Not required: Expository Preaching
Is expository preaching biblically mandated? Does anyone ask that question? It seems to me that the default setting of conservative, especially reformed Christians, is that expository preaching is the biblically prescribed form of preaching. While I do not lay forth this post as a polemic ‘against’ expository preaching, I do lay it forth as a polemic against the creation of a ‘law’ regarding expository preaching. In other words, I contend that in conservative evangelicalism, especially among the reformed, an unwritten law has fettered pastors to expository preaching. To be clear, if expository preaching is indeed prescribed by scripture, then without a doubt pastors should be fettered to it, but if it is not commanded in scripture then we must admit that we have been in sin by creating a law not prescribed by God.
Before someone gets out the tar and feathers, I will say that I preach in an expository manner, I find it logical and not near as prone to becoming all muddleheaded as some other forms of preaching. Nonetheless, we make a grand mistake if we do not see the short comings of expository preaching, moreover, we make an even grander mistake if we turn expository preaching into a binding law on pastors.
One of the troubling things about the New Testament is that we do not have many examples of preaching within the Church. What I mean is this, most of the sermons we have in Acts are not to the believing community, but to the lost. Of course in the Gospels we do have the Sermon on the Mount, and other preaching from Jesus to his church, but we do not have ‘post resurrection’ accounts of sermons delivered to local congregations. We do know that sermons were delivered to congregations, but we don’t get to see the content of them. One might argue that we have all of the epistles and could argue that the epistles are indeed sermonic. I am not sure I agree, but I am willing to roll with that for a minute. Are the Epistles ‘expository’ in nature? Verse by verse exposition of OT scriptures? Of course they are not. Instead they are a smattering of scriptures brought together from the OT to make the grand point of redemption in Christ. If we are honest, and it is hard to be honest in this case, the epistles are by and large “topical” in nature.
It is hard to find an expository sermon anywhere in the scripture. You might consider Peter’s Acts 2 sermon as an expository sermon on Joel, but if you are honest you will see that it is not at all a verse by verse exposition of Joel, not even close. You might look at Romans as an exposition of Genesis 15, which by the way, is essentially how the “New Perspective” folk look at Romans, but clearly Romans is not a ‘verse by verse’ exposition of anything.
Again this is not a polemic against expository preaching, but it is sinful to assert that for a Church to be biblical it must have ‘verse by verse’ exposition as the content of its Lord’s Day messages. To do this is to create a law not given in the scripture.
Let’s be honest, expository preaching (which I do and love) has its short comings. It’s a lot like twitter, powerful 140 character quotes discussed and explained, with little thought to how the whole course of things fits together. Now granted, we expository preachers do our best to keep the scripture we are preaching in its context, but by the 4th week in Romans most people have forgot the exposition of the first week. Of course we must ask the question of whether or not Romans was supposed to be broken down to the umpteenth degree? Or was it, or any other of the epistles, Psalms, histories, prophecies, etc… really meant to be taken piecemeal? Of course they were not and we need to keep this in mind as we go ‘verse by verse’. If you do not take big enough chunks you end up spending 6 weeks per chapter and have actually done violence to the overall flow of things, no matter how faithful you try to be to context.
With all that said, and all these questions raised, I understand why I use expository preaching, and I understand why it seems to be the preferred method of many preachers. First it binds us to the text and doesn’t give us enough rope to lead our congregations to believe whatever we want them to believe. However, again be honest, for every numbskull that is going off on some topical rant, there is another numbskull doing the same thing under the banner of ‘expository’ preaching. I guess if we are going to question if ‘expository’ preaching is a biblical mandate, we might as well ask if ‘topical’ preaching is biblically forbidden? If it is not forbidden, then we are in no place to forbid it.
I contend that the best bet (though I do not prescribe a law) for preaching is a bit of a blend between topical and expository preaching. What I mean is this, before we even have our text before us, our topic should be set. That topic is the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Christ for the redemption of this world. Then we exposit our scriptures within the framework of our predetermined topic. This appears to me to be how the epistles function. You see the problem with topical preaching is that it squeezes the scripture into the predetermined topic, however if you look at the scripture as a whole you see that there is one topic in which you are always safe to squeeze any scripture into. That topic being the life death and resurrection of Christ.
Let me close this with a little word of comfort. Don’t feel guilty if you are not spending 48 weeks in Philemon, Paul didn’t either.