Whatever Happened to Expository Preaching?

I’m trying to keep this little mini-series on preaching going for a few more posts; today I’m asking the question, “Whatever happened to expository preaching?”

But before I can answer the question, the first thing I must do is define precisely what I mean by expository preaching. The definition found over at Wikipedia is horrendous, so I’ll be sure to make very clear both what expository preaching is and what it isn’t.

A good description of expository preaching is praedicatio continuam; simply put it is preaching that works it way through and entire book of the Old or New Testament in continuous fashion. For instance, I’m currently preaching through the Letter to the Galatians; in doing so, I’ve begun with Galatians 1:1-5, will follow that with 1:6-10, and so on.

The advantages of preaching in this fashion are manifold; first, you don’t have to deal with the pressure of constantly preparing a sermon on yet another new topic every week. The great danger of topical preaching can be seen on two fronts: first, there is the danger that the pastor will, even if unintentionally, turn his favorite subjects in the subjects of his hearers, and in so doing deny them the whole counsel of God; the second is that preaching in such a disconnected fashion means that your hearers will never be able to hear how Paul or Luke’s arguments progress logically through the text.

Expository preaching doesn’t suffer from this defect; it is a ‘serial’, if you will; a series of sermons that simply follows the text of Scripture through its major pericopes. If this is done correctly, it lends itself to the preaching of the Scriptures in their own context, and limits the preacher to the text in front of him.

The greatest benefit of all is that it teaches your people how to read their Bibles. I cannot possibly overstate this fact. Your people will learn, for good or for ill, how to read their Bibles attentively and in context. Words, sentences, paragraphs – all of these things matter, and you become their guide, showing them how all of the pieces fit together.

Brothers, preach expository sermons!

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22 thoughts on “Whatever Happened to Expository Preaching?

  1. As Catholic Christians we follow a Liturgical Calendar, as you and most of your readers probably already know, but it goes fairly systematically through the entire Bible in a 3 year period. However what I think we at times miss is the idea of delving “into the deep,” and we can learn this from our Protestant Christians such as yourself. An overview, such as we have, is important and even neccesary, to understand salvation history. But there is nothing like digging into a particular book of the BIble and chewing on the meat. I will look forward to your series on this. That is where those of you who are of the Calvinist persuasion tend to shine. Lots:). God bless.

    • CBR,

      You may know yourself that Lutherans follow the Lectionary as well, although I think there is a one-year track, and a three-year track. I think there is good to be said for both methods. Readings from a Lectionary do give you a great overview of the whole of Scripture; expository preaching helps you dig deeper than you may get any other way.

      A good practice I’ve been using for the last two years is Professor Grant Horner’s Bible Reading System. I read, if I stay on schedule, 10 chapters of the Bible a day. I usually back down to 5 chapters a day on Saturday and Sunday, but pick it up to 20 chapters a day during the week. This means that every year (numbers are approximate) I read through the Gospels 8 times, the Pentateuch 4 times, Paul’s letters 9-10 times, the OT Wisdom literature 12 times, all the Psalms at least 4 times, all the Proverbs and Acts about 2 dozen times, and I’ll get through all of the OT Historical and Prophetic Books about 3 times.

      Most Christians are starving for the True Bread of Life, God’s Word; sadly, most of them don’t even know they’re starving. Consistent, high-volume bible reading will fill the empty spot. That’s one of the reasons I like the Lectionary so much!

      BMP.

      • That is an amazing amount of Sacred Scripture you take in, even in a week. My goal was to get through the Bible once this year…now I must up the ante and soon.Thanks for the encouragement.

        • You know, Richard, I take in that much for two reasons. One is that I didn’t realize just how little Scripture I was taking in on a regular basis. Then someone forwarded me the Bible reading system and I jumped on it. The other reason is that, shocking as it may seem, the vast majority of young men who are up for licensure in conservative Presbyterian churches (think the Presbyterian Church in America [PCA] or the Orthodox Presbyterian Church [OPC]) breeze through their exams in Systematics, Apologetics, etc., but then fail their exam on the English Bible.

          I don’t want to be one of those guys!

  2. Amen! Thank you for a well said article. I am doing expository preaching series in the book of John, we spent a year and a half only in John 1 but it was worth every second.

    Many do not know that we are dealing with God, the Creator of the Universe, the Holy, Holy, Holy, own breathe words. Yahweh speaking to His people.

    Thank you for fighting the good fight.

    In Christ,
    Prayson

  3. I’m 68 yr’s old. My father was a topical Nazarene Minister. I accepted Christ under topical preaching. For the past ten yr’s I have been under expository preaching. Spiritually speaking, I am starving to death. I am learning a lot about the Bible, but I am getting nothing to stir the Spirit within me to speak to my soul and convict me of the things that need any changing. You topical preachers are starving the Christians. I know this for a fact because I’ve talked to many other Christians who feel the same.

    • Oh and btw, we’re getting a lot of head knowledge, but Spiritually we’re dying. Your expository preaching is leaving very little room for the Holy Spirit to work in the heart’s and lives of people

      • Ms. Doris,

        First, let me say thank you to you for commenting on this post, and apologize to you for leaving your comments in moderation for so long. I’ve been visiting my parents for the last week and haven’t slowed down long enough to pay attention to other matters.

        Second, I should also say that I’m grateful to hear from the persons who are sitting in the pews! Your insights into the good and bad of preaching is incalculably helpful.

