Friday, June 02, 2006

Problem 1

There was some surprise over my previous post about expository preaching. And I admit that not long ago I would have reacted the same way.

There are several issues addressed in this critique of expository preaching. I’ll deal with them one at a time to make this less confusing. It will also allow you to agree or disagree with each point of the argument.

The first point seems to me to be rather uncontroversial. One of the problems with expository preaching is that it assumes that the text has an objective meaning that is self-evident to every individual.

While this is sometimes true, there are many texts that intelligent, spirit-filled, skilled Christian expositors disagree about. They find different meanings in the same text.

Whether one takes a post-modern position and says that an objective meaning does not exist is irrelevant to this argument. (I personally do not accept the post-modern view. I believe that a particular text of the Bible has a single objective meaning, at least in most cases.)

The key word here is “self-evident.”

One person quotes a text as “proof positive” of his particular theological distinctive. Another person reads the text with an entirely different meaning. In some cases, a text may have four or five competing interpretations. In any case, there is (not always) an objective, self-evident meaning that is obvious to any serious student of the Word.

Expository preaching starts with this assumption, which I think we have seen is clearly false.

So why is this a problem?

The major problem here is that whenever there is disagreement over the meaning of a portion of Scripture, people assume that the “other side” is either ignorant or guilty of heresy. We’ve seen this play out again and again in the blogosphere. There are even self-appointed watchblogs who spend all their time and energy trying to stamp out “heresy” and “biblical ignorance” wherever they think they find it.

In a local church, serious disagreement about the meaning of the Bible usually leads to a church split.

With expository preaching, individuals sequester themselves in their studies and use “scientific tools” to determine the precise meaning of a text. Then they emerge with the interpretation etched in stone to proclaim to the church as “the true meaning” of God’s Word.

Consequently, there is little opportunity to develop humility about one’s interpretation. It is self-evident after all. A child of six could see it.

Now, if you’ve followed the argument this far, you might be inclined to say, “Good exegesis is not arrogant. Good expository preaching does not act this way.”

I would respond that good preachers do not act that way. But this arrogance is the inevitable result of the assumption that the text has an objective, self-evident meaning. Besides, there are other problems with expository preaching that I will address in further posts.

I welcome your comments.

Pastor Rod

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


Luke Britt said...

Well, well, well. I'm not sure every expositor is willing to say that every sermon they preach is the only sermon that can be preached because that's the only way the text can be preached. I doubt that very much. This isn't true to expository preaching.
Also, the objective meaning thing does not only apply to expository preaching, but to any type of proclamation. Narrative preaching derives from a certain hermeneutic as does topical and expository preaching.

Rambling stops here:
What is expository preaching? define the terms before you tell us it sucks.

josh said...

This may not be your point but I am curious. I am assuming that you preach and if that is true what method of study or preaching do you use. I mean from where I sit I only know a few methods and though they may all have faults I find fewer faults with expository preaching.
As to what Luke said, I would like to know what we are calling expository preaching.

Pastor Rod said...


I think Fitch is using the term very generally. He is talking about preaching sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph.

The point is not that the sermon is the only sermon that could be preached. You are right that many different sermons could be preached from a single exegesis.

The point is that the preacher believes that he is proclaiming the "absolute truth of God's Word," which he arrived at by locking himself in his study and dissecting the text until it gave up its meaning.

I really do appreciate your interest in this issue and your tough questions.


Pastor Rod said...


I have been using a narrative style for nearly a year. First, I started preaching from the gospels and retelling the stories with more detail than is included in the biblical accounts.

In other words, I used my biblically-informed imagination to attempt to recreate what it would have been like to experience the events depicted the in the gospel narratives.

More recently I have been doing a different kind of narrative preaching. I have been retelling the "Big Story" of God's interaction with humanity.

I started with Genesis and tried to sketch the major developments. For instance, I spent one sermon on Joshua and one sermon on the Judges. This Sunday is Ruth.

I also employ a hermeneutical principle that I picked up from Tim Keller and others. I always conclude by putting the story in the context of what God has done in Jesus Christ.

In other words, I do not make the story of the Judges primarily a morality lesson, though that is there. I end with the truth that Jesus Christ is the true "hero," the one who was faithful to the end.

If I had read Fitch before being persuaded by Keller, I'm not sure I would have been open to what he had to say.

Maybe I'll tie Keller into this in one of my posts.