Friday, April 18, 2008

Can Topical Preaching Be Expository?

Yes, topical preaching can be expository preaching. Granted, little of it is, but that does not mean it cannot be. So, I'm asking, "How can topical preaching be expository?" and "When is topical preaching not expository?".

Topical preaching can be expository preaching when . . .

a) the topic itself is derived from the Bible, that is from a passage/passages taken in context. These could be word studies, doctrines, concepts, biographical studies,or activities (praying, evangelizing).

b) the preacher does the hard work of making sure that he has not missed looking at and considering any verses anywhere in the Bible that relate to or inform the topic. Because of this necessity, expository topical preaching is more demanding and rigorous than sequential preaching through Bible books. When preaching through Bible books, the preacher must still relate his passage to the whole Bible (the big context), but the pressure is not quite as great because the passage itself is a safety-check, and he usually has the next week or two to fix something he misses. This suggests the great advantage of sequentially preaching through books of the Bible. But sometimes topical messages are necessary - consider the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus does topical preaching expositionally and in context, or Peter's sermon on Pentecost -same thing. Whether topical or sequential, I would humbly suggest that expositors get in the personal habit of reading the WHOLE BIBLE through regularly, maybe once per month or more. In this way, the expositor is constantly looking for those biblical connections that become part of future messages/series. Does this mean that if the preacher is going to do a series on "love", for example, that he must look at and study in context every usage of this word in the whole Bible? Yes!!

c) it is motivated by a sincere search of the Bible to find the answer/s to a real question or problem that the preacher is asking or has been asked of him. In this case, one might say that the topic initially seemed to come from the culture or circumstance and then proceeded to the Bible for the answers. The preacher must be careful that a) and b) above still apply so that the temptation to give a culturally acceptable answer does not over-ride the responsibility to give a biblically accurate answer (see First Thessalonians 2:3-4 and Galatians 1:10).

Topical preaching is not expository when . . .

a) the preacher is choosing to address the topic because of some preconceived disposition to it. Such preconceptions may include: "that topic is really popular now" (or the latest 'new word' or 'fresh moving' of the Spirit), "that seemed real effective when ______ preached it", "this is my latest hobby-horse or pet peeve", "why don't you ever preach about ________?", "pastors who are preaching this seem to have growing churches", etc.

b) the preacher does not do the hard work of Bible study and exegesis in preparation.

c) the preacher just "borrows" someone else's sermons or topics without doing his own work of Bible study, meditation, and prayer. This is not to imply that we cannot or should not glean ideas or approaches from listening to the sermons of others. I love to hear other good expository preachers!! I have learned from them, and sometimes I import their stuff. But we should not make "their stuff" the main framework of the sermon and then just stick in a few of our thoughts. Our messages must come from the biblical text, and what we glean from others becomes insight or illustration.

d) the preacher "takes a text" and uses it to "springboard" into whatever he wants to say. This kind of looks like the preacher is beginning with a Bible text (promising!) but once he gets started the text is never to be heard from again.

e) the preacher superimposes a personal presupposed "theological motif" (or any other motif) to bend the meaning of a biblical text in a certain direction instead of letting the text speak for itself. A list of examples might include liberation theology (to think of recent news headlines), liberalism, covenant theology, dispensationalism, emergent theology, prosperity theology, denominationalism, Reformed theology, etc. The goal of the expositor is to let the text speak in a manner that exalts the Lord Jesus Christ. The Spirit of God will use the text to show what of a perspective, system, or motif is correct and how.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Expository Preaching - What is it?

J.I. Packer - "The true idea of expository preaching is that the preacher should become the mouthpiece of his text, opening it up and applying it as the Word of God to his hearers, speaking in order that the text may be heard, and making each point from his text in such a manner 'that his hearers may discern the voice of God' " (Westminster Directory, 1645, paraphrased).

John R.W. Stott - "It is my contention that all true Christian preaching is expository preaching. Of course if by an 'expository' sermon is meant a verse-by-verse explanation of a lengthy passage of Scripture, then indeed it is only one possible way of preaching, but this would be a misuse of the word. Properly speaking, 'exposition' has a much broader meaning. It refers to the content of the sermon (biblical truth) rather than its style (a running commentary). To expound Scripture is to bring out of the text what is there and expose it to view. The expositor prizes open what appears to be closed, makes plain what is obscure, unravels what is knotted, and unfolds what is tightly packed. The opposite of exposition is 'imposition', which is to impose on a text what is not there. But the 'text' in question could be a verse, or a sentence, or even a single word. It could equally be a paragraph, or a chapter, or a whole book. The size of the text is immaterial, so long as it is biblical. What matters is what we do with it. Whether it is long or short, our responsibility as expositors is to open it up in such a way that it speaks its message clearly, plainly, accurately, relevantly, without addition, subtraction, or falsehood. In expository preaching the biblical text is neither a conventional introduction to a sermon on a largely different theme, nor a convenient peg on which to hang a ragbag of miscellaneous thoughts, but a master which dictates and controls what is said. (Between Two Worlds, pp.125-126).

Haddon W. Robinson - "Expository preaching is the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, then through him to his hearers". Robinson amplifies his definition with the following statements: "The passage governs the sermon", "the expositor communicates a concept", "the concept comes from the text", "the concept is applied to the expositor", "the concept is applied to the hearers". (Biblical Preaching, pp.20-30).

Stephen F. Olford - "Expository preaching is the historical, grammatical, and contextual examination and presentation of Scripture, in the power of the Holy Spirit, with a homiletical pattern and an evangelical purpose" (Preaching the Word of God, p.33).

Here is a recent attempt of mine - To do expository preaching is to speak in such a way that the Word of God is exposed to the hearers in its truth, accuracy, Christ-exalting richness, Trinity-focused theology, sense, context, spirit, clarity, and power, and that the hearers are exposed to the Word of God in faith, humility, need, joy, conviction, desire, and obedience, all for the glory of Christ.

What is your definition? Are you an expository preacher/teacher/speaker? Have you thought this through?