Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Dangerous Preaching

What is the greatest danger in preaching? Most Christians would answer that it is substituting anything for the Word of God. And of course, the best way to avoid this is through expository preaching. This idea is so widely accepted, that to question it causes heresy detectors to go off all over the blogosphere.

A group of theologians recently addressed this and other issues at a conference they called
Together for the Gospel. They published a declaration of 18 articles. Here’s article 4:
We affirm the centrality of expository preaching in the church and the urgent need for a recovery of biblical exposition and the public reading of Scripture in worship.

We deny that God-honoring worship can marginalize or
neglect the ministry of the Word as manifested through exposition and public reading. We further deny that a church devoid of true biblical preaching can survive as a Gospel church.
On guy expressed the appeal expository preaching had for him this way, “What I like is that he sticks to the Bible verses, their meaning, and nothing else.” What could be better than that?

Albert Mohler says, “Expository preaching is authoritative because it stands upon the very authority of the Bible as the Word of God.”

Controversial material follows!

But could it be that “expository preaching” is the problem rather than the solution?

David Fitch in The Great Giveaway warns, “Many evangelicals take comfort in the fact that their church preaches the Word because they have expository preaching. Because their preaching follows the text sentence for sentence, this somehow ensures them of a more faithful interpretation of the text.... Verse for verse, sentence by sentence, preachers read their own agenda into the text unaware that they even have an agenda, or worse, believing their personal agenda is directly from God” (p. 139).

Expository preaching actually robs the Bible of its authority. It is dominated by the subjectivity of the preacher or by the subjectivity of the hearer, often by both. The preacher dissects the text according to his hidden or “God-given” agenda. The hearer analyses the message according to her theological and philosophical grid.

“Expository preaching relies on the assumption that meaning is self-evident to every individual. Many times in evangelical churches, therefore, disagreement over Scripture automatically signifies, to one side or the other, the other’s ignorance or even heresy” (p. 137).

The result is that there can be no discussion about the meaning of the text. It is self-evident after all. And humility becomes a scarce quality in most churches (and blogs).

The text becomes an object in the hands of the preacher as it is broken down into three points to be given out as something the listener can use. Once the sermon is given, the text becomes an object to be consumed by the parishioner, who in turn listens, analyzes, takes notes, and goes out to be a doer of the information just heard, which consequently distances the listener from the text” (p. 137).

“Ironically, as expository preachers carefully follow the text in their preaching, the center of control for the meaning of Scripture has shifted from Scripture to the autonomous minds of the listening parishioners. The parishioners’ egos remain firmly intact, governing their consumption of the Word as they return home with what they think they heard or wanted to hear” (p. 133).

So is this just another one of those post-modern problems with no solution?

Hardly. The solution is that biblical interpretation must take place within the context of the Body of Christ. “It takes a community of Christ to faithfully interpret the Scriptures” (p. 138).

“Expository preaching therefore alters the hearing of the Word from being a gift we respond to and obey to being another lecture from which we seek some ‘take-home points’ or a motivational speech from which we seek some inspiration. It ‘gives away’ Scripture’s transforming power to be replaced as another form of self-help” (pp. 140-141).

Let him who has ears hear!

(I have added some bold text in the quotations to make them easier to process.)

Pastor Rod

“Helping you become the person God created you to be”


jeff franczak said...

Pastor Rod, could you expand a little more on the following statement and describe in how it works in practical terms: “It takes a community of Christ to faithfully interpret the Scriptures”. Would this work in a large corporate worship setting or it is meant for a differnt type of gathering?

As I was thinking about this topic, the story of Ezra's teaching in Nehemiah chapter eight came to mind. This was an exceptional occasion, but would it also set some precedent for expositional teaching?

“[The Israelites] told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel. …Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon… And all the people listened attentively… Ezra the scribe stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion… All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, ‘Amen! Amen!’ Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. The Levites…instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read” (summary of Nehemiah 8:1-8, NIV, emphasis mine).

nathaniel adam king said...

All of those arguments do not seem to me as an objection to expository preaching, but to simply bad preaching. Either that or the author of those quotes seems to misunderstand what expository preaching is.

I really cannot see how anyone can have an objection to expository preaching. Paul's letters were written by Paul, in a precise order. Why would we not want to read through Paul's letters and attempt to find out the meaning he meant to convey by placing one sentence after another? Why would we rather rip apart his letters and bastardize individual sentences from the context that they were originally placed within?

The same is true for any of the books written within the Scriptures.

