Why I Believe in Expository Preaching

I’m a preacher’s kid, so I grew up hearing 2 sermons a week, 52 weeks a year.  We didn’t miss back then.  My dad was a bit of a fanatic about something that, I now know, was not so common back among preachers back then – verse-by-verse, expository preaching.  Since I sat under his preaching every week, I assumed everyone got out a Bible, tackled a passage and went through it verse after verse, picking up this week where we left off last week.  Dad didn’t “do a series” – he preached a book. Romans.  Ephesians.  2 Peter.  I didn’t know there was any other kind of preaching, except for dad’s infrequent jabs at “topical” preaching.

When I was called to preach, I did what I knew.  I really didn’t know that there was another legitimate form of preahing.  I studied a passage of scripture and tried to teach it as best I could.  I am now glad that few recordings exist of those early attempts, but that’s what I did.  Verse-by-verse through a book of the Bible.  Even as an associate pastor, I preached through Ephesians on those rare Sundays I actually preached.

When I went to Dallas Theological Seminary, expository preaching was held up as the only way.  In fact (at the time, don’t know if this is still true) the Greek classes and the homiletics classes were linked.  I would do an exegetical paper on a text, then preach on that same passage based on what I learned.  The main points of our exegetical/grammatical outline had better be the main points of the sermon!  Study text.  Understand text.  Explain text to others.

I still remember getting reamed by my homiletics prof when I preached from 1 Corinthians 2:1-5.  In this passage, Paul describes his manner and approach in coming to Corinth.  In verses 1 and 2, he tells how he determined to preach nothing among them but Christ and him crucified – not human wisdom.  Then, in verse 3 and 4, he describes how, in his fear, he did not approach them depending on his rhetorical skills, but on the demonstration of the Spirit’s power.  In verse 5, he explains why he did this, “…that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”

So, in my message, I started with verse 5 and said, “This was Paul’s motive – he wanted to root their faith in God’s power not his wisdom.  Therefore, he 1) preached Christ and 2) relied on the Holy Spirit.”  I thought I’d done pretty good!  Then, during the evaluation, the teaching assistant looked at me and said these words.  “Dave, I don’t know if you noticed it, but verse 5 comes after verses 1-4.”  He was confronting me for starting with verse 5 and then going back to verses 1-4.

Now, if I preached this passage today, I’d probably still do what I did then.  I start with verse 5 and explain Paul’s motive, then go back and show how he behaved and the methods he used based on that motive.  But the message that TA was trying to get through sunk in that day.

Stick to the text!  Who are you to think that you can improve upon God’s inspired Word?  Preach what God said!

Gotcha, prof.  Loud and clear!

Then, I went to Southwestern and felt like a stranger in a strange land.  I was not taught text-directed preaching but something very different.  We were taught to find a big idea, back it up with some scripture, make some points from the text, get an illustration to back up each point, then an application.  Point – illustration – application.  There was no sense in which we were to be guided by the text in formulating a sermon outline.  In fact, one prof proclaimed that preaching as a means of communicating to people was passe’ – ineffective in this modern world.

(By the way, this was the fall term of 1980 and I am aware that things have changed since then.  Fortunately, our seminaries are now showing more respect for the biblical text in teaching preaching.  Expository preaching is back in the forefront, and for that I am grateful.)

A few years ago, one prominent younger SBC pastor called verse-by-verse exposition homiletical cheating because it too easy.   It is too easy to simply study and expound the text without passing it through the filter of our experience and the lives of those to whom we preach.  And the current trend is more of a stream of consciousness, application-oriented kind of preaching.

People may be attracted to preachers who stand before them and “share their hearts.”  But I think it is more important that we proclaim God’s heart.  So, let me tell you why I am still a fan of expository Bible preaching – verse-by-verse.

Definitions

We need to distinguish some terms here.  Expository preaching and verse-by-verse preaching are often confused as synonymous.  Verse-by-verse is one form of expository preaching.  But expository preaching is designed to “expose” the meaning of the text.  It is text-driven.  Many who are committed to expository preaching also take that next step of verse-by-verse preaching through a book.

I did a study a while back about the names of God in Hebrew.  When I preached this series, I did not go verse by verse, but I still believe my series was text-driven and expository in nature.  I did a series called “Significant Servants” which was gleaned from the great stories of the Bible.  These were not verse-by-verse series but again, I maintain that they were still expository.  But the bulk of my preaching has been a book-based series.  Currently, on Sunday mornings I am preaching through Proverbs and on Sunday night through 1 Corinthians.

