Review by Aaron Lumpkin
Greear, J.D. Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2013, xiv+128p., $12.99, hardback.
Have you asked Jesus into your heart? J.D. Greear has. A lot. In fact, he believes he may hold the world record for doing this. In Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart, he provides a retelling of his own journey in answering this question. If you don’t know J.D., you should, not simply because of the warm recommendations in the beginning of the book but because of his honest and forward approach to handling difficult questions that speak truth into the lives of his readers.
Eric’s lone interaction with TGP is with Chandler’s promo video concerning David and Goliath. Eric argues that Chandler approaches the text wrongly. Dr. Hankins thinks we should interpret and preach this account as living faithfully by facing one’s giants.
To say that the intention of the author of 1 Samuel was for his readers to interpret this passage as a way for us to live faithfully as one who faces giants is incorrect in my judgment. First, it fails to account for the intention of the Divine Author, and it also fails to account for the intention of the human author. The books of 1 and 2 Samuel are about the rise of the Davidic monarchy. The intention of the author in this narrative is to show that David is a better king than Saul.
Second, if the author intends for us to turn the characters of OT narratives into examples, then how do we apply this intention in other OT narratives? What’s the point of Genesis 12? If you lie about your wife and let another man take her into his harem, then God will plague the man and enrich you. Are we to teach that lying is the path to riches?! What about Jacob and Esau? Deceive your old man into giving you the greater share of the inheritance? Seemed to work for Jacob! Most likely, using this approach, we’ll interpret the Samson narrative of what not to do, and yet Samson is presented in many ways as a hero who rescues Israel from her enemies by sacrificing himself. He is praised in Hebrews 11.
Third, why is it that we always assume that the authors of Scripture intend for us to identify with the Spirit-anointed king/hero who produces the line of the Messiah? This betrays our own pride. It’s similar to people who believe in reincarnation; they never were a nobody in their previous life. We can’t stand the thought of being bit players like the cowardly Israelite army. Why don’t we assume that the author intends for his audience to first and foremost identify with the stumbling, bumbling, complaining, cowardly people who can’t face the giant? Why not see this as the author communicating “you need a champion to save you”?
Fourth, the problem is that we also misinterpret the NT in this way. One key example is the temptation narratives. We act like the point of the text is that Jesus learned his verses in RA’s and was able to quote them to defeat Satan’s temptation. So, we need to learn our verses to be able to pull them out to face our temptations. Hide God’s word in your heart that you might not sin against Him! That’s a good word, but that’s NOT the primary intention of the story. Jesus isn’t first an example showing us how to fight sin; He is a Savior who succeeds where Adam, Israel, and we failed. That’s why in Luke’s gospel you have a geneaology ending with Adam right before this. The point is that Jesus is the New Adam who doesn’t give in to the temptation of the serpent. He defeats the serpent for us (by not bypassing the cross). We are not ready to live faithfully by wielding the sword of the Spirit to fight off temptation (cf. Psa 119 hiding word in our heart) until we recognize that we’ve failed to perfectly fight off temptation, flee to Jesus for salvation, receive His Spirit and are enabled to now fight a foe that has already been defeated. That’s the point of the David and Goliath narrative. The king is anointed with the Spirit and then goes out to fight the snake-armor wearing giant who has presented himself 40 days and 40 nights. Jesus is anointed with the Spirit at His Baptism and then goes out into the wilderness 40 days and 40 nights to do battle with the serpent.
Matt Chandler was NOT giving a whole sermon, he was merely correcting the common misunderstanding that the point of the story is that it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog (heard a camp counselor say that once). The author intends for us to identify with the Israelites as ones who need a champion to fight for them and rescue them. Then, once we are rescued, we are intended to fight against the fleeing enemy who has already been dealt the death blow by our champion (chase the Philistines). The text does have something to say about faithful living, but only IN Christ, mediated thru him. Once the enemy is defeated and you have the Spirit (like David/Jesus), then you can face down the enemies, but not before. Don’t miss that step! All scripture must be mediated through the one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus!
Eric trumpets Allen when he quotes “Be Expositional First and Christological Second.” This is a false dichotomy to say that one has to choose between being expositional and being Christ-centered. Paul seems to say that doing one is doing the other.
