Topical Preaching

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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