Wednesday, April 25, 2018
What is expositional preaching?
Image: Scene from worship at the Lynchburg Reformed Baptist Mission
One of the odd things about being a preacher is that we do not often get the opportunity to listen to “live” preaching ourselves. On Sundays, we are usually in the pulpit or behind the lectern. I can just hear someone now telling me that I could always share the pulpit more often to remedy this. I agree, however, with Pastor Poh’s exhortation in the 2017 Keach Conference when he charged ministers to “labor to the point of exhaustion.” Poh noted that the man who is called to preach will not be content over-frequently to share his pulpit. Those with the call to preach desire to exercise their gifts for the good of the kingdom. Their unwillingness to sit on the sideline need not be ascribed to pride rather than zeal. They want to labor in the word and doctrine. If other men can do what he does, then perhaps those men need to be sent out or he needs to be sent out to establish more churches.
Still, the minister needs the hearing of preaching in order to receive the means of grace as well. He is a Christian man before he is a minister. In the pre-internet days, he could do that by reading the sermons of other men. He can still do this. Now he can also listen online to sermons. Rare indeed is the week that I do not have the opportunity to listen to a number of sermons or teachings. There is usually some variety in what I hear. There are some preachers I come back to hear over and again.
Aside from this discipline for spiritual nourishment, I also listen to learn about preaching. This includes sometimes listening back to my own sermons, often with cringes, and trying to sharpen the saw. I listen to men from the past and present, from various denominations and nations. I even listen at times to some liberal mainline Protestants to get a vibe for what is happening in those fading circles.
Very often I will listen to sermons from evangelical, Calvinistic churches—ones that say they affirm the five points but stop short of full confessionalism. What is called “expositional preaching” is popular in those circles. As I have listened to some of the preaching in these churches, however, I find that this term can mean different things to different people.
The common factor to qualify as expositional preaching seems to be the fact that each week the preacher takes as his text a consecutive set of verses, working through a book from the Bible. What I have sometimes found, however, is that the reading of the passage in consecutive order can serve merely as a jumping off point for what is a topical rather than an expositional sermon. BTW, I am not against all topical preaching. If the message claims to be expositional, however, I expect it to be something different. I want to hear a sustained meditation on one particular passage in God’s word. I expect the passage to dictate the topic, theme, and application. I expect there will be focused reflection on the content of this passage. That there will be line by line exposition of the text. There will be evidence that the minister has read the text in the original language, compared translations, studied commentaries, and labored to rightly divide the true meaning of the text. The view will not come from the air but from the ground. He will deal with the words of the text. He will tell us the meaning of key terms. He will hold every jot and tittle to be indispensible, because he believes in the plenary, verbal inspiration of Scripture. The expositor mines the truth in God’s Word and brings it to the surface for all to see. He will trust that the reading and hearing of these words will have an effectual impact on both himself and his hearers. This alone is powerful. He does not need jokes, stories, disconnected quotations or illustrations, references to contemporary culture or current events, pithy phrases, sports references, etc., to hold the attention or interest of his hearers. To claim to be doing expositional preaching and then to leave off exposition for topical reflection is false advertising and can confuse hearers as to what exposition of the text really means. Most importantly, it withholds from God’s people that which they most need to receive and which will do them the most good: an encounter with the Lord through his inspired, God-breathed Word.