The Pitfalls and the Promise of Expository Preaching (1 of 3)

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.”