Expository preaching (also referred to as systematic exposition) is a form of preaching that expounds upon the meaning of a particular text or passage of Scripture. While the term could be used in connection with any religion that has organised worship that includes scriptural teaching, the term is most usually used in relation to Christianity, and is thus concerned with the exposition of the Bible. The practice probably originated from the Jewish tradition of the rabbi giving a "Dvar Torah", explaining a passage from the Torah, at the conclusion of prayer services.
Expository preaching differs from topical preaching in that the former concentrates on a specific text and discusses topics covered therein, whereas the latter concentrates on a specific topic and references texts covering the topic.
There are two ways in which texts are selected for exposition:
- use of a lectionary (common in many mainline denominational churches), or
- letting the preacher or individual church decide which books or passages are examined (common in evangelical churches from both mainline denominations and independent churches).
Advantages & Disadvantages
The main advantage of expository preaching is that, if done without bias, the entire Bible will eventually be covered. In addition, the preacher will never be lost for a sermon subject, since few preachers have ever preached through the entire Bible in their lifetime or with one congregation. Should they be so fortunate to finish the entire Bible with the same congregation, many years will have passed with (hopefully) lots of new faces in the congregation, so they can start over.
The main disadvantage is that expository preaching covers many topics and necessitates often lengthy diversions into other passages for clarification. The Biblical authors covered many topics in their writings, and the expository preaching method does not allow for detailed coverage of a particular topic when only a specific text is covered. Therefore, in order to properly address the context and content at hand in a given passage, the preacher does become topical by concentrating on the topic at hand, and integrating other supporting passages. Consequently, covering the entire Bible in an understandable, yet sufficient, level is a time-consuming task.
Most expository preachers will never cover the entire Bible in their lifetime, although W.A. Criswell managed to do it over a 17 year period as pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. John MacArthur (pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, CA) has spent nearly a decade in the book of Luke alone.
Prominent Expository Preachers
Many famous evangelical preachers have used systematic exposition.
Perhaps the greatest evangelical preacher of the 20th Century was D Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who was the minister of Westminster Chapel in London from the late 1940s to the late 1960s. His series on Romans took years to complete as he worked through the book almost a verse at a time.
Other famous expository preachers include John Stott, Dick Lucas and Charles Spurgeon from England, William Still from Scotland, Phillip Jensen and David Cook from Australia, and Ray Stedman, and Fred Craddock from America.
John MacArthur is probably the best known expository preacher in America, and is a proponent of the expository method of preaching (and an outspoken opponent of the topical method as used almost exclusively by some churches). In addition, the Calvary Chapel group of churches, headed by Chuck Smith, include the regular use of expository preaching as one of their distinctives.
Many such prominent preachers in the second half of the twentieth century have put on record that to a lesser or greater extent they were persuaded of the importance of systematic exposition as a result of reading the works of A.W. Pink.
For those who believe that the dominant source of Christian understanding is the Bible, it may seem obvious that expository preaching should be essential (though this is not the case with the seeker movement). Nonetheless the logic of their position demands that preaching itself should have a scriptural warrant.
The biblical basis for expository preaching can be found in many places in the Bible. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is perhaps the most important, for it states that Scripture is "breathed out by God", which means that the Bible is actually God's words. The phrase "breathed out" is also a link to the Holy Spirit, which shows a link between the work of God's Spirit, and the work of God's Word. The verse also goes on to explain that Scripture is "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness". This shows that the Bible is not theoretical, but practical in its application. Finally, it states that "the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work". This has been claimed to show the sufficiency of scripture - that it is all that a Christian needs to understand his faith and how to live his life.
Another important verse is Ephesians 6:17, which states that the "Sword of the Spirit is the Word of God". This indicates again the link between the work of the Holy Spirit and the work of God's word. It shows that when the word of God is read, examined and applied, there also works the Holy Spirit.
A third important verse is found in Hebrews 4:12, which says that "The word of God is living and active, sharper than any double edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart". This second picture of God's word as a deadly sword is deliberate, not because of the violence it implies, but because of the change it can bring to those who listen to God's word. Here also the word of God is almost given a personality of its own - which implies, again, the hidden work of the Holy Spirit as it works with the word of God to change people's lives.
Most churches that are committed to Reformed Theology and Calvinism are similarly committed to the practice of expository preaching. Most of the notable preachers mentioned above are Calvinistic in their theology. Expository preaching is not limited to those who embrace this theology, however, and can be found in a wide variety of churches.
Books on Expository preaching
1. I Believe in Preaching (Between Two Worlds in USA) - John Stott
2. Preaching and Preachers - D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
3. Rediscovering Expository Preaching - John F. MacArthur Jr.
4. Biblical Preaching - Haddon Robinson