What Exactly IS Expository Preaching?

There has never been a time when sermons have been more readily available than today. Within seconds, thanks to the internet and podcasts, we can access entire library’s of sermons from our favorite preachers from anywhere in the world. In fact, for the first time in church history, the preacher we listen to the most may not be the pastor in our own local church. I can say, personally that I have benefitted as a Christian and also as a preaching pastor from this access to excellent sermons. But as with anything, there are dangers.

A type of Christian consumerism, can easily develop among solid, mature Christians who love theology and preaching. I mean if your favorite preacher on the podcast is preaching at a level 9, why sit under level 5 preaching at your local church? You could stay home and listen to 5 John Macarthur (or fill in the blank with your preferred online preacher) sermons each week and be “fed” right? Who needs the head aches and heartbreaks of life in a community of Christ-followers that may or may not share your refined “taste for theologically oriented preaching”? Some notable pastors with large online followings, (Matt Chandler at The Village Church springs to mind) have even posted short messages at the beginning of sermon content encouraging listeners to “belong to a local church” and reminding the listener/viewer that their primary teachers should be their pastors in that local body of believers.

With so many Christians are ingesting so much preaching from outside their local church, it comes as no surprise that I find myself, as a pastor in a local church, having so many discussions about different styles of preaching. The method of preaching I personally hold to and practice as a pastor is commonly referred to as: Expository Preaching. One thing I have learned through those conversations about different preaching styles is this:

Most people do not know what “expository preaching” is.

One common misconception about expository preaching I have encountered considers “expository” preaching to be a sermon that consists of examining 1-3 verses as you work through a book of the Bible. This is certainly a certain type of expository preaching and men like Martin Lloyd Jones and the aforementioned John Macarthur are noted for deploying this style. Jones famously took 16 YEARS to complete the Epistle of Romans. This style of expository preaching has its strengths. Every tree is examined. The weakness of this style is the propensity to “miss the forests for the trees”. To miss the greater context of the passage and uniquely how it fits into the biblical narrative. To quote a fellow pastor and dear friend Terry Wofford: “The problem with preaching for 16 years in Romans is when you are done no one knows what Romans was about”.

Which leads me to this key point about expository preaching:

Expository preaching has more to do with the content of the passage being preached than the number of verses being preached from the passage.

I have heard fantastic expository sermons that cover 1 verse. I have also heard fantastic expository sermons that covered an entire book of the Bible (See Mark Dever’s sermon series where he preached on 1 book per week for 66 weeks).

Another key factor in expository preaching that often gets overlooked is: Genre. When preaching from an Epistle, 1-5 verses may be the best way to unpack the passage. When preaching OT narrative, 1-5 verses may tell you very little about what is actually happening and instead an entire chapter (or 2) may be required.

Again…when attempting to discern whether a sermon is expository or not this question to ask is this: Is the point of the passage (however short or long) the point of the sermon?

We have talked enough about what expository preaching is NOT. Let me conclude with some noted pastors, professors and theologians who share their thoughts on what expository preaching is:

What is Expository Preaching?

David Helm: “Expositional preaching is empowered preaching that rightfully submits the shape and emphasis of the sermon to the shape and emphasis of a biblical text.”

Bryan Chappell: “The main idea of an expository sermon the topic, the divisions of that idea, main points, and the development of those divisions, all come from truths the text itself contains. No significant portions of the text is ignored. In other words, expositors willingly stay within the boundaries of the text and do not leave until they have surveyed its entirety with its hearers.” (Christ-Centered Preaching)

Alistair Begg: “Unfolding the text of Scripture in such a way that makes contact with the listeners world while exalting Christ and confronting them with the need for action. “(Preaching for God’s Glory)

Mark Dever: Expositional preaching is preaching in which the main point of the biblical text being considered becomes the main point of the sermon being preached. (Preach: Theology Meets Practice)

Tim Keller– Expository preaching grounds the message in the text so that all the sermon’s points are the points in the text, and it majors in the texts’s major ideas. It aligns the interpretation of the text with the doctrinal truths of the rest of the Bible (being sensitive to systematic theology). And it always situates the passage within the Bible’s narrative, showing how Christ is the final fulfillment of the text’s theme (being sensitive to biblical theology). (Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism)

Sola Deo Gloria.

Chad Williams

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