3 Quotes on Expository Preaching

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There are few subject related to public ministry more critical than preaching. Here are three quotes I’ve found from some of my favorite theologians on the subject:

The size of the text is immaterial, so long as it is biblical. What matters is what we do with it. Whether it is long or short, our responsibility as expositors is to open it up in such a way that it speaks its message clearly, plainly, accurately, relevantly without addition, subtraction or falsification. In expository preaching preaching the biblical text is neither a conventional introduction to a sermon on a largely different theme, nor a convenient peg on which to hang a ragbag of miscellaneous thoughts, but a master which dictates and controls what is said.

John Stott, Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today

Whatever the reason, however, the results are unhealthy. In a topical sermon the text is reduced to a peg on which the speaker hangs his line of thought; the shape and thrust of the message reflect his own best notions of what is good for people rather than being determined by the text itself. . . In my view topical discourses of this kind, no matter how biblical their component parts, cannot but fall short of being preaching in the full sense of that word, just because their biblical content is made to appear as part of the speaker’s own wisdom. . . That destroys the very idea of Christian preaching, which excludes the thought of speaking for the Bible and insists that the Bible must be allowed to speak for itself in and through the speaker’s words. Granted, topical discourses may become real preaching if the speaker settles down to letting this happen, but many topical preachers never discipline themselves to become mouthpiece for messages from biblical texts at all.

J.I. Packer, The Preacher and Preaching: Reviving the Art

To me still, I must confess, my text selection is a very great embarrassment. . . . I confess that I frequently sit hour after hour praying and waiting for a subject, and that this is the main part of my study; much hard labor have I spent in manipulating topics, ruminating upon points of doctrine, making skeletons out of verses and then burying every bone of them in the catacombs of oblivion, sailing on and on over leagues of broken water, till I see the red lights and make sail direct to the desired haven. I believe that almost any Saturday in my life I make enough outlines of sermons, if I felt the liberty to preach them, to last me for a month, but I no more dare to use them than an honest mariner would run to shore a cargo of contraband goods.

C.H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students

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  • Matthew Williams

    Good morning Aaron,

    As I read this, I found myself agreeing with the spirit in which these men write and agreeing with the dangers they perceive, but disagreeing with their conclusions.

    These men are correct in positing that topical sermons necessitate approaching the text with a certain agenda. Given that a person’s agenda can range from solidly Biblically founded to scantly Biblically founded, the lack of restrictions placed upon oneself by form introduce the dangers of 1) ignoring context within both the book and the metanarrative, and 2) leaning heavily on and preaching from experience rather than Scripture.

    At the same time, letting a given topic guide the selection of texts for a number of successive weeks can be useful: it allows one to provide frameworks that would be impossible or impractical to provide were a topic not providing structure. Given enough time, a framework could certainly be established; however, the pieces of that framework would be too far apart as to be easily accessible by a parishioner – especially given that members come and go over the years for various reasons, thereby giving newer attendees a missing piece in their grid.

    The issue, then, seems to be not whether topical series are acceptable or helpful, but whether a preacher is sufficiently trustworthy to do said series in an acceptable and helpful manner. So perhaps the reality is this: a short tether to individual passages of Scripture is necessary for a preacher until he becomes becomes convinced of the necessity of Scripture as a foundation and becomes comfortable with faithful exposition; at that point, he should be sufficiently trained as to do no damage when letting a topic guide his selection of passages for successive weeks.

    A final note: this post and my process of writing it /screams/ INTP. lol

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      Hey Matthew, I suspect the authors quoted would almost certainly agree; Spurgeon’s style was very much the topical-exegetical. It’s a great way to preach, so long as you’re rooted in a text, rather than peppering your thoughts with prooftexts (which on my more snarky days I might be tempted to call pretexts :P).

      INTP, meet INTJ!

  • Kathryn

    Interesting. My question at the moment is in fact, what is preaching?

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      The best definition I can give is the proclamation and application of God’s Word.

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