Dangers of Expository Preaching

So, yesterday I asked if there is consistent biblical example or mandate to preach expository sermons. I don’t think there is and I find that pretty ironic since it is based on the principle that Christians should look to the Bible for answers on how to live (apparently excluding how to preach).

I made a statement about halfway through the post that I want to talk about in this post:

topical preaching may risk the danger of manipulating the Bible into saying what the preacher wants it to say, whereas preaching from the text (and generally through the text) means that people are learning and living out what the Bible says.

In this, I think, is an assumption that makes expository preaching much more dangerous than topical preaching. When someone preaches an expository sermon the impression they give is that they are telling the audience what the Bible says, not what they think. This would be great, if it were true.

Expository sermons can be just as full of opinions and personal agendas as topical sermons. At least in a topical sermon it is clearly stated that the person is trying to make point X and will use Bible Passages a, b, and c to prove X. In the expository sermon point X is given some super-powerful association with being “from the Bible” and now carries the weight of being “biblical” as opposed to an opinion that is merely supported by the person’s interpretation of the Bible.

I think Steve hits on this point well in his comment on yesterday’s post:

expository preaching doesn’t guarantee that the preacher deals with the text. Yes, he may READ the text out loud before his sermon, and he may talk about it during his sermon, but the true meaning can be easily avoided. I’ve heard it happen numerous times from very gifted expositors. (emphasis mine)

Be cautious of people who try and tell you what the Bible says, especially those who tell you they have no agenda.

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About Dan Allen

Just some guy trying to figure stuff out... View all posts by Dan Allen

11 responses to “Dangers of Expository Preaching

  • Alan Knox

    Dan,

    I love the distinction that you and Steve are making. Where topical preaching veers from what is revealed in Scripture, it becomes dangerous. Also, where expository preaching veers from what is revealed in Scripture, it becomes dangerous also.

    What if we just said this: Where any kind of teaching veers from what is revealed in Scripture, it becomes dangerous.

    -Alan

  • Tyler Hess

    i don’t have a problem with topical teaching, as Jesus obviously did it, but I do see examples where teaching through the text is also used, specifically Nehemiah 8:8 and Acts 20:27 coming to mind at the moment. there are good and bad teachers for each kind.

    • Dan Allen

      Tyler

      Thanks for the comment!

      I agree that there can be good and bad teaching under either model (as well as other models). The thing that concerns me about “Expository” teaching/preaching is that it sometimes is treated as superior, sometimes leading the listener to let their guard down (and maybe their mind relax), in that it is teaching “what the Bible says” when in reality it is (at best) teaching what the teacher/preacher believes the Bible says.

      Dan

  • Nathan Creitz

    Just ran across your blog through the “tag surfer” feature. I thought I’d chime in since I’m your neighbor down here in Massachusetts.

    I agree that we need to be careful when someone claims to be communicating the Word of God through their sermon. However, whenever I preach (and I value topical and expository if done faithfully) I really am asking the question, “what did the original author, inspired by the Holy Spirit, intend to say to his original audience?” and how can I, being led by the Spirit, as faithfully as possible communicate that same message to today’s listeners. I would expect and would encourage my listeners to be discerning and “fact check” and never take my own words or interpretation of a text as “the Gospel truth” though I am afraid not every pastor advocates the same caution.

    I guess what I’m saying is, there is a lot in the original languages, the historical context, the lexical data, the Biblical context, and the various genres that can be studied and applied to a text that is helpful. My professor explained it as seeing things in HD. Anyone can read their Bible and enjoy the Spirit speaking into their lives the word of truth. But when you can really wrestle with the text, meditate on it, understand better (not perfectly) what the original author intended, and spend time praying for your people and seeking to apply that text faithfully to their world, how is that not a good thing?

    We need to encourage listeners to be discerning and test what they hear and we need leaders to be faithful to “exposing” the text and helping to remove the cultural and linguistic layers that may hinder us from having better clarity about what a particular text means. I’m just as frustrated as you that there are some who use the Bible to make their own points. On the other hand, though, I more frequently have a preconceived idea about what a text is saying or what the main point should be and then after wrestling with it for hours in prayer and study the sermon ends up being completely different from my preconceived ideas.

    I hope that makes some sense. Thanks for raising the issue here on your blog!

    • Alan Knox

      Nathan,

      I also enjoy digging into the text and the historical background in order to understand the author’s intent. I’ve also found that it’s important for me to allow God to teach me through those others who are also reading and studying and praying. In this way, it’s less likely that the truth of Scripture becomes lost in my own perspective and interpretation. What do you think?

      -Alan

    • Dan Allen

      Nathan

      Thanks for stopping by the blog, and for leaving a thoughtful comment. I appreciate that you seem to understand my point about not trying to sell your own ideas as the Bible’s ideas and encouraging others to study for themselves, not simply take your word for it. I also agree that there is certainly value in studying the original language and historical aspects of a text, but I would lean toward those being nonessential, because ultimately The Bible is nothing but words without God’s Spirit working in the heart of the reader/hearer. He can certainly teach those who have theological education/knowledge and those who don’t.

      Again, thanks for the thoughtful comment!

      Dan

  • Preaching, Doctrine, and Church Buildings, but it’s not what you think | The Assembling of the Church

    […] Dan at “The Ekklesia in Southern Maine” writes about the “Dangers of Expository Preaching.” Dan is concerned that labels such as “expository preaching” may encourage […]

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    […] See Dan’s thought-provoking posts here and here. […]

  • Bob

    The problem I see with both approaches to teaching is that they are essentially a monolog. I teach you listen. I think there is a place for this approach but it is unfortunate that it has become THE approach to teaching in the church. Much of the teaching that Jesus did was part of a dialog. This is teaching to the need of the listeners rather than what I feel like talking about. One of the benefits of this kind of teaching is that encourages people to think about what they believe and why. It also teaches people how to read the scriptures rather than just delivering content. It would not work in a large crowd of course. This kind of teaching is more suitable to an intimate setting. Dialog teaching has it’s own challenges but nothing beats that great feeling you get when you see the light go on in someones eyes. I have done both the monolog type of teaching and the dialog. I find the dialog to be the most rewarding. I never have had anyone break down in tears and share the burdens of their heart while I was preaching but it has happened many times when in a dialog.

  • Todd

    With Expository preaching you can see the context and allows to the audience at least challenge in their minds what is being preached. Topic sermons you cant do as much, as the preachers cherry picks verses and have multiple contexts.

    Anybody preacher who states they speak for God or tell you what the bible means can be dangerous no matter in a sermon or in real life.

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