In the world of hermeneutics, several ideas have emerged with a goal of helping us understand how the Old Testament is to be understood in terms of its relationship to Jesus Christ. Jim Shaddix has rightly noted that among these—the Christocentric, Christotelic, and Christiconic approaches—seem to be the most popular. Shaddix’s descriptions seem helpful here:
“The Christocentric approach (advocated by Greidanus and Goldsworthy) sees all of scripture as having Christ as its central theme. The Christotelic approach (advocated by Enns) sees all of scripture as having Christ as its end, purpose or fulfillment. The Christiconic approach (advocated by Abraham Kuruvilla) sees all of scripture as having Christ – or His character – as its goal in the lives of the readers.”
Christiconic preaching is most well-known through the work of Dr. Abraham Kuruvilla, Senior Research Professor of Preaching and Pastoral Ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary. Kuruvilla has written extensively on this and especially so in his book Privilege the Text! A Theological Hermeneutic for Preaching published in 2013. The idea of Christiconic preaching flows out of what Kuruvilla calls “pericopal theology” and is defined as:
“the theology specific to a particular pericope—representing a segment of the plenary world in front of the canonical text that portrays God in his relationship to his people—which functions as the crucial intermediary in the move from text to application.”
So, how does this come across in biblical preaching? Kuruvilla says “it is where the facets of the image of Christ are presented through the theological sense of any pericope, thereby giving listeners the opportunity to align themselves with God’s demand that we be holy as He is holy, that is, that we be increasingly conformed to the image of Christ.”
The Christiconic method of interpretation understands that as Jesus perfectly fulfilled every divine demand, every single pericope of scripture demonstrates a component of His image and therefore, a component to which the reader or listener is conformed.
Kuruvilla believes that the entire corpus of the canon demonstrates the image of Christ with different parts or facets manifested in different pericopes. These images show us what it means to be Christlike. Since these demonstrations of Jesus’ image leading to Christlikeness are woven into every pericope of the text, Kuruvilla does not see the need for Christ to be ‘superimposed’ onto the text (a common objection to Christocentric preaching and interpretation).
Kuruvilla’s philosophy of preaching helps us see this more clearly. He states, “The goal of preaching is to align God’s people with God’s requirements in scripture—pericopal theology—week by week, sermon by sermon.” Since Jesus Christ is the only man to perfectly meet God’s standard, he then is the only one who has, “perfectly inhabited the world in front of the text, living by all its requirements.” As the scriptures reveal the perfect man in the person of Jesus Christ, God incarnate, pericope by pericope, readers and listeners are confronted with the reality of what Christlikeness is through the image we are to be conformed to.
Therefore, “sermon by sermon, the children of God become progressively more Christlike as they align themselves to the image of Christ displayed in each pericope. Christiconic preaching, therefore, facilitates the conformation of the children of God into the image of the Son of God.”
Kuruvilla continues as he ties this hermeneutic with the purpose of scripture itself:
“I submit that scripture is geared primarily for this glorious purpose of God, to restore the imago Dei in mankind by offering a theological description of Christlikeness, pericope by pericope, to which God’s people are to be aligned. In this sense the focal point of the entire canon of scripture and all of its pericopes is the Lord Jesus Christ, the perfect man and the paramount imago dei himself.”
Kuruvilla surmises that with a Christiconic hermeneutic and philosophy of preaching the entire canon is needed, not simply the gospels or the rest of the New Testament, to demonstrate the fullness of the image of Christ. It is preaching and interpreting the entirety of scripture that the church is able to have a full picture of the image of Christ and therefore, able to be conformed to Him in the most robust and God-honoring way.
Ryan Polk is the Associate Pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Norman, Oklahoma.