Christ-Centered Preaching Apologetic
BY MAX FERNANDEZ
This piece was originally written as an apologetic for expositional preaching — a kind of preaching that has been both misrepresented and consequently misunderstood.
In this paper, I will argue that expositional preaching is the soundest means of effectively communicating God’s Word. The support for this thesis statement will be presented in the following three movements: (1) a definition for expository preaching, (2) the essential components of an expository message, and (3) the biblical, theological, and practical justifications for expository preaching. In the conclusion, I will offer some personal reflections on the importance and status of expository preaching today.
Objections to Expository Preaching
While there are many more objections to expository preaching, we will consider only two. First, critics of expository preaching may tend to see it as a dry, boring running commentary. In some cases, expository preaching is viewed as a verse-by-verse commentary. In explaining what expositional preaching is not, Mark Dever says, “We’re not saying expositional preaching is just a series of lectures, the main goal of which is information transfer. That’s one of the raps we frequently hear against expositional preaching—that it is a boring, irrelevant, unapplied lecture on a text of Scripture.” [Dever and Gilbert, 37] Second, some critics object to expository preaching by asking where expository preaching is found in the Bible. The implication by the critic is that since expository preaching is not modeled biblically, then it should not be practiced today. Dever notes:
“Of course, one of the first issues we have to consider is whether this kind of preaching shows up in the Bible. And we have to admit, right up front, that we don’t see much of anything in the pages of Scripture that looks precisely like our sermon notes. But don’t close the book! It’s not as simple as all that.” [Dever and Gilbert, 38-39]
In response to these two objections, there is one solution – we must ensure that we are working from the same definition for expository preaching. Once an agreed upon definition is produced, then there can be a response to these objections.
A Definition of Expository Preaching
There have been several definitions offered for expository preaching. Among those definitions, here are some standouts that must be considered. David Helm says, “Expositional preaching is empowered preaching that rightfully submits the shape and emphasis of the sermon to the shape and emphasis of a biblical text.” [Helm, 125] The strength of Helm’s definition is that it is simple and gives clear deference to the text of scripture. The high place of scripture is fundamental in expository preaching.
Bryan Chapell defines the expository sermon as follows:
“An expository sermon may be defined as a message whose structure and thought are derived from a biblical text, that covers the scope of the text, and that explains the features and context of the text in order to disclose the enduring principles for faithful thinking, living, and worship intended by the Spirit, who inspired the text.” [Chapell, 31]
Note in Chapell’s definition that he includes the response of the hearers. While expository preaching may be understood as the practice of the preacher, there is also the expectation of response from the listener – an important component of expository preaching.
In true expositional preaching, the preacher is convinced of the authority of God’s Word. Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert say that “Expositional preaching is preaching in which the main point of the biblical text being considered becomes the main point of the sermon being preached.” [Dever and Gilbert, 36] Much like Helm’s definition, Dever and Gilbert show the tremendous importance of the biblical text. With reference to the authority of the Word, Dever and Gilbert go on to say, “Expositional preaching is preaching in service to the Word. It presumes a belief in the authority of Scripture—that the Bible is actually God’s Word…” [Dever, 44] Abraham Kuruvilla is helpful when he says, “Edifying preaching, on the other hand, involves the exposition of a particular biblical pericope, with the text playing the major role, all else being subordinate.” [Kuruvilla, 3] Both Dever and Kuruvilla understand the centrality of the text in preaching.
It may seem that some of these definitions and principles about expository preaching are novel, but expository preaching is not new to our generation. In addition to the definitions already presented, here is a description of expository preaching given by Joel Beeke:
“One of the greatest moments of the Reformation happened in 1519, when Zwingli began his ministry as a preacher in the Grossmünster (great “minster” or ‘church building’) of Zurich, which is a beautiful building still today. He announced to his congregation that he was going to preach exegetical sermons, starting with Matthew 1 and working his way through the Gospel and then the rest of the New Testament. In this regard, he followed John Chrysostom (c. 347–407). He popularized early on in the Reformation what is called ‘lectio continua’, which means ‘continual public reading,’ what we today would call the expository preaching of the text of Scripture in sequential order.” [Beeke, 100]
There are two points to note in Beeke’s example. Beeke’s description emphasized a sequential approach to the text. Another help from Beeke’s description is that it is a description rooted in history; thus, expository preaching is not a fad of the times.
