Saturday, November 19, 2016

Christo-Telic and Christo-Centric Hermeneutics

If you've every seen the movie Ever After, there is a dialogue that ensues as follows:

Henry[as Danielle hurries away] Have we met before?
Danielle: I-I do not believe so, Your Highness.
Henry: I could have sworn I knew every courtier in the province.
Danielle: Well... I am visiting a cousin.
Henry: Who?
Danielle: My cousin.
Henry: Yes, you said that. Which one?
Danielle: Th-the only one I have, sire.
Henry: Are you coy on purpose or do you honestly refuse to tell me your name?
Danielle[stops quickly] No. [quickly heads towards the gate] And yes.

All of this is meant to speak about a person without revealing who the person is. Many words are used, and some information is given, but the dialogue ignores details. 

Such are common uses of the Christocentric and Christotelic interpretations. Details tend to be left out by some in both camps.

Now, these terms are thrown around quite a bit, and frankly, there are probably as many definitions as there are biblical interpreters; but I will attempt to define them in a way that I think best describes what I commonly see out there.

First, let me say that there is a type of Christo-telic interpretation that seeks to end all things in Christ. What I mean by that is that it views the Bible as largely either produced from the socio-religious concerns of the people groups that wrote the Bible or as a divine accommodation to those groups. Either way, as I'll soon note, I reject these ideas, and think, in the end, they are actually conveying the telos of modern/postmodern theological and moral sensibilities, as even Christ is pulled through that grid by most of these people.

Second, let me say that, although I see the Christo-centric hermeneutic as an admirable attempt to honor Christ and see Him as the center of the whole Bible, I think that there is a tendency in this hermeneutic to ignore the literary contexts in which these individual passages exist in favor of a simplistic reading of the text. I would agree with the Christo-centric hermeneutic in many places, as long as typological application was being made to an already thoroughly exegeted text that noted all of its original contextual referents, but to go to the typology without doing the hard exegetical work first, ironically, in my mind, ends up missing Christ in the text.

And it's this last comment that I wish to use to say why I would push for a Christo-telic hermeneutic that sees all things as speaking about Christ, revealing who He is, what He has done with His people in the past, what He desires of His people, etc.

In other words, instead of the Christo-telic idea that all things stated in Scripture are theological or moral accommodations to culturally bound people groups, or that they are merely the theological and ethical musings of these people, that must be vetted through Jesus, a Jesus Himself vetted through modern and postmodern/ultramodern inclinations, I would say that these passages are all a part of Jesus. They make up who He is because they tell us who God is, what His people in the past looked like, what God would do because we see what God did do. They tell us about His character and work in a way that merely going straight to typology or allegory do not do.

It is easy to disregard the Canaanite conquest as something that displays Joshua/Jesus as the destroyer of chaos and sin in the world through the cross, something true enough, but it also tells us that Jesus is the judge who really will destroy people in judgment because, in fact, He's done it before. It's a part of His character to do so.

Christ is truly God's Son He called out of Egypt, but to understand the contextual argument that Matthew is making with that typological allusion involves understanding the original exodus of God's people out of Egypt and His work to save them. Christ, then, becomes the Son who fulfills the role of Israel where it failed. He goes into the wilderness to be tempted as Israel, but, again, where Israel failed, He is victorious. Understanding the original tragedy of the story in its own literary context illuminates the typology used.

This is not only true of historical ideas, but of theological and ethical arguments made through contextually responsible literary readings of the books. If we understand Genesis in its context, we understand that the world is in the midst of creation, and that through that which is chaotic and evil, God will bring about what is ordered and good. The cross becomes central in the fulfillment of this theology, as the filling up of the earth with God's covenant images, what was originally purposed for creation, would have come to nothing had Christ not provided the means to complete this purpose, thus validating the theology of the book.

Understanding the literary argument of Exodus and Deuteronomy helps us understand what considers as worship and gives us the means of worship, i.e., through what is commanded. We then understand what John is saying more when He calls Jesus the Word, the truth, the bread of life, who alone has words of eternal life, that God must be worshiped through spirit and truth, and that if one claims to love Christ he must keep His commandments. Christ affirms that He is the fulfillment of not just the prophecies and historic redemptive themes of the OT, but of the theology and ethics of the OT.

This hermeneutic allows both for a contextual interpretation of the OT and a contextual interpretation of the NT. It allows for each book to make its own unique contribution to the Christian worldview and our view of Christ without having to ignore what the books were saying in their original contexts. It is also what I think the NT authors are doing with the OT. We see typology and development, but also the development of theological and ethical teachings of the OT books as having their fulfillment in the Person and work of Jesus Christ.

One can see, therefore, that both a Christocentric view that ignores the original context and the Christotelic view that allows for the occasional rejection of the teaching of those contexts are equally distorted views of Christ and His work because they either ignore or reject those elements of His character and work that those contextual readings supply.

In this regard, it is very possible that both of these hermeneutics will end in a somewhat to very distorted view of who Jesus is, what He did, what He will do, and what He wishes of His people because it, in one way or another, dissects Him from the larger texts that are actually meant to teach us about Him.

This is what happens when we leave the details out. We can often get a different Christ; and I have to wonder if these hermeneutics subconsciously exist so that we can fill in the details with a Christ we find more in line with our desired versions of Him. When we allow all of the passages to speak in their respective contexts, we allow all of them to tell us about Christ, His work, His people, His will, etc., and they fill in the details for us, details that may push our own details out of the picture, and indeed, change the picture for us.

At best, our pictures are simply missing some minor elements. At worst, those missing elements distort the picture so that it becomes something else entirely.

Indeed, it may be that a confusion in hermeneutics has led to a confusion as to who God, Christ, His work, and His people are, leading to a diversity of religions under the name "Christianity," claiming to follow the Jesus of the Bible. But if we allow the texts to speak for themselves, we allow them to teach us the real Jesus of the Bible and provide for us a critical guide that runs against the tendency of our own, mental idol factories to produce false "Jesuses."

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