I have often said that the biggest influence on my Christian faith in the last three years has been a Christ-centered reading of scripture. This "Christocentric" Biblical Theology has increased my ability to apply Biblical truths more redemptively, and worship God more frequently through his word. But one of the dangers of a "Christ-In-All-Scripture" approach is that you can often times read Christ (or other themes) into texts in an illegitimate manner. For instance, if everything points to Christ (in a literal sense), then nothing really points to Christ (in a significant sense). Which is why I'm always grateful for guardrail advice like this little tidbit from John Calvin:
We must always mind this, that we fly not in the air. Subtle speculations please at first sight, but afterwards vanish. Let every one, then, who desires to make proficiency in the Scriptures always keep to this rule—to gather from the Prophets and Apostles only what is solid.
- John Calvin | Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets
The Swiss Reformer is not arguing for a strictly literal interpretation of scripture, but he is making a case for a faithful reading of it. Calvin is warning against a method of reading which interprets scripture allegorically. This is a practice which unfortunately gained much popularity in medieval;theology. Allegorizing scripture allows an individual to make loose associations to other events in order to import meaning to a text. For example many people tend to interpret Song of Solomon allegorically. That means that they choose not to see the book as a story;which testifies to the love between a husband and his wife, and instead tend to take romantic language and relate them to Christ and his church. The result is that the immediate context of the passage is stripped of its meaning, and instead it is only meaningful in light of its allegorical comparison. What allegory does poorly, typology does well.
Typology is a field of study which recognizes the progression of themes and figures which God has put in place in scripture. For instance David is a "type" of Christ. Where David was a King after God's own heart, Jesus is a King who is God himself. In this case David was a type who pointed to the ultimate type (called anti-type) who is Christ. Here is another guardrail quote from J. Gerhard when it comes to the allegory/typology distinction.
“Typology consists in the comparison of facts. Allegory is not concerned with the facts but with the words from which it draws out useful and hidden doctrine.”
-J. Gerhard | Quoted in Christ Centered Biblical Theology
To summarize Graeme Goldsworthy's thoughts on the allegory/typology debate, he says that allegory disregards the historical significance of a text, while typology enhances it.
Here are a few pointers when it comes to a legitimate, and Christocentric reading of scripture:
1. Familiarize yourself with the gospel.
Because the Bible is about Jesus we should start our study with Jesus. If you asked me to pick out your sibling in an old class photo, I probably couldn’t do it. But if you asked me to pick out my wife, I could find her. Because I know her. It might take some work. If it’s an old picture I would have to be aware that she might look a little different, but because I know my wife know as she is, it gives me an ability to find her places I once never knew her.
2. Familiarize yourself with consistent themes of Scripture.
Because Jesus isn’t mentioned explicitly in the Old Testament, we need to learn to understand the Biblical themes which point to Christ.;Take light for example. God created light, the prophets spoke of a coming light, Jesus called himself a light, those who are saved are like a lamp, giving light to all who see, and in Revelation we see a new heavens and new earth where there is no night, because Jesus Christ illuminates the world with his new glory.
Find learn to identify these themes. The gospel of John is a great place to start to familiarize yourself with the themes of the Old Testament. Basically anytime Jesus says, “I am” he is referring to a well-known theme in the Jewish scriptures.
3. Spend time in the New Testament and the Old Testament, and think big when you do so.
Because we know that God spoke the Bible into existence for a purpose, we also know he has sovereignly protected and sustained it for a purpose. Not one aspect of this text is irrelevant to us as believers, but sometimes we learn need to pull out a wide angle lens to see that relevance.
4. Ask yourself additional questions as you read scripture:
- Where am I in the flow of redemptive history? (Or in the 5 C’s)
- What did the current readers know of Christ, and what do I know of Christ?
- How does this passage speak of Christ, or point to Christ?
- How does this passage speak to the change Christ has brought through redemption.