Expository Preaching: A Wee Note

Eugene Peterson, in Eat This Book, reminds us that Scripture is for feeding on. Holy Scripture nurtures the holy community as food nurtures the human body. Christians don’t simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolised into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son. It is for this reason (though not this reason alone) that we ought to be committed to expository preaching. It is the faithful exposition of Scripture – week by week, year by year – that is the God-ordained means of feeding the Father’s family. Of course, preaching does not automatically metabolise us into acts of love, but as the proper exposition of Scripture repeatedly points to the Bible’s own source, end and exegete – Jesus Christ – we are given every reason for why the truth must come home to us and others in acts of love, missions, healing, evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name.

This is part of the reason that PT Forsyth, who could never be accused of not preaching Jesus Christ as the centre of all things, once urged a group of budding preachers to restrain themselves in the ‘fanciful use of texts at the cost of the historic revelation which the whole context gives’. These practices, he contended, have a show of honouring the Bible, but they really treat it with the disrespect that is always there when we presume people to mean another thing than they say. If we feel, on a particular occasion, that we must treat a text differently than the context allows, we ought to make it clear that we are taking a liberty in doing so. ‘Preach more expository sermons’, Forsyth said. ‘Take long passages for texts. Perhaps you have no idea how eager people are to have the Bible expounded, and how much they prefer you to unriddle what the Bible says, with its large utterance, than to confuse them with what you can make it say by some ingenuity. It is thus you will get real preaching in the sense of preaching from the real situation of the Bible to the real situation of the time. It is thus you make history preach to history, the past to the present, and not merely a text to a soul’.

Peter Adam offers us a helpful list of 15 arguments for Expository Preaching (read the full article here):

(1) Preaching through the books of the Bible, verse by verse, chapter by chapter, respects and reflects God’s authorship. God did not gives us a book of quotable quotes, nor a dictionary of useful texts, nor an anthology of inspiring ideas. When God caused the Scriptures to be written the medium that he used was that of books of the Bible. If that was good enough for the author it should be good enough for the preacher.

(2) Expository Preaching reflects God’s respect for human authors. One of the most beautiful features of the Bible is the way in which God causes his truth to be written and yet does not over-ride the individual writer, but respects their place in history, their vocabulary, their spoken and literary style. If God is so careful to respect the human authors of the Scriptures we should endeavour to do the same by reading, studying, preaching and teaching their books in the order in the way in they wrote them.

(3) Expository Preaching respects the historical context of each part of the Bible. The Bible is not a set of timeless truths removed from historical context, but each book of the Bible is firmly rooted in history, and the perspective of its human author. We do most justice to this historical context when we preach texts in their context, that is in the writing in which they occur.

(4) Expository Preaching respects the context of salvation history. The unfolding drama of salvation is brought to us within salvation history; and each text, verse, chapter and book has its place within that salvation history. The best way to preach these books is to link them to their place in salvation history, not to extract from them trans-historical, theological, pastoral or devotional themes.

(5) Expository Preaching should help us to unfold the deep Biblical Theology of the Bible, the content and message of God’s unfolding revelation, and seeing every part of the Bible in the light of the gospel of Christ, and the message of the whole Bible.

(6) Expository Preaching preserves Biblical shape and balance. It gives the same focus and concentration that God gives in the Bible. Other people’s topical preaching inevitably misses this balance. It is more difficult to see the same imbalance in our own topical preaching!

(7) Expository Preaching ensures that we preach on difficult topics, verses and books. I would not choose to preach from the text ‘I hate divorce’ unless forced to do so by a sermon series on Malachi. I would not choose to preach on Romans 9-11, but preaching my way right through Romans forces me to do so. Lectionaries are no help, because modern lectionaries seem to go out of their way to avoid difficult topics, even cutting poems and stories in half to avoid embarrassment. Expository Preaching will at least make us preach on the difficult parts of the Bible.

(8) Expository Preaching saves time in preparation and presentation. Preachers need to do a lot of work in preparing their sermons and finding the historical context, and need to convey the context of verses in which they preach in the sermon as well. If we move from text to text as we move from sermon to sermon, or if we move from text to text within sermons, we will be less and less inclined to give the context of those texts and more and more inclined to take them out of context. [Of course ‘the text’ is actually the whole book: only preachers think of ’the text’ as a short extract!]

(9) Expository Preaching provides a good model of exegesis. We ought to preach and teach the Bible in a way in which we hope people will read it. People should pick up good models of using the Scripture from us. We do not want to encourage people to flip through the Bible, picking out verses that look encouraging or inviting. If we want people to read the Bible as it is written, that’s the way we should preach it.

(10) In Expository Preaching each sermon forms part of a divine sequence. The sequence is that of the writer of the book of the Bible. Following this sequence means that our teaching and their learning is cumulative as each sermon prepares the way for the next, and each sermon summarises the message of the last and shows its sequence in biblical thought.

(11) Expository Preaching makes sense! Even the most convinced post-modernists among us still read books from beginning to end. This is because it’s a remarkably sensible way of reading a book. Why would we adopt a different model in our reading and teaching of the Scriptures?

(12) Expository Preaching teaches people the Bible. Its assumption is that the Bible is relevant and effective as it comes from the mouth of God. It assumes that the information in the Bible is important for us; that these things were ‘written for our learning’.

(13) Expository Preaching provides an accessible, useable and safe model of Bible teaching and preaching. If one of our tasks is to encourage lay people in ministry, then the best thing to do is to provide them with a model of teaching which they can use at any level. It is not good to encourage people to flip through the Bible, taking their favourite verses out of context. It is a good work to show the people a model of Bible teaching that they can use to their benefit and the benefit of those who learn from them.

(14) Expository Preaching helps people to avoid repeating their ten favourite themes. Every preacher has ten sermons. The difficulty comes for the preacher and the congregation when they are repeated for the tenth time. Of course, no method can stop the determined preacher from mounting a hobby horse and riding it to death!

(15) Expository Preaching follows God’s syllabus for us. One helpful way of viewing the Bible is to see it as God’s syllabus. In it God lays out the way of salvation and what human beings need to learn in order to turn to Jesus Christ in faith and obedience. The Bible is the syllabus that God has provided – why would we replace it with another of our own invention?

3 thoughts on “Expository Preaching: A Wee Note

  1. Jason,

    excellent, your points, and Adams are right on . . . it upsets me, when the scriptures are approached as a petri-dish instead of God’s disclosure of Himself in epigrammatic style. It’s interesting though, this thought just occurred to me, the result of both modernist and post-modernist fragmented views of reality . . . epistemologically, has become what cultural Christians expect of the Bible; viz. fragmented pockets of “truth” with no continuity or narrative plot line. Good words, Jason.

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  2. But don’t you think that Expository Preaching belongs mostly in the classroom? I think true preaching and confessing of the marvelous work of Christ is something that a preacher must mull over and continuously pray about until the delivery is made. Otherwise, a preacher/teacher can get really lazy and plan months ahead about his “text” for the morning.

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  3. In what sense can we speak of the preacher who ‘plans months ahead’ as ‘lazy’? I’m yet to meet such a person.

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