HOUSTON (BP) -- How can a sermon from the Old Testament point to Jesus? Four panelists outlined various approaches and the differences between their views in a discussion of Christ-centered preaching and teaching held in conjunction with the SBC annual meeting in Houston.

Panel moderator Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research and general editor of The Gospel Project curriculum initiative, asked panelist Jon Akin, senior pastor of Fairview Church in Lebanon, Tenn., why there has been a growing conversation about interpreting and teaching Scripture from a distinctly Christ-centered approach.

This approach, Akin responded, confronts "moralistic therapeutic deism" -- which is sociologist Christian Smith's term for the default religion in American Christianity, or a fundamental misunderstanding of the scriptural texts.

"I read a Sunday School publication for children that said, 'Be nice to your mother-in-law like Ruth,'" Akin said during the session held in conjunction with the SBC annual meeting in Houston. "That's great advice but it's not the point of the book of Ruth."

Akin said his Christocentric approach starts with a framework laid out by Jesus and the apostles and "is based on the assumption that the central purpose of what God is doing in the Old Testament is Jesus."

In response, panelist Eric Hankins, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Oxford, Miss., expressed support for Christ-centered preaching but said he was concerned that the methods proposed by Akin and others were "oversimplifying things and flattening out the Scriptures in some ways."

Hankins referred to several Old Testament scholars who have raised issues about "drawing out a hermeneutical method about the Old Testament from Jesus' words."

The fourth panelist, Trevin Wax, managing editor of The Gospel Project, explained how the new curriculum produced by LifeWay Christian Resources fits into the ongoing discussion.

"Our goal is to show people how to read the Bible as one grand narrative," Wax said. "It's not new for us to say we're going to read the Old Testament in light of Jesus' death and resurrection. Trying to read the Bible without Christ at the center is like trying to read a book in the dark. We all agree we're going to read the Bible as Christians.

"The question is, how do we do this in a way that is hermeneutically responsible?" Wax said.

Stetzer elicited a discussion between Akin and Hankins on how to preach through Old Testament passages.

Akin explained how he would take Proverbs, for example, and demonstrate that wisdom can only be obtained and lived out through Christ, who is wisdom personified. Hankins agreed, but asserted, "I don't think that it needs to be preached that way every time."

The apostles and New Testament writers referenced the Old Testament in a way that gives modern Christians a framework to use in their interpretation of it, Akin said. He described allusions and similarities between the Old Testament account of David and Goliath, and the New Testament's accounts of Christ's defeat of sin and Satan.

Hankins noted his reservations and belief that Akin's explanation drifted "from typology to allegory."

While all Christians look at the Bible with a fresh perspective through the cross, Hankins said there is a distinction between the apostles and those who followed them. New Testament writers, he said, had a clearer ability to see the connections between Jesus and the Old Testament.

Wax, who classified his own personal stance as somewhere between Hankins and Akin, said church members would "go to the Bible the way we've conditioned them to go to the Bible."

"If we establish the wrong pattern," Wax said, " go to the Bible looking for themselves rather than looking for Christ."

Because Hankins had originally expressed concerns with The Gospel Project along these lines, Stetzer asked how he felt the Bible study curriculum handles these issues.

"The concerns I had were addressed," Hankins said. "There is a great deal that's helpful and useful in teaching people how it all fits together."

Wax closed the panel discussion by stating where the new LifeWay materials would fit in the discussion.

"We know Bible study that changes lives is Bible study that leads to an encounter with Christ, because the written Word is the testimony to the living Word," Wax said. "So, with The Gospel Project, our main intent is to be hermeneutically responsible in the way we are pointing people to Jesus, but making sure we are always pointing people to Jesus."

Aaron Earls is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources. Follow a continuing conversation on the subject at The Exchange, Stetzer's blog at ChristianityToday.com. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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