The Gospel Coalition

Puritan theologian William Perkins wrote that preaching "has four great principles: to read the text distinctly, from canonical Scripture; to give it sense and understanding according to the Scripture itself; to collect a few profitable points of doctrine out of its natural sense; and to apply, if you have the gift, the doctrines to the life and manner of men in a simple and plain speech."

There is something refreshingly simple about that description. Our aim as preachers is not to be the most erudite scholar of the age. Our aim is not to titillate and amuse. Our aim is not to build a big church.

preach-word

Our aim is to take the sacred text, explain what it means, tie it to other scriptures so people can see the whole a little better, and apply it to life so it bites and heals, instructs, and edifies. What better way to accomplish this end than through expository preaching?

Benefits of Exposition


Some use the category "expository preaching" for all preaching that is faithful to Scripture. I distinguish expository preaching from topical preaching, textual preaching, and others, for the expository sermon must be controlled by a Scripture text or texts. Expository preaching emerges directly and demonstrably from a passage or passages of Scripture.

There are a number of reasons why expository preaching deserves to be our primary method of proclamation.

1. It is the method least likely to stray from Scripture.

If you are preaching on what the Bible says about self-esteem, for example, undoubtedly you can find some useful insights. But even when you say entirely true things, you will likely abstract them from the Bible's central story line. Expository preaching keeps you to the main thing.

2. It teaches people how to read their Bibles.

Especially if you're preaching a long passage, expository preaching teaches people how to think through a passage, how to understand and apply God's Word to their lives.

3. It gives confidence to the preacher and authorizes the sermon.

If you are faithful to the text, you are certain your message is God's message. Regardless of what is going on in the church—whether it is growing or whether people like you—you know you are proclaiming God's truth. That is wonderfully freeing.

4. It meets the need for relevance without letting the clamor for relevance dictate the message.

All true preaching is properly applied. That is of extraordinary importance in our generation. But expository preaching keeps the eternal central to the discussion.

5. It forces the preacher to handle the tough questions.

You start working through text after text, and soon you hit passages on divorce, on homosexuality, on women in ministry, and you have to deal with the text.

6. It enables the preacher to expound systematically the whole counsel of God. 

In the last 15 years of his life, John Calvin expounded Genesis, Deuteronomy, Judges, Job, some psalms, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, the major and minor prophets, the Gospels in a harmony, Acts, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and the pastoral epistles.

I'm not suggesting we organize ourselves exactly the same way. But if we are to preach the whole counsel of God, we must teach the whole Bible. Other sermonic structures have their merits, but none offers our congregations more, week after week, than careful, faithful exposition of the Word of God.

Editors' Note: This article originally appeared in the summer 1996 issue of Leadership Journal. You can access hundreds of Carson articles, lectures, and sermons in the TGC Resource Database.


Comments:

Laudable Linkage | Stray Thoughts

November 9, 2013 at 09:18 AM

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The Week in Review (11.8.13) | Magnify Christ

November 8, 2013 at 09:39 AM

[…] A. Carson shares “6 Reasons Not to Abandon to Expository Preaching” at the Gospel Coalition site.  I’ve been surprised how often expository preaching has been […]

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November 8, 2013 at 07:23 AM

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Rene Nieuwburg

November 8, 2013 at 01:35 AM

The divine command is "teach them to obey". That is something no form of preaching can do, because the listener is only passively involved. Although Jesus went around preaching, he was involved with the people and proofed the word by his live. Teaching without obeying and without community is void of meaning. We speak and teach too much and act and demonstrate too little. We also seem to forget that today's public is literate and any Christian with a some literary study could expound the scriptures given the vast amount of resources available. Why teaching still has to be a passive one direction, one man's show is a mystery. Also after having some preaching experience myself, I still cannot understand how you can communicate when messages only flow unidirectionally, totally contrary to every communication theory. When you see Jesus and others preaching, there was always interaction, questions and responses.

Credo Magazine » Credo’s Cache

November 8, 2013 at 01:31 AM

[…] 6 Reasons Not to Abandon Expository Preaching: By Don Carson – Carson says: “Our aim is to take the sacred text, explain what it […]

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November 7, 2013 at 05:01 AM

[…] 6 Reasons not to Abandon Expository Preaching Don Carson: “Our aim is to take the sacred text, explain what it means, tie it to other scriptures so people can see the whole a little better, and apply it to life so it bites and heals, instructs, and edifies. What better way to accomplish this end than through expository preaching?” […]

Michael in Dublin

November 7, 2013 at 04:49 PM

Expository preaching should be simply unpacking a passage, identifying its main point or points and applying it in the light of the completed work of Jesus Christ. It should not be the source of a text which is used as a diving board into a particular doctrine that happens to be touched on but that is not the main point of the passage.

I have listened to certain preachers who while they endorse expository preaching no matter which passage they preach on end up with the same sermon. This simply does not do justice to the Scriptures and leads to an impoverished understanding.

