Rediscovering Expository Preaching. Balancing the Science and Art of Biblical Exposition

Written by John MacArthur, Jr., and others Reviewed By Philip H. Hacking

This intriguing book ends with a very useful chapter for the listener to sermons, reminding them even of the value of being physically fit for the ordeal! It is, however, primarily for preachers both actual and potential. In the short term there is very useful material here. It can be very practical with even an idiosyncratic suggestion of the exact size a pulpit should be, which according to the author is 42 inches high with a very slight slant! But more seriously there are some illustrations of sermons prepared, a glimpse into the preacher’s notebook and some very helpful answers to questions. There are seven ‘Be’s’ which every preacher could do well to memorize.

Although it deals with some very significant issues, it is easily read, often, as befits a good sermon book, with illustrations from many walks of life including golf and television detective stories. There is an interesting history of expository preaching down the centuries. It includes very helpful advice but with a constant reminder that the preacher should be himself or herself with naturalness and the use of the personality given by God. The reader must be selective. Many busy pastors who are also preachers would quail at the use of time. A person who is a preacher without pastoral responsibilities could well spend his whole week in preparation, but many of us who have this responsibility week by week are also committed to a busy life of pastoral care and the two must wed. Therefore the reader will be wise in drawing from this book helpful guidelines without assuming that no preaching can be effective unless every detail in the book is carried out.

It is vital to start where the book starts, with its understanding of the doctrine of Scripture. We are reminded of some of the present challenges to that doctrine, not least in experience-centred religion and extra-biblical illumination. There is a lovely quotation from Martin Luther who likens people with views from outside Scripture as being like swarms of bees not knowing where to land. John Stott encourages contemporary preachers to be bibline in their thinking. Here too is a reminder that the Bible is not only our inspiration for preaching but should provide the material for our counselling. Often effective preaching eliminates the need for too much counselling.

There is a healthy reminder that the preacher is to be a man of God, and the book includes a very helpful exposition from 1 Timothy 6 on that theme. In the actual preparation of a sermon the book has the advantage and disadvantage of having different authors. There is inevitably therefore some repetition but it gains from being able to look at preparation from different angles. We are reminded of the great importance of careful exegesis while not forgetting that we are not intent on making theologians out of those who sit in the pews so much as good Christians.

There is a very helpful booklist with 750 titles. Some of the vital matters in sermon preparation are dealt with carefully. It is important to think in depth about the title, the introduction, the conclusion and the use of illustration. Many of us will find encouragement in the emphasis on illustration. There is a danger of expository preaching being set over against anecdotal preaching. Certainly this book will reinforce the absolute primacy of letting the Bible speak, of drawing out the message within the context and not basing our sermons on stories or experiences. But it is essential that every sermon has illustrative matter to link it with everyday life and to help concentration. Beware of letting the illustration dictate the text. Equally beware of a sermon which becomes correct but arid.

We are reminded in this book of the value of the occasional topical exposition. There are dangers here for we can ride our hobby-horses easily and Scripture should be preached in toto, yet there are occasions when events dictate a message applicable to the moment and there are the occasions within the Christian year where obviously a congregation comes already expectant and their minds set in a particular way. However we approach the exposition, this book will help us to remember the sheer privilege of preaching. Amongst the many helpful quotations is this from Martin Lloyd-Jones: ‘To me, the work of preaching is the highest and the greatest and the most glorious calling to which anyone can ever be called.’

Philip H. Hacking