I am a fan of expository preaching because God’s Word changes lives and my opinions and personality can’t!

I am a fan of verse-by-verse expository preaching because it brings the full counsel of God to lives of God’s people.

Here are some of my reasons for preaching (primarily) book-based, verse-by-verse, expository messages.

1) Expositional preaching recognizes the nature and power of the Word

In the pages of Holy Scripture, people find what they really need – the Living God. I have hammered this truth into my people’s memory over the years, “The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to do the work of God in the people of God.” The word of God does not return empty. It reveals the gospel which is the power of God for salvation. It is God-breathed and useful for maturing Christians “so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

It is not my wisdom that changes lives, nor my eloquence, or even my relevance. The proclamation of God’s Word changes lives. It may not tickle the ears of people, giving them simple solutions to their felt needs. Frankly, I am not sure that expositional preaching will attract the crowds other forms might. But, if our purpose is to produce mature disciples, not just fill buildings, then I believe that expositional preaching is the way to go.

I have seen the effect of this through the years. I do not have dozens walking the aisle each week, or report statistics that make others drool. But as I preach the Word, I see God’s power working slowly in people’s lives to conform them to the image of Christ. The Spirit works on the listeners and their lives become more Christlike, more obedient, more mature. I trust the text of scripture to communicate the truth and to release the power of God.

2) Expositional preaching is God-centered.

There is something that bothers me about the preaching paradigm that Stanley advocates. He advocates starting the preaching process by reading the culture and reading the audience and asking what people’s felt needs are. Does not that seem a little man-centered?

I am guided by what Paul said in 2 Timothy 4:3. “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.” People want preachers to scratch their itches. But our job is not to tell them what they want to hear but to tell them what God says.

Please know that I am not saying that Stanley and Stetzer are the kind of false teachers mentioned here. I do not believe that. However, I am suspicious of any form of preaching that starts at people’s passions and focuses on their felt needs. As unpopular as this model has become, truth flows downward from heaven. That is where we need to start.

Our question does not need to be, “What do people need to hear?” but “What does God have to say to my people?” The Old Testament prophets simply delivered the message of God to the people – faithfully and forcefully.

That is a better model, in my view.

3) Expositional preaching honors divine priorities

A famous preacher comes to mind. It didn’t seem to matter what text he read, the sermon went in the same direction. He preached against the lax morality of our culture, against people living together without marriage, against Hollywood, against homosexuals, against liberals and against communists (it was the 70’s and 80’s. He rode that hobby horse into the ground).

Should we ever preach on those things? Of course. Should we always preach on those things? Wouldn’t it be better for the text to decide that than for me to?

I preach a lot about unity in the Body of Christ. Why? Take this test: open your Bible randomly to a page in Paul’s Epistles. Read the page. I would wager that there is a significant teaching on that page about the importance of unity in the Body of Christ. Chapter after chapter, verse after verse, God’s Word hammers that theme. Unity is a divine priority.

I knew a preacher who preached almost every week on home and family issues. The New Testament addresses those issues and so should we.  But there are many topics far more common in the NT than home, marriage and such issues.

When I preach expositionally, I follow God’s priorities more than mine.

4) Expositional preaching allows me to address controversial issues.

Similarly, I can address controversial issues that preachers sometimes avoid because they are in the text. If I am preaching 1 Timothy 5, I can address what it says about paying preachers. It’s in the text. It’s God’s Word, not mine. Is that a copout? Maybe. But I have addressed sexual issues when they came up, financial issues, family issues – God’s Word deals with it all.

5) Expositional preaching is intensely practical.

The negativity of some toward expositional preaching seems to be rooted in an assumption they make that I do not make. They seem to assume that expositional preaching will not be practical preaching. Expositors, they imply, just comment on the text in an academic fashion and do not preach to the needs of people.

The role of the expositor is not to give a theoretical theological treatise. His job is to explain to the hearer what Almighty God has to say about his life. The kind of preaching they describe is not expositional preaching, it is BAD expositional preaching.

The word of God is intensely practical – if it is only theological or theoretical, I have failed as an expositor. My job is to “expose” God’s Word to my congregation, to help them see life from the divine perspective.

I have found that Bible exposition is the most effective way to deal with the real needs of people, to hit them where they live and to bring about spiritual growth toward maturity.

Now, It’s Your Turn

I’ve had my say.  The comment stream is now open.   I am a committed, passionate, and permanent expositor of God’s Word. You are free to disagree. If you do, tell me why. Is there a better way than verse-by-verse exposition?

What say you?

