WHAT IS CENTRAL TO OUR LIVES?
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Tuesday, September 11, 2012 at 10:56am
QUESTION: In my understanding and in my experience as a Christian, Jesus is the center of everything we do. Yet in your note about Jesus and the Biblical world view, you say Jesus is not the center. How can this be?
ANSWER: Several of my readers were confused and/or upset by my Facebook note on how Jesus relates to the Biblical world view. They were disturbed that I said that God’s work of creation is the fundamental, foundational, central element of our world view, and that therefore Jesus and God’s work of redemption are not the center of our world view. How can this be? they ask. Does not the Bible make Jesus central in every aspect of our lives?
I have discussed this specific question in my book, What the Bible Says About God the Creator (1983), in chapter 4, “The Implications of Creation.” In the section called “The Primacy of Creation” (pp. 171-191), I specifically discuss the question of the centrality of Jesus. First, I cite an article from a 1981 issue of Christian Standard by Stuart D. Cook, entitled “Making Christ Central.” Cook states that “true restoration involves restoring Christ to His rightful centrality.” He says, “Every spiritual concept, practice, or deed must find its essential meaning and value in Jesus Christ—His identity, perfect life, atoning death, triumphant resurrection, and glorified status.”
I proceed to cite more statements from Cook and to give a lot more examples of this idea; then I discuss it in detail. What follows below is mostly my conclusion to that discussion. I present it here as a response to those who feel that Jesus got short-changed in my previous note.
When we ask the question, “What should be central in our lives?” we must see that this question has to be answered in different ways on different levels. I.e., what do we mean by “central”? Central in what way? If we mean essentially central, the answer is that GOD THE CREATOR is central. That is, we can explain the essence of our existence and the existence of everything else only in light of the creation. This is the reference point from which everything else flows; thus our primary relationship to God is to God as Creator. The explanation of the existence of everything, including the human race, is grounded in the fact of creation. When answering the question, “What is man?” (Ps. 8:4), the most basic fact is that we are created beings brought into existence by the Creator-God.
In other words, the creation-relation is the decisive reference point for the basic facts of our existence. For instance, our knowledge of God, comes to us from God the Creator. This applies not only to the written revelation of Scripture, but also to the general revelation of God which comes through the witness of creation itself (Ps. 19:1; Rom. 1:18ff.). Also, the will of God is known to us as the will of God our Creator. Thus ethics (the distinction between right behavior and wrong behavior) is grounded in creation, not redemption. Also, sin against God is sin against God the Creator; this sin-relationship with the Creator is what brings about the need for redemption. These are the points that lead to the conclusion that law (grounded in the creation-relation) must precede gospel (grounded in redemption). Also, we should note that since man’s essential relation to God is to God as Creator, this is the universal God-man relationship. All human beings are related to God the Creator in that all know Him, all know His will, and all have sinned against Him. But not all are related to God as Redeemer; this is an acquired relationship.
The question of centrality must also be asked in another way. In addition to asking about what is essentially central, we must ask about what is epistemologically central. I.e., what is the beginning point in our search for knowledge? What is the foundational source for all truth? This is an extremely important point, because it will ultimately affect our whole system of doctrine. So, what is epistemologically central? What is the normative source for all truth?
The answer is that the Bible is epistemologically central. It is typical today when such a statement is made for some observers to wax hysterical and accuse the speaker of “bibliolatry” or of elevating the Bible above the Lord of the universe Himself. This kind of response usually comes, however, from those who do not understand the primacy of epistemology in every area of study, and the difference between form and content. The question of epistemology is basic in any field of inquiry, i.e., how do we get knowledge about our subject matter? But this is only a formal question and is not in competition with the content learned thereby. When we say that the Bible is epistemologically central, we mean that it and it alone is our source of knowledge about the person who is central in our lives. This is the meaning of the time-honored slogan, “The Bible and the Bible alone is our only infallible rule of faith and practice.” Faith in the Bible as our source of truth about Christ does not contradict our faith in Christ as the source of our salvation.
This leads to a final way in which the question about centrality must be asked, namely, what is existentially central in our lives? This seldom-used word refers to how we actually live our lives on a daily basis. I.e., what do our every-day lives revolve around? What is the center of our thoughts and actions? When the question is asked this way, the Christian must answer that Christ is central to our lives, in this existential sense. This means that our strongest felt relationship to God is the relationship we have with Christ our Lord and Savior. He is the One whom we know most about and to whom we feel the closest. As the One who has saved us from our sins, we owe Him more than we owe anyone else. He is usually central in our worship. We want our lives to be Christ-centered and Christ-honoring. Our very name is Christian. In short, all our conscious service to God is in the name of Jesus Christ (Col. 3:17). This is the way it ought to be.
In summary we are saying that the Creator is the essential center of our lives; the Bible is the epistemological center; and Jesus Christ is the existential center. It is crucial that we keep these three kinds of centrality distinct. Not to do so results in a distorted world view and twisted doctrine. In reference to a proper formulation of the Biblical world view, the emphasis falls upon what is essentially central, namely, creation. In reference to how we know the structure and details of the Biblical world view, the emphasis falls on what is epistemologically central, namely, the Bible. In reference to how we live day by day as sinners saved by grace, the emphasis falls on what is existentially central, namely, Jesus Christ.
[Note: Of all the things I have written over the past 50 years or so, I have my own assessment of what ideas I consider to be the most valuable or most important. This material on the three kinds of centrality I put very near the top of my list.]