This post, by my friend in Perth, Michael O’Neil, is about an excellent book on how Baptists read the Bible. Michael teaches at Vose Seminary, and is an engaging, fun-loving, devoted theologian who finds particular fascination with Karl Barth.
One feature in the excellent collection of essays from The “Plainly Revealed” Word of God? is an emphasis on christocentric interpretation of Scripture. Thus Christopher Ellis writes,
Just as the early church read the Old Testament through the lens of Jesus Christ, so our attempts at doctrinal formulation should always be in the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the son of God and the word of God. As James Gordon has put it: ‘To live under the rule of the Word is to practise a radical hermeneutic through which scripture bears final and decisive witness to Christ, and by which the living Christ, revealed in Scripture and encountered in the community of faith, becomes the hermeneutical crux and criterion (111).
So, too, Ian Birch writes,
In what has come to be known as the Baptist vision of Christian faith, commitments were made and loyalties affirmed at the earliest stages of Baptist life to a number of principles that subsequently shaped the Baptist reading of scripture. These have been to regard Christ as the hermeneutical key to scripture and to read the Bible with a view to imaginatively living in its story … the authority of the Bible [is] to be understood as the authority of the risen Christ, mediated and expressed through the Bible. Baptists do not live simply under the word of scripture, but under the authority of Christ who is known and encountered in scripture (157, 159).
Birch goes on to argue that Christ is within scripture, through scripture, above scripture, and before scripture. There is no sola scriptura apart or independent from a thorough-going solus Christus. Jesus Christ, and especially his life and teaching, is the criterion of all scripture. There is an obvious mutuality in that our knowledge of Jesus Christ derives from the testimony of scripture. Still, this distinction is important:
The importance of this issue is that if scripture is regarded as the supreme authority in the church, then questions about belief and practice will be answered in terms of “what does the Bible say?” This legalistic approach has the tendency to create boundaries of orthodoxy and heresy between those who are perceived to be “biblical” and those who are not. However, rather than asking, “What does the Bible say?” if the church asks, “What does Christ say?” “What is the mind of Christ?” “What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus Christ in this situation and how can scripture help us to discern this?” the outcome of the process is a dynamic, communal submission to the Lordship of Jesus mediated through the word (166).