Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Jesus Hermeneutic: Now Taking Applications

Though I did not originally intend to do so, I think I may tackle the objections in reverse order. Therefore, the question addressed in this post is:

Does this mean the Scriptures have no practical application?

Many people fear that a "Jesus Hermeneutic" ends in head knowledge. The person is called to learn some facts, or see a passage in a "new light" and nothing more. The fear is that application and accountability will be lost as the only calling on the believer is to sit in the congregation and call out "amen." Isn't it knowledge that puffs up?

But I would argue that what we typically call application is more properly labeled action. We may not be calling a person to apply the text to their soul, but simply telling them new ways to behave. Ironically, we are born with a sin nature that rebels against authority, yet simultaneously cries out, "Just tell me what to do!" Sinclair Ferguson jokes about the time his daughter told him how to get people to take more notes when he preaches. She explained that every time he says "here are three (or four or five) things you need to do," people scramble for their pens/pencils. This is the orientation of the natural man, and many pastors simply feed it as they rattle off life tips for "seekers" who may be in the room.

I would offer that approaching (and meditating) on the text from a Jesus Hermeneutic is proper application, and will lead to God honoring actions. The Scriptures are full of examples. Paul called us to renew our minds (elsewhere, renew the spirit of your mind) as the application for a gospel centered life. In contrast to legalism and exterior action, he calls us to set our mind on things above, where Christ is. The author of Hebrews calls the church to fix our eyes on Jesus as the proper application of his preaching. These are only a few examples of many, and in each case proper application of doctrine is to change the way we think and approach our Savior. This does not mean that action is not called for, in each of these passages specific action then follows. But the authors were quick to understand that action without focusing on Christ is not proper application.

A Jesus hermeneutic is not anti-application. In fact, it promotes proper application.

When using a Jesus Hermeneutic, application is...

Christ exalting

As the person aims to apply the text, their standard is not Abraham, Moses, Daniel, Paul or John the Baptist. We quit calling our people to be sinful, fallen [insert Old/New Testament character here], and instead point them to our Savior. We seek to imitate Him.

sanctification focused
The focus is not simply behavior modification. The focus is heart transformation. A person is not called to simply learn some new habits or direct their attitude elsewhere, but is actually called to be transformed to the image of Christ.

Holy Spirit driven
Such "results" cannot come by sheer willpower or determination. This must be the work of the Holy Spirit on our behalf. We call our people to something higher than just "try harder." We call them to submit (and delight) in the Spirit's work in their lives.

cross dependent
Perhaps one reason this hermeneutic is resisted is that it is quite unhelpful to the non-believer. If the focus is Christ, the goal is sanctification and the power is the Holy Spirit, then the non-believer is 0-3 in these categories. (However, shouldn't our number one priority for any non-believer be their submission to the gospel?) But for the believer, the cross is our only means to righteousness and place of refuge when we do fail.

self-righteousness killing
One cannot simultaneously look at Christ and consider himself righteous. We will be humbled to see any righteousness we have has been imputed to us by Him. Secondarily, we will not be able to take credit for our own success (thinking we are more determined/disciplined/driven than others), but will understand that this is merely His work upon us.

boaster silencing
Therefore, praise and glory goes to Christ and not myself. (Isn't worship our highest application anyway?) I didn't start the work. I am not carrying on the work. I am not even the one who will complete the work. I must conclude, But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me (1 Corinthians 15:10).

The question is not, Can a Jesus Hermeneutic compel people to action? Instead, we should ask, Is it possible to achieve application with any other hermeneutic?

1 comment:

Zach Doppelt said...


I think you are on to something important... application is much misunderstood!

Consider Col. 1, where Paul writes of praying and seeing the believers walking in truth, strengthened so that they may have joy... what does he strengthen them with? Where is the joy found? Christ, Christ and more Christ! Christ IS the answer to joy, not the Pastor telling people 10 practical steps to experience joy in your life... Why we try to overcomplicate and entertain I do not know...