What is the Central Theme of Your Life?

I am reading John Frame’s magnum opus–Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief. It is 1,220 pages. I am surprised that I am enjoying reading it. My first of many reflections is to ask, “What is the central theme of your life?” “What is the central theme of Jesus’ life?” I thought of this because Frame wrote that many theological writers have one theme around which they structure their writings.

  • Martin Luther (1483-1546): justification by faith alone.
  • John Calvin (1509-1564): the sovereignty of God.
  • Immanuel Kant (1724-1804): ethics.
  • Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834): feeling.
  • Rudolf Otto (1869-1937): the holy.
  • Adolf von Harnack (1851-1930): the fatherhood of God.
  • Karl Barth (1886-1968): Word of God.
  • Karl Barth: crisis.
  • Emil Brunner (1889-1966): personal encounter.
  • Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976): self-understanding.
  • Paul Tillich (1886-1965): dialectical self-negation.
  • G. Ernest Wright (1909-1974): acts of God.
  • Gerhard Ebeling (1912-2001): language event.
  • Jürgen Moltmann (1926): hope.
  • Gustavo Gutierrez (1928): liberation.
  • Harvey Cox (1929): secularity.
  • Wolfhart Pannenberg (1928): resurrection.

Frame himself chose divine lordship, or God’s lordship as his central theme. Much can be learned from studying the Bible according to such themes. Each theme constitutes a perspective on the whole of Scripture. A full account of each theme will include all the theology (the study of God) of the Bible. The discussion of a biblical theme may be a good way of teaching the Bible, but it is not the Bible. With any theme, we should expound it according to its biblical meaning (exegesis) and not be according to what we imagine it to be (eisegesis).

What is the central theme of Jesus’ life?” I could say the following: love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, long suffering patience, kindness, gentleness and tolerance, friendship, humility, transparency, fatherly (and motherly), holiness, righteousness. Even though Jesus is without doubt the perfect righteous Judge who will judge the living and the dead, the righteous and the unrighteous, I do not often think of Jesus as one who is very angry with the incorrigible and besetting sins of others. Yes, he spoke often about hell, and yes, he rebuked the horrible hypocritical religious leaders. Yet, the central theme of his life is love. I believe that’s what we think of when we think of our Lord.

What about myself? What might be the central theme of my life? I simply love to fight with anyone and everyone. So, go ahead, make my day. I even “fight” with my wife by teasing her almost every day. Most of the time, she laughs. But when my timing is off, boy, does she get mad! Then I better be “nice” the rest of the day.

What do I want the central theme of my life to be? It should be like that of Jesus. I want it to be grace (Acts 20:24) and love (1 Jn 4:19; Jn 13:34-35). I know love and grace only because of the grace of God freely and unconditionally lavished on me. Yet, my life comes up short. In the theological jargon of “already and not yet,” I am already full of love and grace, and yet not yet, until my Lord returns.

What is the central theme of your life?


  1. Excellent question, Ben. We should find our center, I believe. Taking various character trait tests such as Strength Finders, help us find our center. And that center does not have to be Jesus’ center or even be “biblical”. We are unique human beings. Be who you are!

    My center is justice.

    That’s why I loved super heroes as a kid- Batman, Shazzam, Superman, Spiderman. That’s why I fell in love with Jesus. That’s why I love movies like “A Few Good Men”. That’s why I react and overreact and change my mind when I encounter people and ideologies that promote injustice. That’s why injustice is the single most infuriating thing to me. That’s why I’m often a pain to some people. And that’s why, I believe, I became entangled with ubf.

  2. So how do I live in a world filled with many injustices when my center is justice? Well I often tend to want to escape. I am prone to living long periods of my life with cognitive dissonance, separating myself from reality.

    A few years ago, I let all my fantasy worldview crash to the ground. And I found that I could resolve the disconnect between my center of justice and the unjust world around me with grace. Now I am much happier. And all my theology/philosophy is consistent. Everything fell into place when I surrendered to grace.

  3. Justice, yes, Brian. It certainly is also a central theme of Christ and it is related to his holiness, righteousness and judgment.

    Justice seems to also be the central theme of millenials today, both of Christians and non-Christians. Justice absolutely requires fairness, honesty and openness without favoritism or preset agendas and without negotiating clandestine back end deals.

  4. Joe Schafer

    Justice is a very interesting value. God is truly just, but the gospel often violates our human sense of justice. This is illustrated well by the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). People who believe they have sacrificed a lot for God and served him faithfully really want to maintain a sense of superiority and privilege over newcomers who, in their opinion, haven’t done as much as they. This lies at the heart of many of the problems that you and I experienced in ubf. God’s grace is difficult to accept and extend to others because it so often violates our need of justice. At the cross, Jesus had to completely sacrifice his sense of justice, giving it over to the Father as he submitted his innocent self to cruelty and shame and punishment. His vindication came when God raised him from the dead. To be a Christ follower means, in a sense, to give up a great deal of our desire for justice now in the faith and hope that on the day of our resurrection God will vindicate.

    • Joe Schafer

      …and yet, we are to display and promote justice in our midst now as a sign and foretaste of the coming kingdom

    • Interestingly, Mt 20:1-16 is one of my favorite parables, even though I’m just as much a “justice freak” as Brian. I remember how my mother told this parable to me and my brother when we protestet about how my parent seemed to favor our third, youngest brother. That parable somehow stuck with me since then and made me get attracted to Jesus’ teachings because I sensed the deep truth and love in it.

  5. Joe, your two comments here speak to the dilemma that grace resolved for me.

    So yes, I agree: “To be a Christ follower means, in a sense, to give up a great deal of our desire for justice now in the faith and hope that on the day of our resurrection God will vindicate.”

    Final vindication will come in the next life (whatever that life is).

    And yes, I agree but partially: “we are to display and promote justice in our midst now as a sign and foretaste of the coming kingdom”

    I would say we live out justice rather than “display and promote”, but not a huge difference I guess. The issue with displaying justice is that we go riding off on our “holy high horse” or go on witch hunts to demand people to repent (not that I’ve ever been on a high horse or anything…. :)

    So my first reaction and the reaction of many is to either fatalistically hope in future justice or become arrogant, self-righteous castle-builders who get rejected by even their close friends for being judgmental. In that case, the self-righteous one has to look to the past to justify his/her present. That describes a lot of how I lived in ubf. I was castle-builder (well KOPHN builder).

    The resolution for me came by surrendering my castle-builder sense of justice in the present, laying it at the cross. And yes it was Jesus’ smile on the cross to the criminal next to him in the Passion movie that caused this surrender to grace.

    Now I connect final justice to the present with grace– grace extended to all humanity. My castle destroyed and I live outside the gates (more God-speak sorry but it is difficult to articulate this sometimes).

    So instead of justice demanding me to display just actions, justice (as understood on the cross) now demands me to embrace humanity, destroy my “castle”, and speak out against the only one injustice that matters: abuse of authority. That injustice is the only injustice I can find where Jesus “let go” and just whaled on those in power who were oppressing people. Jesus was most firm with those who claimed their own authority over other people.

  6. deep question Dr. Toh.
    I think that for most of my life, the central theme has been “a desire to be just like everyone else.”

    This has caused me so much trouble and created a lot of pain among the people in my life. Only after finding Jesus did I try to find my authentic self in him.