“The Scriptures should be read with the aim of finding Christ in them. Whoever turns aside from this object, even though he wears himself out all his life in learning, he will never reach the knowledge of the truth.” – John Calvin
I have recently had the privilege of reading a phenomenal book that I highly recommend to all teachers of the Word. That book was Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics by Graeme Goldsworthy. Its thesis is simple: the Gospel (or, Jesus Christ) is the Key to all Christian Hermeneutics. During the course of reading, his focus got me to thinking about its antithesis which would be that almost all errors and inconsistencies in our understanding of Bible texts occur when our interpretation is less than Christ-centered. This is foundational. Unless our study, however diligent, leads us to see that all Scripture points to Jesus Christ, our study is in vain. The importance of the Bible (OT & NT) is that it testifies about Jesus Christ (John 1:43-45, Acts 3:18, Acts 17:2-3, 2 Tim 3:14-15,1 Pet 1:10-12, Rom 1:1-3, 16:25-27, Luke 24:25-27 & 44-46).
But now, let’s shift gears by getting specific about doctrinal errors that fail to take into account the above biblical principles … These are produced by an interpretitive grid or presupposition that arises from Christless or less-than-Christocentric views of Scripture. In the following, I wish to give 3-4 examples of current popular, but erroneous, interpretations, that err simply because they fail to see the centrality of Jesus Christ in their understanding:
1) The False Assertion that Salvation can be Lost
The claim by some that a Christian can actually lose his or her salvation is a prime example of reading Christ out of the text, because the focus becomes your own moral ability rather than Christ. Some erroneously believe that a Christian, after being saved by Christ, can make certain choices that will lead to the loss of their adoption and justification, and thus, their salvation in Christ. In other words, they must, by their own effort, or with the Spirit’s help, maintain their own just standing before God. With such a view, we must conclude that Christ is not sufficient to save completely. Such a doctrine should immediately make us think of Paul’s warning in Galatians: “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal 3:3) But why is Paul so stern as to call them foolish? Because they have forgotten that Christ and Christ alone has saved them. To think that we can add to Christ’s perfect work is to utterly misapprehend the Gospel at its core. For, we ask, is it Jesus or something else which is sufficient to carry you to the end? Any addition to Jesus Christ is to believe that justification is found in something else has forgotten about the centrality of Christ.
So we ask in relation to this doctrine, is it Christ who saves us, or does He merely assist us so we may save ourselves? The warning passages in Hebrews actually warn against this very error. They start by pointing out that Jesus is superior to the angels, to Moses and to the Sacrificial System. The warnings of falling away are actually warnings about going back to something inferior to Christ, like the sacrificial system which only pointed to Christ. To read that a particular sin can make us lose our salvation, is thus, to utterly forget what the context of the Text in Hebrews itself is. So the assertion that a Christian can lose salvation is the first error that we have spotted that arises because Christ was seen as the ultimate interpretive presupposition, and thus, left out of the interpretation. Some other ultimate presupposition guided our exposition. Therefore, to believe in something other than, or in addition to, Christ for our salvation is a complete misapprehension of the gospel itself.
Synergism is the error that affirms that the natural man can cooperate with God in the regeneration process (the new birth) …that an unregenerate person has the moral capacity to embrace the Gospel apart from the work of the Spirit changing the heart.
Again, remember what our interpretive Key to the Bible is? Jesus Christ. So, in relation to regeneration and conversion, when the gospel is preached, what makes people to differ in their response to it? Does Jesus Christ make us differ or does something else? This “something else” may take various forms; it may be something native to the human constitution (i.e. Pelagianism) or something alien yet universal (i.e. Arminianism)? In either case, the point is that it is not Christ that makes the difference, but rather, these systems would have us draw from our own resources at some point. Anyone who claims that the difference arises from one of these something-else’s has failed to see first our hopelessness as fallen creatures apart from Christ and second the exclusive sufficiency of Christ’s saving work. If I am different than my neighbor because of something other than Jesus Christ, then Christ, whatever role He may play, cannot be central to my understanding of salvation. He is only partly responsible for it. It is the grace we have in Christ that saves, and nothing in addition to it. We love God because He first loved us. What makes us to differ? By the grace of God we are what we are. Not our faith, not our good works. These arise our of the affections of our renewed heart, not the cause of a new heart.
3) Four-Point Calvinism
Four-point Calvinism fails the test of Christ-centered interpretation because this view tends to see the TULIP as an abstraction. But the TULIP only works when we see Christ at its center. Consider the TULIP as a chiasm with the “L” at the top of the pyramid. It is Jesus Christ which makes sense of all the doctrines of grace. Four-point Calvinists who reject Limited Atonement but embrace irresistible grace must consider this: Irresistible grace is not some abstract doctrine but must be seen in relation to Jesus Christ, specially in relation to the grace purchased by Christ upon the cross. The Spirit of Christ illuminates, regenerates and effectually brings to faith his elect. And this enabling, effectual grace is, from first to last, Christ-centered. It does not come out of a void, nor from some hidden source of grace in God the Father. Therefore Christ must have died for the elect so as to purchase that grace in a way – a redemptive way – that he did not die for the non-elect. That is why we often call it particular redemption. Irresistible grace is one of the redemptive benefits purchased by Jesus Christ … and it was never granted to the non-elect nor intended for them. I believe that until Jesus Christ is seen as central to the TULIP then four-pointers will continue to reject what is plain.
Roman Catholics believe in Purgatory, which again accents a belief that Christ is not sufficient to save completely. Rather then, we must work off our sins after death for 1000’s of years until our debt to God it is completely paid. Where is Christ in all this? Was His work insufficient to cover their sins completely and once for all? To hold this doctrine, therefore, should immediately alert us to the fact that this persons plainly does not know the gospel.
Each of these errors occurs when the our hermeneutic – our ultimate presupposition – is not Jesus Christ.