Why I’m Committed to Expository Preaching (Part I)

Evangelical Christians are in general agreement that preaching is God’s divinely appointed means to proclaim the gospel and to convey his truth to his people. Yet, within evangelical Christianity, precisely how one is to preach the Bible remains a contested topic—and with huge ramifications.

Though I sometimes wrestle with what text to preach, I never wrestle with how to preach it. I determined long ago for every sermon to be an expository one. For me, this started experiential and practical, but it quickly, and ultimately, became biblical and theological. Let me explain why.

 My Journey into Expository Preaching

Though I was reared in a Bible-believing church, it wasn’t until my college years—when I was converted and called to ministry—that I really began to pay attention to sermons and give thought to what preaching is to be and do.

As a college basketball player with daily practices at 8:00pm, I could attend the Sunday and Wednesday evening services at the church adjacent to campus, Dauphin Way Baptist, and hustle back in time to get suited up for practice. It was on those evenings that I first encountered biblical exposition through the preaching ministry of Steven Lawson.

Lawson’s expository sermons mesmerized me. For me, the Bible had been something of a riddle, irreducibly complex as to how it all fit together and how one should rightly interpret it. Refreshingly, verse-by-verse exposition began to unlock the Bible for me, helping me to see how to study it, interpret it, and preach it.

He became an early ministry mentor to me, modeling biblical exposition and actually showing me how to craft sermons. He also pointed me to Adrian Rogers, Jerry Vines, Stephen Olford, and, most especially, John MacArthur as models for biblical exposition. Those men’s sermons, tapes, and books served me as pre-seminary training.

As I continued to cut my teeth in ministry, I grew to appreciate what biblical exposition did in me as I sat under it, what it did for me as I prepared sermons, and what it did through me for others when I preached. These early, experiential benefits were reinforced by biblical, theological, ministerial, and practical reasons. I was—and remain—sold on expository preaching.

Now that I lead a seminary and have a formative role in training ministers, I not only practice biblical exposition; I advocate it. Of course, there are glorious exceptions, in times past and present, of faithful pastors who didn’t practice biblical exposition, yet whose ministries God chose to bless. These occasions notwithstanding, the benefits of expository preaching remain compelling.

 Expository Preaching Defined

While the meaning of “expository preaching” has become elastic in recent years, it remains a useful designation. Yet, given its elasticity it can be especially difficult to define.

As far as more technical definitions go, Alistair Begg, Haddon Robinson, and Bryan Chapel have all made helpful contributions. Begg defines expository preaching as, “Unfolding the text of Scripture in such a way that makes contact with the listener’s world while exalting Christ and confronting them with the need for action.”[1]

Haddon Robinson’s definition has been standard issue in seminary classrooms for several decades. He describes expository preaching as, “The communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, then through him to the hearers.”[2]

More recently Bryan Chapell has argued, “The main idea of an expository sermon (the topic), the divisions of that idea (the main points), and the development of those divisions (the subpoints) all come from truths the text itself contains.  No significant portion of the text is ignored.  In other words, expositors willingly stay within the boundaries of a text (and its relevant context) and do not leave until they have surveyed its entirety with their listeners.”[3]

While each of these three definitions are beneficial, a sermon can be considered expository, even if it does not evidence all of the criteria offered in the more technical, aforementioned descriptions.

A more condensed, working definition of expository preaching might simply be: to rightly interpret and explain the text, in its context, and to bring the text to bear upon the lives of the congregants. Expository preaching, and its definitions, can be much more than this; it mustn’t be anything less than this.

 Conclusion

Expository sermons can differ in depth, length of passage preached, duration of sermon, and how protracted the verse-by-verse series is. Moreover, exposition can take on different personalities and flavors, depending upon the personality and gifting of the preacher himself, and still be faithful to the biblical text. But there must be a baseline, non-negotiable commitment to actually preach the Word; to explain and apply the text. That is the distinguishing mark of biblical exposition.

A conviction worth holding is a conviction worth defending and advocating. That’s why I’m an evangelist for biblical exposition.I am absolutely committed to expository preaching, and in the forthcoming articles I’ll outline more fully why. And in so doing, I pray you will become more resolved to preach the Word.

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[1] Alistair Begg, Preaching for God’s Glory (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1999), 23.

[2] Haddon W. Robinson, Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980), 21.

[3] Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 131.

Editor's Note: This originally published at JasonKAllen.com