Comments

  1. cb scott says

    A-Men. There is only one way for a local church pastor to preach. That way is the way your Daddy taught you; expository. Anything else is poor preaching. The subject of the text must be the subject of the sermon.

    Just think about it Dave. I know you are a pretty smart guy. You are blessed to have a Daddy like yours. Just think, during the time period you were in college and seminary in Baptist life, had you not had a Daddy like yours to stir you right from the beginning, you, being a brainy guy and all, might have turned out like Bill Leonard or Foy Valentine. That would have been just terrible.

  2. Christiane says

    Hi DAVID,

    You wrote about this:

    ” . . . as I preach the Word, I see God’s power working slowly in people’s lives to conform them to the image of Christ. The Spirit works on the listeners and their lives become more Christlike. . . ”

    You have somehow ‘connected’ with the ways of the ancient Christian liturgies, perhaps without realizing it:

    ‘We find a witness to this in the ancient prayers which in the form of an epiclesis invoke the Spirit before the proclamation of the readings:
    “Send your Paraclete Spirit into our hearts and make us understand the Scriptures which He has inspired;
    and grant that I may interpret them worthily,
    so that the faithful assembled here may profit thereby”.

    We also find prayers which, at the end of a sermon, again ask God to send the gift of the Spirit upon the faithful:
    “God our Saviour… we implore you for this people:
    send upon them the Holy Spirit;
    may the Lord Jesus come to visit them,
    speak to the minds of all,
    dispose their hearts to faith
    and lead our souls to you, God of mercies”.

    I like what you wrote, DAVID . . . I think you are understanding the role of the Holy Spirit in your work and in the ‘response’ of those to whom you minister.

  3. Chase says

    For an extreme wealth of thorough expository preaching, it is always helpful to look to the Puritans. The amount of useful material which they could write about a particular verse or chapter is immense. I recently purchased a copy of James Durham’s Christ Crucified, composed of 72 sermons on Isaiah 53, for example.

  4. Joe Lent says

    Right on. The only way to go. It’s also the method laymen should use to keep us (me) from using self knowledge, pick and choose verses, and non-Biblical words to state and prove our opinion.

  5. Smuschany says

    My pet peeve regarding expository preaching is the comparison to verse-by-verse preaching. Dave you mentioned this but I think it needs to be shouted from the mountain tops to all preachers everywhere. VbV is NOT equal to expository preaching. So many preachers fall into this myth and end up doing a disservice to their congregation and themselves. It is very possible that one can go VbV through a book in the bible, but not do a single bit of exegesis or expository preaching. Conversely, a preacher can to a topical sermon series on say…marriage, do a different verse(es) each week from different books, and still be preaching expository (is that even a word? lol). Furthermore, it should be noted that if one is spending 3-4 weeks on the same 1-2 verses, there is such a thing as TOO MUCH expository preaching. Sometimes preachers get so caught up in trying to “strain a gnat” that they miss the flow and rhythm found in scripture. It is a delicate balance, and many pastors go a lifetime trying to prefect it. I believe that as long as the pastors motives, in preaching the gospel and sharing God with his congregation are right, in the end, it is all good regardless of how “pure” his expository preaching is.

    • cb scott says

      Smuschany,

      Fewer preachers “go a lifetime trying to perfect it” than do go a lifetime purposely ignoring it.

      The absence of biblical exposition has been and is a bane on the Church.

      I read a lot here on this blog about the lack of discipleship in contemporary churches. One of the best methods for a pastor to use to disciple a flock is to feed them a steady diet of the Word of God. There is no better way to feed the flock a steady diet of God’s Word than to preach through Books of the Bible in an expository manner.

      I do agree with you that some lazy, not fit to tote guts to a circus bear, preachers say they are expository preachers and all they do is read one verse after another from a biblical text and say anything that comes in their shallow minds and call it exposition. Of course that is not expository preaching and those guys need to get jobs as Wal-Mart greeters and get out of local church ministry. They are killing the hearts and souls of men, women, boys, and girls by a slow death. Such preaching is pastoral malpractice.

    • Chase says

      Smuschany,

      Furthermore, it should be noted that if one is spending 3-4 weeks on the same 1-2 verses, there is such a thing as TOO MUCH expository preaching.

      Surely this would depend upon the content of the sermons, yes? If one spends multiple weeks covering minute grammatical and linguistic issues, effectively preaching over the heads of the congregation, this would be of course be problematic; but if a few verses contain enough spiritual riches to be mined effectively for several weeks (as many do), what is the issue?

