Friday, October 19, 2012

In Defense of a Christ-Centered Hermeneutic OR A Reply to Dr. Eric Hankins

Yesterday, Dr. Eric Hankins wrote a piece for SBC Today concerning The Gospel Project (TGP) and Christ-centered homiletics.  Hankins, recently read the dissertation of Dr. Jason Allen.  Allen, is the new president of MBTS.  Hankins was intrigued because Allen’s dissertation was on contrasting human author-centered hermeneutics of Walter Kaiser with that of the Christ-centered homiletics of Edmund Clowney and Sidney Greidanus.  Hankins was actually surprised that Allen sided with Kaiser and “is calling into question the conventional wisdom of ‘Christ-centered’ hermeneutics”. The point of the article seems to be to question the hermeneutic behind TGP. 

It will be my argument that it is not The Gospel Project’s hermeneutic that Dr. Allen is critiquing.  At the end of the day he might.  I do not know.  But I am going to make the argument that the Christ-centered hermeneutics that Hankins critiques is nothing that I have been exposed to, nor is that which he critiques the Christ-centered hermeneutic that is present in TGP. 

I will readily admit that my exposure to Greidanus and Clowney is limited.  I am also fairly limited in my exposure to Kaiser.  Perhaps that is why what Hankins said seems nothing like the Christ-centered hermeneutic that I employ and it sounds nothing like that which I find in The Gospel Project.

The claims that are foreign

Hankins takes several jabs throughout this piece.  They seem to be directed towards the Reformed community.  Caught in the crossfire of these jabs are the writers and editors of The Gospel Project.  I will highlight a few of these jabs.

Hankins refers to those that “pry texts out of context to put in theological presuppositions”.  While I am certain that there are those out there and even those that employ a Reformed Christ-centered hermeneutic I have not been widely exposed to that.  In every class that I have taken and every book that I have read on this topic it is continuously drilled in us to keep the text in its context.  At Southern to accuse someone of eisegesis is like accusing someone with musical taste of being a Justin Bieber fan. 

Dr. Hankins then proceeds to say that such eisegesis will insure that “every text might preach Calvinism”.  That is simply a ridiculous claim.  Sadly, some Calvinists are guilty of this.  But that which I have been exposed to in Christ-centered homiletics and within the pages of TGP such a claim is insulting. 

Throughout the article it is implied that those that use such a hermeneutic are not concerned with taking seriously authorial intent.  At one point he even accuses of “ignoring authorial intent” and “allegorical manipulation”.  Again, everything that I have been exposed to make a huge deal out of the original authors intention.  Goldsworthy, Wellum, Schreiner, and a host of others within the movement abhor allegorical manipulation. 

Lastly, Hankins accuses Matt Chandler of saying that the story of David & Goliath “has nothing to say about faithful living”.  I watched the video three times and did not find Chandler saying that.  Or even implying that.  He is not saying that the Bible is NOT to be used to discern how to live.  What he is saying is that the Bible is not fundamentally a to be sued to discern how to live.  There is a difference between those two statements.  And that is Chandler’s point in the David & Goliath video. 

What Hankins critiques in this article is not the Christ-centered hermeneutic that I am familiar with.  Nor, do I believe that it is that which is employed by the writers and editors of The Gospel Project.  Might some of the writers have been influenced by Greidanus & Clowney?  Perhaps.  But by and large I see them being more influenced by Criswell, Spurgeon, Broadus, and others.  In fact I see the vision of The Gospel Project something similar to the methods employed by those like Dr. Stephen Wellum.

In Defense of a Christ-Centered Hermeneutic

Stephen Wellum argues for interpreting Scripture through three horizons.  The first is the textual horizon.  This is where the interpreter attempts to discover what the original author is seeking to communicate in their texts.  Authorial intent and meaning is the first horizon. 

The second horizon is that of the epochal horizon.  Here the interpreter attempts to read the text in light of where it is in redemptive-history.  This assumes that Scripture is a progressive revelation.  This is not seeing the Bible as made up of different plans or epochs but that there is a unity within Scripture and revelation unfolds in time.  The key here is to see intertextual relationships and to “read texts in light of what has preceded them in reference to God’s redemptive actions and plan”.   

The third, and final, horizon is that of the canonical horizon.  If we are to take serious what the Bible actually is (a unified story) then it demands that we view it in its canonical context.  Therefore, every text ought to be understood in relation to the entire Canon of Scripture.  Wellum argues that “to interpret a given text of Scripture in its linguistic-historical, literary, redemptive-historical, and canonical context”. 

