I’m really enjoying our Sunday evening journey through Jonah. Last night I mentioned the simplicity of the message that Jonah took (finally!) to the Ninevites – the message that the Lord used to bring the Ninevites to repentance. I tried to make a strong case for Biblical preaching: that people simply need God’s Word clearly delivered.
So I thought that today’s blog might be a great opportunity for me to explain why I’m committed to what is called expository, or expositional, preaching. In a nutshell, expository preaching has a goal, and that goal is simply to expose (thus, “expos-itional”) the meaning of the passage that is preached. A passage may have multiple applications, but it has only one meaning: the meaning that God intended when He wrote it. That’s what we’re after in expositional preaching.
It is my opinion that expository preaching is the type of preaching that best places the truth of God’s Word front and center for God’s people. It emphasizes the centrality and authority of preaching as the heart of congregational worship. Said more succinctly, it is the kind of preaching – in my opinion – that best creates a sense of reverent expectation among its hearers THAT GOD WILL SPEAK through the message that is proclaimed.
You may wonder why I read the passage in its entirety at the onset of my preaching. (And there are other good ways to do it, I freely admit.) But the reason that I start with the text just as God has written it is this: That’s the most important Word that will be heard during the sermon! That’s the Word without my opinion. That’s the Word without my having made a single judgment call about what to emphasize or draw out. I may make a mess of the sermon (though I try not to make a habit of that), but I know that God’s Word can do great things with or without me.
Now I understand that we live in an age when authority of any kind is challenged, and when authoritative truth claims are mocked and marginalized. But instead of retreating, ashamed of our Bibles, within that context, I believe that now is the time for Christ’s Church to sound a clarion call for people to believe in the absolute authority of God’s Word. Maybe we’ll see some surprising things happen, not unlike what God did among the Ninevites. But regardless of the outcome, I’m convinced that it’s right for us to stay the course in terms of Biblical fidelity.
Please allow me to share with you why I generally prefer to work though books of the Bible instead of bouncing around the Bible in the choice of sermon texts. And please understand that I’m not saying that a topical sermon can’t be expositional: it absolutely can. A topical sermon, and I preach them from time to time, can be solidly grounded in uncovering the meaning of a passage or passages of Scripture. But I most often choose to work through larger portions of the Bible (broken down into manageable segments) for some specific reasons that I’d like to share with you if you will indulge me:
- It generally builds a better understanding of a passage of Scripture within its proper context in the Bible. (Remember: Text without context is pretext.)
- It generally fosters within the hearers a broader appreciation for how a Scripture text fits into God’s larger redemptive and Christ-centered plan (what He has done in history, leading to the cross).
- It forces me to deal with the difficult passages. (It’s always easier to pick and choose, but not best.)
- It feeds Christ’s sheep on the meat of God’s Word. (Otherwise, I’ve discovered, the hungry sheep will go elsewhere to find good food.)
In all of the history of the church, there has never been a real revival or a true spiritual awakening – resulting in lives indelibly changed – that was not marked by serious preaching. Authoritative preaching. “Thus saith the Lord.” Without the Scriptures, and what they really mean, the preacher has nothing to contribute of lasting value. Nothing. And when there’s no real reverence for the Word, there’s no real worship.
My job is to present a truth revealed, not a message invented. So to that end I give much of my time, energy, and prayer. I understand that First Baptist Church is unlikely to be any more excited about the Bible than I am, so I go to bed and I wake up thinking about how I must discharge that responsibility with all my heart.
John S. Dickerson has written a book titled “The Great Evangelical Recession: 6 Factors That Will Crash the American Church … and How to Prepare.” Mr. Dickerson has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, and others. In 2008 Tom Brokaw, Charles Gibson (ABC News) and Anna Quindlen (Newsweek) named Dickerson’s investigative reporting the best in the nation. Here are Dickerson’s alarm bells regarding today’s church (and I might add, that’s the professing Christ-honoring and Bible-believing church): over-inflated numbers and influence, the reality of a post-Christian culture, division, financial strain, the inability to keep young people in the church, and ineffectiveness at making new disciples. All present realities in most congregations.
Do we surrender? No way! We press on. We press on with Biblical preaching. We press on with truth preached with grace (John 1:14). Truth that changes lives, marriages, families, churches, cultures, and nations for the glory of our great God.