Expositional (or expository) preaching is something we value highly but I have never really sat down to define.
So I want to briefly explain what I mean by expositional preaching. It is not a style of preaching but a method and even a philosophy of preaching. What follows is a very brief description – there are many books on the subject for further reading.
Expositional preaching involves taking a passage of Scripture and teaching through it, explaining (expositing) its meaning.
Most often someone who preaches expositionally will preach through books of the Bible or long sections of Scripture (i.e. preaching through the life of David).
The key principle in expositional preaching is that the text of Scripture defines and drives the message – what the Scripture says is what the preacher explains. In this way expositional preaching may be contrasted with topical preaching, in which the preacher picks a topic he would like to discuss, and then finds the relevant Scriptures (or, in many unfortunate cases, he doesn’t bother with that step), and preaches about that topic.
In a subtle way, this emphasizes that the authority of the preaching is based on God’s Word rather than the preacher’s opinion.
As a general rule, I think there are strong reasons to think that expository preaching is more healthy than topical preaching. Note, however, that there is a place for topical preaching in the life of the church. A sermon on church membership or the nature of truth or sex or money can be very helpful and necessary. But these should be occassional in my view rather than the norm.
Of course, all of these topics will arise as one preaches through the various portions of Scripture. Arriving at these topics in an expositional approach will, in fact, have the advantage of helping the listener tie how biblical teaching on a particular topic is related to other issues, particularly in the immediate context.
Practical Advantages of Expository Preaching
I saw an ad for a website that was started by a man who, one week, had searched tirelessly on-line for a sermon subject for his weekly sermon, but had come up empty. He was obviously not an expositional preacher.
One very practical advantage of an expository approach is that the pastor need not wonder where next week’s sermon will come from – only where the next series of sermons will come from. Week by week you just look to the next text.
For the hearers, the advantage is similar. Instead of preaching being geared to the particular interests, passions, and soapboxes of a particular preacher, they are governed by the Scripture itself.
Another advantage is that hearers (and preachers!) become increasingly familiar with the Bible, both in its details and in the broad contours of the big picture. The church grows as it is fed the meat of the Scriptures.
In expositional preaching, the pastor is also modeling how to study the Bible in a way that church members will be able to emulate in their own Bible study.
What has been your experience of expository preaching?