A Case for Expository Preaching

Expository Preaching


Hadden Robinson states, “Preaching is a living processes involving God, the preacher, and the congregation . . .”[1] This validity of this statement intensifies when one considers the expository preaching.  According to Sidney Greidanus expository preaching is “Bible-centered preaching . . . the exposition of a biblical passage.”[2] Others emphasize that “. . . expository preaching focuses on the text(s) under consideration along with its (their) context(s).”[3] Richard Mayhue concludes that expository preaching contains five minimal elements:

  1. “The message finds its sole source in Scripture.
  2. The message is extracted from Scripture through careful exegesis.
  3. The message preparation correctly interprets Scripture in its normal sense and context.
  4. The message clearly explains the original God-intended meaning of Scripture.
  5. The message applies the Scriptural meaning for today.[4]

While agreeing with Robinson that “no definition can pretend to capture” the dynamic of preaching,[5] we define expository preaching as the communication of a message or lesson derived from the study of a specific text, using the tools of exegesis to understand the text, and delivering the lessons learned in a manner that assists the listeners to apply those lessons to their individual or collective walk with God.

Some preachers and authors equate expository preaching with textual preaching,[6] yet there is a distinction. Whereas expository preaching, by the definitions above, stays with a given text and its context to develop an application, a textual sermon may start out as an exposition but quickly expands to other texts to develop a topic or topics the presenter wishes to expound.  Mayhue observes that textual preaching “uses a short text . . . as a gateway into whatever subject the preacher chooses to address.”[7]

A third model of preaching is topical preaching.  Topical preaching may cover a Biblical concept or topic, but differs immensely from textual and expository preaching.  Both textual and expository preaching rely on a specific passage or a section of scripture as the beginning point or source of the lesson.  By contrast topical preaching regularly begins with the applicable lesson and seeks out Scriptures to prove or establish the preconceived idea.  Although the lesson may be accurate this type of preaching may not always be as honest as pure expository preaching where the lesson(s) grows from the considered text.

Personal Evaluation:

MacArthur boldly announces “. . . inerrancy demands exposition as the only method of preaching that preserves the purity of Scripture and accomplishes the purpose for which God gave us His Word.”[8] While I can see MacArthur’s point I can only partially agree.  Expository preaching should have priory, but other forms of preaching can remain true to the purity and inerrancy of scripture.   In textual preaching where one uses a text as a springboard to other passages, one can be true to Truth when Scripture expounds Scripture and the lesson remains consistent in the texts used.  Topical preaching can also remain true to God’s word when topic is from scripture and not a conglomeration of proof texts.  With that said, I am certain that Biblical concepts stand stronger when that concept grows from an exegetical approach to study, and when presented to listeners from one specific text.  The more I study for and preach expository sermons the more I realize “when Paul charged young Timothy to ‘preach the word,’ he intended not simply that Timothy mount a pulpit and speak but that he base his spoken word on the written . . .”[9] Consequently, I find when my preaching is an exposition and less topical;  I find those lessons make a stronger impression on the listeners and I would think that such an impression would have a longer effect in their lives.

Expository Preaching is Inductive:

By inductive we mean that the lesson(s) learned come as a result of the process of study and are not a previously assumed truth proved by clever use of concordances. Expository preaching is inductive in that the preacher will “approach the text to find out what it means.”[10] A sermon that is expository communicates the basics of the preacher’s own study to listeners.  Therefore, “inductive sermons produce a sense of discovery in listeners, as they arrived at the idea on their own,”[11] guided by the study of the one presenting the message.

Expository Preaching is Exegetical:

Exegesis is the homework of the preacher who presents expository sermons.  Exegesis is the “proper hermeneutical and exegetical principles and practice”[12] that lead to an understanding of the passage of Scripture under consideration.  The preaching that results is the communication of a Biblical concept “derived from  . . . a historical grammatical, and literary study” of the passage and the context surrounding that passage.[13]

Expository Preaching is Exposition:

MacArthur’s work states accurately that expository preaching “approaches the Word of God inductively, studies it exegetically, then explains it to the people expositionally . . . (seeking) to clarify what is difficult to understand in a passage.  It opens up the Word and exposes the less obvious meanings and applications it contains.”[14] Preaching that is expository exposes the text to the listener and exposes the listener to the text.

[1] Hadden W. Robinson, Biblical Preaching, (Grand Rapids:Baker), 1980, p. 19.

[2] Sidney Greidanus, The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text, (Grand Rapids:Eerdmans), 1988, p 11.

[3] John MacArthur, Jr., Rediscovering Expository Preaching, Richard L. Mayhue, Ed., Robert L. Thomas, Assoc. Ed., (Nashville:W Publishing Group), 1992, p. 9.

[4] Ibid. p. 12-13.

[5] Robinson, p. 9.

[6] Greidanus, p. 122.

[7] MacArthur, p. 9.

[8] Ibid. p. 24.

[9] Greidanus, p. 10.

[10] MacArthur, p. 222.

[11] Greidanus, p. 144.

[12] MacArthur, p. 222.

[13] Robinson, p. 20.

[14] MacArthur, p. 222.

8 thoughts on “A Case for Expository Preaching

  1. Expository preaching is my favorite preaching and I do it as much as possible. The selection of the text is critical as we can fool ourselves into thinking we preaching an expository lesson when we are actually just grabbing a text that suits our chosen topic.

    At the moment I am preaching through Mark. That causes you to cover things you might otherwise skip over. In my judgment, if we are to preach the whole counsel of God, expository preaching is the best choice. There is a place for topical but the priority, I think, should be expository.


    • Bryant,

      I find most of my expository work is for Bible Classes. I am preaching through the Bible for Televison (but am trying to just do introductions to each book and hit some highlights for the TV audience). I am working on a plan for getting the congregation to read through the Bible next year and I will preach from each week’s reading text. I am looking forward to this series.

  2. Thank you for this discussion. I was a huge fan of expository Preaching, but mostly have moved on to a Post-Liberal approach. There are some common elements, but some different theology behind the methodology. Of course, expository is still a great form if it is done well, and the structure fits the text. It just seems too often that expository follows Robinson’s book, which is a little outdated in the conversation of Homiletics. Though still helpful for the beginning preacher. It just seems that expository to too many people is an adaptation of the university sermon, but with more of a biblical foundation.

  3. What you plan for 2011 is a good idea, Scott. I wish we had a some kind of a platform similar to the Revised Common Lectionary but presented like the Jewish Parshas. That way every verse of the Bible would be covered on a regular basis. We might want to take 6 years to cover the OT and three years to cover the NT, or something like that. You might not attempt to cover every single verse in every cycle. But, over time, you would. It would be optional, but if it were as popular as the Gospel Advocate Quarterly used to be for Sunday mornings, many churches across the brotherhood would study from the same places in the Bible every week. It could create an enhanced sense of community.

    I feel there are serious liabilities to topical preaching. If you will notice, there are 50 to 100 subpoints that the preacher is tempted to keep just cycling through, while perhaps calling them by different names. You feel like you are preaching the same thing over and over – and you probably are. I was criticized one time (not where I currently preach) for my sermons sounding like my classes. I tried to make some adjustments, but I was thinking, “So what’s wrong with that?” Pure expository lectionary/parsha style preaching and teaching should cover everything and not allow some of what God has said to fall through the cracks.

    We study Life of Christ (gospels) at 10 Sunday, epistles Sunday evening, and OT Wednesday nights. This leaves the 11 o’clock sermon open for something else. But, I actually like my suggestion above better than what we do.

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