, Assistant Professor of New Testament and Hermeneutics, recently discussed issues related to Christ-Centered or Christo-Centric Hermeneutics at the Library at Southeastern.

In their conversation, they debunk misunderstandings about the topic. They trace its history, acknowledge developments from thinkers such as Edmund Clowney, Tim Keller, John Piper and D.A. Carson. And they discussion the “fallen condition focus.”

Watch their conversation above, or read a key excerpt below (edited for clarity).


How is the Lord unfolding the gospel message throughout scripture in a way that culminates in Christ?

On the 3 common objections to Christ-centered hermeneutics.

“At its core, Christo-centric is synecdoche — it’s part for the whole. So it is not ‘Take out your decoder ring and make Jesus magically appear.’ It’s not cabalistic theory, where you get Jesus out of every verse if you count the letters and divide them by 3 — it’s not that kind of thing. It’s saying, ‘How is the Lord unfolding the gospel message throughout scripture in a way that culminates in Christ?’

“A name like ‘Christ-centered preaching’ can give people an impression of what it may not be. There are 3 standard objections to Christ-centered preaching which I think are typically due to straw-men or misunderstandings.

“One is that it’s allegorical interpretation — it’s some reappearance of the quadriga, that you’re going to get Christ magically appearing throughout scripture. It’s not allegorical, it’s trying to establish how the message of grace — God providing for people who cannot provide for themselves — is unfolding, maturing, pointing towards the culminating message of Christ. That means a lot of what you’re pointing to is the grace in the gospel that’s unfolding and comes to fulfillment in Christ….

“The second misunderstanding is that Christ-centered preaching is antinomian, that in some way you are contrasting the gospel with the law, or the New Testament message with the Old Testament message. And it’s not that either. It’s saying that the grace of the gospel is actually giving people heart motivation to respond to God with obedience to his standards; after all that is the good and safe path for his people. So it’s not Lutheran. It is not a law-gospel split. It’s not dispensational. It is saying there is a motivational aspect to the gospel unfolding that results in heart obedience, not legalistic obedience….

“It’s not ego-centric, which is the last major critique. That if all we’re talking about the gospel of grace and how it applies to you and motivates you and unites you to Jesus, then this Christocentrality is ultimately just about you and Jesus and nobody else — so all issues of ethics, mission and social justice are not on the page. I have to always respond [to this objection] that it’s absolutely impossible. If what the gospel is doing is having you love Christ, then you will inevitably love what and whom he loves. And whom does he love? He loves the unlovely, the outcast, the poor and the widow — and that is our obligation out of a Christocentric approach.

“So I think people grab pieces of Christocentrality and have legitimate biblical concerns, but may not read the totality of the expression and sometimes draw up response that may be to straw men rather than to what actually is being said. Or, at times, they’re referring to earlier branches of the movement and have not continued to read into present development.

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The L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture seeks to engage culture as salt and light, presenting the Christian faith and demonstrating its implications for all areas of human existence.

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