By Wayne McDill
Among evangelicals, the term expository preaching has come to stand for authentic biblical preaching. However, exactly what constitutes expository preaching varies from writer to writer and preacher to preacher.
I have talked with preachers who described themselves as “expositors,” and I believed them until I heard them preach. For many, exposition seems to mean taking a text and preaching on the subject the passage seems to address. For others exposition means defining some of the words in the text. For others expository preaching seems to mean giving a history lesson on a text with most of the sermon in the past tense.
The word exposition is from the Latin, expositio, meaning “a setting forth, narration, or display.” As applied to preaching, the word has come to mean the setting forth or explanation of the message of the biblical text. In expository preaching the sermon is designed to communicate what the text says, including its meaning for the contemporary audience.
Here are seven qualities of authentic expository preaching gleaned from definitions of various writers through the generations.
- In expository preaching the preacher’s first aim is to discover the text writer’s intended theological meaning in the selected text. We preachers tend to search the Bible for a sermon. We hope for something to leap out at us that will preach. But a program of expository preaching calls for the preacher to aim for a clear understanding of the text writer’s meaning. Only out of that theological message can he properly preach an expository sermon.
- Expository preaching is that in which the preacher seeks to let the text speak again through the sermon with the same theological message. God intentionally had the original message declared; now he wants it to be preached again. The universal and timeless message clothed in the historical garb of the original writing is the message the preacher is to declare to the contemporary audience. He interprets that same truth from the text to his audience.
- The preacher of expository sermons discovers the meaning of the text through a careful exegetical analysis of the text in all its particulars. The expository preacher comes to the text like a detective to a crime scene. He studies it for every clue to the meaning. The clues in the text are the words of the text writer. We know what he intended to say by what he wrote, but the details can easily be overlooked to the casual observer. The expositor will look carefully at every detail for what it indicates about the writer’s message.
- Expository preaching calls for careful consideration of the contexts in which the text was originally written. Interpreting a text calls for a serious look at the literary context, the chapters and verses before and after the text, as well as the other writing of the author and the entire canon. Beyond that is the historical context of the original writing, including the local culture, politics, economic conditions, and other such factors. The original setting of the text not only shapes the message but takes part in it.
- An expository sermon is organized with due consideration to the structure and genre of the selected passage. Basically the text writer’s treatment of his subject sets the pattern for the preacher’s sermon structure. The type of literature the text represents should affect the preacher’s sermon design as well. We should always tell the story when preaching a narrative text, though we will do more. The purpose of exhortative texts and teaching texts should be reflected in the purpose of the sermon.
- The expository preacher will seek to influence the audience through the use of the rhetorical elements common to persuasion. By definition a sermon is a persuasive speech. The preacher’s aim is to persuade the audience with the truth of his message and what they should do about it. We normally persuade by explaining, illustrating, arguing, and applying. These elements provide a balance for supporting material for sermon ideas and allow the preacher to expose the text meaning for the contemporary audience.
- Expository preaching aims for a response of faith and obedience to the biblical truth on the part of the audience. The overarching aim of preaching is to call for a faith response in the hearer. The text writers believed what they wrote and communicated it in order that others might believe and obey. The preacher keeps this faith aim in mind from the first look at the text to the final design of his sermon. The sermon should be God-centered to point the hearer to the trustworthy object of his faith.
Adapted from 12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching by Wayne McDill (B&H Publishing Group, 2018)