A polite rejoinder for the preaching guru

youre-joking-rightWhat does a small-time pastor think when he hears that a big-time pastor has denigrated the practice of expository preaching?¹ I’m glad you asked.

Let’s break it down.

  1. Guys that preach verse-by-verse through books of the Bible– that is just cheating. I assume the cheating remark is somewhat tongue-in-cheek. As in “guys that preach verse-by-verse through books of the Bible write their sermons by cut-and-paste.” Give him the benefit of the doubt & move on.
  2. It’s cheating because that would be easy. This might seem counter-intuitive but expository preaching is actually harder than topical preaching. Topical preaching grants the preacher far more flexibility in selecting topics, creating his points, and finding Scripture to match. In contrast, the expository preacher is greatly constrained by the very Scripture he hopes to unleash. He must say what the text says (in its words & its intent) even as he tries to communicate it in a way that captures the hearts & minds of the people. Try doing that with Christ’s genealogy in Matthew 1 or the Melchizedek passage in Hebrews 7!
  3. That isn’t how you grow people. His confidence notwithstanding, this claim can only exist in a historical vacuum. Chrysostom? Calvin? Lloyd-Jones? Surely topical preachers don’t have the corner on Christian growth. What about Piper or Keller or Dever? But I digress. If you view expository preaching as little more than an academic exercise–read a verse, reference a Hebrew or Greek word, review various verb tenses–I suppose you’re right. It’s hard to grow people when you’re boring them to death (I speak from experience). But as D. A. Carson points out here, systematically preaching through Scripture shows your people how to read their Bibles and it gives them the chance to hear all that God has to say. Sounds like catalysts for growth.
  4. No one in the Scripture modeled that. There’s not one example of that. At best this is an argument from silence. Scripture is neither a sermon manual nor a sermon archive. How could anyone make such a claim? In fact, we do have examples of verse-by-verse preaching. Ezra & Co. preached through the Law (Neh 8:1-8). The author of Hebrews expounded the latter half of Psalm 95 (Heb 3:7-4:11). More examples could be offered but two is enough to make the point, especially when we’re told that none exist.

Walter Kaiser is credited with saying “I preach a topical sermon once every five years – then repent of it immediately!” May the Lord grant us more repentance.


 

¹verse-by-verse preaching isn’t necessarily expository preaching (and vice versa). But preaching “verse-by-verse through books of the Bible” often describes expository preaching which is what I think is happening here.

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Author: Jonathan P. Merritt

Happily married father of six. Associate pastor for education at Edgewood Baptist Church (Columbus, GA). Good-natured contrarian and theological Luddite. A student of one book.

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