Christ-centered by convention or conviction?

November 11, 2013

by Johnathan Pritchett
Graduate Student, Biola University
SBCToday contributing writer

The buzz phrase “Christ-centered” is all the rage these days. This is especially true with regard to preaching. We often hear it asked, “Is your preaching Christ-centered?” I tend to wince when I hear that. Even the most outspoken people talking about being “Christ-centered” have cheapened the phrase to the point where wincing is about the only option left. I know that sounds bad, but it really can’t be helped. It is like how everyone claims their theological position, on just about every theological issue, is “biblical.” But I will set that one aside for another time perhaps, or not.

Here are a couple of reasons why I tend to wince at hearing someone bloviate about being “Christ-centered” in preaching, or whatever.

First, some preachers are really bad about trying to be “Christ-centered” to the point where they strain mightily to make some passage in Esther point straight to the cross. Good preachers don’t have this problem, and can transition to Christ from anywhere in Scripture, and then from there, point to the cross as the entry point that makes any application from any text possible. The problem here with bad “Christ-centered” preaching is that the usual approach is that Christ-centered only means “cross-centered,” or so it seems from listening to the crowd that aims to always be “Christ-centered.” We hear a lot of tacked on “cross-centered” stuff, again, usually connected in forced ways, but very little on anything about Christ other than what happened on the cross. The proper way, as stated above, is to point to Christ and from Christ to the cross. Bypassing Christ is the root of the problem with all the bad, supposedly “Christ-centered” preaching out there. This isn’t a rant against “Christ-centered” preaching, as some complaints about it have arisen. I totally affirm “Christ-centered” preaching. I affirm “Christ-centered” everything. The problem is that “Christ-centered” doesn’t actually end up being Christ-centered, but only cross-centered.

Yes, I realize that making an issue of only speaking about Jesus as it relates to the cross seems odd to say the least, perhaps even offensive to some, but, oh well. I think it is warranted.

Sadly, too few preachers, even the ones who claim to be “Christ-centered” the most, can do “Christ-centered” preaching today as well as preachers of times past. I am reminded of Paris Reidhead’s famous “Ten Shekels and a Shirt” sermon from Judges 17. This transition to Christ was so fluid, and didn’t seem strained or forced in the least. It also was a transition to Christ first, and then from Christ to the cross of Christ. It avoids the common mistake made today that “Christ-centered” only means “cross-centered,” where Christ is bypassed almost completely, except for Jesus on the cross.

The second reason I tend to wince at claims of preachers or churches being “Christ-centered” anything, be it preaching, ministry, missions, or whatever, is that people seem to be unaware of what Christ actually taught, and who He is, other than the One who died for sins and rose again. Well, Matthew 7:1 tends to be a popular teaching of Jesus currently; but that is about it, except in liberal circles that see only social outreach and none of that hell stuff Jesus talked about quite a lot, actually. In any case, especially in evangelical circles, it is almost as if everything Jesus said was a footnote to the cross, and the cross was a footnote to Pauline theology. Sure, some people are informed with regard to theology (many aren’t though), but that isn’t the same thing as knowing Jesus’ teaching and commands and following Him by taking up a cross. I have even heard people from the more extreme end of Dispensationalism claim that much of Jesus’ teachings are non-applicable to the Church and are relegated to the Old Covenant.

This all strikes me as being quite odd. It is beyond the scope of this post to get into all the theological nitty-gritty with those who would want to argue the point, from whatever position, Dispensationalism or otherwise, but suffice it to say that, after He went to the cross, died for our sins, and rose again, Jesus said the following:

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, HCSB).

As I have said in the past, that word “everything” appears to be comprehensive. However one shakes out the Gospel teaching in their theological system, one thing is certain: Jesus seemed to think that His teaching and commands were important for the nations. It is one thing to claim being “Christ-centered,” but quite another to actually be “Christ-centered.”

