Don’t abandon expository preaching: part 1

In the Summer 1996 issue of Leadership Journal, D. A. Carson offered a lucid and brief cry for true preaching. The name of the article was “6 Reasons Not to Abandon Expository Preaching.” The article, though short, is to the point and states the matter in a way that is characteristic of Carson’s writing style. I thought I would repeat his six points here over a few posts and then let everyone give their thoughts on the larger point. He writes, “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” (p. 87). His first reason to not abandon expository preaching is:

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

So what do you think? Any thoughts, ideas, or input? I will post the other points after this one makes the rounds

10 responses to this post.

  1. True, true.

  2. This is such an anchor to me in my preaching, as I am neither clever nor creative in my homiletical skills. I need to allow the text to dictate where I’m going and what I’m saying. By the way, it’s interesting that Carson notes this style of preaching “is the method least likely to stray from Scripture.” This, of course, implies that such an approach can still yield a defection from the intended meaning of the text. That’s why it is imperative for us to work with great diligence and pray for God’s help in the process, that we might rightly represent His message!

  3. Bingo Chris! Saying one is an “expositor” and actually doing expository preaching (with all its intended work) are often confused among the preaching set today. I remember a few years ago when apart from a few ministers no one would dare mention expository preaching. Now it is a popular word and “everybody” is doing it. That is, they believe they are. I think Jerry Wragg’s earlier article on the work involved divided the expository sheep from the pulpiteer goats.

  4. Do you guys think that pursuing the intended meaning of the text should result in our preaching actually taking the shape of the text in terms of genre? Do you preach poetry, proverbs and narrative the same way you preach the epistles? I’ve struggled with the degree to which preaching the text is transforming it into something else rather than preaching it in the way it’s come to us. I don’t think that means preaching narrative by “telling stories” (especially since preaching it means focusing on THIS story, not YOUR stories), but how do I avoid giving the impression that we have to turn the story into an epistle in order to apply it?

  5. Raj –
    I agree (amazing isn’t it!). 9 Marks Ministries offered some good, though brief, definitions of common “expository imposters”, one of which focused on the preaching dynamic of different genres. See the link…,,PTID314526|CHID598014|CIID2157880,00.html


  6. Jerry,

    I tried your link and it did not work for me?


  7. Blue Raja-

    Good questions–genre does present its own set of difficulties in the interpretive process. But I’ve always considered genre to be just another piece of the overall textual fabric that must be examined in order to comprehend the larger message. In other words, genre (like syntax, lexical data, hsitorical/cultural background, etc.) is the servant of the message. In that sense, to ignore the impact of the literary genre on a particular passage’s meaning most certainly will lead to exegetical error.

    Is it possible to communicate the message of the text without following the same genre format with which we have received it? I think we have to ask that question with each individual text we encounter. However, while I think we must approach the study of, say, narrative texts somewhat differently than we do epistolary literature, I do not believe that this of necessity means we must finally communicate the meaning of those differing passages in a different manner.

  8. Jerry,

    Don’t be THAT surprised! I think we agree on most everything (though we usually don’t get there the same way).

    I found this on the 9Marks page – is it the article you were referring to? Thanks for the reference! It seems like Dever agrees that our sermons shouldn’t flatten the genre – but he doesn’t suggest how we can shape our presentation according to the text.

  9. I have been soaking in some of your comments…good stuff by all. The question of genre is interesting especially when one considers the fluid categories of genre. By this I mean it is impossible to even know what genre various texts should be filed under. For example, how would you categorize the genre of Revelation 2 & 3? Are not all attempts at understanding genre external considerations which in the end carry no authoritative value? Since this post was about preaching, does anybody think the Apostle Paul had genre in mind when he gave his famous admonition to Timothy (II Tim. 4:2)? I doubt it. I’m not discounting genre all together, I just think it is more complex than some books/authors make it out to be. Even the 9Marks article sited here fails to give anything really concrete when it comes to “how” one should preach genre. Thoughts anyone?

  10. Genre categories aren’t water-tight ones, that’s for sure! But there seem to be macro-genres that umbrella over sub-genres. I would think you’d want to preach Revelation 2-3 under the larger category of apocalyptic, wouldn’t you? I’m not sure what it means to call genre considerations “external” – they’re features of the text every bit as much as grammar is! I think that the apostle Paul had genre in mind just as much as he had the nominative pendens or Colwell’s rule in mind when writing his epistles. In that sense, I doubt it too. But that doesn’t mean genre isn’t a key component to understanding what he’s trying to say (any more than understanding the nomenclature of syntax isn’t)!

    Perhaps preaching narrative would involve more of a “directorial” flavor, adding to the story by explaining where the camera is going, what it’s focusing on and why, what features of the text show a character’s motivations, etc. I recently preached a sermon about how the Bible works according to genre which outlined the various ways in which Scripture communicates – it of course stinks homiletically, but the content might be suggestive for how genre might shape preaching. It’s the specifics I’m still befuddled about (and like you said, Paul, no one seems to speak to the ‘how’)!

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