Each of these definitions and the description serve in identifying what expositional preaching is. For our purposes, I will define expositional preaching as follows: Expositional preaching is exposing and heralding God’s intended meaning for a given passage and calling the hearers to a response. This definition serves as a conglomeration of the previously noted definitions, and this definition will be that from which this document will proceed in explaining the essential components of an expository message and justifications for expository preaching.
Expositional preaching is exposing and heralding God’s intended meaning for a given passage and calling the hearers to a response.
Essential Components of Expository Preaching
COMPONENT ONE: EXPOSING
There are key components that each expositional message must have. The definition previously provided will serve as a guide in identifying these key components. First, expositional preaching is exposing – an intentional work on the part of the preacher to unveil what is in the passage. This unveiling of what message is in the passage stands in contradistinction to putting into the passage a message that is alien to the text. The process whereby the preacher determines the message of the passage is called exegesis. Dever says, “A preacher should have his mind increasingly shaped by Scripture. He shouldn’t use Scripture as an excuse for what he already knows he wants to say.” [Dever, 45] The practice of imposing a biased message upon a passage of scripture is called eisegesis. The expositional sermon demands exegesis rather than eisegesis.
COMPONENT TWO: HERALDING
Second, expositional preaching is heralding, wherein two truths must be considered. Heralding is accomplished through the preacher’s natural voice with pathos and in a monologue fashion. Preaching is proclamation. Jonathan Griffiths says, “…preaching is a public proclamation of God’s word.” [Griffiths, 17] While there are forums for dialogue that can be helpful, the expositional preaching event among the corporately gathered church is to be accomplished in a heralding monologue fashion – for reason given in component three. Dever says of Peter’s message in Acts 2, “It wasn’t a dialogue or a discussion. It was a heralding of news previously unknown.” [Dever and Gilbert, 22]
COMPONENT THREE: GOD’S INTENDED MEANING
Third, expositional preaching is exposing God’s intended meaning. Since the Bible is God’s Word, it is important that the integrity of God’s intended meaning be maintained. It is of such importance that inasmuch as the preacher faithfully communicates God’s intended meaning, he becomes the mouthpiece of God. Griffiths says, “When authentic, faithful Christian preaching of the biblical word takes place, that preaching constitutes a true proclamation of the word of God that enables God’s own voice to be heard.” [Griffiths, 122] If indeed faithful preaching is God’s own voice, then the monologue approach should be considered as a faithful, biblical model that should continue today; for, all hearers should intently listen for God’s Word to them both individually and corporately. True expositional preaching exposes God’s intention from the passage.
COMPONENT FOUR: A PASSAGE OF SCRIPTURE
Fourth, expositional preaching is exposing God’s meaning for a given passage. By emphasizing a given passage, the preacher is manifesting the object of exposition as the Holy Scriptures. Dever and Gilbert say, “Put more sharply, anything that is not rooted in and tethered tightly to God’s Word is not preaching at all.” [Dever and Gilbert, 36] While one could give an exposition of a notable work of art, the practice of true, faithful expositional preaching is impossible without the scripture being the source and sum of all that is exposed. Kuruvilla takes the matter a step further when he sees application impossible without giving privilege to the text. Kuruvilla says, “Without privileging the text, without discerning what the author is doing, without arriving at the theology of the pericope, valid application is impossible.” [Kuruvilla, 7]
COMPONENT FIVE: RESPONSE
Lastly, expositional preaching includes calling the hearers to respond to God’s Word. One of the chief distinctions between teaching and preaching is that teaching gives information while preaching seeks transformation. Transformation of the individual requires sermonic applications which impact the will of the individual – the hearer must be called to respond to the Lord’s Word. In Beeke’s helpful book on Reformed Experiential Preaching, he sets forth the reality that biblical Christianity is to be applicable. Beeke writes, “Christianity should not only be known, and understood, and believed, but also felt, and enjoyed, and practically applied.” [Beeke, 30] Thus, true Christian preaching must call for a response by giving applications rooted in the exposition of the scripture.
Practical Components of the Expository Sermon
Expository preaching is exposing and heralding God’s intended meaning for a given passage and calling the hearers to a response, but expository preaching must also include some practical components. These practical components include the introduction, the sermon body, and the conclusion. Within the introduction, the following are included: a contemporary need or illustration introducing the text and a stated theme or goal for the sermon. Within the sermon body, there should be points that reveal the structure of the text. The sermonic structure includes textual development, illustrations, and applications. After the body of the sermon, there is the conclusion in which closing thoughts, illustrations, and final applications are given. Each of these practical components gives shape to the expository sermon.
