The Importance of Expository Preaching?

Positonal Statements

I have been asked how First Baptist Church in Clifton differs from other Bible teaching churches in the area. I usually answer, "We have much in common with other evangelical churches. We seek to pray, teach Scripture, make disciples, worship, minister to children, and reach unbelievers with the good news. But one trait that distinguishes us from many churches is the commitment to expository preaching. The late John Stott once said "All True Christian Preaching is expository preaching." Preaching should not be a Bible drill where you spend much of the time flipping from page to page, chapter to chapter.

Before I explain what I mean by "expository preaching" let me mention three other popular models of preaching.

First, there is what some call the simple Gospel. Surely you've heard the boast, "We just preach the simple gospel at our church." That is to say, week in and week out, the sermons are primarily evangelistic. The message of salvation is presented in its most essential form, focusing on man's guilt, Christ's substitutionary death, and the need for repentance and faith. That's the simple Gospel.

Of course we should preach the simple Gospel, for that is the heart of Christianity (Romans 1:16). But that is not all we should preach. Jesus commanded us to make not merely converts, but disciples (Matthew 28:20). Like Paul we are "to proclaim ... the whole will of God" (Acts 20:27).

A second popular form of pulpit speech is to use a Bible passage as a springboard to launch the preacher onto the topic he wants to talk about. Haddon Robinson remarked, the Scripture reading "resembles the national anthem played at a football game -- it gets things started but is not heard again during the afternoon."

The most common preaching style in evangelical churches is topical preaching. The minister chooses a subject (e.g. "Five Keys to a Strong Marriage," "How to Deal with Discouragement," "Improving Your Prayer Life.") and uses Bible proof-texts to support each point in the sermon. Topical preaching has the appeal of immediate relevance to the congregation. There are, however, drawbacks:

1. A steady diet of topical sermons does little to help Christians learn the content and contours of the Bible.

2. The preacher, rather than the book of the Bible, determines the preaching agenda, often leaving the congregation with an unbalanced diet.

3. Bible passages can easily be wrenched out of context to support the points of the sermon.

4. It reveals a lack of confidence that "all Scripture is...useful" and relevant (II Timothy 3:16).

I believe the best approach is that of consecutive expository preaching. "Consecutive" means the preacher teaches his way through books of the Bible, verse by verse. "Expository" means the preacher strives to explain the passage according to its original intent (taking note of the original audience, the historical setting, the grammar, the overall theme of the book, and so on) and then apply principles from it to our lives today. The content and purpose of the sermon are governed by the original intent of the passage. The sub-points of the sermon flow from the sub-points of the passage.

Take, for example, I Corinthians 13, the famous love chapter ('Love is patient, love is kind, ...'). When you study I Corinthians 13 in the context of the entire letter you discover that it is no beautiful flower arrangement on love but rather a scathing rebuke of the Corinthian Christians for their lack of love. They were putting more emphasis on spiritual gifts than on loving one another. Once we understand the original intent of the passage we can apply it much more surgically to our own lives.

The statement was made, "At your church, do you make the Bible relevant?" My answer, "I don't make the Bible relevant. I don't have to. The Bible already is relevant. All I do is try to explain what it says, then its relevance becomes obvious."

Expository preaching has a number of advantages over topical preaching:

1. Its points of application are more compelling because hearers see that the application legitimately emerges from Bible text.

2. It demonstrates to Christians how to study and interpret the Bible for themselves.

3. It reflects confidence not in the persuasiveness of the preacher, but in the power of God's Word to change people (Hebrews 4:12).

Randall Runions, Pastor