Christocentric or Christomonic?
Many of us have joyfully welcomed the renaissance of Christ-centered preaching that churches in North America have undergone in recent decades. For some it has been an old practice to saturate their ministry with the person and work of the Savior. For others it is a relatively new thing to earnestly seek to proclaim their Savior in a more pervasive way in their preaching. Praise God! If Christ is being proclaimed, the church has done well.
Yet there is a fine line between being Christocentric (i.e. preaching the Scriptures in a Christ-centered way) and being Christomonic (i.e. preaching Christ from the Scriptures to the exclusion of the Father and the Spirit). Christomonism is the act of ONLY focusing on the saving work of Christ in our reading and preaching of the Scriptures, as if every passage in the Bible leads us ONLY to the foot of the cross. Now, to be sure, all Scripture does lead to the person and work of Christ, but it does not ONLY lead us to Him. Our Lord Himself repeatedly pointed us to two other objects in the Scripture, namely, God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. Throughout the Gospel accounts, He repeatedly stated that He had come to do the will of his Father. Additionally, at his ascension, Christ promised to send another Comforter--the Holy Spirit--to be the divine agent who would accompany and work in his church. We must follow the lead of our Lord in preaching both the work and character of the Father and the Spirit.
It is far easier for some of us to slip into a Christomonism than we might think at first. When the law is preached in our churches (as it must be preached), and the exclusive application is “you can’t keep it, but Jesus has,” you are probably sitting under a Christomonic ministry. If you almost exclusively hear that, as a Christian, your works are not acceptable to God and do not please him, you are most likely sitting under a Christomonic ministry. If you hear little to nothing of the love of the Father in saving sinners, you are probably under a Christomonic ministry. If you rarely hear application in preaching, you are probably sitting under a Christomonic ministry. It is very easy to fall into Christomonism. At this point, you might object, “What is wrong with those messages?” The simple answer is that they are not faithfully accounting for the whole counsel of God; or, to put it another way, they do not sum up the totality of the message of “Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
Consider for a moment the biblical teaching on "the love of the Father." The best known passage in Scripture is often the subject of the most clear example of a Chrsitomonic abuse:“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). The main subject of this passage is the Father. Everything else in the passage exegetes and qualifies the greatness of the Father’s love towards sinners. To preach this text with the exclusive emphasis laid on “whoever believes in Him (i.e. the Son) should not perish” (as vital a truth that is in the text) is to mispreach the text by missing the Father's motivation of sending the Son into the world.
Additionally, we might consider the holiness and justice of God. Consider the many texts in the Law that speak to particular sins and their corresponding sacrifices. To move quickly from the Old Covenant text to the ultimate fulfillment in Christ (sin bearing sacrifice), without dealing with the nature of the sin being spoken of, is to miss the reality of sin, the holiness of God (Hab 1:13) and His justice which requires a reckoning for sin. To pass by these truths in the Old Covenant text will not enhance our appreciation for the person and work of Christ; rather, it detracts from it. Without a thorough and biblical exposition of sin, God’s holiness and justice, Christ’s work becomes less life-saving and more band-aid-like.
Finally, for what purpose did our Lord promise to give the Spirit? In short, for the conviction of sin and to lead us into a deep knowledge of the Savior. When we hear the law preached, our first reaction ought to be to look to the Spirit in prayer, namely, that we would be convicted of sin and would flee to Christ for pardon. Then we should seek to grow more in the knowledge of Christ, thus learning to render loving and willing obedience to God. If we simply jump to “Jesus has done it all for me,” and stop at that, we are dismissing the work of the Father and the Spirit in sanctification and perseverance. For example, if we read the imperative of Philippians 2:12 “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” and leap straight to Jesus’ work at the cross in forgiving sins, we miss the rest of the Paul’s teaching – “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” The challenge of the imperative is met in the work of the Triune God, Father, Son and Spirit, working in and through the believer in sanctification. To simply state “I can’t work out my salvation, Jesus has done it for me” is to empty the imperative of 2:12, which, is a call to steadfast faith and obedience. It denies God’s ongoing work in the believer.
My great fear in all this is that in the current trend of preaching, which seeks to be faithfully Christocentric, many will end up becoming Christomonic, the Father’s great and everlasting love to sinners will be diminished and the Spirit’s ongoing work in us will be lost. Twice in the last five years of ministry I’ve been confronted with this attitude: “I don’t want to be told what to do, I want to be told what Jesus has done for me.” That’s Christomonism, not Christocentrism. After all, it was Jesus who said “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Jesus' great work of redemption includes the Father and the Spirit working together with Him to accomplish that reality in our lives.