How can a sermon from the Old Testament point to Jesus? Four panelists outlined various approaches and the differences between their views at a recent discussion on Christ-centered preaching and teaching.
The panel, moderated by Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research and general editor of The Gospel Project, featured Eric Hankins, Jon Akin and Trevin Wax.
Stetzer began the discussion by asking Akin, senior pastor of Fairview Church in Lebanon, Tenn., why there has been a growing conversation about interpreting and teaching Scripture from a distinctly Christ-centered approach.
Akin said that method of handling the Bible confronts moralistic therapeutic deism, what sociologist Christian Smith calls the default religion in American Christianity, and a fundamental misunderstanding of the scriptural texts.
“I read a Sunday School publication for children that said, ‘Be nice to your mother-in-law like Ruth,’” said Akin. “That’s great advice, but it’s not the point of the book of Ruth.”
Akin said his Christocentric approach starts with a framework laid out by Jesus and the apostles and “is based on the assumption that the central purpose of what God is doing in the Old Testament is Jesus.”
In response, Eric Hankins, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Oxford, Miss., expressed his support for Christ-centered preaching, but said he was concerned the methods proposed by Akin and others were “oversimplifying things and flattening out the Scriptures in some ways.”
Hankins referred to several Old Testament scholars who have raised issues about “drawing out a hermeneutical method about the Old Testament from Jesus’ words.”
Trevin Wax, managing editor of The Gospel Project, explained how the new LifeWay curriculum fit into the ongoing discussion. “Our goal is to show people how to read the Bible as one grand narrative,” said Wax.
“It’s not new for us to say we’re going to read the Old Testament in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection,” he said. “Trying to read the Bible without Christ at the center is like trying to read a book in the dark. We all agree we’re going to read the Bible as Christians. The question is, how do we do this in a way that is hermeneutically responsible.”
The panel discussion, sponsored by The Gospel Project, took place in front of a standing room only crowd during the 2013 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting.
Stetzer then elicited a discussion between Akin and Hankins on how to preach through Old Testament passages.
Akin explained how he would take Proverbs and demonstrate to his congregation how wisdom can only be obtained and lived out through Christ, who is wisdom personified. Hankins agreed, but asserted, “I don’t think that it needs to be preached that way every time.”
By the way they referenced the Old Testament, Akin contended the apostles and New Testament writers gave modern Christians a framework to use in their interpretation of it.
Hankins asserted that while all Christians look at the Bible with a fresh perspective through the cross, there is a distinction between the apostles and those that followed them, as the writers of the New Testament had a clearer ability to see the connections between Jesus and the Old Testament.
After Akin described allusions and similarities between the story of David and Goliath and Christ defeating sin and Satan, Hankins noted his reservations and belief that Akin’s explanation drifted “from typology to allegory.”
Wax, who classified his own personal stance as somewhere between Hankins and Akin, said he felt you could see courageous principles and moral examples in the story, “but there is something else there.”
For pastors, he said church members would “go to the Bible the way we’ve conditioned them to go to the Bible.”
Wax continued, “If we establish the wrong pattern, they’ll go to the Bible looking for themselves rather than looking for Christ.”
Because Hankins had originally expressed concerns with The Gospel Project along these lines, Stetzer asked him how he felt the Bible study curriculum handles these issues.
“The concerns I had were addressed,” said Hankins. “There is a great deal that’s helpful and useful in teaching people how it all fits together.”
Wax closed the panel discussion by stating where the new LifeWay materials would fit in the discussion.
“We know Bible study that changes lives is Bible study that leads to an encounter with Christ, because the written Word is the testimony to the living Word,” he said.
“So, with The Gospel Project, our main intent is to be hermeneutically responsible in the way we are pointing people to Jesus, but making sure we are always pointing people to Jesus.”
Aaron Earls is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources. Stetzer is continuing the conversation at his new ChristianityToday.com/EdSteter blog, with interviews including Daniel Block, David Murray, Walt Kaiser, and Brian Chappell.