A Case for Expository Preaching: Book Review By David P. Craig
There are many methods that pass for “expository” preaching today. Alistair Begg (one of the finest preachers today) argues that the nature of true expository preaching benefits the body of Christ more than any other kind of preaching, and that it also results in brining glory to God.
In chapters one and two Begg critiques the different types of preaching in our day. He isolates the many problems down to really one thing: that preachers are not preaching the message of the Bible, but their own message. Scholars call this eisogesis “reading into the text what’s not actually there.” Most preaching today either errs on the side of total pragmatism “all application with no theology,” or on the side of all doctrine with very little application. Therefore, to counteract these deficiencies Begg gives a powerful defense for the efficacy of expository preaching.
Begg defines expository preaching as “the unfolding of the text of Scripture in a way that makes contact with the listeners’ world while exalting Christ and confronting them with the need of action.” He continues, “When the Bible is not being systematically expounded, congregations often learn a little about a lot but usually do not understand how everything fits together.”
The key elements of expository preaching are as follows:
(1) Expository preaching always begins with the text of Scripture. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you always begin the sermon reading the text “but it does mean that even when we begin by referring to some current event or the lyric of a contemporary song, it is the text of Scripture that establishes the agenda for the sermon. The verses under consideration always establish and frame the content of the sermon.”
(2) Expository preaching seeks to fuse the two horizons of the biblical text and the contemporary world. “The preacher must learn not simply to fuse the horizons in his teaching, but to do so in such a way that people are learning by example how to integrate the Bible with their own experience.”
(3) The expositor needs to be under the control of the Scriptures. In his summary of expository preaching Begg quotes the Westminster Directory for Public Worship “(a) The matter we preach should be true; that is, in the genral doctrines of Scripture; (b) It should be the truth contained in the text or passage we are expounding; (3) It should be the truth preached under the control of the rest of Scripture.”
The benefits of expository preaching expanded upon by Begg are as follows:
(1) Expository preaching gives glory to God, which ought to be the ultimate end of all we do. “Since expository preaching begins with the text of Scripture, it starts with God and is in itself an act of worship, for it is a declaration of the mighty acts of God. It establishes the focus of the people of God and his glory before any consideration of man and his need.”
(2) Expository preaching demands that the preacher himself become a student of the Word of God. “The first heart God’s Word needs to reach is that of the preacher. There will be no benefit to our people from expository preaching unless we ourselves are being impacted by the Scriptures we are preparing to preach.” As John Owen declared, “A man only preaches a sermon well to others if he has first preached it to himself. If he does not thrive on the ‘food’ he prepares, he will not be skilled at making it appetizing for others. If the Word does not dwell in power in us, it will not pass in power from us.”
(3) Expository preaching enables the congregation to learn the Bible in the most obvious and natural way. By our preaching we either help or hinder our people in the task of interpreting Scripture. If we merely show them the results of our study without at least to some degree including them in the process, they may be ‘blessed’ but will remain untaught.
(4) Expository preaching prevents the preacher from avoiding difficult passages or from dwelling on his favorite texts. By committing himself to an exposition of Scripture that is systematic in its pattern, the preacher will avoid the pitfalls of neglecting tough truths, and preaching on only “pet” doctrines.
(5) Expository preaching assures the congregation of enjoying a balanced diet of God’s Word. We serve our people best when we make clear that we are committed to teaching the Bible by teaching the whole Bible – all 66 books.
(6) Expository preaching liberates the preacher from the pressure of last-minute sermon preparation on Saturday night. Preaching that is systematic and consecutive in its pattern means that a congregation does not approach church asking themselves, “I wonder what the minister will preach about today?”
Alistair concludes his book by giving some helpful pointers on how the preacher can prepare excellent expository sermons by doing the following:
(1) Think yourself empty.
(2) Read yourself full.
(3) Write yourself clear.
(4) Pray yourself hot.
(5) Be yourself, but don’t preach yourself.
Alistair Begg has done a great service to the Church by providing an excellent primer of the pitfalls of preaching, and has made a great case for the value and effectiveness of expository preaching. I recommend this little book for beginning and experienced preachers. It is full of great quotes, biblical advice, sound wisdom, and if applied diligently will result in preaching God’s glory to His Church and benefit the body of Christ richly.