Quotes from Rediscovering Expository Preaching

Rediscovering Expository PreachingThe Reasons for Expository Preaching

“…the glory of the Christian pulpit is a borrowed glow.… To an alarming extent the glory is departing from the pulpit of the twentieth century.… The Word of God has been denied the throne and given a subordinate place” (p. 5)

“Why do we have to turn to the human sciences at all? Why? Because for years we have failed to expound the whole of Scripture. Because from our weakened exposition and our superficial topical talks we have produced a generation of Christian sheep having no shepherd. And now we are damning ourselves more deeply than ever by our recourse to the wisdom of the world.”(p. xvi)  

“As it was with Christ and the apostles, so Scripture is also to be delivered by preachers today in such a way that they can say, “Thus saith the Lord.” Their responsibility is to deliver it as it was originally given and intended” (p. 27) 

“If the Bible is unable to produce a sound doctrine of Scripture, then it is thus incapable of producing, with any degree of believability or credibility, a doctrine about any other matter” (p. 31).

“The preaching in the Bible mandates only one biblical response for the post-biblical age: Continue to explain and exposit the message now fully revealed” (p. 42). 

“All preaching must be expository preaching if it is to conform to the pattern of Scripture” (p. 42). 

Definitions of Expository Preaching

“According to Webster, an exposition is a discourse to convey information or explain what is difficult to understand” (p. 10-11)

“Expositional preaching seeks to clarify what is difficult to understand in a passage. It opens up the Word and exposes the less obvious meanings and applications it contains” (p. 222)

 “The size of the text is immaterial, so long as it is biblical. What matters is what we do with it” (p. 58).

“Preparing for genuine expository preaching involves far more than engaging in legitimate word studies. Not only are the Bible’s words God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16), but so also are the relationships of those words to one another” (p . 154). 


“The syntax and structure of a passage lie at the very heart of true expository preaching” (p. 226).

“Just as verse-by-verse preaching is not necessarily expository, preaching that is not verse-by-verse is not necessarily non-expository” (p. 255).

The Elements of Expository Preaching

“None of these three elements [introductions, illustrations, and conclusions] can replace the Holy Spirit’s work of impacting people with the power of God’s Word.  However, to ignore or minimize these proven features of good communication makes a preacher negligent in exercising his human responsibility to be as effective as possible” (p. 242).

“The emphasis that writers of Scripture place on illustrations should be a most compelling motivation for us to walk in their footsteps” (p. 248).

“To every preacher of righteousness as well as to Noah, wisdom gives the command, ‘A window shalt thou make in the ark.’ You may build up laborious definitions and explanations and yet leave your hearers in the dark as to your meaning; but a thoroughly suitable metaphor will wonderfully clear the sense” (p. 293-94).

“Illustrate, by all means, but do not let the sermon be all illustrations, or it will be only suitable for an assembly of simpletons” (p. 295).

Warnings to Consider

“A major danger for those who prefer neat, three- or-four-point outlines with parallel points is that the passage may not lend itself to that luxury” (p. 233-34).

“Communicate the message; don’t just outline it” (p. 233).

“Don’t you ever go into a pulpit unprepared.  And if you say ‘The Bible says…’ you make sure to the best of your ability that it truly does say that” (p. 297).

“It is not the translator’s job to mediate between God’s Word and modern culture as the commentator or expositor does” (p. 320).

We must not get in the way, but rather allow our texts to ‘preach’ themselves” (p. 154). 

“We must never study a passage to find a sermon. We must study a passage to see completely the truth the Lord is teaching in it, and prepare the sermon out of the overflow of that comprehensive grasp and personal application of the passage” (p. 94) 

“A major precaution to observe is not to preach exegetical data from the pulpit. Because the expositor has been enlightened so much by what he has discovered, his initial impulse may be to pass on to his people the excitement of his discovery in the same terminology as he received it. This is a major mistake” (p. 143)  

Practical Advice

“Even if they cannot recall the outline (they probably will not—sorry!), that Word of Scripture will still speak to them because they have thought through its structure and shape in such a way as to have decisively met God in that text” (p. 159). 


“It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others” (p. 178 Spurgeon)

 What the Bible itself teaches often differs considerably from the ways one uses the Bible to teach” (p. 285).

“I find that explaining problems generates high interest” (p. 290).

 “As you preach a message, periodically reviewing its outline reminds your people where you are” (p. 296).

 “If each teacher of others went himself to the school of our one only Master, a thousand errors might be avoided” (p. 330).

“Edward Payson…‘… studied theology on his knees’” (p. 80).

