“The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.”--Proverbs 18:17
It’s been said, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” The origin of that statement is unknown. However, I am fairly certain the one that first said it was not trying to convince people expository preaching is not simply a style of preaching. At this point—after correct information has been shared by multiple people for several years—I have to believe men are simply unwilling to listen to a simple definition. “Willingly ignorant”, I think it’s called.
The word “exposition” is not a Biblical word. It has an actual meaning. The primary definition in the Cambridge Dictionary is “a clear and full explanation of an idea or theory.” Webster’s defines it as, “a setting forth of the meaning or purpose (as of a writing)”. For you history buffs, in 1828, Webster defined it as, “Explanation; interpretation; a laying open the sense or meaning of an author or of any passage in a writing.” That is the meaning of the word “exposition”, and it is not up for debate.
Now, if you add the word “Biblical” to that word—Biblical exposition—then the meaning becomes, “a clear and full explanation of the Bible” or the “setting forth of the meaning or purpose of the Bible” or the “explanation, interpretation, laying open the sense or meaning of the Bible”. I’m not making this up, mind you. That’s how the dictionary defines this term. And I was able to pull those dictionary definitions (and others) in about .37 seconds via Google.
Definitions of expository preaching by theologians are also quite readily available. For instance, Mark Dever defines it as, “preaching in which the main point of the biblical text being considered becomes the main point of the sermon being preached.” (Preach: Theology Meets Practice). David Helm defines Biblical exposition as, “preaching that rightfully submits the shape and emphasis of the sermon to the shape and emphasis of a biblical text.” (Expositional Preaching). Haddon Robinson defines expository preaching (more like a textbook) as, “The communication of a biblical concept derived from and transmitted through a historical-grammatical and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher then through him to hearers.” (Biblical Preaching).
Since these definitions all agree that Biblical exposition is preaching that seeks to unfold the true meaning of Scripture in its proper context as originally intended, and then apply that meaning to the hearers, I truly struggle to understand how a pastor (or anybody, really) could continually (and quite adamantly) oppose it. And yet, that very thing continues to happen. Preachers—who of all people should be interested in the precise meaning of words—demand that expository preaching is merely one way among several to preach. Here’s the problem with that. To suggest that Biblical exposition is not required in the pulpit is to actually say “preaching the true meaning of Scripture in its proper context” is not required in the pulpit. Furthermore, it suggests that preachers should sometimes twist the Bible to mean something other than what it actually says—that this is not only an option, but actually should be done at times when preaching. “I’m not saying that!!!”, one might say. And though I'm certain you may not have intended to say that, if the dictionary is the authority relative to the meaning of the word, you are, in fact, saying just that. Furthermore, to say that Biblical exposition is merely a style of preaching is to say that accurately preaching the Bible as intended by God is merely one way to do it. It may be one preacher’s style—and the next guy may do it differently because that’s not his style. Understand, I did not make that up. That’s how multiple dictionaries define this word.
Now I understand that some have mistakenly used the term “expository preaching” as preaching through books of the Bible verse-by-verse. Perhaps your Bible college teacher used it that way—I don’t know. It really doesn’t matter who said it. That is simply not what the term means. And a person who uses the word that way has misunderstood the meaning of the word. This is easily corrected if we are willing to reference a dictionary. I am at the point of believing some prefer to remain in willful ignorance. However, a person who has redefined a word should not expect people with the correct understanding of that word to accept their redefinition. If you choose to misuse a word over and over and over—even when informed pastors have tried to offer you the correct meaning, that’s on you. But you simply cannot get mad at fellow pastors for using a word the way the dictionary defines it. That’s stubborn and I dare say immature. It’s in the same vein as a man putting on a dress and demanding everybody affirm he’s a woman. It’s simply false. And there’s no way to change that. Arguing over the meaning of a word should be something that is easily settled in this day and age of online dictionaries. But here we remain—at an impasse.
A good pastor friend of mine has often said “Words have meanings”. And exposition is one of those English words that has a long-time dictionary meaning. Until we all get on board with the dictionary (or dictionaries, perhaps I should say) rather than ignoring the actual definition of the word, it will be impossible to agree. Not only that, if you are willfully refusing to accept the term for what it means while pointing a finger at other pastors using it correctly…well…let me put it this way…those pastors using it correctly are not the problem.
So expository preaching is not merely a style of preaching. On the contrary, expository preaching is Biblical preaching. To preach in an expository manner, then, means opening up God’s Word, reading a text, and explaining the meaning of that text to the congregation. Once that is properly done (and only after that is properly done), a pastor must seek to offer reasonable applications to the sheep he’s been given to shepherd. That is what it means to preach Biblically. That type of preaching is not optional for a church elder. And it most certainly isn’t merely a style—simply one of many ways to preach. And, to take any other position is to demand that words have no actual meaning.
So, I have not had previous success in this discussion. Though, I have tried. And now, I have tried again. I’ll let it rest—at least for a little while.
Todd Bryant is the Lead Elder at Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Northport, AL. He has pastored there since 1998. For more more information on the church and links to audio sermons and apps for electronic devices, visit www.sovereigngrace.net