  6. says

    I came up under different circumstances. I have heard all sorts of preaching, textual, verse by verse, topical, expository, biographical, and ideas or intellectual. There are problems with every approach to the ministry of the word, mainly, because God is really in control of the whole affair. After all, it is His pulpit, and the preacher is His preacher. He can put in the mouth of the minister what He wants him to say. Expository is surely one of the best due to the fact that today our people do not know the Bible, and exposition will, if it is good exposition, acquaint them with what “Thus saith the Lord” really means. However, there is more to the word than we imagine. One of the facts that I became acquainted with due to my long years of research (six years in Church History, two years on I Cors.13, almost two years on preaching, the first 13 Psalms, 28 years of preaching with materials like five notebooks on I John, one for each chapter, and much more) is that the Bible is a book of ideas, Divine ideas, ideas designed to transform our thinking, and we really have a difficult time in trying to comprehend the nature and the effect of those ideas, that is, how they they were designed to influence our behavior. There are other fields of knowledge which help us to grasp the fact that the Bible is so much more a book of depth than the human mind can discern. Consider the Puritans (mentioned above by someone). They did expository preaching and exhaustive preaching, and they could literally preach a church into the ground with long (and, unfortunately, often boring) sermons (2-3 hrs.). They also reflected the methods of their day as we do the methods of our day. For instance, they were often given to using the approach of Ramist logic (the approach to logic developed by Peter Ramus (sp?), whereas we are given to a more scientific method orientation in our preaching (after all it is the going approach of our age) with all of its consequent problems (e.g., as one preacher in the 60s put it, the paralysis of analysis).

    Lest I teach a course in preaching (I did once), let me point out the preacher is a messenger of God. He has a message to deliver, and the message of our age is a need for more understanding of Scripture. That is why we are having more expository preaching. However, there is a need for a greater astuteness in dealing with the Bible. It is an intellectual Book, one designed to engage the mind (repent meant in the 1700s to change one’s mind based upon a process of thinking through the issues as God would have us to think and then making the change). Our biggest problem is that we are dealing with Scripture and it is a problem for us in its perspicuity, its clarity, its transparency. You read it. You are sure you understand it. That’s the problem. It is like my friend who could see the sand rolling along the bottom of a mountain stream in Virginia, so he figured it was only 2-3 feet deep. He almost drowned as it was 18-20 feet deep. You can imagine how much I appreciate that humble illustration, when I found in my research how that the Baptists of 1740-1820 were more balanced, flexible, creative, constant, and magnetic than we are in the 20th century. Why? The Bible put a sense of caution in them, and they began to comprehend its two-sided doctrines which set up a tension in their minds and enabled them to be either objective, analytical, gathering needed information, etc. or subjective, warm, supportive, affirming, loving, as the situation required. We, on the other hand, are often so one-sided, we can’t see the forest for the trees. However, a Third Great Awakening is looming on the horizon, and that is why Satan’s minions are making more threats. His kingoms is feeling the pressure. The renewal in biblical understanding will lead inevitably to the two-sidedness of biblical ideas and the resulting improvement in our appreciation for the intellectual nature of God’s revelation will bring us better thinking and more biblically informed behaviors that will once again bring Christians back into the leadership of civilization and will continue for a 1000 generations and anywhere from 20,000 – 100,000 years, depending on how long a generation is and might become. Our God is great, absolutely great beyond our beliefs and conceptions.

    • cb scott says

      James,

      You seem to agree that expository preaching is needed today because people do not know the Bible.

      You are right. One major reason you are right is because of the lack of expository preaching in the local church.

      If I understand you correctly, you stated expository is “one of the best” ways. to preach God’s Word.

      James, what way is as good as exposition and is there a better way than expository preaching?

      If there is a better way to preach the Scripture, what is that way?

    • Chase says

      Consider the Puritans (mentioned above by someone). They did expository preaching and exhaustive preaching, and they could literally preach a church into the ground with long (and, unfortunately, often boring) sermons (2-3 hrs.).

      John Donne saith,

      Why Puritans make long Sermons? It needs not for perspicuousnesse, for God knowes they are plaine enough: nor doe all of them vse Sem-briefe-Accents for some of them haue Crochets enough. It may be they intend not to rise like glorious Tapers and Torches, but like thinne-wretched-sicke-watching-Candles, which languish and are in a diuine Consumption from the first minute, yea in their snuffe, and stinke when others are in their more profitable glory. I haue thought sometimes that out of Conscience, they allow long measure to course Ware. And sometimes that vsurping in that place a liberty to speake freely of Kings, they would raigne as long as they could. But now I thinke they doe it out of a zealous Imagination, that, It is their duty to preach on till their Auditory wake. (Juvenilia, Problem 2)

  7. David T says

    For what it’s worth, I was at SWBTS 82-87, and was taught exegetical sermon preparation. Taught it very well, in fact, by Joel Gregory. For all his later stumbles, the man was an excellent preaching professor.

