The Need for Expositional Preaching (part 1)

james-coleman-tcGU1VaCtDw-unsplash.jpgIt has been said, “There is no genuinely good preaching except exposition.” Such serious words require us to consider what expositional preaching is and why it is so important that preachers commit themselves to this kind of preaching.

In an attempt to answer that question, this is the first in a four-part series on biblical exposition. It is an update from a previous blog series I wrote when I pastored in Indiana. It relates to this week’s sermon on Deuteronomy 4:32–40 and it attempts to show why our church is committed to biblical exposition.

If you have never heard of expositional preaching, I hope this might be a helpful introduction and biblical apologia. If you are already convinced that biblical exposition is the best form of preaching Scripture, I pray this short series might help give you something to share with others who are less persuaded.

Today I will start with defining biblical exposition. In the following days I will make a biblical theological argument for the practice. Along the way, feel free to share your feedback and/or why you are committed (or not) to biblical exposition.

What is Biblical Exposition?

In short, expositional preaching is the kind of preaching that makes the main point of the biblical text the main point of the sermon. Mark Dever defines it this way: “An expositional sermon is a sermon that takes the main point of a passage of Scripture [and] makes it the main point of the sermon, and applies it to life today.” Therefore, he continues, it does not mean that exposition is narrowly focused on one or two verses; expositional preaching can have small, medium, or large sections of Scripture (i.e., one verse or one book). An expositional sermon need not be lifeless, boring, or overly technical. Surely many “expositors” are dull or have preached overly technical messages, but those examples simply illustrate bad exposition, not true exposition.

Expositional preaching demands the preacher know the Word he is preaching and the Word as it was originally intended by the biblical author. Such a method defends the congregation from hearing a small sampling of “hobby horse” sermons, and it enables (and even demands) the pastor and the church to move through the whole counsel of God. In the life of a congregation, only expositional preaching will expose a Christian to all the doctrines of the Bible presented in their original contexts, along with their original applications to life.

Expositional preaching stands in opposition to a number of other popular, but less powerful forms of preaching: topical, (auto)biographical, felt needs, etc. Over time expositional sermons demonstrate how one ought to interpret the Bible; they communicate doctrine with application to life; and they ground the life of the believer in the Word of God, not the personality of the preacher or the most recent psychological fad.

For all these reasons and more, we find a strong reason for committing to biblical exposition. Still, is this the way commended in Scripture? And if so, why has it fallen out of fashion in many pulpits today? What follows will answer the latter question; tomorrow we’ll begin considering where Scripture models biblical exposition. Continue reading

DA Carson on Biblical Theology and Preaching

While speaking at a conference this weekend at Omaha Bible Church on the topic of suffering, D. A. Carson gave a trenchant overview of Biblical Theology and Preaching.  His points are worth pondering and applying.


1. Biblical Theology directly addresses massive biblical illiteracy now prevalent in many of our hearers.  Preachers who only preach small portions of Scripture, who take “six years to preach through Matthew,” do a disservice to their congregations and deprive them of large swathes of Scripture.  BT preaching contends against biblical illiteracy.

2. Biblical Theology considers the major turning points in the Bible, not just the raw chronological story.  Preaching that highlights the covenants, the exodus, the exile, the incarnation, the resurrection, and the cross help disciples of Christ understand his story and theirs.  This is not the same thing as mere bible story telling, like in Telling God’s Story (Vang and Carter, 2006), which simply retells the bible in survey fashion.  It is rather a forward-moving, eschatological narrative that has twists, turns, all pointing to Christ.

3. Biblical Theology enriches and encourages systematic Bible reading and is in turn enriched by those who faithfully read their Bible’s.  More than just reading the Bible for an emotional pick-me-up, congregants who see redemptive storyline in Scripture will delight in reading the OT narratives, the minor prophets, and Levitical codes with greater anticipation and understanding.  They become more accessible when they are put in biblical-theological context.  To illustrate this point, Carson expounded Genesis 39 and the biblical theological ramifications of the Joseph narrative with Potipher’s wife.  More than just an admonition to avoid sexual immorality, lust, and tempting situations (though it does affirm all of those); it shows how Joseph’s sexual purity preserved the people of Israel and advanced the kingdom of God.  Consider this quote: Humanly speaking, you and I are Christians today, saved by the blood of the lamb, because Joseph kept his zipper up!!!  This perspective is reinforced and elucidated by BT.

4. Biblical Theology demands inductive rigor in preaching Biblical books and corpora.  DAC argues that preachers must do more than systematically analyze biblical data.  In doing so, God’s progressive revelation is minimized, time and space are blurred.  Rather BT preachers must ask in every passage:  What time is it?   How does this passage fit in the biblical narrative?  On what antecedent revelation/theology is the author grounding?  And concerning biblical language, how does this particular author use his language?  Different authors at different times mean different things by their words, and so it is vital to understand the language in context.

5. Biblical Theology not only keeps historical-canonical-covenantal turning points in mind, but it also keeps inner-canonical tendons/connections tied together in Scripture, and these ineluctably point to Jesus Christ.  Carson alluded to about twenty explicit themes that run through Scripture and move the storyline framework along.  Some of these he listed were: covenant, temple, sonship, marriage, to name a few.  He cited a profitable exercise of going to Revelation 21-22, listing all of the themes and images in the two chapters and then tracing them out throughout the rest of the Bible.  This is an assignment he gives incoming students at TEDS, and it is surely something that would be beneficial to any reader of the Scriptures, for Revelation 21-22 sum up all things in the Scriptures.  William Dumbrell’s book The End of the Beginning does this very well, as does GK Beale’s The Temple and the Church’s Mission.

6. Finally, Biblical Theology helps avoid anachronism in your preaching by developing biblically warranted inter-connections. 

7. There was a seventh point in there somewhere, but I missed it.  I encourage you to listen for yourself, pick out the seventh point, and see how God would have you apply biblical theology to your preaching.

A few other resources that DA Carson names to better grasp these issues are The Unfolding Mystery by Edmund Clowney, (I would add Preaching and Biblical Theology by Clowney), Graeme Goldworthy’s Trilogy, and Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Preaching (cf. Him We Proclaim by Dennis Johnson and Preaching Christ from the Old Testament by Sidney Greidanus).

May we who preach the Bible, preach the whole counsel of God, and point all of our hearers to Jesus Christ through the inspired language of Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles. 

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

(HT: Unashamed Workman)