Personal Convictions of Expository Preaching

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After ten years in music ministry, God redirected my ministry calling from music ministry to the pastorate. I quickly became convinced of expositional preaching through the preaching ministry of John MacArthur. I appreciated his passion for the text of Scripture and his desire to remain firmly grounded in the text because it carried the authority of God himself. Since those early days of ministry, I find myself continually influenced by God-exalting, Bible-based preachers whom God has used to shape and mold my preaching model and method.

Over the past year, God has brought a number of preaching books to my attention that will continue to shape my thinking for years to come. Christ-Centered Preaching by Bryan Chapell and Spirit-Empowered Preaching by Arturo G. Azurdia, III, helped shape my understanding of the historical-redemptive nature of the Scriptures. One of the most liberating lessons I continue to learn is how Christ is central in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Paul, who had only the Scriptures of the Old Testament, noted that he would preach nothing “except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). Jesus’ encounter with the two disciples on the Emmaus Road in Luke 24 when Jesus told them:

And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 24:25-27, ESV).

Jesus tells these two disciples that even from the Old Testament he could demonstrate the gospel. Chapell shows contemporary expositors how this Christocentric understanding of the Scriptures works:

Christ-centered preaching rightly understood does not seek to discover where Christ is mentioned in every text but to disclose where every text stands in relation to Christ. … The goal of the preacher is not to find novel ways of identifying Christ in every text (or naming Jesus in every sermon) but to show how each text manifests God’s grace in order to prepare and enable his people to embrace the hope provided by Christ. [1]

Azurdia instills this mindset further when he declares, “It must be recognized with equal verve … that every other portion of sacred scripture reinforces this redemptive superstructure. The Bible is a record of the redemption of the people of God by His Son, Jesus Christ.”[2]

First, preaching is the highest calling any human could receive from God. Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1919-1981) in his book Preaching and Preachers:

The work of preaching is the highest and the greatest and the most glorious calling to which anyone can ever be called. If you want something in addition to that I would say without hesitation that the most urgent need in the Christian church today is true preaching; and as it is the greatest and most urgent need in the Church; it is obviously the great need of the world also. [3]

After looking over the different models embraced by higher academia and by the liberal churches, they consider preaching as outdated and outmoded. Those who hold to this mindset prefer communicators rather than preachers. Yet, God does not call communicators, he calls Spirit-filled preachers committed to the Spirit-inspired Word to do the Spirit-ordained work of illuminating fallen hearts to salvation and sanctification. Preaching is proclamation — proclamation of an offensive, scandalous, and gracious Gospel. First Corinthians 1:18-21 says:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. [19] For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

[20] Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? [21] For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe (1 Cor 1:18-21, ESV).

This passage runs counter to the philosophy of the New Homiletic because we see no desire for Paul to tailor the message for the culture primarily. When the first appeal of the New Homiletic is to that of the listener rather than to the fidelity of the Gospel as found in Scripture that was inspired by the Spirit, this is not being faithful to the intentions of our Savior.

Secondly, expository preaching is preferred and mandated because its sermons are crafted around the theme of the text of Scripture. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, notes:

Authentic expository preaching is marked by three distinct marks or characteristics: authority, reverence, and centrality. Expository preaching is authoritative because it stands upon the very authority of the Bible as the word of God. Such preaching requires and reinforces a sense of reverent expectation on the part of God’s people. Finally, expository preaching demands the central place in Christian worship and is respected as the event through which the living God speaks to his people. [4]

Those three words of authority, reverence, and centrality run counter to not only our culture but moreover to our churches who insist on mirroring the culture in order to maintain relevance. David Allen rightly observes, “the Enlightenment modernity distrusted authority. Radical postmodernity dismantles authority.”[5] I appreciate Mohler’s observations concerning expository preaching. Why would those submerged in a culture who reject authority and, as a result, are filled with uncertainty be willing to join a body of believers who share that same uncertainty. By preaching uncompromisingly from the Word of God, seekers find propositional, deductive anchors to help them stay the course in that sea of uncertainty that is our culture.

Third, expository preaching must take a central role not only in the corporate worship of Jesus Christ but also in the entire life and ministry of the churches. A God-centered, Christ-exalting, text-based direction in the pulpit will translate into a direction that bleeds into every area of the church. The New Homileticians may believe in theory this understanding; however, their practice is quite different. Lowry in his usual candor believes that deductive preachers have their method backwards:

Although texts on systematic theology generally deal with doctrines of God and Christ first, and then move on to the question of the human condition, sin, etc., it is my experience that in the practice of ministry, and particularly in our preaching role, the process is reversed. [6]

This quote from Lowry shows the base from where he constructs his method: his “experience … in practice of ministry.” Lowry, along with many others who share his philosophy of ministry, is a gifted storyteller. In 1990, Lowry preached a compelling and gripping sermon on Mark 5:1-20, leading the listener on a journey in which he felt a part of the narrative. Yet, our biblical theology drives our life and ministry. God writes the Scriptures: they begin with God, show we are created by God, and may only find redemption and forgiveness through God. By reversing the process, as Lowry contends, the preacher elevates man to the primary focus of life and ministry by virtue of the direction he sets in the pulpit.[7]

Along with this third understanding, a fourth naturally follows: an expository preacher must not only love the Scriptures but also love the sheep whom he shepherds. This balance keeps the expository preachers from the slippery slope of scholarly lectures by helping them remain on the solid footing of pastoral ministry. When the Apostle Paul bode farewell to the elders of the Ephesian church, he gives the rationale for his expositional preaching ministry among them:

And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:18-21, 26-27, ESV).

Paul lived among them, served them humbly, endured trials with them, and preached the Word to them both in corporate worship and in their homes.

===

[1] Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic Books, 2005), 279.

[2] Arturo G. Azurdia, III, Spirit-Empowered Preaching (Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1998), 52.

[3] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Preaching and Preachers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971), 9.

[4] R. Albert Mohler, Jr. Expository Preaching and the Recovery of Christian Worship. Downloaded 20 November 2007. Accessed at http://www.albertmohler.com/commentary_read.php?cdate=2005-08-09 : Internet.

[5] Allen, David L. A Tale of Two Roads: Homiletic and Biblical Authority. Preaching 18, no. 2 (2002): 27

[6] Lowry. 39.

[7] Ibid. 39.

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