20 March 2006

Expository Preaching

So, in my training blog, I posted about expository preaching and said that I need to explain more about it.

This post is intended to be my reasons why I believe that expository preaching is one of the best systems for a church to use.

First, however, it is important to define terms. When I refer to expository preaching, I mean the type of sermon that is based on exegesis of a text from scripture. I am also referring to an exposition of a book, or extended passage, of scripture in a series of sermons. Expository preaching stands in contrast to topical sermon series, where a pastor will pick a topic, and then each week pick a different passage to preach based on the topic of the week, or the topical series. So, a pastor using exporitory preaching, as I define it, will begin at chapter 1, verse 1 of a book of the Bible and teach a sermon on the first few verses. The next week, the pastor will pick up where he left off, and cover the next few verses. Week by week, the pastor will cover the entire book, until he reaches the last verse.

There are several reasons that commend expository preaching:
1. study is within the context of the book
2. sermons model good Bible study methods.
3. Pastors must face the issues presented in the scripture.
4. It helps prevent bad theology.

It has been said that a text, without context, is a pretext. One of the best ways to ensure that teaching captures the true meaning of scripture is to study within the context of a passage. A good sermon will not just start with a text and expound it. Rather, the pastor will explain the context of the passage first. Without context, it is much easier for a passage to be misconstrued. It is the context that helps provide clarity of meaning.

Here is an example. I recently heard a sermon on 2 Tim. 1:7. This is a classic memory verse: "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." The pastor giving this sermon used the illustration of fear in the aftermath of September 11 as his central point, saying that God has not given us a spirit of fear (timidity). However, the context is clear that Paul's point is that we are not to be timid in speaking the truth about God. In fact the following verse provides the context that makes the meaning clear: "So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner." By talking about the verse without referencing the context, the pastor really missed the meaning intended by Paul.

Context applies not only to the immediate context of a verse. It includes context wihtin the larger book, and context within all of scripture. In fact, many good expository preachers will reference other passages of scripture to make clear the meaning of the passage that they are teaching.

Modeling Bible Study
When I was in college, I learned the method of Inductive Bible Study. It is considered one of the best forms of Bible study. You study a book of the Bible by first reading the whole book, and then working your way through the book passage by passage, or chapter by chapter.

Expository preaching will teach church goers this method of Bible study because it models it. Frequently a pastor beginning a study of a new book will give a general overview of the book -- who is the author, who is the audience, what are the general themes. A pastor may hand out an outline of the book. Then the pastor begins studying at the beginning of the book and works through. One of the goals of a pastor ought to be teaching the church how to interact with the Word of God. By showing expository methods, and interacting with questions that come from the text, the pastor can model the best ways to study the Bible.

Issues Presented in Scripture
A pastor who is studying an entire book of the Bible cannot easily sidestep difficult passages. When studying Romans, you have to work through chapters 8 and 9 and deal with terms like foreknowledge and predestination. One of the weaknesses of topical or narrative preaching is that it allows the pastor to pick the topics and passages that suit his needs. It is too easy for a pastor to skip over passages or topics that he doesn't want to address. But, the whole of scripture is inspired. By facing hard passages, a pastor must be willing to consider other views to harmonize the difficult passage with the weight of scripture.

Reduces Bad Theology

I also believe that expository preaching helps reduce bad theology. By studying books in context and studying the entire books, a pastor cannot pick and choose only those passages that support the particular theology preferred by that pastor/church. I have never seen a health/wealth church that uses this teaching method. I think that is because it would prevent too many passages that would challenge the bad theology.

So, those are my top reasons for wanting expository preaching. There are other reasons, and others who have done a better job defending the method.


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