Do you agree with this refutation of Expository preaching?

Pastor Rod said...


I'll try to answer this question in more detail in another post. But his focus is on the local church.


Pastor Rod said...


I think you are missing his main point. Expository preaching is based upon certain assumptions which actually diminish the authority of the text. I will try to explain this better in a further post.

One of his solutions is to replace expository preaching with narrative preaching.


Luke Britt said...

I'm anxious to see how you pull this off.
Questions I have:
1. What are the assumptions? (The quotes from the book said alot of nothing about expository preaching.)
2. How does narrative preaching "fix" the "problem?"
3. Can you define preaching?

Pastor Rod said...

Thanks for all your replies. I hope to reply sometime this afternoon.


centuri0n said...

I don't think you know what the definition of "exposition" (the noun from which "expository" is derived) means.

Here's how I we can decide it: is preaching the only -- or even the primary -- venue for expository discourse?

Anonymous said...

I'm new to your blog, so I don't want to make any assumptions. But I'm wondering if you have read anything else on expository preaching other than David Fitch's book? For example, Expository Preaching by John MacArthur. I "grew up" on non-EP and grew little spiritually. After being taught under EP for more than 10 years, I feel I have grown much more. Rather than just being a lecture, the scripture is taught in context and in a way that teaches and encourages me to study it further on my own in a systematic way.

I think that the dangers listed in Fitch's book are inherent in ANY kind of preaching. But expository preaching, when accompanied by proper exegesis rather than isogesis), is less likely to allow for personal bias on the part of the preacher than other types of preaching because the "full counsel" of scripture is dealt with. No more preaching only from pet passages. No more avoiding those tough passages. (I'm assuming that the pastor is preaching through books of the Bible , as is most expositors do).

As the the congregation's response... well, after all, that is their responsibiltiy. If the pastor is faithfully feeding them, but they chose to be like the man who looks in the mirror but forgets what he looks like as soon as he turns away, then the preacher cannot change that. They should be Bereans.

I'd be very interested in your comments on this.

(I've commented anonymously only because I don't have a blog or a website. I'm a homeschool mom in Georgia.)

Pastor Rod said...


Yes, there are forms of preaching that inject more of a person's bias into the process. But one of the main points is that even expository preaching cannot avoid this problem and that it gives the preacher and the listeners a false confidence that they are hearing "the plain words of the Bible" being proclaimed.

There are other problems with expository preaching that I have pointed out that pertain specifically to this method.


Anonymous said...

Other than the preacher simply reading the words of Scripture, I don't know how you can absolutely avoid any of the problems you mentioned. Even then, I guess you can't be certain -- is he reading from KJV, NAS, NIV, or The Message?

With that said, I still believe that expository preaching, when prepared for and done correctly, is the most biblically faithful and effective method.

In response to some of your comments...

"Expository preaching actually robs the Bible of its authority." When the expositor carefully exegetes the scripture, being careful to lay aside his bias, he is then able to communicate the truth of that passage to the congregation.

“Expository preaching relies on the assumption that meaning is self-evident to every individual." I have never heard true expository preaching that made this assumption. True expositors carefully allow scripture to explain scripture, so that the listeners have a more full understanding. In my experience, it opens up much discussion as to the meaning of the scripture. Not in the service itself, but in fellowship afterward. Also, I do believe that there is only one correct interpretation of Scripture. In some cases, it is easier to reach that correct interpretation than others. That is why many expositors are thankful for "the community of Christ" as (after studying the scriptures out for themselves) they turn to commentators, scholars, and other believers to see where they weigh in. Note that they "ask" reliable sources, not the new believer in the congregation.

“The text becomes an object..." I have to say, this is a new one for me. You make expository preaching sound very specifically-application-oriented. I usually hear that it is not application-oriented enough because the pastor may not have told you how to specifically apply the text to life with your five-year-old. Instead, he has given you an awareness of God's sovereignty over all and our responsibility to live out our faith in His grace. And guess what -- when you are preaching expositorily, it doesn't always work out to three points (and there is not time nor the need for a poem!)

In true expository preaching, the filter through which all flows is God's filter -- scripture --, not the listener's pride or apathy or the pastor's agenda or pride. As I said before, it's my own fault if I chose to take my nicely written notes home, tuck them away, and never think of them again.

Just curious, how would you define "true biblical preaching"? That is to say, how do you believe the Bible would have you handle preaching?

Anonymous said...

Pastor Rod -- is our discussion over?