Expository Preaching Defined – Part 1
“How is biblical preaching defined?” Again, one of the aspects of virtually any book related to the subject of expository preaching is that the book usually contains the author’s definition of the subject.
When I entered doctoral studies my program chairman handed me a document that we called the Reading List. Well over 150 books were to be read over a two year period. All of the books were related to the subject of preaching. As I began to read through these volumes and tomes I started realizing that many of the authors merely were writing what others previously had written but within the parameters of their own writing style, passions, and creativity. (Solomon was right, there really is nothing new under the sun – it’s even true of preaching books). However, all of the authors added aspects and elements that aided the field of preaching. The reading list alone laid foundations of understanding that I hold and apply still to this day.
My doctoral chairman, Jim Shaddix, told me that if I intended to be a teacher of preachers then I would have to develop my own definition of expository preaching.
I can remember scribbling countless ideas on legal sized sheets of paper that ultimately ended up in “file 13.” I needed something that was not only accurate to the true meaning of the task of exposition, but also expressed my convictions. Further, the definition needed to be something I could defend before my peers. After days of struggle, the following finally flowed from my pen.
Expository Preaching is: “The oral proclamation of a properly interpreted passage of Scripture, in the power of the Holy Spirit, by a God-called messenger, to an assembled body, for the glory of God and the accomplishment of His purposes.”
The definition resonated in my heart for a few reasons. First, it seemed to be a sufficient definition of the discipline. Second, it reflected my personality and convictions. Finally, I believed it was directed toward the Lord and His glory. In the next several posts I will break this definition down and explain each aspect. In this post I will address the first aspect …
In a culture seemingly obsessed with the visual, God still calls men to proclaim the truths of His Word verbally. I distinctly remember a New Orleans seminary chapel service in which the President, the late Landrum Leavell III, preached on the need for seminarians to be examples of verbal evangelism and “good ole’ fashioned” oral proclamation of the Bible. He argued that there is indeed a place for the effective use of visuals, props, videos, and anything else that can enhance our verbal witness and oral proclamation. However, at one point in the message he declared vehemently, “Men, I personally do not know anyone who has become a born-again believer in Jesus Christ, transformed by the Holy Spirit, because they looked at a Christian or saw a movie! In order for a person to be saved that person must hear the gospel.” He continued, “It’s time for us to return to the biblical mandate of preaching the Bible and leaving the results to God.” What Leavell was stressing was that God really does not need our help to empower His Word. I have sat through countless chapel services and have forgotten most of the sermons, but I have never forgotten those heart-felt words of Landrum Leavell on that beautiful New Orleans day.
Obviously in biblical times the use of visuals was limited simply because technology had not advanced to modern levels. Many would argue however, and I would agree, that one of the reasons Jesus spoke in parables was to allow people to see in their minds eye the reality of the parables. Clearly Jesus knew that people tend to think in mental pictures. It is also true that when Jesus shared a parable that he would utilize examples of activities that were going on near Him, or that He had observed in His own experiences. He knew that people needed to see and relate to His examples. For example, many scholars contend that when Jesus gave the Parable of the Sower, a seed-sowing farmer was actually in the sight of His listeners.
As valuable as visuals are (and I use plenty of them), I must note that God’s primary method for communicating His Word into the hearts and souls of mankind always has been the simple, verbal preaching of His Word. This approach has reaped a bountiful harvest of souls over the centuries. In spite of the myriad cultural changes and ethnic/racial diversities, still, the simple oral proclamation of the Word of Christ has been the instrument that God has used to draw people to Himself and edify those who have become believers. Paul stressed this truth when he declared, “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? (Italics added).
The primary New Testament word for preacher derives from the Greek kerusso which translated means “to proclaim” or “to preach.” It is an emphasis word that carries with it the idea of a herald who is sent or authorized by someone else to deliver a message. The word implies a sense of urgency. Obviously preachers orally proclaim or herald the urgent message of God’s Word.
Probably the most explicit Old Testament example of this truth is located in the 8th chapter of Nehemiah. The late Stephen Olford provided the following insights into the passage as it relates to oral proclamation and expository preaching, stating: “Our foundational, Old Testament biblical evidence … is Nehemiah 8: … It was a time of revival, the evangelist was Ezra, and with his assistants, the Levites, he read from the Book of the Law and the people stood in reverence and called out ‘amen amen’ and then they bowed their heads and worshipped the Lord. … So they read distinctly from the book, in the book of the Law, and gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading (vs. 8).”
Olford outlined the 3 distinctive elements that verse 8 reveals.
- The reading of the text of God’s word – Olford noted that many messages are preached without even opening the Bible. This leads to members who no longer bring their Bibles to church. “So they read … distinctly.” Olford queried: “How seldom is the Bible read distinctly? How seldom is the Bible read reverently?”
- The revealing of the truth of God’s word – “they gave the sense.” Olford stressed the need for oral interpretation in the proclamation so that the teaching and meaning of the text can be revealed and unfolded.
- The relating of the thrust of God’s word – “they helped the people to understand.” Olford concluded by noting that this type of oral proclamation is purposed preaching (propositional preaching). It involves the exaltation, application and illustration of biblical truth. Oral proclamation, according to Olford, assists people in understanding God’s Word more effectively than any other means.
Obviously the Old Testament prophets proclaimed “Thus saith the Lord!” orally. And even though Jesus utilized parables to tap into the mental eye of his listeners, His spoken words made the most impact on the lives of those hearing Him. Of course the apostles, filled with Holy Spirit power, utilized the spoken word to accomplish the purposes of God.
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 See; Robert Stein, The Method and Message of Jesus’ Teachings, revised edition, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), 38-41.
 Matthew 13:1-9
 For additional insights see; John MacArthur Jr, Does the Truth Matter Any More Parts 1 & 2 (DVD), (Baton Rouge: Word Pictures; Cross TV www.CrossTV.com) OR (Grace To You, www.gty.org).
 Romans 10:14 (NASB)
 Stephen Olford, Preaching Lectures, Luther Rice Seminary, Spring 1984.
 See Matthew 7:29, Mark 1:22 and 6:2-3.
 See Acts 2:4, 14-37; 8:4, 12; 10:36; 11:19-20; 15:35; 20:9, 25; 28:31; et. al.