Arminian Today

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Why Expository Preaching Is Neglected

By far the popular form of preaching today is topical preaching.  Topical preaching is where the preacher takes his topic, perhaps finds a few selected verses of Scripture, and then proceeds to teach on the topic.  Topical preaching is used in seeker churches and most churches focused on pragmatic ways of church growth instead of prayer and sound doctrine.  I know that is a broad criticism but I have yet to find a seeker church or a mega church that is based on expository preaching.  Every seeker and mega church I know (and sadly they are what defines American Christianity and many smaller churches feel the pressure to copy their pragmatism) uses topical sermons.  Some would claim to have expositional preaching by teaching through a book of the Bible but they neglect verse by verse teaching.

Expository preaching is focused on verse by verse teaching that is focused on what the Scripture means.  This is the simple definition of what the duty of the Bible teacher is to do: open the Bible and teach what it means.  Like Ezra of old, they are to do what he did in Nehemiah 8:8:

They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

Notice what Ezra did, he opened the Law of God and gave the sense.  Adam Clarke wrote this about preaching:

What the nature of preaching or expounding the word of God was, at this early period of its institution, we learn from the above cited text.

I. They read in the book of the law of God. – The words of God, the doctrines of Divine revelation, are the proper matter of preaching; for they contain the wisdom of the Most High, and teach man the things which belong to his peace and happiness.

II. They read distinctly - to expand; they analyzed, dilated, and expounded it at large, showing the import and genuine meaning of every word.

III. They gave the sense – they put weight to it; showed its value and utility, and how intimately concerned they were in all that was revealed: thus applying verbal criticism, and general exposition to their true and most important purposes.

IV. They caused them to understand the reading and they understood – had a mental taste and perception of the things which were in the reading, i. e., in the letter and spirit of the text. Thus they knew the Divine will, and approved the things that were more excellent, being (thus) instructed out of the law, Rom. ii. 18.

Consider topical teaching for a moment.  Does the explanation of the Scriptures take place?  When a topical preacher reads a verse, how often do they seek to expound on the Word and to teach what the Bible means?  They perhaps make a small comment about the passages of Scripture but do they dig deep into the Word to show its meaning?  Do they expound at large about the Word from which they read?  Often passages of Scripture in topical preaching is nothing more than proof texts.

Expository preaching focuses on the authority of the Bible by allowing the Bible to dominate the teaching.  The Bible and not the people or the preacher lead the people of God.  If we truly believe that Jesus is the Lord over His people and over His Church and He leads the Church by His Word, why do we neglect to expound His Word that He has given us by His Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16-17)?  If Jesus is Lord over His sheep, the duty of the Bible teacher is to feed the sheep of God and not to rob them of His Word in their lives.  We deny the headship of Jesus Christ in His Church when we fail to teach His Word to His Church (Ephesians 4:11-16).  Jesus speaks today and He does so in His Word (Hebrews 1:1-3).

Why do churches neglect expository preaching?  Why is expository preaching not popular today?  Let me offer my own analysis.

1.  Pragmatism.  

The “model” churches today are the mega churches.  The money, the power, the rock-n-roll “worship”, the skinny jeans, the rimmed glasses, the videos, the lights, the large platforms full of smoke, etc. are all seen as true Christianity by many clergy.  They see the mega pastor rolling in his Lexus and walking with his body guards and people reading his books and one begins to think, “Well, they are being used by God powerfully and they are not Bible teachers but entertainers so why not me?”  By looking to the mega church instead of the Word of God, the faithful church begins to compromise for the sake of money and growth.  The topical model fills the mega churches pulpits.  I have a reason why and I will get to that in a minute.  Soon the small faithful preacher feels the pressure to copy and so he neglects faithful exposition of God’s Word in favor of entertainment type sermons.

2.  Laziness.

Expository preaching is hard work.  It is not just working verse by verse through Romans but it is seeking to explain Scripture.  Expository preaching then requires you to study, to work through the text, to read commentaries, to study other sermons on the text, to dive into the original languages.  This is not easy work.  When I use to teach weekly from the Bible, an average time for me in my studies with 5-6 hours a week on just a few verses.

Topical preaching does not require much work.  In fact, you can google a sermon and have an outline in a few minutes.  I know of one pastor who waits until Saturday night then he sits and ponders what subject his church needs to hear and then he builds his topical sermon from that.  Notice again that the people and not the Word of God is what leads this man.  The topical sermon is dominated by the preacher, by the hearers, and by what is going on in the culture.

3.  Lack of Historical Focus.

We are Protestants.  We are children of the Reformation.  Martin Luther is often called “the first expositor” since he advocated verse by verse Bible teaching among the Reformers because Luther knew that the Catholics said they derived their authority from the pope.  The true Church, said Luther, derives its power from the Bible and if the true Church would teach the Bible then the people would be saved and Rome defeated in the process.  When the Bible is neglected, the source of authority is lost.