        You should know that I’m not entirely opposed to topical preaching; if topical preaching is done well (that is, it’s based on good exegesis, and the pastor is very careful to keep from preaching on “pet” topics and preaches the full counsel of God) then by all means, he should preach topically.

        Maybe you can help me by answering a couple of questions for me:

        1. Does you pastor preach using clear application?
        2. How well does your pastor use questions in his preaching?

        Answering those two questions can go a long way towards helping me diagnose the problem and perhaps offer some advice.

        Thanks,

        BMPalmer

        • Sir, sorry for taking so long to get back to you. And thank you for responding to my post.
          First of all, Happy New Year to you and your family.
          Now to answer your questions;
          My Pastor is a wonderful Bible teacher. And yes, he does well on both your questions. However, as a kid growing up. My dad and all the other Preacher’s Preached a salvation message on Sunday morning,an encouraging message to the Christians Sunday night, then we had Bible study pn Wednesday night. Today we have Bible study Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. We’re getting a whole lot of head knowledge but nothing to stir the Holy Spirit within us to convict us of areas in our lives that needs changing. We never hear down to earth Preaching on the sins of man. And this is what my soul and Sprit is so badly craving. I feel like I’m starving to death spiritually. I know I’m not the only one that feels this way because I’ve heard many other people complain about it. This is why I said, expository Preachers are spiritually starving their people to death. However, people who have grown up with this have no idea what I’m talking about. It seams that the Holy Spirit is gone from the church since expository preaching took over.

          Thank’s for letting me share my heart with you.

          • Oh, and btw sir, I love Bible study. But not a steady diet of it. There needs to be a balance for the Holy Spirit to do His work.

          • Oh and something else; I’m not against changes in church. At my age ( 68 ), I’ve seen a lot of changes take place in the church; some good, some not so good. But the worst changes I have seen is contemporary music and expository preaching. Those two things have caused the Holy Spirit to depart. I’m not the only one that has noticed this. And I know for a fact these two things have caused many people my age to quit church completely. That’s a sad thing, but it’s happenning.

            • Here’s my diagnosis, given your preceding three comments:

              From what your are describing, it sounds like the problem isn’t that the preaching is expository, but that the problem is the sermon itself. I say this based on my experience in the pastorate (I was a pastor for 8 years before I ever went on for my Masters of Divinity) and my experience as an instructor in homiletics (preaching) at the seminary where I’m getting my Masters of Theology (an academic degree preparatory for my Ph.D).

              When a sermon gets described repeatedly as a Bible Study, something is horribly wrong with the sermon itself. Please understand that I make a distinction between the preaching of the sermon and the sermon proper. Generally speaking, when a sermon gets described as feeling (or sounding) like a Bible Study, at least one of three problems exists, or some combination of the following three.

              First, the sermon is lacking in pathos, or passion. A good sermon is a proper mixture of light (instructiveness) and heat (passion or emotion). If the sermon lacks pathos, then you get a lot of information but it is missing an appeal to the emotive aspect of the hearers.

              Second, the sermon was prepared without the pastor ever asking himself, “What is my purpose in preaching this text?” A sermon should be a combination of two purposes: the purpose of the text itself, and the purpose of the minister preaching it. If the pastor doesn’t know what his purpose is in preaching the text, then it’s lacking what I call “the change factor”. When that is missing, the sermon doesn’t appropriately confront sin or proclaim the gospel, and leaves the hearers asking, “So what? What am I to do?” This is a defect in the vast majority of modern preaching, whether it’s topical or expository.

              Third, the pastor is probably reading from a manuscript. The vast majority of seminaries currently teach their students to write out the entire sermon and then to take that manuscript into the pulpit with them. The only time I ever encourage a student to write a sermon manuscript is if, after hearing one sermon from outline, their logic is severely lacking. But I never allow them, even then, to preach from a manuscript. Preaching from a manuscript kills eye contact with the listeners, which means that you cannot constantly gauge your audience’s reaction to the sermon. It tends to cause the delivery of the sermon (that is, the preaching) to become wooden, instead of being a living transaction between the preacher and the hearer involving the engagement of the whole person on both sides.

              The preaching you’re hearing sounds like it’s lacking in at least one of these areas – areas that aren’t unique to expository preaching at all.

              You, your church, and your pastor will be in my prayers.

  4. Pingback: Preach the Word (Introduction) | Southern Reformation

  5. OK, I’m back. Actually my Pastor is not guilty of any of the above. If I were in college and he was teaching a course on Bible I would take his class. He’s terrific in teaching the Bible. And yes, I do learn from his teaching. But expository teaching does not give way for the Holy Spirit of God to do the work in hearts of the people like topical does. As a kid growing up, I have seen people so badly under conviction during topical preaching that they couldn’t wait for the alter call and ran to the alter. I’ve never seen that with expository teaching. Church has changed, and it’s not all for the good.

  6. Just wanted to tell you something sir, just this past week, i spoke with a lady that was telling me how much she missed the ” good ole fashioned hell fire and brimstone” preaching. Her words sir, not mine. She said if the preachers would ever get back to preaching, she’d go back to church.
    This is what i mean sir.

  7. Pingback: Rethinking Topical Preaching | Southern Reformation

"I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve." (Romans 16:17-18) Please read "The Comments Policy."

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