Think for a moment before you answer this question: What is the center of your theology?
The instant response from those of us firmly footed in the Bible church movement might be “the Bible.” After all, the Bible is the written word of God, the only inerrant and infallible source of truth, the treasure house of spiritual wisdom and divine revelation. What else could stand as the center of our theology?
Nevertheless, back in 1883 C. I. Scofield declared, “Jesus of Nazareth is the center and source of my theology.” And he accepted the divine origin and authority of Scripture “because Jesus did” (Records of the First Congregational Church of Dallas, page 35).
Even if your answer matched Scofield’s, is Jesus Christ really the center of your theology?
Discerning the Center
The doctrinal statement of Scofield Memorial Church reads: “We believe that all the Scriptures center about the Lord Jesus Christ in His person and work in His first and second coming, and hence that no portion, even of the Old Testament, is properly read, or understood, until it leads to Him.” Our Bible church tradition has long strived to place the person and work of Jesus Christ at the center of the Bible and therefore at the center of our theology and practice. This Christ-centered tradition goes back further than C. I. Scofield. In fact, its origins are found with Jesus and the apostles.
Christ said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me” (John 5:39). And Luke gives this account of Christ’s instruction after His resurrection: “Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27). Paul used the same Old Testament to convince people that Jesus was the Messiah who died and rose again (Acts 17:2–3). And he declared in his letters that the gospel of the person and work of Christ was foreshadowed in Old Testament Scripture (Romans 1:1–4; 1 Corinthians 15:1–5). Clearly, the center of Scripture is Jesus Christ.
The generation following the disciples also saw Jesus Christ as the center. Around the year AD 110, while being transported by soldiers to Rome for execution, Ignatius, pastor of Antioch, passed through the city of Philadelphia in Asia Minor. During his brief visit there, he had a run-in with some Judaizers who refused to accept the Christian teachings about Jesus unless they could find them clearly spelled out in the Old Testament (Ignatius, Philadelphians 8.2). The very issue was whether or not Jesus Christ stood at the center of revealed truth. The exchange went something like this:
JUDAIZERS: If we can’t see it plainly written in the Old Testament, we won’t believe it in the gospel.
IGNATIUS: Well, then, let’s just look at what the Old Testament says. If you look at this passage here, you’ll see what’s written about Christ. . . .
JUDAIZERS: Hah! That’s precisely the question! You’re reading Jesus into the Bible! The Scriptures alone must be the standard of truth.
IGNATIUS: No! For me the standard is Jesus Christ. The unbreakable standard is His cross, death, resurrection, and the faith which comes through Him. These are the things by which we are justified.
For Ignatius, the question was not whether Scripture was authoritative, inerrant, and the source of inviolable truth. All true Christians believed that. The issue was how to read Scripture correctly. Ignatius’s response reveals that the person and work of Jesus Christ stood at the center of his theology.
Keeping the Center in the Source
Of course, the Bible is the only inerrant source of information about Jesus Christ available to us today. The Bible is the reliable source for the person and work of Christ. However, just because we accept the supreme doctrinal authority of Scripture as the source, this doesn’t guarantee that we always interpret it correctly. Like the Jews in the days of Jesus and the Judaizers in the days of Ignatius, we will misinterpret the Bible if Jesus Christ does not stand at the center. If we read the Bible in isolation from the person and work of Christ, we’ve handled it wrongly.
How does this affect us practically? What does it mean to us today that Jesus Christ is the center of Scripture and theology? How does it change the way we read the Bible? Or the way we live our lives?
Frankly, sometimes I get the feeling that we evangelicals have forgotten that Jesus Christ is the center of Scripture and theology. Sometimes I feel we’ve crossed the line and placed the Bible at the center while banishing Jesus to the corner. While we’ve honed our skills in exegesis, we’ve inadvertently committed “exe-Jesus.” While we’ve mined gems of practical principles from Scripture, we’ve lost sight of Jesus—the pearl of great price. And sometimes our doctrinal schemes have become doctrinal scandals because they’ve made the person and work of Christ merely one numbered article among a dozen unrelated creedal planks. And preachers have been bullied so much by our “How-to” culture demanding practical advice that they’re sometimes forced to treat the Christ-centered Bible like a Me-centered instruction manual.
What’s the solution? Bible studies on how to have a healthy marriage must stop if they don’t point to Jesus Christ as the model of love and fidelity. Workshops on handling finances are worthless if they don’t lead us to the priceless payment of Christ and canceled debt of His cross. Lessons on how to overcome sin amount to Christ-less psycho-babble if Jesus doesn’t stand as the source of new life and resurrection power. All these things may be helpful, but without Christ they are not uniquely Christian.
The Bible is not a book about dos, don’ts, rules, regulations, financial advice, marriage pointers, or frame-friendly words of inspiration. The Bible is about the eternal, divine Son of God. He revealed the Father’s will, became incarnate as a man to die for our sins, and rose from the dead. He works through the Spirit and the written word of God to accomplish His will in us and in His church. He will return to transform all creation under His perfect rule.
C. I. Scofield was right: Jesus Christ is the center. He always has been. Therefore, we must all be careful in our devotions, study, teaching, and worship not to relegate Him to a footnote.