CONCLUSION- Christ-centered exposition is neither exclusively Calvinist nor Presbyterian. It was a method employed by great SBC preachers. One of the first places I learned Christ-centered exposition was listening to WA Criswell and Adrian Rogers. When first starting out in ministry I would listen to cassette tapes of these men preaching Christ from the story of Joseph’s bones in Genesis 50, the wilderness serpents in Numbers 21, the healing of Namaan in 2 Kings 5, and many more. We live in a generation that has forgotten Criswell and Rogers. I pray that God would raise up a generation filled with men like this who preach Christ from ALL the Scriptures!
We should hold no modern hermeneutic as superior to that of Jesus and the Apostles. If I have to choose between modern method and that of Jesus, then I’m going with Jesus!
The historical-grammatical method of interpretation is a good and right starting point. It is foundational! However, you cannot stop there. You must move to the level of pattern, promise and typology, reading the Bible as a whole document (Leithart, “A House for My Name,” 27). As Jesus and the Apostles did, you must read the OT through the lens of the NT.
Many who adopt Dr. Kaiser’s method seem to say about the hermeneutic of the Apostles that we shouldn’t try this at home. We can’t do what they did. I can’t accept that. At times it seems that biblical scholars think they need to defend the interpretive method of Jesus and the Apostles to prove that they used the methods that we have deemed correct in our day, instead of allowing the interpretive method of Jesus to be the criterion by which all other methods are measured.
A strict approach to historical-grammatical method runs the risk of interpreting the Bible as if it was merely a human book written by a human author. Kaiser argues that we can only interpret a text based on texts that were chronologically prior to that text and that the authors could’ve drawn from. He says that it is wrong to use the completed canon as the context for exegesis, and that is eisegesis to borrow freight that appears chronologically later and transport it back to interpret a text. Kaiser also rules out the analogy of faith in exegesis, limiting it to texts that antecede the one being interpreted (Kaiser, Exegetical Theology, 82; contra Vanhoozer who argues in favor whole canon interpretation). So, Dr. Kaiser argues that the only biblical texts that can be used to clarify the meaning of a given passage are those that come before the text, and this rules out reading the OT from the lens of the NT, which Dr. Kaiser thinks does injustice to the OT.
I see several problems. This method primarily approaches the Bible as if it is a human book only, as if the Holy Spirit couldn’t have known what was coming later. It also approaches the Bible as a collection of 66 books and not one book. Dr. Kaiser says the Bible was meant to be read forward not backward. Says who? The NT’s use of the OT means that we have to read it backwards to make sense of it. The example I often use when teaching this is a mystery novel. The first books I can remember reading cover to cover, and then reading them again was Encyclopedia Brown. Those books let you be the detective and try to figure out how the case was solved (the answers were in the back). Once you read a story and knew the end, you could never read it the same way again. When you read it again all of sudden you see clues and hints that point you to the final outcome. That is the way the Apostles tell us to read the OT and see all the shadows of Christ! The OT cannot be read merely on its own terms because it leaves too many issues unresolved in terms of the one grand redemptive story.
Eric’s concern throughout this piece (he mentions it many times) is that in our interpretation we take seriously the authorial intent as the key to the text’s meaning. Should we do this? Absolutely! But, that does not mean that we interpret the Bible like any other human book with simply a human author. There is a dual authorship to the Bible. We have to take into account the Divine Author. Certainly, this doesn’t mean that there is a contradiction or tension between the Divine and human author, but it does mean that the human author could’ve been inspired to write more than he knew at the time (though I think the OT authors had great awareness of Messianic expectation but they also knew there was a deeper meaning to what they were writing than what they fully grasped at the time). First Peter 1:10-12 tells us that prophets who wrote the OT inquired about these things, what person it would be, and that it was revealed to them that they weren’t serving themselves but US!
The criterion of Dr. Kaiser and others that says valid interpretation of a text can only be the meaning intended by the original [human] author and the understanding he expected his first readers to derive from the text within their shared horizon doesn’t do full justice to the unique nature of the Bible (I’ve been greatly helped by Johnson’s critique of Kaiser; cf. Him We Proclaim, 138-160). It doesn’t make sense of multiple claims in the NT that the OT documents weren’t ultimately written for the original audience but also for “our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Cor 10:11). It doesn’t handle well 1 Peter 1:10-12 that says the authors longed to understand what they were writing in its fullness. This criterion also falters when we consider that we don’t always know who the author or audience was!
