Dennis E. Johnson, author of Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures, was gracious enough to take time to answer five particular questions I had about expository preaching. I am thankful for the depth with which he answered these questions. I pray that his answers will help you in your understanding of expository preaching.
MRP: What role do you see expository preaching playing in the life and ministry of the local church?
DEJ: I began to “catch the vision” for Christ-centered preaching through my M.Div. studies at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia (1970-73), and then became increasingly more convinced of it through my pastoral ministries in New Jersey (1973-76) and Los Angeles, CA (1976-81), although I did not have a clear idea about how to preach Christ appropriately from each distinct passage of Scripture and often did not give myself enough time for meditation, for turning over the passage in my mind and comparing it with other texts and themes throughout the Bible until I could see the intrinsic lines of connection that tie the whole Bible to Jesus through the theme of God’s covenants with his people. When I began to teach at Westminster Seminary California in 1982, and especially as I began to teach other pastors in our D.Min. program in preaching in the early years, I began to work through more consistently a way to see what Jesus showed his apostles in terms of the interconnections of the Scriptures in Himself.
MRP: Who has been your greatest influence as an expository preacher?
Edmund P. Clowney has been the greatest influence, without a doubt. I have also learned from the way Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC preaches Christ, and from my own pastor, Ted Hamilton, of New Life Presbyterian Church in Escondido. I also have learned from Dr. Iain Duguid, now teaching at Grove City College in PA, both in his preaching (he taught with me here at WSC and pastored a PCA congregation in my presbytery), and in his writings.
MRP: Do you believe that expository preaching can be inductive as well as deductive?
DEJ: I believe that expository preaching must first of all be inductive–that is, observing carefully what the text actually says, its inner flow of thought and logic when read in the context of the book in which it appears and in the context of the spiritual need and situation of its first readers. Then, I believe it is also appropriate to engage in a more “deductive” analysis, comparing what I believe I have heard this text say with the broader themes and framework of truth revealed in Scripture, including the way in which that system of truth has been summarized in the great creeds and confessions of the church.
MRP: What role does the local church play in training preachers? Should they farm this training out exclusively to the seminaries?
DEJ: I believe that the local church is a great training ground for preachers-in-the-making, and that the best arrangement is a close cooperation between churches and seminaries. In seminaries, pastoral candidates can get exposure to the gifts of a variety of teachers and mentors who can each bring his own strengths into his relationship with the budding pastor. In the church, the focused studies pursued in seminary can be put to the test “where the rubber meets the road,” in bringing the gospel of grace into the lives of really hurting people in real life venues.
MRP: What would be some of the basic areas you would cover in training lay preachers who have had no theological training whatsoever?
In training lay preachers I would focus on making sure they have a solid grounding in systematic theology that is based in Scripture and proven by the church over the centuries. This will help keep them on an even keel when winds of doctrine, promising “new” insights, blow across the church. Then I would focus on a basic hermeneutic or method of interpreting Scripture, in light of the way language works, and in light of the context of the Bible in the history of redemption. Finally, I would emphasize, for any and all leaders (whether those who can attend seminary or those who cannot), the importance of godly character as Paul places that “center stage” in his lists of qualifications of elders in 1 Tim 3 and Titus 1. These attributes of humility, holiness, integrity, etc., must be grounded in a firm grasp of the gospel of God’s grace, given in Christ and received by faith alone.