For many years, friends and mentors have encouraged me to add the Firm Foundations: Creation to Christ curriculum from New Tribes Missions to my teaching arsenal, and for just as long I’ve viewed it as too large a project to tackle. Recently, however, I’ve come to recognize the merit and downright necessity of laying a solid biblical foundation for both seekers and untrained believers, so I’ve begun the process of researching it for myself.
I downloaded Christ-Centered Preaching and Teaching directly from Lifeway.com to use in their “LifeWay Reader” app (which, by the way, has more glitches than I’ve got patience for), because I needed to get a sense of how to keep Christ central, even when teaching through the Old Testament. Initially, I wanted to find merely a quick “how to” guide, yet this little collection of blog posts gave me more than I had hoped for, a mini theological debate about both the benefits and risks of teaching this way.
In response to the question of how best to keep Christ first in their preaching and teaching, four authors give their well-earned opinions which center around these three guiding principles: 1) remember that without Jesus, our message is not Christian; 2) recognize that authorial intent matters; 3) and avoid the tendency to moralize or allegorize Old Testament stories. Each entry builds on the previous, making it as though we readers are students sitting before a panel of theologians as they discuss this important issue.
First, Daniel Block promotes strong exegesis over its ugliest cousin, eisegesis, a method of “getting the text to say what you want it to say.” He states that “we would improve our hermeneutic if we interpreted the Old Testament Christologically rather than Christocentrically,” simply because “not all First Testament texts point to Christ, but all texts reveal something about God or humanity or the universe that is necessary ultimately to understand the work of Christ.” To me, this is an entirely freeing perspective that scratches an itch I’ve had for many years in the Baptist Church. For too long, I have heard certain pastors shove Jesus into OT texts in ways that are wholly improper, all in an attempt to make every single message an evangelistic message! I am so glad to hear that, while aspects of Christ’s Gospel do exist throughout the Word, types of Himself do not. With this outlook, the Bible can be viewed as true history from which we can learn about God and ourselves, and not some endlessly fanciful Tolkien-like allegory of Jesus.
Next, David Murray pushes for a multi-strategy approach, believing that the basis of all OT interpretation should be to question, “what did the original people learn about the coming Messiah?” because their only hope for salvation was based upon grace through faith in the coming Messiah (as opposed to grace through faith in God or general theism). I have a more difficult time agreeing with Murray here, simply because I don’t think his approach takes into proper account the reality of God’s progressive revelation. The boundaries of Adam’s or Abraham’s faith varied from, say, Isaiah’s or Peter’s, based simply upon what had been revealed about God and His offer of mercy up to that point in history. In saying that, I don’t think that men hearing from God were seeking some new enlightenment about the coming Messiah, though they were about both God and themselves. While the protoevangelium of Genesis 3:15 is spectacular to us now, that one promise might not have carried as much weight to Adam or his children, or to Noah or even to Abraham, as it does for us. Had it been, I think we would have read more talk about “the man who will bruise Satan’s head” from writers like Moses or David. Instead, these great saints were always God-focused, and seemed generally unaware whenever they made Christological references in their writings. I’m certainly not demoting the hope for the Messiah in the OT, but I am suggesting that we today rightfully make a lot more of the promises of a coming Christ than history’s earliest Fathers had.
Third, Walt Kaiser writes to de-emphasize allegorical renderings of the OT Scripture, at one point quoting his seminary professor that “even some of the pegs and ropes were meant to hold up the tabernacle,” implying that not every OT word needs to point to Christ or to some hidden truth. Again, I found this perspective refreshing and it helps me move forward more confidently in my approach to teaching the OT with the Gospel elements in mind.
Finally, Bryan Chapell writes an excellent piece on the “redemptive context” of Scripture, offering a clear multi-strategy approach that seeks both for explicitly messianic passages and for what he calls “Gospel windows.” Whereas other writers encourage readers to seek for teachings about God, man, Christ, Israel, etc., Chapell limits his questions to only two: what does this passage teach me about God who provides redemption? and what does it teach me bout man who needs it? “The Bible is Christ-centered, not because Jesus is mentioned everywhere, but because all points to the grace of God that is revealed and provided in Him.”
This free e-book from Lifeway.com needs more professional textual editing, as mistakes run rampant, but it is still a helpful guide for understanding major arguments within the concept of reading the OT as a Christ-focused book. I liken this short guide to a poor man’s version of Zondervan’s Counterpoints series, which I love, and I’d certainly be interested in finding more such multi-sided debates on theological issues. If Counterpoints is like a seminary course in in book form, then this is like a single seminary class.