Jan 31, 2011

A Caution for Expository Preaching

Most readers of this blog know that I am a proponent of expository preaching, but I think that this word of caution is worth reading.


Brian Small said...

I have no problem with expository preaching, but I don't have a problem with topical preaching or any other style. It depends on what the preacher wants to accomplish.

Expository preaching doesn't guarantee a better sermon or that preachers will avoid just preaching on their pet topics. Nor does topical preaching have to be unbiblical. Also, one can use expository type preaching on a text without having to preach through a whole book.

In some circles lectionary preaching is advocated for the same reasons that expository preaching is advocated: preachers don't just preach on their favorite passages but preach the whole counsel of God. Moreover, it goes along with the Christian year better than expository preaching.

I say use what works best or fits a person's style best.

Charles Savelle said...

Hi Brian. Thanks for your comment. I agree in many ways with your sentiments. I think that God can and does use different kinds of preaching and different kinds of preachers.
But my commitment to exposition is really tied to my commitment to Scripture in that while it does not in and of itself guarantee a better sermon, it does mean that you have to deal with the text. Furthermore, if exposition is done in book studies as I would advocate, you should be able to avoid most hobby horse preaching, because you should allow the text to provide the topics that are addressed if and when they occur in the text.
Concerning lectionary preaching, I have no beef. It might better fit the Christian calendar, but careful planning of expository series's should be able to harmonize with major dates on the Christian calendar.
I believe that you do at least two things when you preach. You communicate content (truth) and you communicate a way of handling Scripture (method). The method implicitly taught by topical preaching and to some degree lectionary preaching is that the Bible is a book meant to be read, studied, and applied in a piecemeal or topical fashion. The Bible contains topics, but was not given to us as a topical Bible.
One final point. I would differ with your assertion that one's approach to preaching should be what works best or fits a persons style. I would rather say that one's understanding of Scripture and how one understands the role of preaching should determine what approach to preaching is used. Pragmatism (what works) does not seem to me to be a sufficient rationale for how one approaches preaching and what fits a person's style seems to suggest that preaching is really about the preacher.

Brian Small said...

Expository preaching does not necessarily avoid "hobby horse" preaching since preachers can select favorite books to preach from and they may read some of their "hobby horse" topics into some of the texts they use.

Also, I see expository preaching as less flexible if a preaching must address a particular topic with his congregation, but can't because he is tied to preaching through a book.

Many scholarly monographs and articles treat scripture in a topical fashion or don't treat the biblical text in a sequential fashion. If we were to restrict ourselves only to sequential readings of scripture, then the only books worth writing are commentaries. So, I don't have a problem with preaching that does the same thing, that is, treating scripture in a topical fashion. One could, for example, preach a series on the Apostle's Creed, using scripture to illuminate the meaning of the creed. Or one could preach a series on prayer or whatever topic one chooses and be perfectly biblically sound.

The article you link to says that some people are not good at expository preaching. So, if a preacher is better at communicating through a different style of preaching, why not use it? Why should decisions on preaching style preclude pragmatic considerations?

Charles Savelle said...

Thanks again Brian.

No method can rule out hobby horse preaching entirely. But which method makes it less likely, expository preaching or topical preaching?

Expository preaching is less flexible, but I am not sure that there are many instances where a topic must be addressed right then and there. I have also found that it is often providential how timely a book series has been in addressing something a church was going through. Preachers are not usually prognosticators, but if one prayerfully plans one's preaching schedule it is amazing how timely and appropriate a series can be. By the way, following a lectionary strictly does not allow for events like 9/11 either.

Surely monographs and articles are different than preaching. For one thing most in a congregation do not read either. But most Christians do see how their pastor handles the Scripture each Sunday. Unfortunately, most Christians do not take a Bible study methods class. They learn how to study the Bible by observing how preachers and teachers handle the Bible. How will your average Christian know how to read passages in their context when the people that preach don't really address passages in their context? Some topical preaching is contextual, but in my experience it is not. By the way, I would not argue that topical preaching is not biblically sound (e.g., true), but I don't think that topical preaching is the best way to disseminate biblical truth.

Whether one is not good at expository preaching or not is a secondary issue to me. Again, I believe that the role of preaching is less about the person and more about other commitments. Furthermore, expositors often preach expositionally in different ways. For example, John MacArthur preaches quite differently than Charles Swindoll.

Brian Small said...

Well, as I said, I have no problem with expository preaching. I just think that it is not the only way to preach. I think that topical preaching is just as legitimate.

Charles Savelle said...

I agree that both forms are legitimate and that exposition is not the only way to preach. In fact, all the preachers that I know who preach expositorily also preach topically on occasion. But I would also say that I believe that exposition is a better way to proclaim the Scriptures as a matter of general practice.