    • Dave Miller says

      I may have just had a bad prof. His doctoral dissertation was on why inerrancy is not true – don’t remember the exact title. Didn’t have a lot of respect for the Word.

      My experience at SWBTS may not have been representative.

  8. says

    Preferred way: Exposition due to the need for knowledge of the Bible on the part of the people. However, the main thing is the message, God’s message for a service. Normally, one would expect that to be the exposition of the word of God. However, there are times, when God will press a message on a minister that is applicable to some particular situations and some other method might be more apropos. This has happened at times in churches through the centuries. We are, after all, messengers. However, the Bible is the Book that keeps us faithful to His standards.

  9. Bill Mac says

    I don’t preach all that often, and I’ve done it different ways, but expository is my preferred way. I am much more of a teacher and expository works best for people inclined that way.

    I’ve had people tell me that expository preaching doesn’t allow the preacher to “hear what God wants him preach that week” as if the typical pastor should get divine directive for each message. I think this is dangerous thinking. I would much rather let the indwelling Spirit illumine His own words from the text.

    One thing with expository preaching. Teach the text, but always tie it back to Christ. I don’t care what the text is, tie it back to Christ. This is where the teacher becomes a preacher.

    • cb scott says

      Bill Mac,

      You advocate the Spurgeon method of exposition.
      He said:
      “I take my text and make a beeline to the cross.”

      BTW, you made a statement that makes we wonder if you ever served in the Appalachian Mountains or maybe in the rural Southland:

      “I’ve had people tell me that expository preaching doesn’t allow the preacher to “hear what God wants him preach that week…”

      • Bill Mac says

        I lived in the south for about 3 months. Once they saw me put milk and sugar on grits and they ran me off.

        • cb scott says

          Well Bill Mac,

          Can you really blame them? To tell you the truth, it is a wonder they didn’t shoot you. That just goes to show you how merciful we Southerners are don’t it?

          • Bill Mac says

            True story. While in S.C. I worked in a steel mill while I looked for a job in electronics. Worked with rough and tough guys, black and white. They seemed to be cautious around me. Now at 5’6″, I am not terribly imposing, but these guys seemed a little frightened by me. After I got to know them, I found out that since they knew I was from N.Y., they assumed if they crossed me I would whip out my switchblade and go all ghetto on their butts. I explained that I was from rural farm country in the north of NY state, not NY City. I’m pretty sure some of them didn’t know that there was a NY state. One guy told me he always wanted to travel up north and look for bigfoot.

            Southern cooking was a mixed bag. Never could get the hang of grits or cornbread (especially cracklin cornbread). And frying hamburgers in crisco or lard just horrified me. But chicken-frying anything is a good move, and I love BBQ (beef better than pork).

          • cb scott says

            Bill Mac,

            Then tell me my Yankee brother, what ‘do’ you cook your hamburgers in? Syrup?

            If you don’t fry ‘em in lard, they’ll burn.

            Y’all just pitiful. Bless your heart, I feel so sorry for you I don’t know what to do. This is just a mess and there just ain’t no cure for it.

          • Christiane says

            you guys are fun . . .

            now I know about Southern cooking . . . I had to call the town to send someone out to catch a huge rat that was coming in and out of a sewer pipe at the east end of our land.
            It was the biggest rat I ever saw. We’re talking BIG. So out comes this dear man and I show him the area and I said ‘please be careful . . . this is a huge rat!’

            He says, ‘lady, describe this rat’
            I told him it was big and fat and furry with a long pointed tail . . .
            he says, ‘lady, that’s no rat . . . it’s a POSSUM . . . in Carolina where I come from, we eats ‘em’

            Sure enough, there are recipes out there for baked possum. (NO, I didn’t cook it! . . . we just ‘let him live’) :)

          • Bill Mac says

            Beef is like bacon. You don’t need to fry it in anything. It comes with its own fat (although my wife’s grandfather used to fry bacon in crisco).

            Cane syrup was another southern shocker. Looks like maple syrup until it goes in the piehole. Nasty if you aren’t expecting it.

          • John Fariss says

            Bill Mac, I used to like you, but your comments about grits and cornbread (especially cracklin’ cornbread) are suspecious. Bless yo’ heart, I’ll pray for you. Here in southern Maryland, where almost no one is from Maryland, I am a missionary of sorts, introducting (along with others from God’s country) things like home-made cornbread from scratch, poke salad and turnip greens, Brunswick stew, and BBQ made with vinegar-based sauce.