Biblical, Theological, and Practical Justification for Expository Preaching
BIBLICAL THEOLOGICAL JUSTIFICATION
There is also a biblical theological justification for expositional preaching. In the Old Testament, the prophets were commissioned to communicate God’s Word to people. In one sense, the prophets were to expose God’s voice to God’s people. Jonathan Griffiths makes the connection between the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament preachers. Griffiths says, “The prophetic office and traditions of the Old Testament reach ultimate fulfillment in the Lord Jesus himself. However, having been fulfilled in him they find continued expression in the new community he forms.” [Griffiths, 64] Thus, exposing God’s Word continues beyond the Old Testament prophets and through post-apostolic times.
Griffiths’ study is specifically a biblical theological study of preaching. His conclusions are well summed up in the following two quotes:
“…the public proclamation of the word of God in the Christian assembly has a clear mandate from Scripture and occupies a place of central importance in the life of the local church. Preaching is necessary and vital – but not all-sufficient – for the nourishment and edification of the local church. [Griffiths, 133]
The preaching of the word of God is God’s gracious gift to his people. It is a gift by which he speaks to us, encounters us, equips us for ministry, and, through the power of the Spirit, transforms us – all for his glory.” [Griffiths, 133]
Notice two principles from Griffiths’ conclusions: (1) preaching is mandated from Scripture and (2) preaching is how God encounters his people. By the scriptural mandate, Griffiths is referring to all of scripture as his study bears out. By God encountering his people through preaching, Griffiths is referring to the importance of faithfulness to the inscripturated message to clearly communicate God’s Word. These two principles are woven throughout all the Bible – thus supporting a biblical theological approach to expository preaching.
In addition to biblical theological justification, there are practical reasons for expository preaching. First, when a preacher is committed to expository preaching, he is committed to preaching passages without skipping over difficult portions of scripture. Chapell says, “Explaining the text according to the intent of the author also requires that we not skip portions of the passage or neglect features of its context that must be understood in order for the principles the passage is teaching to be grasped.” [Chapell, 30-31] Traditional expository preaching is sequential in nature. Consequently, portions of scripture which are difficult to interpret are not glossed over in favor of the preacher’s bias. Brian Payne says, “However, you cannot play the avoidance game when you preach through books. The text sets the agenda and no one can justly charge you with insensitivity when they know this is your method.” [Fuller, Orrick, and Payne, 64]
Second, the preacher who preaches expositionally using a sequential method does not have to wonder what the next sermon text will be. Payne says, “One of the practical benefits of preaching through books is that it helps the preacher conserve time and energy that would otherwise be used in choosing a sermon for each week.” [Fuller, Orrick, and Payne, 71] Handling difficult texts and planning for a sermon series are two practical benefits or justifications for expositional preaching.
Personal Reflections on the Importance and Status of Expository Preaching
THE IMPORTANCE OF EXPOSITORY PREACHING
In personal reflections on the importance of expository preaching, there is one aspect to address – Christ-centered expositional preaching. Chapell sees Christocentric preaching as an apostolic ethic. Chapell says, “This apostolic ethic of maintaining a Christocentric perspective when preaching reflects the principles of exposition that the Savior himself revealed.” [Chapell, 279] Chapell is correct that the New Testament apostles were thoroughly Christ-centered in their messages, but what does this mean, and is it possible to preach expositionally without being Christocentric?
