Expository Preaching

Haddon Robinson and "Big Idea" Preaching

In this excerpt from his classic text, Biblical Preaching, Haddon Robinson explains his view of the “big idea” of biblical preaching:1

I do not appreciate opera; what is worse, I have several friends who do. Being around them makes me feel as if I exist in a cultural desert, so I have taken several steps to change my condition. On occasion I have actually attended an opera. Like a sinner shamed into attending church, I have made my way to the music hall to let culture have its way in me. On most of these visits, however, I have returned home unresponsive to what the artists have tried to do.

I understand enough about opera, of course, to know that a story is being acted out with the actors singing rather than speaking their parts. Usually, though, the storyline stays as vague to me as the Italian lyrics, but the opera buffs tell me that the plot is incidental to the performance. Should someone bother to ask my evaluation of the opera, I would comment on the well-constructed sets, the brilliant costumes, or the heftiness of the soprano. I could render no reliable judgment on the interpretation of the music or even the dramatic impact of the performance. When I return from the music hall with a crumpled program and an assortment of random impressions, I actually do not know how to evaluate what has taken place.

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Pastor, Minimize Your Own Opinions

What Is Expository Preaching?

Last month, I introduced the concept of expository preaching, an issue which can no longer be restricted to discussions between preachers, or reserved for Seminaries and Bible College classrooms. Today, exposition has become an identity marker by which to evaluate churches. In his book, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Mark Dever lists expositional preaching as mark number one. Dever believes it is the most important characteristic of a spiritually healthy church, the foundation upon which the other eight marks are built.

Thousands of Christians are now measuring churches by the yardstick of an expository pulpit. These Christians will not accept topical preaching as regular fare, and will search until they find a church that values exposition. This topic should interest all serious believers, but first we need to understand the basic terminology.

The simplest way to define exposition is explanation. Its goal is to explain the Word of God. Webster’s dictionary defines exposition as “detailed explanation, setting forth of facts.” Exposition is the detailed explanation of a portion of Scripture, a “text.” The text for a particular sermon may be chosen in various ways, but the goal of exposition is to enable people to understand accurately what God has spoken.

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How Shall We Then Preach?

If you think the subject of “preaching” is for preachers only, you would be mistaken. With the reformation taking place in American churches today, there has been a new emphasis upon expository preaching. Many “laymen” now consider expositional preaching one of the marks of a healthy church, and those who have been exposed to it are often reluctant to return to topical preaching again.

Not surprisingly, this has raised something of a backlash from those who prefer topical preaching, and thus in some places, we’ve added “preaching wars” to “music wars”—which raises the question, is expository preaching a necessity, or only a preference? Does the reformation of our churches require it, or can Biblical Christianity thrive under topical as well as expository preaching?

Like many issues, this is more complex than it first seems, and deserves more than a surface treatment.

More than thirty years ago, I was invited to a preachers’ conference sponsored by my alma mater, with forty men, fellow-alumni, who were all under the age of forty. The meeting included a round table discussion among the attendees who were considered to be potential future leaders of Biblical Fundamentalism.

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