We live in a day when it’s hard to be surprised. Every day we are bombarded with news reports that would have shocked our grandparents’ generation. However, to us such things have become the new normal.
That being said, I have been rather shocked at the number of preachers that are vocally and adamantly opposed to expository preaching. And, it seems to be a movement that is gaining steam. Questions have been asked during ordinations, accusations of heresy have been waged in recorded sermons, social media posts have been somewhat constant—all of which, oddly enough, oppose the accurate preaching of the Bible. Now, that charge would be denied, I am sure. However, to oppose expository preaching is to oppose preaching the Bible accurately. I can only assume that somebody has been given a wrong definition of expository preaching.
Before I explain what expository preaching is, I’d like to take just a moment to critique what is often viewed as normal in pulpits today. Most preachers in our generation preach about the Bible. This often begins with some explanation as to how “God gave me this sermon”. The congregation is simply expected to believe that. A verse of Scripture may or may not be read—it isn’t always necessary in the modern pulpit. Oftentimes, even when a verse is read, it is little more than a “springboard” to launch into some topic. The context of the verse is often ignored and the verse may be used in some way that has nothing to do with the original intent of the inspired author. In this modern style of topical preaching, the preacher begins with a topic and seeks verses that support his topic. Such preaching lowers the standard for the pulpit and certainly misleads the congregation as to why the Bible was written and how it is to be studied. God certainly has not instructed men to preach in such a fashion.
Definitions of expository preaching are readily available. For instance, Mark Dever defines it as, “preaching in which the main point of the biblical text being considered becomes the main point of the sermon being preached.” (Preach: Theology Meets Practice). David Helm defines it as, “preaching that rightfully submits the shape and emphasis of the sermon to the shape and emphasis of a biblical text.” (Expositional Preaching). Haddon Robinson defines it (more like a textbook) as, “The communication of a biblical concept derived from and transmitted through a historical-grammatical and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher then through him to hearers.” (Biblical Preaching). Since these definitions agree that expository preaching is that style of preaching that seeks to unfold the true meaning of Scripture in it’s proper context as originally written and then applies that meaning to the hearers, I truly struggle to understand how anybody could oppose it.
Paul in no uncertain terms told Timothy to “preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2). Don’t preach about the Bible, preach the Word as it is written. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul wrote, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). That is, read a section of the Bible, explain to the congregation what it means and encourage them to do what they are instructed to do. It’s difficult for me to imagine that Paul is suggesting that Timothy come up with an idea and then fit the Bible into his idea. No, he is telling Timothy to open the Bible, read it, explain it and apply it.
Nobody is suggesting that a pastor cannot preach a topical sermon. However, many topical sermons today begin with an idea in a preacher’s mind while often yanking verses kicking and screaming out of their context to support such an idea. If a topical sermon is to be preached properly, every verse or passage that is read by the preacher will be done without ignoring their context. Even when preaching topically, a preacher must learn that verses should be treated the same way they would be if he were preaching through the book they are in. It has been rightly said that a preacher may choose to preach topically sometimes, but he should preach expositionally all the time. Considering the above definitions and Paul’s instruction to Timothy, I wholeheartedly agree.
Even in the Old Testament, exposition seems to be the normal way the Bible was taught. For instance, in the book of Nehemiah, we find one particular day when Ezra had gathered the people together and he was reading the Law to them. He had helpers—Levites—that “helped the people to understand the Law” (Nehemiah 8:7). In fact, the Biblical writer goes on to say, “They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” (Nehemiah 8:8). This is a perfect picture of what expository preaching is—reading the Bible and explaining to the congregation what it means. What else should preachers today be doing?
Does expository preaching guarantee that we will always arrive at the right conclusion? Of course not. Good men have often disagreed over various (normally 2nd tier) subjects. However exposition is the Biblical way to preach the Bible. Only exposition approaches the Bible first to see what we are to believe and do. When exposition is rightly done, it will lead a pastor and his flock into the truth. Jesus prayed to the Father, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).
As we have said, the normal style of topical preaching today begins with an idea and seeks to pull the Bible towards that idea. Such preaching can never go beyond the knowledge of the one preaching. Exposition pushes a pastor to grow and learn—as well as his congregation. And though exposition does not guarantee that we will always be right, one only has to look around Christendom today to see the results of constant topical preaching.
I’d like to give the benefit of the doubt to those making such a fuss in opposing exposition. I want to believe these men simply have a poor definition of what expository preaching is. But, this seems a more likely error for a young preacher than an older one. That said, though it seems odd to oppose something that one obviously isn’t well acquainted with, I suppose it is possible. However, definitions have been offered…seminars have been put on and are even available online for free…books are available which explain expository preaching with great detail and with crystal clarity. It would be wise—for any of us—to research a thing before we oppose it. Because, in this particular instance, men will find themselves actually opposing the accurate preaching of the Word of God. Perhaps the worst thing about it is that the next generation of preachers is being taught to oppose Biblical preaching pretty much before they have even gotten started doing it.