My favorite book on preaching that no one talks about is the Soli Deo Gloria edited volume Feed My Sheep, A Passionate Plea for Preaching. The book contains excellent essays by Boice, Piper, Ferguson, MacArthur, and many others. The most important 33 pages may be Derek Thomas’s chapter on expository preaching.

No doubt, most readers of this blog are proponents of expository preaching. And yet, it’s one thing to be a fan and another to be a practitioner. I wonder if more of us think we love expository preaching than actually do it well or know what it looks like.

In his chapter, Thomas outlines several bad homiletical models. Surprisingly, every model indicts our heroes. Thomas is quick to say that the model itself may not be the problem, but the use of it often is. Even our favorite preachers or favorite kinds of preaching carry with them great dangers, especially when they are held up as the way to do things. Thomas mentions four of these bad homiletical modes.

1. The Puritans. While Thomas loves the Puritans, he admits that “in the matter of consecutive expository preaching, the Puritans are not always a model for us to follow.” Surely, Joseph Caryl’s example of 24 years and 424 sermons in Job is rarely, if ever, worth emulating. We mustn’t take too long on one verse or stay too long in one book.

2. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. He may have been the greatest English speaking preacher of the twentieth century, but that doesn’t make him the best model for preaching. Few of us have the necessary skills and gifts to unpack a single verse for six weeks and few have the right congregation to enjoy such exposition.

3. C.H. Spurgeon. Again, Spurgeon was undoubtedly a great preacher. And in theory he was an expositor. But in practice, “he could sometimes introduce matters into the sermon that did not properly emerge from the text, and he never engaged in consecutive expository preaching.” Reading Spurgeon’s sermons is a treat, but it also makes you say, “I could never do that.” Usually a good sign this man’s method is not the best model.

4. Redemptive-historical preaching. Thomas notes that the emphasis on context and the sweep of the salvation story is appropriate. And yet, “what often results from this hermeneutic has a sameness to it.” The mood and point of every sermon sounds the same. The fear of moralism guts the message of necessary application and imperative. A model which was breathtaking the first time around becomes predictable months later.

Tomorrow: Derek Thomas looks at four ways sermons fail to “display what is there.”

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19 thoughts on “The Pitfalls and the Promise of Expository Preaching (1 of 3)”

  1. Stan says:

    The sheep will be eternally grateful for those pastors who take great care when it comes to feeding them. Kevin, please feel free to point your readers to some of the free eBooks on preaching (and other subjects) available at http://www.searchandtrace.net/shop/page/5/
    I am looking forward to the next post.

  2. Dan says:

    Amazon offered the Kindle version in May for 0.99, and the hardbound was part of a recent Ligonier $5 Friday sale. Having given away a copy to my previous pastor 2-3 years ago, I finally got a copy for myself and another to give away.

  3. David says:

    24 years in Job!

  4. Steve says:

    Great post. I definitely fall into that 4th category on occasion. Thanks for the encouragement.

  5. Jared O says:

    Thank you for the very insightful yet brief post. I have noticed #3 and 4 myself but have never been able to put it into such concise and helpful words to others. This will serve me well in that capacity for future conversations.

  6. just some guy says:

    So many jokes to be made about suffering and 24 years in Job. Must… resists…

  7. Mark says:

    Many people misunderstand the Puritan method. What we find in books listed as “sermons” is not always what took place in the pulpit. Moreover, Caryl only preached roughly 3 sermons on Job every two months.

    And, Boice’s chapter was, I think, poor.

  8. Dustin says:

    I am almost through with this book, great book!

  9. RAS says:

    The chapter by Thomas may well be stimulating but his own example of preaching does not inspire me. I’ve read lots of his sermons online and find them to be lacking focus and cogency. His sermons are not sufficiently textual, IMHO.

  10. Lois W says:

    Not being a pastor, I hesitate to comment, but I love that little book!
    And reading your helpful blog makes me reflect that the Holy Spirit inspires and gives gifts to men, not models, useful as models may sometimes be. Perhaps Spurgeon and the Doctor were preaching exactly (well, more or less) the way God led them to preach.

  11. 4. Redemptive-historical preaching. Thomas notes that the emphasis on context and the sweep of the salvation story is appropriate. And yet, “what often results from this hermeneutic has a sameness to it.” The mood and point of every sermon sounds the same. The fear of moralism guts the message of necessary application and imperative. A model which was breathtaking the first time around becomes predictable months later.

    Perhaps I’ve misunderstood the nature of redemptive-historical preaching, but: why?

    The Gospel is many-faceted; it can be articulated in a huge number of ways; and every biblical text fits in with the overarching story of the Gospel as it’s explained and proclaimed in Scripture.

    Application isn’t excluded from redemptive-historical preaching, as far as I can see. For instance, one might take a passage like James 3.1-12 and explain that (a) our corrupt tongue reveals our rebellious heart (Luke 6.45) and (b) the solution to that is Jesus. I guess I really don’t think a sermon should ever cover morality without reminding people of the Gospel, the glory of God and the beauty of what he has done in Christ to reconcile all things to himself.

  12. I certainly await more. After “clicking off” the Puritans, Lloyd-Jones and Spurgeon, I am expecting some well-thought arguments from Thomas. Of course, ones approach to preaching is deeply connected to how one views the Bible in the first place. I’ll look forward to chiming in on this after hearing more.

  13. Matthew James says:

    I too, like Larson above would like to know why #4 is something you do not want to do on a regular basis? Is he saying that every Sunday we should not show our congregation how our particular passage of Scripture fits into the larger redemptive-historical sweep of the Scriptures?

  14. Al says:

    Re: Redemptive Historical preaching. I immediately thought of the Jesus Storybook Bible. I like the storybook in that it shows Jesus everytime. But I get frustrated that it’s “only Jesus” every time. I’m learning how to walk the fine line of application vs. moralism.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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