The Christocentric Principle: Promise, Pitfalls and Proposal -- By: Kevin G. Smith

Journal: Conspectus
Volume: CONSPECTUS 13:1 (Mar 2012)
Article: The Christocentric Principle: Promise, Pitfalls and Proposal
Author: Kevin G. Smith


The Christocentric Principle:
Promise, Pitfalls and Proposal

Kevin G. Smith

Abstract

This article is a response to ‘The Christocentric Principle: A Jesus-Centred Hermeneutic’ (Peppler 2012). The author argues that the christocentric principle holds much promise as an interpretive tool for all branches of evangelical theology. The article then identifies two potential pitfalls in the way the christocentric principle might be used, namely, (a) treating the gospels as a canon within a canon and (b) imposing a distorted picture of Christ upon other biblical texts. It is proposed that these pitfalls can be avoided if the rest of the canon is allowed to inform the christocentric principle, just as the christocentric principle often guides our interpretation of the rest of the canon.

Introduction

Dr Christopher Peppler founded the South African Theological Seminary (SATS) on three pillars, summed in our by-line as Bible-based, Christ-centred, and Spirit-led. As an evangelical seminary offering Master’s and Doctoral degrees in theology, we have stressed the Bible-based aspect, partly to distinguish ourselves from the more liberal approaches that predominate in the theological departments of South African universities. In 2011, Peppler challenged the seminary to

think about what it means for us to be Christ-centred. Four points emerged:

  • In all we do, we seek to give due honour and glory to the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • The goal of the Christian life is to become like the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • The person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ is central to all Christian life, doctrine, and ministry.
  • The nature of God as revealed in the words and works of the Lord Jesus Christ is a lens for interpreting God’s word and discerning his will.

The first three points were readily agreed, but a robust debate ensued around the fourth point, which takes christocentricity as a hermeneutic. The debate culminated in Peppler’s (2012) article ‘The Christocentric Principle: A Jesus-Centred Hermeneutic’.

This article is a response to Peppler’s proposals for a christocentric hermeneutic. It has three objectives: to (a) affirm the promise of the christocentric principle as a hermeneutical tool; (b) identify two potential pitfalls; and (c) propose a refinement to prevent the pitfalls producing problems.

1. The Promise

The christocentric principle holds much promise for the way we undertake the tasks of evangelical theology. As I understand it, the overarching task of theology is to discern God’s nature, will, and purposes so that his people might respond in ways that are faithf...

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