First, Christ-centered preaching is rooted in Luke 24:44-49 and modeled by the preachers in the New Testament. In Luke 24:44-49, Jesus speaks to his disciples and teaches them how the Old Testament Law, Prophets, and Psalms point to himself. This was a post-resurrection hermeneutics lesson that Jesus presented to his followers, and it served the disciples in their future messages. As early as Acts 2, evidence of this hermeneutic is modeled in Peter’s message on the Day of Pentecost. In Acts 7, Stephen preaches a message which culminates in the person of Jesus Christ. In Acts 8, Philip explains Isaiah 53 as a prophetic passage fulfilled in Jesus Christ. In all cases, Christ is the point of the scriptures. Thus, any time a preacher rightly divides the scriptures, he must show a clear connection to Jesus Christ. Is it possible then to preach expositionally without being Christocentric? The answer is, “No.” If Jesus Christ is the point of all scripture, then though a preacher may exegete a particular passage, it is not exposition until the preacher identifies how the text flows forward to Christ or proceeds from Christ’s finished work. Jesus made God’s intention for all of scripture clear in Luke 24, and the preacher must consider that exposing God’s intention requires that Christ be legitimately seen in each passage. When Joel Beeke speaks of reformed preaching, he says:
“The great theme and controlling contour of experiential preaching is Jesus Christ, for he is the supreme focus, substance, and goal of God’s revelation. Therefore, a true Reformed preacher, like Paul, must be “determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). Perkins says that the heart of all preaching is “to preach one Christ, by Christ, to the praise of Christ.”10 The New England divine Cotton Mather (1663–1728) puts it this way: “Let not the true bread of life be forgotten; but exhibit as much as you can of a glorious Christ unto them. Yea, let the motto upon your whole ministry be: Christ is all.”11 Christ must be the beginning, middle, and end of every sermon (Luke 24:27; 1 John 1:1–4). Preaching must exalt Christ for awakening, justifying, sanctifying, and comforting sinners (Eph. 5:14; 1 Cor. 1:30; Isa. 61:2).” [Beeke, 61]
Christ must be the center of every expository sermon, and this follows the biblical model as well as the historical model of preaching.
If Jesus Christ is the point of all scripture, then though a preacher may exegete a particular passage, it is not exposition until the preacher identifies how the text flows forward to Christ or proceeds from Christ’s finished work.
THE STATUS OF EXPOSITORY PREACHING
The status of expository preaching depends much on the subjective opinion of the person who is assessing the status. There are several potential standpoints to consider when considering the status. First, there is the unbeliever. If First Corinthians is any indication of the status of preaching among the unbelieving community, it confirms that the preaching of the Cross of Jesus is foolishness to the lost. For this status to change, God must convert the individual through his saving grace. The reason for this need of conversion and consequent change of perspective is because, as Dever and Gilbert say, “Christian preaching seeks change. It cuts against the grain of surrounding culture, it challenges presuppositions, it convicts of sin, and it calls people to put their faith in Jesus Christ. It calls them to change direction.” [Dever and Gilbert, 51]
Second, there is the status of preaching among believing individuals. Depending on the Christian circle in which one finds himself, expository preaching may not be fondly appreciated. It is the job of the teaching pastor to not only model but also to instruct the church family regarding expository preaching. His instruction to the people should guide the church in developing a healthy expectation about preaching. Dever says, “But if you establish the priority of the Word, then you have in place the single most important aspect of the church’s life, and growing health is virtually assured, because God has decided to act by his Spirit through his Word.” [Dever, 43]
Third, there is the status of preaching among teaching pastors. The following opinion is highly subjective and largely based on my small sphere of churches within the fundamentalist Baptist movement. Within the Neo-Fundamentalist movement, expositional preaching has largely been identified as a boring, non-biblical form of preaching; or it has been equated as one of several styles of preaching. Despite this mistaken view of expository preaching, there does seem to be a growing number of young preachers who are returning to true expository preaching. These young preachers have been highly influenced by authors from within the Southern Baptist Movement. Thus, the status of expository preaching seems to be gaining momentum within my own sphere of churches.
Expository preaching is biblical preaching. To understand expository preaching, a common definition must exist as well as components of expository preaching. In addition to defining expository preaching, this document has attempted to present justifications for expository preaching – biblical, theological, and practical justifications. We have concluded with the importance and status of expository preaching. Consider carefully what you have read, and commit to faithful, Christian expositional preaching.
Beeke, Joel R. Reformed Preaching. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018. Kindle.
Chapell, Bryan. Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon. Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2005. Kindle.
Dever, Mark. Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013. Kindle.
Dever, Mark, and Greg Gilbert. Preach: Theology Meets Practice. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2012. Kindle.
Griffiths, Jonathan I., Preaching in the New Testament: An Exegetical and Biblical-Theological Study. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2017.
Helm, David R. Expositional Preaching: How We Speak God’s Word Today. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014. Kindle.
Kuruvilla, Abraham. A Manual for Preaching. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2019. Kindle.
Orrick, Jim, Ryan Fullerton, and Brian Payne. Encountering God through Expository Preaching. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2017. Kindle.
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