“Translations can never cover all the nuances of the original text. This is the key area in which an expositor can add to his listeners’ knowledge of the text because they usually will be limited to what they can glean from a translation in their native tongue” (p. 139). 

“It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God” (p. 93). 



  1. Do you agree with this?

    “Why do we have to turn to the human sciences at all? Why? Because for years we have failed to expound the whole of Scripture. Because from our weakened exposition and our superficial topical talks we have produced a generation of Christian sheep having no shepherd. And now we are damning ourselves more deeply than ever by our recourse to the wisdom of the world.”


  2. Yes, in terms of spiritual matters.

    “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” (1 Corinthians 2:14)

    If we (as believers) had no science and spent all our time studying Scripture – spiritually, we would be no worse off, but rather, I believe quite a bit better off.

    For example: If we spent our time studying Scripture rather than studying Evolution.


  3. I don’t understand this quote – it looks like it is saying both that turning to the human sciences is bad, and that it is necessary… What precedes it?


  4. Truth being “Spiritually discerned” does not mean that the Bible alone can give them to you, in fact, I would think that it means the opposite (that is, an unregenerate person could study the Bible, understanding its semantic significance and relevance until they’re blue in the face, and still not “accept the things”).

    I didn’t disagree with all the quotes you posted, but it seems like this book falls into the trap of “worship the Bible and our expository system, rather than its Author” that is so common is conservative Christianity. That is —

    What transforms our lives?
    Wrong answer: Studying the Bible
    Right answer: The Holy Spirit

    What are the marks of a transformed life?
    Wrong answer: Regular quiet times
    Right answer: Visit orphans and widows, keep oneself unstained by the world


    The Bible is useful and given for a purpose, but it is not a standalone panacea, just as in George Herbert’s poem “Rest” … “that they might not worship the gift rather than the giver.”


  5. Here’s the whole quote:

    Psychiatrist and Christian writer John White has penned some compelling words that need to be heard:
    “Until about fifteen years ago psychology was seen by most Christians as hostile to the gospel.
    Let someone who professes the name of Jesus baptize secular psychology and present it as something compatible with Scripture truth, and most Christians are happy to swallow theological hemlock in the form of “psychological insights. ”
    Over the past fifteen years there has been a tendency for churches to place increasing reliance on trained pastoral counselors.… To me it seems to suggest weaknesses in or indifference to expository preaching within evangelical churches.… Why do we have to turn to the human sciences at all? Why? Because for years we have failed to expound the whole of Scripture. Because from our weakened exposition and our superficial topical talks we have produced a generation of Christian sheep having no shepherd. And now we are damning ourselves more deeply than ever by our recourse to the wisdom of the world.
    What I do as a psychiatrist and what my psychologist colleagues do in their research or their counselling is of infinitely less value to distressed Christians than what God says in his Word. But pastoral shepherds, like the sheep they guide, are following (if I may change my metaphor for a moment) a new Pied Piper of Hamelin who is leading them into the dark caves of humanistic hedonism.
    A few of us who are deeply involved in the human sciences feel like voices crying in a godless wilderness of humanism, while the churches turn to humanistic psychology as a substitute for the gospel of God’s grace.”

    John White, Flirting with the World (Wheaton: Shaw, 1982), 114–17.
    John MacArthur, Rediscovering Expository Preaching (Dallas: Word Pub., 1997, c1992), xvi.


  6. Ben:
    What transforms our lives?
    The Holy Spirit


    But what is the means of that transformation? Science? I think not.

    “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” (John 17:17)


  7. Yeah, see, looking at the whole quote — I don’t think expository preaching is the answer to any of the problems facing the world today. The gospel is complex in how it plays out, but the core elements are quite simple. No one is suffering or turning from Christ to the world because of say, for instance, not hearing John MacArthur’s idea of what Paul’s justification teaching in Romans means. Maybe everyone else is different from me, but I don’t think preaching has every really furthered either my understanding of God or my sanctification.

    I totally agree with “Sanctify them in truth” but I don’t think expository preaching is what Jesus is talking about.

    In truth, I think that expository preaching is by and large an incredibly self-indulgent waste of time and resources for the church. I would rather see one truth well-applied and understood than a multiplicity of what must only be half-truths (as the issues tend to get more complex) and that half-understood and hardly remembered. I’ve had to sit through countless hours of sermons in my life, and I would be surprised if even 5% had any positive effect.

    Maybe the artificial and unbiblical model of Pastor as CEO/Professor and church as a lecture works great for some people, but I dread sitting through 45 minutes of wasted time every week.

