There are a lot of preachers delivering sermons around the world on a given Sunday. These preachers range in a variety of ways: level of charisma, compassion, vocabulary, knowledge of the Bible, etc. Yet, perhaps the more basic way in which preachers range is their applied theology and philosophy of preaching.
Some pastors do not have particular and explicit theology of preaching at all and thus develop an implicit one passively, this is no good. Others do indeed have a particular and explicit theology of preaching but it is off-balance in multiple ways (many of us conjure up images of particular TV preachers that fit this category). However, there is one theology of preaching that has totally captivated me over the years as it has captivated reformed theologians for generations. It is one that seeks to make the main point of a given text the main point of the sermon. You will find that pastors who apply this theology of preaching will often take a sermon verse-by-verse through a text. This theology of preaching is referred to as expository preaching (also expositional preaching).
I first encountered this theology of preaching while I was attending Holy Trinity Church in Chicago during my undergrad years. I was captivated by the preaching of Jon Dennis and I determined that this sort of preaching was the kind I wanted to be involved in. Since then, receiving expository preaching has been an important aspect of church life for me. It was partially my desire to be around expository preaching that led my wife and I to begin attending Hope Community Church in Charlotte, NC where I encountered the preaching of Gorden Fleming. Over the years I have benefited from receiving expository preaching in a number of ways and I want to highlight three of them.
I Have Grown In My Ability To Read the Bible
One of the many things that I think proper expository preaching has going for it is that it allows a congregation to see how one should properly approach the Bible; on its own term through the practice of exegesis. I have immensely benefited from expository preaching in this way. I have seen difficult texts wrestled with in reverence and placed within the whole redemptive-historical framework.
I Have a Higher View of Christ
I don’t want to give off the impression that pastors who do not engage in expository preaching have a low view of Christ. However, I am saying that as a recipient of expository preaching, I have seen how Jesus permeates every text throughout the entire Bible. This goes back to placing the text within the entire redemptive-historical framework (Michael Lawrence explains this well in Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church). I have seen Jesus organically proclaimed in the most difficult of passages and I have a higher view of Christ because of it.
I Have Become More Acquainted with the Heart of God
Expository preaching includes a fairly unique approach to sermon preparation. Whereas a topical sermon has a question and then looks to find what text(s) speak to that question or issue, expository preaching first finds the text and then discovers what the text is saying (again, approaching the text on its own terms).
Don’t get me wrong, there is without a doubt a place for topical preaching. Every wedding sermon is a topical sermon, is it not? Certainly, there are times when the social environment in which a congregation finds itself is in such particular and intense turmoil that neglecting to ask, “what does the Bible say about this?” might actually be a disservice to the congregation.
However, what many expository sermon series do uniquely well in traveling through a book is that they display what God is particularly interested in. Congregants will often find themselves saying, “I‘ve seen this sort of thing before” and thus are becoming more aware of what God is chiefly concerned with. I myself have benefitted from expository preaching in this way.