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What is this expository preaching thing?

preacher praying

If you hang around iServe Africa a bit you might (hopefully) notice that we have a passion for faithful Bible teaching – ‘faithful’ not in the sense of turning up every week but faithful to the Bible text – what you see (on the page) is what you get (in the sermon).

This is often called ‘expository preaching’ but that can lead to some misunderstandings…

For one thing ‘expository’ is an unnecessarily long, technical word which makes people think of exams and science experiments. Nobody uses ‘expository’ in normal conversation. (‘Expositional’ is even worse.)

For another thing, as soon as you put an adjective before ‘preaching’ it sounds like a particular type of preaching – as if there are various ways to preach the Bible and this is just one of them – whereas we want to say this is simply the way to ‘correctly handle the Word of God’. It is like saying ‘Christ-centred Christianity’ or ‘wet water’.

Another problem is that the focus can go onto the preaching as a ‘thing’ – an end in itself – an activity that we enjoy for its own sake like classic car enthusiasts – rather than on the content (the living word of Christ) and the point (bringing life to dry bones).

And then there are various other associations and misconceptions that ‘expository preaching’ brings along that we’ve mentioned before…

  1. Just an explanation of the text – what is sometimes called in the Kenyan context a ‘Bible exposititon’ or ‘Bible study’ or what is called in some UK university CUs a ‘Bible reading’. But expository preaching is not a lecture. It’s not just walking through a text explaining it. It is declaring the oracles of God, making an impassioned argument for Christ, confronting us with Christ, feeding us with Christ.
  2. A technique – But expository preaching is not about applying some complex set of rules and procedures. You don’t master some clever system and then get a certificate or a blackbelt. This is not rocket science – it’s just opening up the Word and letting it speak for itself.
  3. A style – But expository preaching should not mean 3 points all beginning with ‘P’. It’s not a quiet bookish tone of voice. It’s not using lots of clever academic language. It’s not standing rigidly behind a pulpit.
  4. Always verse by verse – It’s often that but sometimes it’ll be paragraph by paragraph or taking a story as a whole and enjoying it – it depends what sort of text it is. And, as was pointed out to me the other day, verse-by-verse can be done in a non-expositional way – i.e. taking each verse one by one, treating it pretty much in isolation, using it as a launchpad or reading in whatever the preacher thinks and missing the big idea and flow of the passage and the book.
  5. Always sequential large chunks of a book – It will often be that (and there are a lot of advantages to sequential preaching) but there is still a place for one-off evangelistic sermons and topical sermons – they can be expository too – focussing on one text and letting it call people to Christ or speak to a particular issue.
  6. A Western thing or a new thing – This wasn’t dreamt up in the US or UK 40 years ago. It was happening in Israel 2000 years ago (see Acts 2 or the book of Hebrews). Chrysostom was doing it in Turkey more than 1600 years ago.
  7. Just for ‘intellectuals’, educated people or literate people –  Duncan Forbes, who grew up on and leads a church on a tough council estate in London, gives a brilliant answer to this here. Also, one our apprentices pointed out the other day that topical sermons that jump all over the Bible – Leviticus, Matthew, Malachi, Acts – are actually far harder to follow and demand much more Biblical literacy than simply focussing on one Bible story or one passage and going through it – which even a small child can follow. And one other thing – expository preaching should be aimed at the heart.
  8. Boring – If it’s boring then it’s not expository preaching. God is not boring. The Bible is not boring. When it’s opened up there should be a revelation of a glorious, awesome and constantly surprising God. So let’s not talk about ‘shining a light on the Bible text’, or making the Bible ‘come alive’ – that’s close to blasphemy – it is the living and active Word of God.
  9. Spirit-quenching – But you can’t get more dramatically Spirit-filled than Acts 2. There’s a tornado. They’re speaking Chinese and Arabic. Their hair is on fire. Peter gets up on the podium and speaks without a PA system to thousands of people. And what comes out of his mouth? An expository sermon on Joel. It might not look like it but we’ve said before that expository preaching is actually Spirit-led preaching.
  10. Irrelevant – The fear is that if we stick to getting our message from the Bible then it will not be relevant to the hearers. We’ll have to make it relevant in some clever way. Perhaps it’s better just to think of a relevant topic (and what people need to hear on that) and then search the Bible for good quotes. But the Bible is relevant (2 Tim 3:16) because it’s all about all about Jesus (2 Tim 3:15). And in fact it’s full of topics – every book is a topic – they’re just not quite the topics we might choose.

So maybe we should just talk about faithful Bible teaching…

About andyharker

Andy is a sinner saved by grace.

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