This approach strives to be objective, which is a commendable goal, but it doesn’t account for a Divine Author “who knows exhaustively” how the text will fit into the larger pattern of the plan of redemption fulfilled in Christ (Johnson, Him We Proclaim, 138-39). The human author may not know all the fullness of what he is writing, but the Divine Author does!
For example, when Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:4 that the rock that spewed water in the desert was Christ, are we to assume that Moses intended in Exodus 17 to say that the rock was the Messiah? If that was Moses’ intent, then why didn’t he mention it? Or, should we assume that Paul is reading something in that is not there (a reader-response sort of hermeneutic that Eric charges Clowney with)? Or should we assume that God was revealing through the human author a pattern of how God rescues His people that was ultimately fulfilled in Christ? What was a shadow is fully explained later when our salvation comes through Christ being struck on the cross causing blood and water to flow. We have to see that Paul intends in 1 Corinthians for us to read this account in a Christocentric way. He intends for us to read the OT through the lens of the NT.
So, there is a dual authorship to the Bible, and we must take into account the Divine Author as well as the human author. What the human author knew in shadow, God knew in fullness. The intention of the human author and divine author do not contradict, they complement each other. BUT, we can’t read the Bible as if it were merely a collection of 66 books with over 40 authors; it is also 1 Book with 1 Author telling 1 story and should be interpreted like that. You don’t interpret texts out of their contexts; you do see the context as larger. You interpret it in its context in that book, in that testament, and ultimately in the context of the whole Bible. There is your checks and balance.
Eric actually does a great job of what he is arguing against when he mentions the Day of Atonement. He does a masterful job showing that the OT sacrificial system is superseded by and fulfilled in the work of Christ (Hebrews; 1 John 2:2). That is the way a Christ-centered expositor would approach the texts in Leviticus. I don’t intend here to argue the merits or demerits of limited atonement as Dr. Hankins did in his paragraph. I happen to agree with Eric on unlimited atonement. I do want to show that this is the way to approach the text in a Christ-centered way. Dennis Johnson points out in his book that Kaiser treats Leviticus 16 the same way because Christian expositors often can’t help themselves! (Him We Proclaim, 158-59). This is as it should be.
At the end of the day we should not let modern hermeneutical methods allow us to disqualify the approach of Jesus and the Apostles. Johnson writes, “If these commonsense checks on interpretive innovation preclude aspects of later Scripture’s handling of earlier Scripture, they do not deserve the status of ruling norm” (Him We Proclaim, 139). People want to know where are the breaks on Christocentric preaching that keeps it from sliding into allegory? I would ask, “Where are the commonsense checks on reading the Bible like a Pharisee, or on explicitly rejecting the method of Jesus?” The Christocentric approach starts with the historical-grammatical method but it doesn’t stop there. Sadly, many evangelical interpreters are held captive to Enlightenment reductionism that would elevate modern hermeneutical methods above the methods of Jesus and the Apostles. We must be diligent to escape this captivity.
I am wholeheartedly committed to the Christ-centered exposition of the entire Bible, primarily because of biblical reasons (see below). But, as a pastor, I also have practical reasons for preaching an explicitly Christ-centered message every week. I remember preaching a message from Proverbs on the use of the tongue (in a gospel-centered way but not as explicit as it should have been), and a lost man approached me at the end to thank me and to assure me that he would do better in the way he talked to his wife. So, he marched off towards Hell being nicer to his wife. I don’t want to preach in a way that produces Pharisees!
Because I think Christ-centered exposition is the best model both biblically and practically I was a bit disheartened to see the recent post by Eric Hankins called “Jason Allen and The Gospel Project.” Much could be said in critique of this post though I have no doubt about Eric’s sincere concern. It was quite a feat to jump from Calvinism to Jason Allen to Christ-centered exposition to The Gospel Project (TGP). Also, this potential critique of TGP lives up to every other critique so far levied against TGP because it doesn’t deal with the primary source (I will offer a future post dealing with TGP).
