Today I am beginning a new series of posts on expository preaching. My goal in writing this series is to clarify and articulate my understanding of this important ministry of the church. While I think there are other forms of preaching that are valuable and have a place within the life of the church, it is my conviction that expository preaching should be the foundation of the pulpit ministry of a healthy, gospel-centered, Christ-focused church.
What is Expository Preaching?
Although sometimes referred to as exegetical preaching, I prefer the term expository for the simple reason that it more clearly communicates that the goal of such preaching is to expose–that is, bring into clear view–at least three things: (1) the meaning of the text; (2) the majesty and beauty of the God who spoke the text; (3) the response called for by the text.
So how should we define expository preaching? My preaching professor in seminary Mike Bullmore defined it as preaching in which the content and intent of the passage shapes the content and intent of the message. As I have continued to reflect on and attempt to practice expository preaching, I have built on that foundation and expanded it to define it as follows: expository preaching is preaching in which the content, intent, and structure of the passage determines the content, intent, and structure of the message. The remainder of the series will further unpack this definition; what I want to focus on in the remainder of this post is why I believe expository preaching (as defined this way) is the best way approach to preaching.
Why Expository Preaching Should Be the Preferred Method of Preaching
There are at least three reasons why expository preaching should be the “default” method of preaching in the church.
1. Expository Preaching self-consciously submits to the authority of the text and the author(s) of Scripture. If we truly believe that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17), then we will want to submit ourselves to its authority. When the preacher sits down to prepare an expository message, he is acknowledging that God’s Word and not his own thoughts have ultimate authority. As Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Expository preaching forces the preacher to first determine what the author said before considering what the preacher will say.
2. Expository Preaching is best positioned to hear the authoritative voice of God through preaching. What God’s people need to hear most is the voice of God himself through the preacher. God brings life through his Word: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11). When the preacher aligns his own words with God’s words he can be confident that God will accomplish his purposes.
3. Expository Preaching is best positioned to build a biblical worldview in the preacher and the congregation. As a general rule the most significant effect that good preaching has is not so much rooted in particular sermons, but the cumulative effect that faithful preaching has over an extended period of time. Expository preaching reveals the way that the biblical authors thought, felt, and believed. It exposes how they viewed the world so that we can then adopt that same frame of reference for evaluating all of reality.
In the next installment, I will begin unpacking the definition of expository preaching.
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Since 2006 Dr. Matthew S. Harmon has served as Professor of New Testament Studies at Grace College and Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. He is also a member of Christ’s Covenant Church, where he serves on the Preaching Team, leads a small group, and teaches regularly in their Life Education classes.
Find out more at his blog, Biblical Theology, which is a forum for all matters pertaining to biblical theology (and some entirely unrelated).
Follow him on Twitter: @DocHarmon