A Note on “Christocentrism” And The Imprudent Use Of Such Terminology -- By: Richard A. Muller

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 68:2 (Fall 2006)
Article: A Note on “Christocentrism” And The Imprudent Use Of Such Terminology
Author: Richard A. Muller


A Note on “Christocentrism”
And The Imprudent Use Of Such Terminology

Richard A. Muller

Richard A. Muller is the P. J. Zondervan Professor of Historical Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Mich.

I. The Problem and the Proposal

There has been an enormous amount of discussion in recent years concerning the “christocentric” character of genuine Reformed theology, of the christocentrism of Calvin’s thought, particularly of the Institutes, and of the problematic character of less christocentric forms of Calvinist thought.1 These theological discussions take several forms. Some attempt to drive a wedge between the thought of Calvin and Theodore Beza on the ground that the former is christocentric and the latter decretal, having posed predestination as the “central dogma.”2 Alternatively, in the wake of recent reappraisal of Beza’s work and the potential description of Beza’s theology as christocentric, Beza’s thought might be portrayed as similar in its central emphasis on the work of Christ to Calvin’s own, and the blame for a post-Calvinian deviation from christocentrism laid at the door of some other successor-theologian, perhaps an advocate of covenant theology. After all, another form of the discussion has posed the potentially “legalistic” patterns of covenant theology against the christocentric theology of grace found in Calvin3 —and still another pattern of argument has vindicated covenant theology and proclaimed it to stand in tension with Calvinistic predesti narianism.4 Obviously, not all of these theories can be true at the same time, in the same place, and in the same way.

The terms “christocentrism” and “christocentric,” as used in such argumentation, float at the same level of mythological distance from the historical materials of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as the notion of central dogmas and whole theologies logically deduced from divine decrees—and such usage is far more subversive of genuine historical analysis than these other shibboleths, given its seemingly unimpeachable religious and theological value.5 What Christian theologian, after all, would want to be anything other than christocentric?

It is the burden of this article not to pick and choose among these several approaches, but to note the problematic use of the term “christocentrism” in all of them and to plead—on the ground that most of th...

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