This article is somewhat restrictive. First, it is obviously for believers only. But second, most believers may not even be aware of what expository preaching is. This is because sadly most contemporary churches do not offer regular expository preaching.
I would guess that perhaps 95 per cent of churches (and here I refer to Bible-believing evangelical churches) do not engage in such preaching. Most simply offer sermons on various issues or topics. This is known as topical preaching. In contrast to expository preaching, where the text is central, in topical preaching a particular theme is emphasised.
Now there may be a place for topical preaching. After all, there are plenty of tremendous topics or themes found throughout Scripture, such as the holiness of God, the nature of salvation, or the issue of prayer. But unfortunately most topical preaching in our churches today is centred on us.
Thus we hear countless sermons on ‘how to be a better you’ or ‘how to lose weight for Jesus’ or ‘how to live the successful life’ etc. Not only is this all centred on self, but such sermons tend to have a bare minimum of Scripture while offering plenty of emotive, feel-good stories and pep talks.
Our churches today are therefore filled with people who are biblically illiterate. A good part of the reason – and blame – for this is because our pulpits are not feeding the people. We have far too many topical sermons and way too little actual preaching of the text itself.
One of my favourite Old Testament professors, Walter Kaiser was a real stickler for “keeping the finger on the text”. He knew the value of expository preaching, and the need to be text-orientated, not topic-orientated. I once heard him say this: “I preach a topical sermon once every five years – then repent of it immediately!”
But before I go any further, I better define what I mean by expository preaching. This is simply when we preach the word as it was written: one portion at a time or one book at a time. That is, we recognise that every text has a context, and without that context a text can become a pretext. Scripture was written in whole blocks, and should be preached that way.
We should not just pick texts out of Ephesians for example. We should instead preach the whole book of Ephesians. Of course that will take some time to do properly, so it’s quite possible to have some twenty sermons going over twenty weeks as the Ephesians epistle is properly exposited.
Also, one may take a block of Scripture found within a book of the Bible, such as the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) or the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25). Whether we take a portion of Scripture or an entire book, the essence of expository preaching is to give the sense of the text as it is revealed in its context.
The aim is to expose the congregation to the totality of God’s word, and not just offer them the word of God in bits and pieces. An individual flower may be a thing of beauty, but seeing it in the context of the entire flower bed is even more impressive and valuable.
Of course any proper expositor of Scripture will seek to apply the text to modern listeners, addressing their needs and concerns. So topics and themes will emerge from expository preaching, as will real personal application. But it always must be text-centred to begin with.
Part of the problem – at least here in Australia – is that the only teaching time in the church for the entire week is found in the 20 or 30 minute sermon each Sunday morning. This is hardly enough time to properly be teaching God’s people God’s word.
Things are quite different in the US. There it is quite common for churches to have two key events every Sunday morning: the actual church service, but also an hour of adult Sunday school. In that second hour often key teaching takes place. So too in the Wednesday evening prayer service.
So most American Christians usually get three large blocks of teaching and preaching in a given week. That certainly helps. Of course the work of the church is not only about the preaching of the word, but surely that has got to be a primary focus in any church.
For those not familiar with what all this is about, let me point to some notable examples. Great expository preachers of the recent past include D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Charles Spurgeon, G. Campbell Morgan, Stephen Olford, John R. W. Stott, James Montgomery Boice, R. Kent Hughes, W.A. Criswell, and John MacArthur.
Many of their great series of expository sermons have been put out in book form. For example, one thinks of the 14-volume set on Romans or the 8-volume set on Ephesians by Lloyd Jones, or the four-volume set on Romans by Boice. There is also the Preaching the Word commentary series edited by R. Kent Hughes. He has authored a number of the books in the series, along with Philip Graham Ryken, Raymond Ortlund and others.
Ray Stedman nicely summarises my concerns here: “The greatest contribution the Church can make today to a troubled and frightened generation is to return to a consistent and relevant preaching of the Word of God! All Christians would agree that what is most needed in the present age is a loosing of the power of God among us, but what is often forgotten is that the proclamation of His word has always been God’s chosen channel of power. ‘He sent his word and healed them,’ the psalmist declares. And it is not so much preaching from the Bible that is needed, as it is preaching the Bible itself – in a word, expository preaching!”
Those wanting to read more on expository preaching in particular and helpful works on preaching in general, can find much of value in volumes such as the following:
Chapell, Bryan, Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon. Baker, 1994, 2005.
Goldsworthy, Graeme, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture: The Application of Biblical Theology to Expository Preaching. Eerdmans, 2000.
Gordon, T. David, Why Johnny Can’t Preach. P&R, 2009.
Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn, Preaching and Preachers. Zondervan, 1972.
MacArthur, John, Rediscovering Expository Preaching. Thomas Nelson, 1992.
Mohler, R. Albert, He Is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World. Moody, 2008.
Mohler, R. Albert, et. al., Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching. Reformation Trust, 2002, 2008.
Piper, John, The Supremacy of God in Preaching. Baker, 1990, 2004.
Robinson, Haddon, Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages. Baker, 1980, 2001.
Stott, John, Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today. Eerdmans, 1994.