My main concern in this post is the critique of Christ-centered exposition. Far above any concern about Calvinism or non-Calvinism should be a concern that we interpret and preach the Bible rightly. The discussion that Eric raises is an important one. Too many SBC preachers misunderstand and misuse OT texts. I have heard too many sermons from the Prophetic books on the New Temple that devolve into a pitch to spend millions of dollars on building a new auditorium! I am concerned, as Eric is, that pastors rip texts out of their contexts in order to insert the preacher’s own theological pre-commitments – or to insert his own agenda. This is not just a problem for reformed or Christocentric preachers, it’s a danger for any preacher. I’ve heard non-Calvinists preachers say that dead doesn’t mean dead in Ephesians 2. So, the issue of interpretation and exposition is a very important one, and I am glad Eric, a pastor I consider to be my friend, raised it.
However, while I appreciate him raising the discussion, I would differ with his conclusions. Eric states that Christ-centered exposition is all the “rage” among reformed preachers. Actually, it should be the rage among all Christian preachers. After all, Paul said that it is “Him we proclaim” (Col 1:28). Let me flesh this out in three posts.
Christ-centered homiletics may not honor the “tried and true” hermeneutic that recent exegetes (Eric mentions Walter Kaiser Jr., a man from whom I have learned a lot and for whom I have great respect) have honed for us after millennia of church life and biblical interpretation, but it does honor a far more important hermeneutic, that of Jesus and the Apostles.
It is quite clear that Jesus and the Apostles interpreted the Bible as all about Jesus. In Luke 24, Jesus says that each division of the OT (Law, Prophets, and Psalms) was about him. In fact, Jesus rebukes the 2 disciples on the way to Emmaus for not seeing this in the OT. “Didn’t the Messiah have to suffer these things and enter into His glory?” (Luke 24:26). They took a Bible study class on the road, and reflected on it by saying, “Weren’t our hearts ablaze within us while He was…explaining the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32). Jesus tells the 11 that the OT is about the suffering and resurrection of the Messiah, and then the Great Commission out of that (Luke 24:44-49). Jesus’ explanation of the OT in Luke 24 no doubt laid the foundation for how the NT authors read the OT.
In John 5, Jesus tells his opponents that Moses wrote about Him (John 5:46). These men were experts in the OT and probably had much of it memorized, and yet they didn’t read it rightly because they didn’t see that it was all about Messiah Jesus.
What made Saul, a man learned in the OT, go from being a persecutor of the church to its greatest theologian and missionary? He met Jesus and that revolutionized how he read the OT. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:20 that all of God’s promises are yes in Jesus. He says in 2 Timothy 3:15 that the purpose of the Holy Scriptures, specifically the OT in that context, is to make one wise for salvation through faith in Jesus. So, the point of Leviticus, Numbers, Proverbs, Esther, and more is to bring you to saving faith in Jesus. In Luke 16:19-31, Father Abraham tells the rich man in Hades that Moses and the Prophets are enough to lead to saving repentance that avoids the wrath to come!
Jesus and Paul tell us to read and preach the Word in this way. Paul says of his preaching and ministry that he determined to know nothing among the Corinthians except Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor 2:2). We see this fleshed out in his epistles where he grounds gender roles, marriage, forgiveness, giving, etc. in the gospel. Each sermon of the Apostles in the Book of Acts is a Christ-centered proclamation of the OT. As Dennis Johnson argues in his book “Him We Proclaim,” the Book of Hebrews is a Christian sermon. This sermon masterfully shows how Jesus is the fulfillment of OT promises, institutions, types, etc. There were shadows and hints in the OT, and now we know them fully in Christ.
Christ and the Apostles are the ones who interpret and preach the OT as a Christ-centered text.
Part 3 to follow…
At this year’s Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans, B21 hosted another panel discussion. The topic for this year’s discussion: The Conservative Resurgence, the Great Commission Resurgence, and the Future of the SBC.
The panelists included: Danny Akin, JD Greear, Fred Luter, Albert Mohler, Paige Patterson, and David Platt.
The topics for the panel focused on:
- The necessity of the Conservative Resurgence
- Whether there are areas of SBC life that might indicate we haven’t fully grasped a recovery of the Authority and Sufficiency of the Scriptures
- The current debates over Calvinism and statements of faith
- Traditions and Traditionalism
- Moving forward as a people committed to the Scriptures
So thankful to our sponsors who made this event possible:
- Adoption Journey (a partnership of Bethany Christian Service, Lifeline Children’s services, and Lifesong for Orphans)
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