A Jesus Hermeneutic: Looking Again

greybibleI think I first read the term (and his definition of) “a Christ-centered hermeneutic” twenty years ago in Wineskins Magazine, penned by Rubel Shelly. (Vol. 2, No. 6; Jan.-Feb. 1994 – archive not back online yet)

Oh my word.

Twenty years ago.

At any rate, I’ve had time to think about it a bit in twenty years, and I still like the idea. A way of looking at the Bible as the story of God and man, pointing to the One who was both God and man: Jesus.

It is one of the few hermeneutics you will actually find in scripture.

It’s implied, of course, but it’s found in the gospel of John 5:39-40, where Jesus upbraids the Jewish leaders persecuting Him:

You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

Unless I miss my guess, Jesus is telling them that if they don’t study the scriptures with the understanding that they speak of Him, they miss the point. They miss life … eternal life.

So I’ve been writing posts about A Jesus Hermeneutic for several years myself, now. Because I find it helpful. And I believe it to be a scriptural way of looking at scripture.

It isn’t going to be helpful in the study of all scripture. Song of Solomon, for instance, may not turn out to be a richer reading experience when viewed through that lens. In fact, I think some folks have gone way off course trying to do that. But then again, Song of Solomon is not going to prove valuable when studied through the lens of a CENI hermeneutic, either. It’s not a bunch of commands. Imposing them on your beloved will not necessarily improve your relationship with him/her.

And I think the CENI hermeneutic is flawed in some uses because of two flawed underlying assumptions that too often accompany it: about the purpose of scripture (that it is all-law, all-the-time, for-everyone, in-all-ages), and about God Himself (He gives us nearly-impossible laws because can’t wait for us to mess up so He can smite us).

So how do I study scripture with a Jesus hermeneutic? Usually, I ask two questions:

  • What does this scripture tell me about Jesus?
  • Therefore (if He is the Son of God), what does this scripture tell me about God and our relationship with Him?

Sometimes, if I’m brave enough, I ask two more:

  • How does that affect me?
  • What am I going to do about it?

Christianity Today just last year ran an interesting series of articles on the concept. Like any hermeneutic, a Jesus hermeneutic has its strengths and weaknesses; its opportunities and pitfalls; its useful applications and its off-target applications.

As I can’t really begin to aspire to the level of scholarship of the various authors, I will just say that I found the series helpful and challenging.

I’ll close this post with the questions that eventually go through the mind of anyone who ponders hermeneutics: Why do we have to have a hermeneutic? Why do we need to read scripture through a lens of any magnification or color tint? Why can’t we just read it for what it is?

Because we all do, whether we intend to or not. We read everything with some measure of expectation, preconception, opinion, or judgment — based on whatever exposure we’ve had to any part of it, from any source. We read it through the lens of perception.

An atheist reads scripture with the determination to discredit and disprove.

A believer reads scripture with the intention of finding and building faith.

A person who has no interest in it reads disinterestedly.

So we’d do well to consider the lenses with which we read, evaluate them in advance, choose wisely among them for the one or ones that are going to be helpful, illuminating, logical, consistent, appropriate, and as objective as we can stand for them to be.

Because I have a strong feeling that if we really could read scripture without any kind of subjective lens, the sheer power of the truth would overcome us and reduce us to whimpering puddles of humility.

I’ll let you know if I ever get there.

But then again … you’d probably see and hear it for yourself, and I wouldn’t have to.

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