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.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?
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.
Albert Mohler says, “Expository preaching is authoritative because it stands upon the very authority of the Bible as the Word of God.”
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.)
“Helping you become the person God created you to be”