            John

            John

    • says

      I’ve had people tell me that expository preaching doesn’t allow the preacher to “hear what God wants him preach that week” as if the typical pastor should get divine directive for each message.

      My reply to that comes in the form of: “Sure it does. God wants me to preach the next passage in the book!” :D

      I’m not much on the subjective leadings side of things to begin with, but it does strike me as humorous that some people who think that God leads them week-by-week on what to preach don’t seem to think that God can lead a pastor book-by-book on what to preach!

      • Dave Miller says

        And, while I’m in a series, every once in a while I’ll get “a fire in my belly” (not heartburn-related) about a particular passage or thought and vary from my series. But that kind of thing is the exception, not the rule.

  10. says

    Even having grown up in church, I wasn’t introduced to hearing expository verse-by-verse preaching until I was 20 and a junior in college. And it changed a lot of things… started paying more attention, started reading my Bible more closely, started taking sermon notes, grew spiritually a heck of a lot more than I did before hand… in fact I think I even started to drool, “Where has this been all my life!?!?!?!???!!?”

    So of course, when I started preaching and pastoring, it was the way to go.

    Started out a bit brutal… at my first church as a young seminary student, I decided to preach through 2 Timothy… took 31 messages, and I never could figure out how to break chapter 2 into individual sections, so it ended up being a single 9-part sermon with 13 points…

    …that poor congregation! :)

    Yet somehow God blessed it.

    Since then I have “evolved” some (if I can get away with using the “e”-word here…) The one thing I would change from what you said, Dave, would be that I prefer passage-by-passage as opposed to verse-by-verse–though it’s basically the same.

    For example, I’d probably do 2nd Timothy in 11 or 12 weeks now as opposed to 31. I just finished up a 21-week series through Acts, and in 2012 plan on doing 25-weeks in Hebrews and 18-weeks in Deuteronomy. In each case, we start with the first verse and end with the last, but I hit on the big ideas more than each individual nugget from the verses…

  11. Bill Mac says

    I will add this: I hear a lot of preachers semi-complaining about what hard work it is to prepare sermons every week. And I’m not trying to make light of the work that preachers do in preparation. But I think a lot of that hard work can be attributed to searching out new and novel concepts, and then building a scriptural case around it. Doing that week after week would break me.

    But expository preaching is, in that sense, not only more true to the text (imo) but remarkably easier in preparation. Now obviously you must do justice to the text, but a lot of time thinking about what you are going to preach and then building a sermon around that is saved.

    That is not to say a topical sermon should never be preached. I don’t think we should get that dogmatic about it. A conscientious and capable preacher can build a good, biblically sound sermon around a topic. But 50+ topical sermons a year would do me in. And I think it is much easier to go off the rails with topical sermons.

    • John Wylie says

      Bill Mac,

      You’re absolutely right. In a topical only context what is murder is determining your topic each week and trying not to be too repetitive and avoiding the same soap boxes all the time. Right now I’m preaching through the book of Mark and loving every minute of it.

  12. Scott Shaffer says

    Nice post Dave.

    It prompted me to visit Ed Stezer’s blog and read the Stanley interviews and comments. Coincidentally, I’m reading Love Your God With All Your Mind by J.P. Moreland. While reading this morning, I highlighted this relevant sentence, “Felt needs are important, but if they are made the issue, Christianity will be seen as just another means of helping the convert overcome his problems, along with his therapist and workout routine.”

    • Dave Miller says

      So true. That is pretty much what the Joel Osteens of the world do. Christian preachers faithful to God’s Word focus first on what God has said to man, not what man wants to hear.

  13. Greg Harvey says

    Some interesting thoughts based on this:

    1. I fundamentally agree “expository” preaching in the sense of teaching through connected passages of Scripture. I also agree with using the rhetorical method of exposition ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exposition_%28literary_technique%29 and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhetorical_modes ) to teach the Bible.

    2. I have seen the problem where a preacher will claim the use of “expository” preaching and open up a single verse and jump all over the place from that single verse. While there are some verses that withstand that scrutiny, and while in a single sermon it is possible to maintain the flow of the surrounding passage/epistle/book, I can’t say I’m a fan of that approach. Too easy to create doctrine from mid-air that way.