Basher

November 7, 2013 at 02:14 PM

Sola Scriptura

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[…] the text in context. Danny Akin, President of Southeaster Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote an article where he lists 6 reasons that expository preaching should not be abandoned. Here are the reasons he […]

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November 6, 2013 at 10:22 AM

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Darius

November 6, 2013 at 09:27 AM

As a missionary, when I'm in the States I get to visit many churches. When I'm not asked to preach on such visits, it has been my pleasure to hear many expository sermons. Truly such a blessing - it transcends whether or not I know the preacher, or whether or not I like his "style." Thank you for continuing to exhort pastors to expository preaching.

[…] 6 Reasons Not to Abandon Expository Preaching – The Gospel Coalition Blog […]

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November 6, 2013 at 05:59 AM

[…] 6 Reasons Not to Abandon Expository Preaching: Puritan theologian William Perkins wrote that preaching “has four great principles: to read the text distinctly, from canonical Scripture; to give it sense and understanding according to the Scripture itself; to collect a few profitable points of doctrine out of its natural sense; and to apply, if you have the gift, the doctrines to the life and manner of men in a simple and plain speech.” (Gospel Coalition) […]

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November 17, 2013 at 07:34 AM

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[…] 6 Reasons Not to Abandon Expository Preaching Our aim is to take the sacred text, explain what it means, tie it to other scriptures so people can see the whole a little better, and apply it to life so it bites and heals, instructs, and edifies. What better way to accomplish this end than through expository preaching? […]

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November 14, 2013 at 02:26 PM

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November 13, 2013 at 06:23 AM

[…] The debate over expository versus topical preaching will always be with us, but here’s six arguments in favor of expository sermons. […]

Perry Harris

November 12, 2013 at 10:04 AM

Scripture explains Scripture. IT is the best way to bring the WORD. Keep it Simple and allow the Lord to do all the explaining and leading. When we read the WORD, Pray over the WORD for our Lord to use us, HE DOES. Accept what HE gives you to preach, go in FAITH and TRUST HIM, and deliver. LEAVE the work in individual lives to HIM. THAT is HIS work. OURS is to simply obey and preach what HE has led us to preach, after we have studied to show ourselves approved.

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Terry Rayburn

November 11, 2013 at 09:31 AM

Agree with Carson on all 6 points. However, don't forget to find the road to Christ, even if the passage is not directly about Him, as counseled by Spurgeon: http://graceforlife.com/starving-expository-preaching/ or your people will be malnourished anyway.

Gary Shogren

November 11, 2013 at 07:21 PM

Hi Chris! Perhaps you are thinking of a "text" as something written and read by everyone. But a text is still a text if quoted aloud, to the literate or not.

Chris Linzey

November 11, 2013 at 06:30 PM

While there may be good reasons to utilize expository preaching, the whole concept is bound in the notion of the text rather than the story/teaching of Jesus. If we take into account that many Christians were not literate or didn't even have access to any text, then the style of proclamation as expository is clearly not the primary issue...

Gary Shogren

November 11, 2013 at 02:56 PM

I do appreciate and agree with all six reasons, and affirm that expository preaching through books should be the principal - I certainly would not say exclusive - method of teaching.

Nevertheless, there are fine reasons for other methods, so long as we hew closely to the text of Scripture:

1. Neither the Lord Jesus nor the apostles preached expository sermons, so far as we can tell. Nor did the prophets, for that matter, expound on the Torah. Perhaps the priests did in their teaching work, but apart from Neh 8 we have no example of it.

2. The epistles and Revelation, to chose two genres, were occasional, that is, they were designed to meet Christians who were facing a particular constellation of issues. Paul did not write expository epistles and does not mention expository preaching as his method of choice. Hence, Paul in 2 Thessalonians dealt topically with "felt needs" - whether God really would vindicate the righteous, whether the Day of the Lord was really at hand, what to do about "disorderly" members of the church.

3. The early church. John Chrysostom probably still wins the gold medal for expository preaching, and he bears close study. Nevertheless, what passed for expository preaching in other cities of the empire was not something we might want to follow. Some fathers could only preach through books if they could allegorize them (Ambrose, Augustine). Same with the Qumran scrolls.

4. Nature of communication - I have to agree with the brother Rene above, although not based on modern communication theory, in that the Bible does not indicate that Christian teaching was always one-directional. Paul's "long sermon" in Troas is not necessarily the prototype; he apostles "argued", they "entered into dialogue". Jewish sermons seem to have been a bit more rough-and-tumble rather than a speech. If the typical house church meeting had fewer than 50 people, there may have been more than one teaching (1 Cor 14:26 implies this) and there may have been conversation. The early church was not relativistic or post-modern, so let's not reject two-way discussion as a latter-day invention.

Still and all, the 6 points are excellent.

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