    And again, though the Bible is useful and should be a great tool in our arsenal, it is not merely a talisman against error and failure, but is more of a workbook to achieve an end. If the Bible in combination with other means proves more effective at attaining that goal, then why restrict yourself to “exposition”.

    In short, I don’t think the erosion of “expository preaching” is the cause of hardly any problems at all, nor is it likely to fix any of them if reinstated.

    Of course, maybe I am contrasting the wrong things here — maybe he is reacting to something I haven’t seen. But I’ve definitely seen his kind of model up close, and I don’t like it.


  8. I think in some ways your understanding of expository preaching is different than mine.
    I would call Spurgeon and expositor.

    But I’m planning on writing about that so we can talk about the definition then.

    I think that will clear up things so we can discuss them.

    A simple definition for now is this: Exposing what the author intended the text to say and explaining it to a contemporary audience. The opposite is knowing what you want to say and using a text to say something it never said (saying what the author never intended to say). Basically, to quote my professor, “the text can never mean what it never meant”


  9. Understanding different: I wouldn’t be surprised.
    Spurgeon: I don’t really like him that much.
    Never meant: I’m with you there.

    Maybe it’s not expository preaching I’m against. But I’m definitely against something.


  10. Ben’s list…
    Understanding different: I’m shocked! :-)
    Spurgeon: I’m saddened…
    Never meant: reminds me of Wherever you go, there you are.
    Contrariness: I’m amused.


  11. Oh, well, it’s not like I have anything against him, I’m sure he’s a great guy. I just haven’t been particularly struck by the greatness of his writing or theology … and I’m not especially happy about megachurches, which apparently started with him.


  12. He did have very large congregations – but they didn’t attend because they got their ears tickled, I know that! CHS’s congregations were more in line w/ those of Whitefield – people attended because they were drawn to the preaching of the Word. (Ben Franklin made that famous calculation that Whitefield was preaching to >10K outdoors, which is more than Spurgeon addressed indoors…)

    Come to think of it, Jesus drew large crowds using the same principle…


  13. Hmmm…. I don’t know that those necessarily applied – do you have evidence for them? (Beyond sheer size, of course.) Also, the MT was certainly denominationally affiliated.

    My understanding of the problems seen in many of today’s megachurches have more to do with the quality of the messages (and the rise of seeker-friendly churches) than anything else – but it appears we’re coming at the subject from different angles…


  14. I am confident you and I would have very different problems with megachurches. Anyway, I wasn’t the one that decided Spurgeon had the first megachurch … I read it in the wikipedia article, so my comments were building on that.


  15. ‘In the ensuing “Downgrade Controversy” The Metropolitan Tabernacle became disaffiliated from the Baptist Union, effectuating Spurgeon’s congregation as the world’s largest self-standing church and thus a precursor of megachurches of the 20th century.’

    “Self-standing” is the key there.


  16. Interesting – talk about megachurches in a post about exposition. haha, who would have thunk it!

    You have an interesting definition of mega-church Ben:
    Megachurch = cult of personality + too big for real community + no oversight / denominational structure (e.g. Willow Creek, Grace, etc.)

    How do you know?

    To be honest – I think Grace has some of the best community involvement and oversight of ANY church I’ve seen.

    Let’s get biblical about megachurches.
    Why should someone not want a megachurch?
    Is it because you think there are not enough Christians to fill one (the narrow road?)? Or because you think you cannot fulfill what churches are called to fulfill when they are big?

    There are a ton of really bad small cults as well, with the same problems that you mentioned megachurches have. I mean, just because something is large doesn’t make it evil.


  17. Terminology is again misleading. Here’s what I mean.

    Oversight = a group of leaders above and outside of the church that can hold the elders and pastor accountable. Present in a denomination. Analogous to “Jerusalem council”. Not present at Grace. You are probably using the term differently, like as in “discipline”.

    I don’t know. I’ve attended a lot of churches. Big churches, small churches, denominational, non-denom, post-denom, etc. All had good and bad sides. I’ll probably write more about community on your other post, but I think there’s a big difference between the sort of community available at a large church as opposed to that available at a small church.

    I don’t hate megachurches, but I think the other model is better, for a lot of reasons.

    Narrow road: with roughly 2 billion confessing Christians, that seems improbable. Then again, taking all the “Christians” in San Jose and putting them at one church could create some problems :)

    Cannot fulfil: Maybe. I am all for substance rather than form, so I’m not against a “megachurch” on principle, but only because in my experience it can be less effective … and because I think there are a few pitfalls that are bad.


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