Defining Expository Preaching

September 29, 2008 at 7:28 pm 1 comment

For one of my seminary classes I had to consider how Brian Chapell’s Christ-Centered Preaching compares with other homiletic books, in his definition of ‘expository preaching’. Chapell argues that an expository message is “a message whose structure and thought are derived from a biblical text, that covers the scope of the text, and that explains the features and context of the text in order to disclose the enduring principles for faithful thinking, living, and worship intended by the Spirit, who inspired the text.”

Many definitions for expository preaching have been offered in the last century. One of the main concerns of homiletic studies deals with question; ‘what are the essential components of an expository message?’ Some writers break from Chapell and align with the simplicity of J.I. Packer’s definition in arguing that Bible exposition is to ‘open’ the Bible and ‘bring out of the text what is there’.  While this is true, Packer provides no description beyond the overall nature of an expository message like Chapell. In the same way John Broadus once wrote that “an expository discourse may be defined as one which is occupied mainly, or at any rate largely, with the exposition of Scripture.”  Like Packer, Broadus definition provides little explanation beyond the overarching nature of an expository sermon, not providing a description of its components.

Steven Matthewson adds the necessary component of application to his definition; for him it is “preaching that exposes the meaning of a text of scripture and applies that meaning to the lives of the hearers.”  Yet unlike Matthewson, Chapell defines application with more clarity as “the enduring principles for faithful thinking, living, and worship.”  In some cases, too much clarity can be harmful and regulate too far in defining the essentials of expository preaching.

Charles Koller’s three part definition illustrates these dangers; arguing that “an expository sermon consists of exposition plus application and persuasion”…it “derives its main points…from the particular paragraph or chapter or book of the Bible with which it deals”…and “makes use of a thesis in which the sermon has its unity and around which it is organized.”  While this definition is clear and explanatory, Koller is too precise in limiting an expository message to dealing with a ‘particular paragraph or chapter’ of the Bible. In his classic definition of expository preaching Haddon Robinson defined it as “the communication of a biblical concept. Derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality of the preacher, then through him to his hearers.”  Where Koller was too specific, Robinson was too elusive with the terminology ‘biblical concept’. A ‘biblical concept’ could be any idea that is true and/or has a biblical foundation, Chapell argues that these justifications do not mean that any biblical concept “has a place in an expository message.”  Chapell is more specific than Robinson when he writes that an expository sermon is “derived from a biblical text”  Like Chapell, Albert Mohler Jr. identifies the ‘biblical text’ as the source of an expository sermon, he wrote that an expository message “sets forth the meaning and message of the biblical text and makes clear how the Word of God establishes the identity and worldview of the church as the people of God.”

With all that is discussed above, there is one possible weakness to each of these definitions. In his definition Chapell limits the role of the Holy Spirit to the application of the text, and the inspiration of the text itself. He writes that the preacher’s message should expose the “principles for faithful thinking, living, and worship intended by the Spirit, who inspired the text.”  While there is nothing technically wrong Chapell’s definition at this point, it lacks a description of the Holy Spirit’s role in the proclamation of a textual unit. Part of Greg Heisler’s definition will prove the point; he argues that “expository preaching is the Spirit-empowered proclamation of biblical truth derived from the illuminating guidance of the Holy Spirit by means of verse by verse exposition of the Spirit inspired text…”  Not only is the Spirit the author and applier of the text, the preacher is Spirit empowered in preparation and delivery.

While different components of the definitions mentioned above seem fitting to constructing a concise yet explanatory definition of expository preaching, not all are completely satisfactory. With that in mind, combining the definitions listed above, it is this author’s opinion that an expository sermon is when a preacher ‘through the power of the Holy Spirit (Heisler) proclaims a message from a textual unit of the Bible (Chapell) while faithfully representing the historical, contextual, grammatical, and literary nature of that unit (Robinson), for the purpose of establishing the identity and worldview of the church as the people of God as its application (Mohler).

I am still sorting this out. Any thoughts?

Entry filed under: Thoughts.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. pastorkirbyjohnson  |  March 5, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    As I traverse the www for definitions of expository preaching, I happened upon yours. I like your synthesis very much. May God bless your work.

    Reply

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