I have lost count of the times I have heard the phrase Christ-centred affirming the veracity of an allegedly indisputable theological maxim relating to the gospel. Indeed, when you think about it, how often do you hear people making theological assertions about something being ‘….-centred’? I wager that scarcely a religious conference would pass without the ‘centre’ word being forcefully attached to a confident assertion about some theological truth or another.
I must confess, I not only find the notion of something being logically ‘central’ as being incredibly unhelpful, in as much as what it implicitly denies, but more importantly conceptually inaccurate in what it explicitly affirms! I consider the concept of centricity to be a one-dimensional spatio-geometrical notion, and as such is ill-fitted for theological reflection. Indeed, to affirm a theological notion as central, is to imply that it necessarily has greater theological value relative to ‘all’ other weighty doctrines that potentially lie outside the exclusive geometrical centre.
So let’s consider just how conceptually fallacious it is to affirm a specific truth as ‘central’. To do this, I shall consider basic Christology in relation to basic Pneumatology, seeking to show that making one central at the expense of the other, simply leads to a contradiction.
I am assuming, if you are even vaguely associated in Christian circles, you would have heard the phrase Christ-centred. It is usually proclaimed by those well-meaning and zealous proponents of Evangelical orthodoxy, who love to assert that the person and work of Jesus Christ must remain absolutely prominent, via the notion of centricity, otherwise ‘less important’ maxims such as the person an work of the Holy Spirit, might overwhelm and compromise the pure or primary Jesus focus of the gospel.
Indeed, for most conservative Christians, the notion of ‘Christ-centeredness’ has become a sine qua non truth; a maxim to be regularly cited in order to challenge wavering believers toward true orthodoxy. Alright then, let’s just see how far we can get with the ‘centrality’ of Christ, without affirming the alleged ‘centrality’ of the Holy Spirit?
There is no denying that Jesus Christ is a primary figure in Christianity. It is not difficult to see from Old Testament prophecy that Jesus was the predicted Messiah. Of course, without his life, ministry, death, and resurrection there would be no Christianity. Not only so his ongoing influence his continued to drive the growth of Christianity for over 2000 years, and will continue to do so. Jesus is indispensable to Christianity, but is he more central than the Holy Spirit?
Without the Holy Spirit there would be no definable ‘form’ to the world; no created world or humans for than matter–nothing for Jesus to actually come to (Gen 1:2). Without the Holy Spirit there would have been no temple to represent the flawed relationship between God and humanity, demonstrating the necessity for a savior (Ex 31:3). Without the Holy Spirit there would be no Prophets, Priests, or Kings; the people who foreshadowed and became types of Jesus ( 1 Sam 10:6). Without the Holy Spirit there would have been on prophecy to reveal the advent of Jesus ( 1 Peter 1:11,12).
Furthermore, without the Spirit there would be no incarnation (Matt 1:18), no anointing (Matt 3:16) , no overcoming temptation (Matt 4:1), no miracles (Matt 12:28), no powerful preaching (Luke 4:18). Without the Spirit there would be no: death, resurrection, ascension, Pentecost and the ongoing empowerment of the Church. Moreover, without the Holy Spirit there would be no way to actually relate to identify with Jesus: no faith, no union with Christ, no abiding presence, no ethical empowerment, no body of Christ in which the spiritual gifts might be exercised. The list just goes on, and on.
The fact is, without the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ would have no world to inhabit, no people to save, no basis for coming, no capacity to come into human existence, no capacity to exercise his ministry, either historically or in any ongoing sense. Indeed, without the Holy Spirit, not only does the effective idea of Jesus the savior collapse, but the very fact! So is Jesus more central than the Spirit or the Spirit more central than Jesus?
As you can see, the problem is not Jesus or the Spirit, but the very notion of relating them via the concept of centricity. Simply put, centricity implies a kind of theological dart-board where the higher value targets exist in the centre, the further you go out to the periphery the less value the target truths have. Placing perceived important truths in the centre then gives them greater value than those outside the ‘bulls-eye’, which necessarily become lesser. I then practically enables the thinker to play them off against each other–one ‘must’ be more important than the other. Which, as we have shown by comparing Jesus and the Spirit, can result in a logical contradiction.
Whilst I applaud the noble intent of those seeking to exalt Christ, as should be the goal of every Christian, to simply cite this or any other truth as being central (unless the subject matter is geometrical)–although it may appear to be a quick and convenient way of emphasizing the importance of this theological truth– is nevertheless a rather simplistic, inaccurate, unhelpful and potentially destructive way ( if misunderstood) of expressing truths that are vital to the understanding and practise of the Christian faith.
How then, could we stress the importance of key truths, such as the exalted value of the person and work of Jesus Christ mentioned, in a simple yet less-conflicting way? Well, what is wrong with Christ-honoring, Christ-glorifying, Christ-oriented etc. Indeed, why can’t we speak in a less exclusive manner of : the primacy of Christ, the indispensable value of Christ, or even the supremacy of Christ; terms which make provision for a more inclusive formulation.
I think, in making our theological explications, especially toward immature Christians who are not used to carefully thinking carefully, we who are teachers must strive for simplicity as well as theological precision, even if it requires more work to do so; and not lazily draw on ready- to- hand logical constructs, such as the geometrical notion of ‘centricity’, which is predisposed to contradiction or conflict with other high-value doctrines–sooner or later.
So it seems, that not only what we think is important, but, how we think, what we think! For not only the matter of our thinking, but equally the manner of our thinking, will determine what we believe, how we actually live, and ultimately the nature of our relationship with God.