    3. I’m not exactly an anti-fan of topical preaching. It is possible to meet church members both in a classroom and in a congregation setting where they are and deal with topics that matter to them and get them engaged to the Bible from a topical perspective. And there are specific settings where regardless of the intention to practice expository preaching, the setting is more amenable to a topical approach. If you’re rigidly preaching through your expository series on Christmas and Resurrection Sunday and don’t adjust it in any way for the difference in audience–visiting family, once-a-year attenders–you’re probably a little more enthusiastic about your method than you should be. And, yes, exposition and expository preaching/teaching are precisely methods.

    4. The word “I believe” in the title got me thinking. We don’t have a lot of examples in the Bible of expository preaching. I still feel it is a relevant method, but I’ll offer that I believe (again noting the “believe” in your title) that the Holy Spirit indwelling the preaching is more important than the method that is used. So, to me, the spiritual preparation for preaching/teaching seems to be more important than the rhetorical method.

    I know Dave believes this, too, or I wouldn’t sharpen the point. But sometimes we create fads through amen-ing and yay verily-ing without taking a step back and considering all of the things that might make that particular fad attractive. Any preacher who is trying in his own power to find a method to replace the essential interpretational voice of the Bible is going to cause heathens rather than believers in the pew. The Jews have a long history of rabbinical extrapolation from Scripture that contains some spiritual content and a LOT of deadwood like numerology. The brilliance of the Reformation is to cut out the deadwood and let the Spirit imbue the original text–or our closest translation–with power and authority. Expositional/expository preaching that helps the listener get very close to Scripture so that the sometimes whisper-level breathing of the Breath is why I get excited about listening to expository/expositional preaching.

    I’m pretty sure that’s the point Dave is making, too, but I’m trying to frame it from my point of view just to add to the conversation.

  14. Greg Harvey says

    “fundamentally agree with” if you get a chance to fix the first sentence when you release from moderation, Dave.

  15. volfan007 says

    Speaking of preaching, did yall hear false teacher, Joel Osteen, who has probably never preached the Gospel or an expository sermon in his life, tell the true meaning of Christmas on the Today Show on NBC this morning? He said that Christmas is about giving and making memories. It’s not about getting gifts, but giving them. It’s about making memories with family and friends.

    What about celebrating the birth of our Savior? Who was sent to the world to save us from our sins? Once again, when given the opportunity to preach the Gospel, he doesnt. Oh, I forgot, you’ve got to believe that people need a Savior, before you’ll preach Jesus as the way of salvation.

    Dave, your OP is a very good one. I wish that all Pastors would take it to heart. Too many people in the pew have no idea what the Bible teaches, because they never really hear it.

    David

  16. says

    I would rather preach than eat, sleep, and I never could figure out why some preachers chased women when they could preach (the greatest thrill, pleasure, pain, joy, grip, relief of all is to deliver God’s word). As to the matter of preaching, it is exhausting. H.G. Wells once wrote a creative item every week for a year (I think he was editor of some magazine), and he gave it up after that, saying it was hell, that that creativity was utterly exhausting. Well, as a minister preparing messages, whether expository or otherwise, I can say after so many years that it is, indeed, an exhausting venture. The amount of work involved exceeds the bounds of all expectations. But preaching is worst than any addiction; it has the minister in its grip. Proclaiming God’s message masters the messenger or, rather, God masters His messenger with a consuming desire that can only be released in discharging the responsibility. An old Confession, I forget which, asserted something to this effect, “God can work by means, with means, against means, or without means.”

  17. John Fariss says

    I have no problem with expository preaching, and in fact, often use it. However, a couple of things come to mind: one, does one size fit all? And two, does God gift all preachers alike?

    Years ago, in a church I served, a woman there was involved in some sort of clothing sales, somewhat like Avon–they had house parties and women would come, try stuff on, order articles of clothing, etc. She gave my wife some sort of top, and it was a one-size-fits-all thing. When she weighed 130 or so pounds, it looked OK on her. When later she had an illness and lost considerable weight, it looked like she was wearing a potato sack. When she recovered and gained weight, it looked like she was wearing rubber bands.

    I suggest that preaching is similar. God gifts us all differently, including preachers. If He has gifted you to preach expositionally, great, you should. But if He has gifted you in another direction, should you not heed that as well?

    John

    • says

      I suggest that preaching is similar. God gifts us all differently, including preachers. If He has gifted you to preach expositionally, great, you should. But if He has gifted you in another direction, should you not heed that as well?

      I think instead of asking “has God gifted you to preach this way or that”? We should ask: “If God has gifted me to teach his word, what qualifies as preaching?”

