A Personal Conception of Expository Preaching

Introduction

Preaching is the means through which humans encounter the living God and are equipped to live as His covenant people. The spiritual health of the Christian and the Church is related to faithful biblical exposition. Mark Dever considers expositional preaching the first mark of a healthy church. [1] He contends that “Christian preachers today have authority to speak from God only so long as they speak His message and unfold His words”. [2] Dever’s understanding of the possibility of expository preaching proceeds from his understanding of biblical inerrancy. Faith in Jesus comes through hearing and hearing comes from God’s word. (Rom 10:17). While many agree with these truths, pastors cannot ignore the spiritual anemia of many professing believers today. Spiritual anemia exists in the church today because expository or text-driven preaching is lacking. The Christian pastor must also recognize that he “steps into a role that was previously filled by others and will eventually cede the privilege to successors.” [3] A return to faithful Biblical exposition should be the priority for all called to the task of preaching.

Inerrancy: A Foundational Commitment for Preaching

The Bible preacher must demonstrate a commitment to the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy. Millard Erickson describes inerrancy as “the doctrine that the Bible is fully truthful in all of its teachings”. [4] Erickson notes the significance of the doctrine theologically, historically, and epistemologically. [5] The Christian pastor has no authority outside of the authority given to him through Scripture. A pastor’s commitment to biblical inerrancy is proven in his preaching. Only expository preaching prioritizes inerrancy and the centrality of Scripture.

A Definition of Expository Preaching

Since the health of the visible and invisible church depends on expository preaching, it is appropriate to define what expository preaching is. The writer is indebted to others who have already articulated a definition of expository preaching including Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Haddon Robinson, and Albert Mohler. These men and their understanding of expository preaching will be considered later. Expository preaching is Christian preaching rooted in the text of the Bible with the intention of persuading people to respond in faith and worship. The form and substance of the biblical text guide both sermon development and delivery in expository preaching. One of the faithful expositors of the twentieth century was Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was born on December 20, 1899 and died on March 1, 1981. He was a “Welsh Protestant minister, preacher, and medical doctor who was influential in the Reformed wing of the British evangelical movement in the 20th century”. [6] Lloyd-Jones taught a series of lectures at Westminster Theological Seminary in the spring of 1969 which he eventually developed into a published work entitled Preaching and Preachers. He distinguished a lecture from a sermon with the special emphasis that preaching “should always be expository”. [7] He went on explain that a sermon is something that “arises out of the text and its context”. [8] Lloyd-Jones is known for his statement that preaching is “theology coming through a man who is on fire”. [9] He was undoubtedly committed to faithful and passionate exposition of the Bible. His preaching provides an example of faithful expository preaching.

Haddon Robinson also provides a helpful definition of expository preaching. He said,

“Expository preaching is 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 the preacher, applies to the hearers.” [10]

Robinson captures the importance of faithful hermeneutics in his definition of expository preaching. His devotion to careful exegesis and contemporary application for both the minister and the congregation is noted in that definition.

In addition to Lloyd-Jones and Robinson, Albert Mohler provides a helpful and contemporary explanation of expository preaching. Mohler said, “Expository preaching is that mode of Christian preaching that takes as its central purpose the presentation and application of the text of the Bible.” [11] Contemporary preachers and students of preaching benefit from the clearly articulated definitions of expository preaching provided by Lloyd-Jones, Robinson, and Mohler, among numerous other unmentioned scholars.

Characteristics of Expository Preaching

Pastors Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert observe that “The best long-term diet for a church is a preaching ministry that makes its way through books…” [12] They do not believe that God never uses topical sermons to edify His church yet they prioritize the systematic exposition of the Bible. Since this writer also values the systematic exposition of scripture, it is appropriate to consider the characteristics of faithful, biblical, exposition.

Mohler lists three elements in his paradigm for expository preaching which are authority, reverence, and centrality [of the bible]. [13] An expository sermon is always grounded in the literary, historical, and grammatical context of the Biblical passage. John Stott viewed preaching as “bridge building” between the biblical world and the contemporary world. He said that “Such preaching will be authoritative in expounding biblical principles, but tentative in applying them to the complex issues of the day.” [14] Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix provide a helpful expository sermon checklist which emphasizes the meaning of the text, its relationship to a contemporary audience, the interconnection between the structure of the passage and the structure of the sermon, and a call to respond to the central idea of the passage. [15] In short, an expository sermon is rooted in the Biblical text with the intention of persuading a contemporary audience to respond in faith and repentance.

Benefits of Expository Preaching

Expository preaching has as its purpose “transforming people into the image of Christ”. [16] R. C. Sproul said, “Confession of the full authority and inerrancy of Scripture should lead us to increasing conformity to the image of Christ, which is the God-ordained goal of every Christian.[17] Some benefits of expository preaching are accountability to God and the congregation, protection against singling congregants out, increased biblical literacy, spiritual maturity in the life of the believer, and a developed appetite for sound preaching. [18] Sean David Cole connects expository preaching and leadership to the fulfillment of the Church’s mission in his Doctor of Ministry Dissertation. He said, “Pastors must infuse every aspect of their leadership responsibilities in expository preaching with the end result being a church culture and ethos displaying transformed lives in obedience to Christ.” [19] There are eternal benefits of expository preaching. Likewise, there are eternal consequences of preaching that is not grounded in the text of the Bible.

Conclusion

Expository preaching is the “God-ordained means whereby the saints are armed and equipped for this battle and confrontation.” [20] Preachers must renew a commitment to expository preaching to experience personal and corporate renewal in the church. The antidote to widespread spiritual anemia in this and every century is the renewal of true or expository preaching. As Lloyd-Jones said, “What is it that always heralds the dawn of a Reformation or of a Revival? It is renewed preaching.” [21]


[1] Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, (Crossway: Wheaton, 2004), 39.

[2] Dever, Nine Marks, 41.

[3] Charles B. Bugg and Alan Redditt, Preaching that Connects, (Smyth & Helwys Publishing: Macon, 2016), 14.

[4] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed., (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, 2013), 189.

[5] Erickson, 194.

[6] https://www.mljtrust.org/meet-mlj/, accessed November 21, 2020.

[7] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1971), 71.

[8] Lloyd-Jones, 71.

[9] Lloyd-Jones, 97.

[10] Haddon W Robinson, Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages, (Baker Publishing: Grand Rapids, 2001), Kindle location 187 of 3862.

[11] Albert Mohler, He is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World, (Moody Publishers: Chicago, 2008), 65. 

[12] Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert, Preach: Theology Meets Practice, (B&H Publishing: Nashville, 2012), 37. 

[13] Mohler, 69.

[14] John Stott, Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing: Grand Rapids, 2017), 135.

[15] Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix, Power in the Pulpit: How to Prepare and Deliver Expository Sermons, (Moody Publishers: Chicago, 1999), 31.

[16] Tony Merida, Faithful Preaching: Declaring Scripture with Responsibility, Passion, and Authenticity, (B& H Publishing, 2009), 10.

[17] R. C. Sproul, Can I Trust the Bible?, vol. 2, The Crucial Questions Series (Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2009), 57.

[18] Vines and Shaddix, 32-37.

[19] Sean David Cole, “Leading Churches to Fulfill Their Mission Through Expository Preaching”, (DMin diss., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2016), 3.  

[20] Mohler, 69.

[21] Lloyd-Jones, 24.

One response to “A Personal Conception of Expository Preaching”

  1. […] exposition. Mark Dever considers expositional preaching the first mark of a healthy church. [1] He contends that “Christian preachers today have authority to speak from God only so long as […]

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