Ask Augustine with Dr. Paul Tambrino
Ask Augustine is a weekly column where professor/author Dr. Paul Tambrino discusses various theological questions with wit, clarity and substance.
Question #11 – What Is Expository Preaching and Why Should It Be Practiced in Our Churches?
Expository preaching is where an extended portion of Scripture is explained and interpreted over a number of weeks.
Years ago my wife and I visited a number of churches in our area. We noticed that the churches in which expository preaching was the norm were evangelical, conservative and growing.
On the other hand, those churches which had abandoned the text (perhaps without recognizing that they had done so) were more liberal, with static or declining memberships.
During the same time I attended a four day national pastor’s conference where one of the speakers, Dr. Steve Lawson (who is on boards at The Master’s College and Seminary and at Reformed Theological Seminary) made a passionate call for expository preaching.“Expository preaching is where an extended portion of Scripture is explained and interpreted over a number of weeks.”
He said, “As the pulpit goes so goes the church. That is, a church will not rise higher than its pulpit.”
Dr. John MacArthur has also noted, “…the early church experienced vibrant spiritual vitality and explosive growth, not because of gimmicky techniques, but because it focused on biblical preaching.”
Yet, numerous influential voices within mainline Christian seminaries suggest that the age of the expository sermon is now past.
In its place, they teach preachers to substitute messages intentionally designed to reach secular or superficial congregations; messages which avoid preaching a biblical text, and thus avoid a potentially embarrassing confrontation with biblical truth.
Preachers in these churches may eventually get to the text in the course of the sermon, but the text does not set the agenda or establish the shape of the message.
Instead they focus on so-called felt needs and perceived concerns of their congregation and thus allow those needs and concerns to set the preaching and worship agenda, inevitably leading to a loss of biblical authority and biblical content in the sermon.
Shockingly, this approach is evident in too many churches. The pulpit has become an advice center and the pew has become the therapist’s couch.“Congregational surveys and popular opinion polls too often dictate our worship.”
Psychological and practical concerns have displaced theological exegesis and the preacher directs the sermon to the congregation’s “perceived” needs.
Congregational surveys and popular opinion polls too often dictate our worship.
The problem is that congregations do not know what their most urgent need is. They are blind to their need for redemption and reconciliation with God, and instead focus on potentially real, but temporal needs, such as personal fulfillment, financial security, family peace, and career advancement.
As a result, too many sermons settle for answering these expressed needs and concerns, and fail to proclaim our need for salvation and the Word.
As Saint Paul prophetically wrote…
3) For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
4) And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.2 Timothy 4:3-4 (KJV)
Some preachers following this popular trend deliberately intend to depart from the Bible.
Under the guise of an intention to reach modern secular men and women where they are, they transform the sermon into an entertaining success seminar.
Oh sure, some verses of Scripture may be added to the mix to give it the appearance of a biblically based sermon, but for a sermon to be genuinely biblical, the text must set the agenda as the foundation of the message and not as an authority cited for spiritual footnoting.
Charles Spurgeon confronted the very same pattern of wavering pulpits in his own day.
Spurgeon, who managed to draw large crowds despite his insistence on biblical preaching, confessed that, “The true ambassador for Christ feels that he himself stands before God and has to deal with souls in God’s stead as God’s servant, and stands in a solemn place; a place in which unfaithfulness is inhumanity to man as well as treason to God.”“Preaching is literally a life or death affair. Eternity hangs in the balance as a preacher proclaims the Word.”
Reflecting on the urgency and centrality of preaching the Word, Puritan pastor Richard Baxter once remarked, “I preach as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men.”
With vivid expression and a sense of gospel gravity, Baxter understood that preaching is literally a life or death affair. Eternity hangs in the balance as a preacher proclaims the Word.
Spurgeon and Baxter understood the dangerous mandate of the preacher, and were therefore driven to the Bible as their only authority and message.
They left their pulpits trembling with urgent concern for the souls of their hearers and fully aware of their accountability to God for preaching His Word, and His Word alone. Their expository sermons were measured by power.
At stake today is nothing less than the integrity of Christian worship and proclamation.
The recovery and renewal of the church in this generation will come only when from pulpit to pulpit, preachers “preach as never sure to preach again, and as a dying person to dying people.”
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John the Baptist Preaching by David Vinckboons (I), c. 1610. The Rijksmuseum. SK-A-1782.