Monday, July 24, 2006

Preaching to the Imagination

I’ve discussed the problems with Expository Preaching pointed out by David Fitch in his book The Great Giveaway. I also suggested that one of the reasons that most people resist acknowledging these problems is that they have a hard time imagining an alternative to expository preaching that doesn’t have even more inherent problems.

I made a feeble attempt to sketch out some possible alternatives
in this post. Fortunately, David Fitch has made an excellent post at his site that gives a much more complete answer.

I’ll give you a summary here along with a few of my comments. He makes four suggestions for finding an alternative to expository preaching.


The primary task of the preacher is to proclaim the truth, not to explain it. It is interesting to know the details behind the making of a movie (as in a director’s commentary on a DVD), but we cannot enjoy a movie while someone is explaining how and why everything was done. The explanation gets in the way.
“Instead of dissecting the text making it portable so as to be distributed to isolated Cartesian selves for their own personal use, the preacher renarrates the world as it is under the Lordship of Christ and then invites people into it.”

We tend to see the Bible “as a propositional textbook of religious facts.” Instead, we should see it as “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12). The Bible is properly seen as a great drama.


Instead of giving individuals a list of steps, principles or lessons, we should be giving the assembled congregation an opportunity to respond liturgically to the Word. One of the best forms of response is the Eucharist (Communion).
“Each time I respond, each time I submit, each time I affirm the truth about the reality as it is under Christ, I am changed and I grow. Slowly I am formed over time through the faithful preaching of the Word and the ever hearing, responding, submitting, obeying, confessing, affirming and acting in faith.”

If preaching is disconnected from the community, it encourages each individual to handle the sermon as another commodity to be taken home in the form of notes or an audio recording. We take what we find helpful and set aside the rest.
“The violence comes when we put our own meanings or agenda onto Scripture. The violence comes when the preaching of the Word separates us as individuals over against one another armed with the interpretation we want because we do not come together in mutual submission to discern the Scripture’s meaning for our lives today. If preaching is to avoid this violence, it must foster communal practices among us that allow us to submit to one another in the work of the Spirit to interpret the Scriptures.”
I think David is on the right track. We read Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost and see it as a long explanation of why Jesus was the true Messiah. But Peter was, in fact, telling the story of God’s dealings with the descendants of Abraham. And he was proclaiming the truth that Jesus of Nazareth fit into that story in a surprising way. Stephen’s message to the Sanhedrin is even more obviously a retelling of the story of Israel.

Of course there are facts behind the story. And those facts are of ultimate importance.
But we have been called to proclaim the story, not to give a commentary on the facts.

Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings works because it is a great story, a great story build upon the foundation of an abundance of facts. But those facts are not engaging; just ask anyone who ever tried to read the

Pastor Rod

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


Anonymous said...

It does seem to me that Fitch's approach seems anti-intellect. Perhaps I am misunderstanding something.

In my understanding, there are 5 teaching ministries, apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher. Each has a purpose and the vision and methods of each can be very different from another. All of the visions are needed by the church at large but are not necessarily all in one congregation. But if an evangelist tries to be a pastor, for example, watch out.

Pastor Rod said...

I don't read Fitch as anti-intellectual at all. But I can see how someone might get that impression.

In the Ephesians 4 passage, Paul seems to use the terms pastor and teacher as a combined term (pastor-teacher).


Luke Britt said...

My pastor, Mark Moore, at Providence Community Church in Plano, TX - - does all of this while maintaining an expository method.

The problem is not exposition, it's the delivery of the exposition.

Pastor Rod said...


Thanks for stopping by and for adding to the discussion.

I think part of the problem in understanding Fitch's argument is a confusion between exegesis and exposition. He is not saying that exegesis should not be done.

Exposition is about delivery. And that is what Fitch is primarily talking about.

If you have a pastor who is already doing these things, then you are fortunate indeed.

God Bless,


Luke Britt said...


Yeah, I understand. I see exegesis intrinsic to exposition. How can you expose anything without digging into it?

Pastor Rod said...


You need to look at this the other way around. Exegesis is necessary to good exposition. But that doesn't mean that all preaching that begins with exegesis results in expository preaching.

There is another issue involved here as well. Exegesis is not the only means to understanding a text. When the pastor retreats into his study and dissects the pericope, he is putting himself above the text and interacting with it as an object. At some point we must allow the text to work on us.


Luke Britt said...

Of course. Expository preaching allows for this.