Blog Archives

Expository preaching – friend or foe?

The Gospel Coalition posted an article today by Iain Murray titled “Expository Preaching: Time for Caution.” In it Murray raises some questions about the current trend toward expositional preaching, where “expositional” is understood to refer to “preaching which consecutively takes a congregation through a passage, or book of Scripture, week by week.” Although he recognizes some of the reasons often given for this style of preaching ministry, he raises five concerns:

  1. Not everyone is gifted/capable of doing this kind of preaching well.
  2. Preaching should not be seen as merely instructional.
  3. There is a role for lecturing your way through the Bible, but that is not the primary function of preaching.
  4. Expositional preaching can easily become a dull running commentary on the text, rather than the powerful and memorable declaration of important ideas.
  5. Expositional preaching is not conducive to evangelistic preaching because not all texts are equally conducive to Gospel proclamation.

He concludes with two final thoughts. (1) This doesn’t mean we should avoid this kind of expositional preaching, only that we shouldn’t make it the exclusive focus of the pulpit. (2) We shouldn’t limit “expositional” to this kind of preaching, but should extend it to any kind of sermon that seeks to explain God’s word clearly and powerfully.

My initial reaction when I started reading the article was not terribly positive. I immediately jumped to what I think of as the opposite of expositional preaching – the kind of “topical” sermon that takes its starting point from some biblical text, but never returns to it. Obviously, though, that is far from Murray’s mind. He is still talking about preaching expositional sermons, he’s just pushing back on the idea that a truly expositional preaching ministry needs to walk through entire books passage by passage.

My second reaction was one that he actually dealt with throughout the article. I concluded that of course we need expositional preaching or people won’t ever hear the whole word of God. And, I’m actually still concerned about this one. As I reflected a bit more, however, I began to wonder if the contemporary emphasis on expositional preaching was related to the modern shift away from other teaching times. With the downfall of Sunday schools and Sunday evening services, where do people hear the word of God taught/lectured on a regular basis? If Murray is right and teaching/lecturing is not the primary purpose of preaching, something that I would agree with, how are we ensuring that people are getting that other kind of equally necessary time in the word? They certainly aren’t getting it from most of the small groups that I’ve been a part of. (Hmmm, what’s the common denominator there?) Is it possible that expositional preaching of this kind is the solution to a problem that we should be trying to solve in other ways?

So, here are the questions for our consideration. First, what do you think of Murray’s arguments? Do they hold water? Second, what do you think about the contemporary emphasis on expositional preaching? Does it lie at the very heart of good preaching? Is it something that has possibly gotten overemphasized in the modern church because of weaknesses in our teaching ministries elsewhere? Or, do you just like topical preaching and would like to hear more series on “You and Your Money.” I must confess that although I’ve had many regular teaching ministries over the years, I’ve never had to preach every week. I think we all can and should have an opinion on this, but I’d be particularly interested in hearing from those of you who preach (or have preached) on a more regular basis.