1. Being “Christ-centered” is not strictly being “cross-centered” in our preaching, teaching, discipleship, etc. 1 Corinthians 2:2 offers no rebuttal, because Paul says “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (emphasis added). It is also worth noting in this Epistle that Paul assumes Jesus’ teaching should be common knowledge between them (1 Cor. 7:10-12), since he appeals to Jesus’ teaching tradition (Mark 10:1-12, Matthew 19:1-12).

2. Being “Christ-centered” means that discipleship in the Church begins with Jesus’ birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection, and teachings from the Gospels, and not some systematic theology book, not a devotional book or reading program, or some Reformation era catechism, or even the book of Romans.

3. Being “Christ-centered” has hands and feet, and is not just head knowledge. The disciples learned while doing. After Jesus ascended, they taught while doing. We read in Acts that the Church learned while doing. To be “Christ-centered” is both head and heart, which involves active hands and feet. James’ Epistle is a great exposition on many of Jesus’ teachings, and says as much.

Jesus is our Lord and Savior. He is our King. He proclaimed a Kingdom, and then went to the cross to make the Kingdom He inaugurated possible. Kingdom and cross go together like Jesus’ death and resurrection go together. He is our Passover. He is our High Priest. He intercedes for us. He is the God-man, the only mediator between God and man. The “everything” He taught, He did; and what He wants us to observe is important. It is He who is with us always, and not simply the Pauline Epistles, theological or devotional books, reading programs, contemporary Christian music on the iPhone, etc. He is the chief theologian of Scripture, of both the Old and New Testaments. While the rest of Scripture is there because Jesus didn’t tell us everything we needed to know; nonetheless it remains the case that we are to know and obey everything He taught and commanded. That we do so is why He calls us “friends,” by the way (John 15:14).

I think many preachers are really good about being “cross-centered,” and that is indeed a good thing. However, I think it is necessary to become more “Christ-centered” in the fullest sense though, which includes, but is not limited to the cross. I think it is also time for the Southern Baptist Convention as a whole to be “Christ-centered” as well, and not just the preachers. That means that every Christian’s discipleship begins with Christ, who He is, what He taught, and what He has done, beginning with the four Gospels — if for no other reason, then just because He says so. That should be enough.

Leave a Comment:

All fields with “*” are required

 characters available

Lydia

“Yes, I realize that making an issue of only speaking about Jesus as it relates to the cross seems odd to say the least, perhaps even offensive to some, but, oh well. I think it is warranted.”

Absolutely. There is almost a political correctness to this position that seems to make some in or out as in “Jesus is all about the cross, now, let’s get on to what Paul taught”. Personally, I think the larger picture of what the resurrection means in it’s fullness, gets lost.

This needs to be discussed more. While many think they are elevating Jesus Christ, they are actually devaluing Him and only focusing on one piece of what is a much larger picture. It is so strange to me to see people teaching their children virtue/good behavior but then teaching those who should be professing Christian adults at church—that they cannot help but live as sinners. That their hearts are wicked.

“The second reason I tend to wince at claims of preachers or churches being “Christ-centered” anything, be it preaching, ministry, missions, or whatever, is that people seem to be unaware of what Christ actually taught, and who He is, other than the One who died for sins and rose again. Well, Matthew 7:1 tends to be a popular teaching of Jesus currently; but that is about it, except in liberal circles that see only social outreach and none of that hell stuff Jesus talked about quite a lot, actually. In any case, especially in evangelical circles, it is almost as if everything Jesus said was a footnote to the cross, and the cross was a footnote to Pauline theology”

Yes!

Is Jesus Christ our basic model for living out the Kingdom now on earth? Did Jesus Christ also make that possible for us with the resurrection?

    Johnathan Pritchett

    “Absolutely. There is almost a political correctness to this position that seems to make some in or out as in “Jesus is all about the cross, now, let’s get on to what Paul taught”. Personally, I think the larger picture of what the resurrection means in it’s fullness, gets lost.”

    Yeah, part of the PC problem in evangelicalism is that if you say something pious-sounding (or, rather, pompous) enough, it must mean you are being accurate. I haven’t the mindset for that kind of stuff.

