I believe the greatest theological need in our time, along side the theological idea of what I’ve called missional-ecuemnism, is the recovery of a Christ-centered theological perspective. We desperately need a Christological theology!
Our theology is often centered on perspectives that are rooted in a number of good biblical themes but lack Christ. There is nothing more central to the biblical story of redemption than Christ. He is all. Paul, in perhaps the greatest hymn in all the Bible says:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather made himself nothing, by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross. Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:6-11).
A Christological theology embraces the commands to love God and our neighbor. Behind these commandments are not rules (law) but divine self-sacrifice, a sacrifice that binds together the entire enterprise we call theology. And the self-sacrificial character of Jesus means the trinitarian nature of God does not leave us at the whim of an arbitrary God. He rescues, will rescue and must rescue all who cannot rescue themselves and call upon him. Understanding God as self-giving in Christ is not an abstract theology of the attributes but rather an accessible theology of the cross and the resurrection. The cross reflects, contains and embodies the trinitarian mystery of the eternal self-giving Father who begets the Son and gives procession to the Spirit. In the words of one theologian: “Christology shares in the reality of who God is (theology) and reveals it” (cf. Matthew 11:25-30).
Further, a Christological theology does not detract from our doctrine of God but rather opens it up to the fuller reality that God’s intentions are inherent in his divine essence. Simply put, this means that God does what he does because of who He (God) is.
Much of Westminster-type Calvinism, especially of the sort that majors on the divine decrees as central to theology, fails at this precise point. It gives the Christian a view of God that is detached from God’s self-sacrificing nature and thus the center of his revelation, Jesus Christ. When I grasped this focus my life and my preaching were profoundly altered. I believe many neo-conservative Reformed Christians desperately need this richer, deeper and more Christ-centered perspective.
N. T. Wright captured this so well in his book, The Climax of the Covenant (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1991, 83-84). He wrote:
The real humiliation of the incarnation and the cross is that one who was himself God, and who never during the whole process stopped being God, could embrace such a vocation. The real theological emphasis of the hymn
I believe Wright’s short sentence that this is a “new understanding of God” is at the heart of the Christian revelation. Jesus revealed the Father as he had never been revealed and now in the full light of his glory we see the heart and mind of God as never before. Let us lay hold of this truth and go forward into deeper and better theology in our personal thinking and in the community life of the whole church.
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John, I’m no theologian, but it seems to me what you’re asking for is what is in Romans 3:21-31 (quoted below — 1984 NIV 🙂
I was captivated by the phrase, “to which the Law and the Prophets testify.” I looked, and yes, its there, the awareness of man’s helplessness before sin, the use of the law to reveal our sinfulness, the misuse of the law to claim our own righteousness, the humiliation of utter failure, and the grace of a “heart of flesh” after true contrition, all of which was fully revealed in Jesus’ person, life and mission.
Also, Paul is clear that God did this to reveal that “He” is just and the one who justifies. It was done through Christ, but it is about Him.
Romans 3:21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement,[a] through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
John, you said, “Much of Westminster-type Calvinism, especially of the sort that majors on the divine decrees as central to theology, fails at this precise point.” Please point out exactly the reference to particular Wesminster Divines who fail at Christological Theology. Of course, no one’s theology is perfect, not even yours, but that is at best an appeal to selective evidence, and at worst, slander against Calvinism and the English Reformers. I would LOVE to see your reasoning here. I also wonder how someone like D.A. Carson would respond.
Is it an issue of doctrines that fail or simply the supremacy of Christ?! Recall Jesus teaching on Sabbath. Was man created for Sabbath or Sabbath for man?
Tom, I am just asking the justification for such a statement. If someone says, “much of Westminster-type Calvinism” fails when it comes to a Christo-centric theology, there needs to be some proof of that. All of the English Puritans and Calvinistic preachers that I have read are very Christo-centric…and I have read alot of them. So I just wonder with such a bold statement exactly who is John Armstrong talking about. I would like for him to name the Westminster Divines, or other respected Calvinists whom he believes fail in this regard.
I work on sundays? Am I going to Hell for it? (eye roll) lol
There is one thing I am sure of about your question. No one goes to hell for “working on Sunday.” I hope no one told you such nonsense. If they did they have no idea about the teaching of the real Jesus found in the four Gospels. Jesus came to give life, not to threaten people for breaking the human codes and traditions of a day on the calendar.
While I believe God designed us to need “rest” (and one day in seven is a divinely given idea) keeping a particular day has nothing to do with following Jesus.
When I refer to “much of Westminster-type Calvinism” I am referring to the direction of the authors, which is not toward the human Jesus we encounter in the four Gospels but toward the decrees of a sovereign God. Little is said in this, and for that matter most, modern (non-paleo) creeds about the man Jesus. We have a high Christology but a low view of how he lived, why and what it means to us for living in obedience to him. The same could be said of Aquinas on the Catholic side of things.
My point was not to say the creeds were all bad or that the authors were dumb in any way. They were a lot brighter than anything I will ever say or write. But the fact remains — they did not give us a human Jesus we can understand and follow in humble, simple obedience rooted in love and joy. They gave us hard to grasp theological fine points that may be important but they are not “most important.” This is, for me, a matter of first things. I simply believe we’ve reversed the order of Scripture over the centuries and turned theology into a substitute for deep relationship with the man Jesus. While theology is important it rarely makes a person love Jesus and others more deeply, which is the heart of Christian faith.
So which theologians missed this? I would have to say, to varying degrees, all of them. The debates of their time did not take up this concern at all. My desire is that we will and thus be more like the first Christians, not those of the 17th century.