The argument being made for those promoting Christ-centered hermeneutics is that in some form or fashion the central motif of Scripture is the activity of God in providing redemption through His gospel.  Regardless, of how specifically it is worded the argument of those promoting such a hermeneutic are saying that Christ is the center of the revealed Word and everything points to Him (and his redemption) in some form or fashion. 

Exodus 23:19

One commenter on Hankins’ article asked how in the world Exodus 23:19 could be applied to Christ.  I doubt that I would ever choose this as a single passage to preach on, but if for some strange reason I did, here is in sum how I would point it to Christ. 

First, we have to consider the original context (the textual horizon).  Moses’ original intention is quite simple.  Don’t boil a young goat in its mothers milk.  Why did he say that?  Some believe that it had to do with not participating in a Canaanite magical practice.  Others see that it’s a reversal of the created order.  As noted in the ESV Study Bible, “the young goat should drink its mother’s milk and gain life from it, not be cooked in it”.  So, simply put in the text Moses’ intention is to tell the Israelites not to do this particular thing because it inverts the created order. 

But that commandment doesn’t come from nowhere.  It’s found in the middle of a story… 

Secondly, we have to consider its epochal context.  This command is originally given to the Israelites.  We know from the Exodus accounts that the Lord is calling Israelite out from among the Egyptians and other peoples for the sake of blessing them but also as a means to proclaim Himself to the nations.  Part of this means that they must live different from the rest of the world.  So, if this is a Canaanite magical practice then they need to model the ways of YHWH and not the feeble Canaanite gods that really are no gods.  If this is because of an inversion of the created order (which I think it is) then the Israel is to be an accurate representation of the God that redeemed them.  The God that redeemed them out of Egypt is a God that values created order.  Children should be cared for and nurtured by their parents.  As image-bearers of a loving Father this was to be reflected in the redeemed  community. 

But the story doesn’t stop with Moses and the Israelites.  It points to something far greater…

Lastly, we consider its canonical context.  The Israelites were to be image-bearers.  Even down to reflecting God in the way that they boiled goats.  Everything they did in their community was to reflect the Lord.  But as we know from the Bible they did not do that.  We also know that all of humanity is called to be image-bearers.  And just like the Israelites we also fail to accurately reflect God.  We choose instead to worship and serve creation instead of the Creator.  We follow Adam’s suit, as did the Israelites, in spreading our own sinful and rebellious images to the nations. 

Thankfully, Christ came.  Christ is the true Israel.  Christ is the second Adam.  He does what Adam, Israel, and we could not do.  He accurately represents God.  He perfectly obeys the Lord.  Humanity likes to invert the created order.  If our hearts were pure that command would not need to be there.  But it is, because our hearts tend to love what we should hate and hate what we should love.  Christ came to overturn that.  Christ came to provide redemption. 

If I were preaching this sermon (again I doubt I would) then I would be more full in my explanation of what Christ has done.  I would also probably discuss how because of Christ we reflect Him differently in our community than we do in these specific Israelite community laws.  But I provide this here just so that you can see how using these three horizons you can preach a Christ-centered sermon from that text. 

Would Moses be ticked off about that and say, “That’s not what I meant in that text?”  I doubt it.  Because I was faithful to his original command.  I also placed it within its progressive story.  And lastly I showed how Christ fulfilled the command.  Moses wouldn’t be upset by that—he’d be astounded that the One that they were looking for accomplished every piece of the Law even down to reflecting God in the way goats are boiled. 


  1. I'm unfamiliar with what Dr Hankins said, as I've quit reading SBCToday. So, I want to stay out of that. The three horizons you describe ultimately come from Edmund Clowney's book Preaching and Biblical Theology, though I read about them in Richard Lints' book The Fabric of Theology: A Prolegomenon to Evangelical Theology after taking Dr Wellum for my systematic classes.

    1. I had Dr. Wellum for Hermeneutics. I knew that those three horizons were not original with him...but I wasn't sure where they came from. Thanks for pointing to their source. I'd be really interested to read Dr. Allen's dissertation.

  2. Lints' book is amazing, as it encompasses a good bit of historical theology, as well. It's $33 on Amazon, but well worth the price. One of my top 5 favorite books ever.

    1. I'll keep that in mind. I'm already going to have to sell a kidney to get Beeke's Puritan Theology. So we'll see. I'm hoping somebody will use links to Amazon and buy an entire Pastor's library or something..that way I can get a big enough gift card to buy them.

  3. On more thing I forgot to mention, then I'll quit commenting! Dr Michael Lawrence was a student at Gordon-Conwell under Lints. Lawrence wrote Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church: A Guide for Ministry published by Crossway. It's much more affordable, and he takes Lints and makes it practical.

    1. I own the Lawrence book. I don't think I've finished it, but I think I have skimmed it. Thanks for the references. And you can comment as many times as you like.



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