    “While many think they are elevating Jesus Christ, they are actually devaluing Him and only focusing on one piece of what is a much larger picture. It is so strange to me to see people teaching their children virtue/good behavior but then teaching those who should be professing Christian adults at church—that they cannot help but live as sinners. That their hearts are wicked.”

    Yeah, I did a post a year ago or so debunking the notion that “Christianity isn’t about a bunch of do’s and don’t’s” or whatever is popular to say. I groan when people treat all exhortations to obedience as “legalism”, and decry “moralism” in preaching.

    If you ask me, we need more exhortations to obedience and “moralism” in our preaching, not less. Lok at both the Church and our culture!

    The Bible is full or Biblical morals, commandments, and in the New Testament no less, which is why I used Romans (Romans!) in that aforementioned article.

    To me, “legalism” is the most abused word in the church that has come to mean what it never meant. Namely, “don’t tell me to act like a Christian” is basically all I hear when people decry “legalism.” Rightly, legalism, or moralism, used to be used more accurately, and had always been defined as either adding works to salvation as necessary grounds, or binding consciousnesses to issues not explicitly commanded in Scripture. However, the Church is in big trouble when it applies those terms to biblical imperatives. And, sadly, we see a lot of that.

Max

“It is He who is with us always, and not simply the Pauline Epistles …”

And everybody said Amen (or should have)!

If you read Paul first, you might read Jesus wrong. But if you read Jesus first, the writings of Paul come into proper perspective.

A theological mumbo-jumbo has emerged in SBC ranks … with a lot being said about “God”, with little mention of Jesus … and hardly a word about the Holy Spirit.

    Johnathan Pritchett

    Indeed.

    I have heard scholars that try to address some question as to why Paul didn’t preach or teach the kingdom like Jesus did. That these scholars accepted the premise is shocking.

    I reject that premise. Acts 14:21-22, 19:8, 20:24-25, 28:23, 30-31; Rom. 14:17; 1 Cor. 4:20, 6:9, 6:10, 15:24, 15:50; Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:5; Col. 1:13, 4:11; 1 Thess 2:12; 2 Thess. 1:5; 2 Tim. 4:1, 4:18

    I’m like, who in the world ever made the assertion Jesus and Paul weren’t on the same page in all this, and that Jesus emphasized the kingdom and Paul emphasized other things. Every reference above is Paul using the word “kingdom” and I think that the misguided folk who see a disconnect simply did a numerical count of how many times the word was used, and decided that the less frequent use of the word “kingdom” by Paul than Jesus means that Paul emphasized other things. That certainly isn’t the best way to determine the content and emphasis of Paul’s preaching in Acts and his Epistles. Everything is Kingdom oriented, and the places where he does use the actual word “kingdom” demonstrate this very well.

    Take the single use of the word “kingdom” in Romans…while we modern folk want to haggle and tear apart the first 9 or 11 chapters of that epistle, chapters 12-15 are the heart of the letter in regards to the issues that Paul wants to address to the church at Rome, and right in the middle of it, the Kingdom.

    Anyway, I hear you Max. Ignore or sit lightly to Jesus’ Gospel (the” Gospels are the Gospel”, as Scot McKnight likes to say), and one is likely to completely misunderstand Paul.

      Max

      Jesus preached a LOT about the Kingdom, hell, the coming judgment … and, yes, personal responsibility. We’ve had an outbreak of 21st century “preachers” who dodge these topics like the plague.

      If we hang out too much with Pauline, we might miss Truth embedded in the Gospels. Paul and Jesus go together. If we lean too heavily toward man’s interpretation of the epistles, we could very well miss The Gospel altogether.

Norm Miller

Thx, J-man, for this excellent article. As I think about the term, Christ-centered, and your observations, I am moved to consider that focusing on one aspect of the life and work of Christ to the neglect of any other(s) is hardly Christo-centric at all. Rather, it represents ordering from the menu, if you will, and not perusing and partaking of the entire buffet. Blessings on you for your writing. Keep the keyboard hot. — Norm

Leave a Comment:

All fields with “*” are required

 characters available