      The Bible is clear, we are to “rightly handle the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15), “preach the word” (2 Tim 4:2), and “give instruction in sound doctrine and rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9)…

      Maybe preaching doesn’t have to be verse-by-verse or passage-by-passage, but… I’ve heard men who claim to be “preachers” stand up and read a passage of Scripture, then tell a bunch of stories and make a bunch of statements that have nothing to do with the Scripture they read. They might be encouraging, they might have a good point, and they might be memorable, but they didn’t “preach the word.” They preached something else.

      Personally I think whatever the method is (verse-by-verse, topical, narrative, etc.), I only “preach the word” if I let the text or texts dictate the main thrust of what I say.

      • says

        John & Mike,
        Great points and to add to what y’all have said…

        It’s all in how we approach the text. Do we come up with a topic / series idea and then find Scriptures to fit our ideas? Or do we plow into Scripture, find where God is leading us, dig out the timeless truths, and then present them in a way that God has equipped / called / convicted us (expository, narrative, topical)?

        Ultimately, are you preaching from YOUR ideas or GOD’s ideas?

        Randy

        • cb scott says

          Randy,

          If you are preaching in a true expository manner, you will be preaching God’s Word. True exposition demands fidelity to the text.
          “Your ideas” will have to be developed as the text directs, if, again, you are being faithful to the text in an expository manner.

          • says

            What I want to re-iterate is that we do not need to draw a distinction of “true biblical preaching” drawn down the line of of expository preaching. We don’t need to label expository sermons as the only ones that are true to the text. Now, having said that, they are a sure fire way to stay more true to the text. However, that does not mean that all narrative and topical sermons are not true to the text. Unfortunately, alot of preachers have given these types of preaching a bad name. I do believe you can preach biblically sound messages that are not expository. Let’s not be preaching snobs I guess is what I am saying. I love listening to expositors like John MacArthur. I have been going through the book of Acts by the expository method on Sunday evenings in my church. Anyway, it’s one of those “picket fence” things right :)

            Randy

          • cb scott says

            Randy,

            The Narrative sermon can and should be expository. The Topical sermon is never expository. It is a topic driven sermon using Scripture to support its validity. That is not exposition.
            I guess we have to be “preaching snobs” if that has to be the case here.

  18. says

    Drawing everything through one knot hole seems to me like I will have my cake and eat it too or its my way or the highway. Being a former atheist myself, I agree with the former atheist. I say all forms of preaching have their time and place. A topical sermon can be biblical as long as it draws the truths or truth it presents from the word of God and presents it as God would have it presented. Even topical sermons require some exposition, and exposition has its topics in order to help the hearer through the process of thinking through what the Book is saying.

  19. cb scott says

    James,

    it is not “my cake” if we are going to use that comparison.

    It is God’s “cake” and we are to share the “cake” as God cooked it to the hungry folks who can only survive if they are fed God’s “cake”…..and yes, I have to “eat it too.”

  20. says

    Wish you could give some time to the two-sidedness of the Awakenings and the launching of the Great Century of Missions which transformed Protestantism from a contenious, conbative, conflicted Gospel Recovery effort into an outgoing we will win you with persuasion movement. It was the consideration of the Bible from the perspective that it is an intellectual book, inspired by the Omniscient God with the results being a commensurate depth of subtlety couched in terms of perspicuity and clarity that defies our comprehension, it was that, I say, that moved me to consider biblical orthodoxy as the source of true liberalism, a two-sidedness (e.g., divine-human, Deity-humanity, trinity-unity, formal-informal) that enables believers to become balanced, flexible, creative, constant, and magnetic, the best kind of advertising of the beneficial effects of the Good News. We were then the leaders of western civilization. God’s cake has frosting. In my efforts, I was merely trying to get brother Justin to think through Peter’s remarks on humility as the limiting factor that curtails one-sided applications of biblical teaching, following in the best traditions of Puritans like Thomas Manton.

  21. says

    One thing that needs to be clear for definition’s sake, is that expository preaching is not a delivery technique. It is the content generator… pointing to, listening to and revealing the text.

    The preachers already here know this, so probably everyone, but I felt like typing something.

  22. says

    Dave,

    I know it has been a month since you posted this, and I read it then. But I need to add a hearty “Amen!” to your call for expository preaching.

    So… Amen!

    Squirrel

  23. says

    As I thought about the issue of Expository preaching and how much I approved of it and seek to follow it. I realized the following.. Indeed, the preaching of any text deserves a careful and exacting exegesis and exposition. However, there is still room for topical preaching and for biographical and other areas. For example, a series of topical messages could be developed on the Attributes of God or on various doctrines or on various issues in life, in the Bible.