Expositional preaching requires a living context to be understood. While the Holy Spirit is powerful enough to make the right applications to a completely blinded heart, he usually uses the natural means of family, church, and human culture to give a context to truth. Barring common grace, much in modern culture is useless for teaching the right application of Scripture. That leaves redeemed families and gospel churches to put flesh on the bones of expository sermons.
I enjoy conferences for pastors and training workshops, and recommend them heartily. But I often return from them a little disturbed by the way expository preaching is viewed by some Christian leaders. According to them, expository preaching is the main ingredient for healthy Christianity, and the lack thereof is the reason for its sickness. If only, they say, all pastors were committed to expository preaching, the church would be reformed and revived.
I am committed to expository preaching. I have attempted it (however unsuccessfully) for over twenty years. We teach students in our seminary how to do expository preaching. I prefer to make the mainstay of my preaching expository series of books of the Bible. I believe expository preaching grows out of a conservative view of Scripture. If you believe that God has verbally inspired Scripture, making it the rule for all Christian life and practice, it follows that you submit to its meaning. Therefore, you desire to understand what has already been revealed, submit to it yourself, and make it plain to others. Expository preaching usually goes hand-in-glove with inerrancy, for when you believe the Bible has been given without error, you are fastidious in your approach to understand the very words of Scripture, not just the themes. Expository preaching also reveals a desire to preach the whole counsel of God, not our pet themes or popular topics.
But having said all that, I think many Christian leaders have a faith in expository preaching which is overblown and looks to expository preaching to do what it cannot accomplish by itself.
It is a tempting position to hold. After all, the Bible teaches us about worship. Surely if we preach expositionally, biblical worship will take place, right? The Bible speaks about what affections we should have for God. If we preach the whole counsel of God, won’t it automatically lead to ordinate affection?
Look around for the answer. You have any number of Reformed or conservative evangelicals who are committed to expository preaching, but who come out on almost opposite ends of the worship and affection spectrum.
This elephant-in-the-room fact leads many to relativize our applications of Scripture. If such good preachers who are so committed to biblical authority come out at completely different answers as to what it means to worship, it must be because we’re just talking about ‘styles’ and various ways of “contextualizing” the gospel. So as not to shake anyone’s faith in expository preaching as the be-all and end-all, the quite obvious disparity in worship and affections by those committed to expository preaching is played down in favor of a shared commitment to Reformed doctrine.
I think ignoring this disparity is part of the problem. It’s my contention that expository preaching is not a magic bullet, but it must be accompanied by something to have its desired effect.
The fact is, preaching occurs in a context.