Why I Don’t Preach Expository or Exegetical Sermons… (for the most part)
Devotional Thought of the Day:
27 God’s plan is to make known his secret to his people, this rich and glorious secret which he has for all peoples. And the secret is that Christ is in you, which means that you will share in the glory of God. 28 So we preach Christ to everyone. With all possible wisdom we warn and teach them in order to bring each one into God’s presence as a mature individual in union with Christ. 29 To get this done I toil and struggle, using the mighty strength which Christ supplies and which is at work in me. Colossians 1:27-29 (TEV)
This fact does give us the historical context of quite a few points of The Way, but above all it emphasizes one of the basic traits of the book: the fact that it was written facing the world, looking for men and women who want to sanctify themselves in their earthly interests and activities, and proposing a teaching which can be applied to any type of age, circumstance, or work: “What amazes you seems quite natural to me: God has sought you out right in the midst of your work. That is how he sought the first, Peter and Andrew, John and James, beside their nets, and Matthew, sitting in the customhouse” (799). “You have the obligation to sanctify yourself. Yes, even you! Who thinks this is the exclusive concern of priests and religious? To everyone, without exception, our Lord said: ‘Be ye perfect, as my heavenly Father is perfect’” (291). 1
Back when I was in college, I was taught and encouraged to preach a specific way.
To take a book of the Bible, and walk through it verse by verse, gaining nuggets of wisdom from the passage, especially from the Greek text. You also spend extensive time exploring the background of the passage, and how the people of that day would have understood the passage. All of the great preachers of that day claimed to preach this way! The preachers in my old non-denominational denomination and its sisters movements, and among that broad grouping know as evangelicals, and those who claimed to preach ‘through the Bible.” Many still do preach this way, and a lot of people prefer it.
Let me explain a few of the reasons I have moved away from expository and exegetical preaching. ( for the most part)
1. Exegetical Preaching Doesn’t Face the World
The line above, from the introduction to one of my favorite devotionals, describes the problem with expository/exegetical preaching. It doesn’t face the world. To be faithful to the passage and words in the text, your focus can become isolated from the people and focus only on the text, and what the text means. It is like the old priests and pastor tradition about doing most of the liturgy facing the altar, even if it means they have their back to the people.
When I was doing some doctoral level studies in preaching, one of the courses dealt with exegeting your congregation, your listeners. I struggled with this at first, but it makes sense. If you are going book by book, verse by verse, word by word through the scriptures, you may not be shepherding your people. You can be 100% faithful to the text, but to be faithful to what the people need means knowing them, understanding them, guiding them. If you are consistent with expository teaching, you will have to overlook their needs, or bend the passage.
2. The Issue of Job, Ecclesiastes, and the huge historical begat lists
The Book of Job sometimes astounds me, if you are going to preach it exegetically/ expositional.
Think about it. How much of the book is advice and counsel from those who will be confronted and humbled by God?
Going verse by verse through that book, or through parts of Ecclesiastes will be challenged by this. Do you want to take 15-20 minutes (or 45) talking about what isn’t a Godly message? Do you want to take all that time, week after week, with your primary emphasis on why it’s wrong, in that context?
3. It’s not the practice of the New Testament writers, even though they could have used the Old Testament that way. Romans isn’t an exposition of Isaiah. But the New Testament writers brought in texts from all over the Old Testament, to do one thing… the biggest thing!
4. THE BIGGEST ISSUE It doesn’t always preach Jesus.
Ultimately, in regards to my preaching, my job is to do one thing. As the Lutheran Confessions discuss, we are to give to people that which they need to know about Jesus. Why He was born, lived, why this is something that gives you the hope of salvation. That is what preaching is! It isn’t about making sure people know why all 613 Old Testament laws are there, We can talk about that at other times and other places; in Bible Studies and individual discipleship when those passages come into play.
People – all people – need to know God’s attitude toward them, and that is revealed by understanding the dimensions of His love, which is seen in the life and work of Jesus. That is gospel preaching, that is the good news, the giving of hope.
This is why our sermons reveal Him! It is why they are focused on God reconciling us to Himself through Christ, reconciling us into His glory! It is fulfilling His desire, helping you to know His love and mercy, to know He will give you the gifts He has promised….
That’s the job of a sermon.
You might call it an Apocalyptic preaching style, the unveiling of Christ to a people who need him, who need to know Him. For that is what the word apocalyptic means – to draw back the curtain and reveal that which is
To bring the message of all of scripture, the one message, to the people who God wants to hear it. So they can be cleansed, healed, and most importantly, His.
1 Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 128-134). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.