All the Reformers were expositors.  Luther.  Knox.  Calvin.  Arminius.  The Puritans were expositors.  Wesley wrote a Bible commentary as did other early Wesleyans such as Adam Clarke, Thomas Coke, and Daniel Whedon.  For the Arminian, Arminius himself was a faithful expositor.  He had learned expository preaching from Beza who in turn learned it from Calvin.  Calvin prepared ten sermons that he preached every two weeks.  Calvin preached verse by verse to the point that he was in exile from his church for three years and then when Calvin returned three years later, he opened his Bible to the same place where he had left off and continued to preach.

If we are truly Protestants, our authority comes from one place: the Bible.  The Bible is what allows us to preach the gospel and allows us to see God save sinners and sanctify His saints (John 17:17; 2 Timothy 3:15; Hebrews 4:12-13).

4.  Driven by Culture and not God.

Large crowds do not prove God’s blessing.  They prove nothing.  Simply because a church has thousands coming to it does not mean that it is blessed by God or glorifying to Him.  Neither do small churches prove God’s blessing or curse. Our duty is not to look to the crowds for our preaching.  Our duty is to be faithful to God (2 Timothy 2:2).  Our duty is to preach the truth of God.  We are to explain the Word of God for the glory of God.  Where you find faithful expository preaching, you’ll find faithful worship in singing and prayer.

The mega churches that have the focus today are there only for one reason: crowds.  They are not there because of the power of God.  They are not there because the Word is going forth (Acts 4:1-4).  They are not known for their sound theology nor for their hunger for God in prayer.  They are popular because they are popular with the world.

Our duty must be to be faithful to God.  The world will not like this (2 Timothy 3:12).  We who love the Word know that the world is wicked (Romans 3:10-18) and we know our job is to preach the truth of God despite the hatred of the world (John 15:18-25).  My job is not to be clever, to make people laugh, or to tell cute stories that move you but my job is 1 Corinthians 2:16, to make known the mind of Christ.

5.  Malpractice

If a person is to teach the Word of God, they must know the Word of God.  What doctor would not study diseases and be well read on the latest illnesses that are out there?  What kind of doctor would we think of one who just walks in while we are sick and dying and starts telling jokes, looks goofy, just tiptoes around my sickness and yet he doesn’t treat my disease and helps me be healthy?  Medical doctors take an oath to save lives and help people.

Yet consider those in the modern Western church who stand up week after week and they dominate the gathering with their goofy stories, jokes, lack of biblical depth, and lack of understanding.  Yet we applaud this?  We give money for this?

The duty of the Bible teacher is to know the Word of God.  The average Jehovah’s Witness can quote 35 verses to the average Protestant’s 1.  Can you, Bible teacher, quote the Word of God?  Do you know the Word?  Do you know how to defend the key doctrines of the Bible from memory such as the doctrine of the Trinity, the Scriptures, the deity of the Lord Jesus, His death, burial and resurrection?  Can you explain biblically how one comes to salvation in Christ alone through grace alone?  Do you wrestle with Romans 9?  Do you preach Ephesians 1?  Do you explain Hebrews 6 or 10?  Can you defend biblically what the Bible says about homosexuality, adultery, divorce, marriage, racism?  Are you able, like the Ephesian elders, to test people to see if they are in the faith (Revelation 2:2)?

How dare we enter the pulpit and be malpracticing as we do so.  Know the Word.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

09/19/2013 at 10:47 AM

5 Responses

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  1. I think I said this before, but you’re a man after my own heart.

    Steve S.


    09/19/2013 at 12:49 PM

  2. While I appreciate your concern over the apparent neglect of expository preaching today, I think that you’re somewhat hard on those who do topical preaching. Some of them spend a lot of time in study and prayer preparing messages that will help their congregations. As well they see the examples of topical preaching by Jesus and the apostles.

    Bob Hunter

    09/19/2013 at 1:56 PM

    • Perhaps. I don’t think topical preaching is “evil” but it is not as useful. If we truly believe that all of Scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16) then I believe that all of Scripture should be preached. Obviously what God says in Genesis 1:1 is just as true as Malachi 1:1 or Matthew 1:1 or Titus 1:1. They are all equal and need to be preached. Topical preaching avoids this.

  3. Perhaps a sixth point, or maybe just the attitude behind each of the five listed, is pride. I honestly think these pastors believe they are doing good. They honestly believe they know how it should be done. The only way to pull off the stuff they pull off in the church is from an overriding pride and self-confidence. I think we’ve lost the warning in James 3:1 “be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.” There is no weight of responsibility, but rather a glorying in selfish pride.


    09/19/2013 at 3:06 PM

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