August 26, 2009

Why I Preach Expositionally, part 1: The Authority of Scripture

I've been thinking a lot lately about preaching and, consequently, have reflected on the method I use to choose preaching texts. I am a strong proponent of expositional preaching, which is preaching that is intended to expose the meaning of the text. Expositional preaching seeks to take the central point of the passage as the main point of the sermon. It then goes on to make application of that point to the Church, the culture, and the lives of those present to hear. Expositional preaching is also generally taken to mean the preaching of books-as-wholes. That is, a preacher begins with the opening verse of a book and preaches through the entire book, paragraph-by-paragraph and verse-by-verse.

As I've said, I am a strong proponent of expositional preaching, and I want to take the next several posts to outline the reasons why I preach expositionally...and you should too.

The first reason I preach expositionally is nothing other than a resolute commitment to the authority of scripture. Scripture comes to us as the Word of God preserved and transmitted through his providential guidance. Scripture comes to us as that through which God gives life and mediates grace.

The apostles understood scripture to be given by the very breath of God and to be authoritative, good for teaching, reproof, correction, and training (2 Tim 3:16). The Old Testament writings, the Law and the Prophets, bear witness to the revelation of God's righteousness in Christ (Rom 3:21). Paul took his message of the gospel, which he preached in many cities and preserved in his letters, to be authoritative the extent that he called down curses on other so-called gospels and those who preached them (Gal 1:8-9). For two millenia, Christians have discerned the authority of scripture for their life, belief, and behavior. The Church has always looked to the scriptures, the Word of God, for instruction and training.

So, if the scriptures are authoritative, then the preacher ought to seek to submit his preaching ministry to the authority of the scriptures. The preacher should make it his goal to help the Church come under the authority of scripture as well. What better way to do this than the systematic exposition of the biblical books? What better way to do this than to expose the meaning of scripture in its original context and apply that to the life of the Church today? If we really believe that the Bible is authoritative, then we ought never step in the pulpit except to expound the authoritative text. The preacher carries authority only insomuch as he preaches the Word of God. The preacher, then, does not have license to insert his own pet theology or psychological musings. The preacher is faithful only when he preaches the text of scripture.

The way a preacher preaches reveals a great deal about his understanding of scripture. If the alleged sermon begins with a verse and then proceeds never to return to the text, the preacher reveals that he is not terribly concerned with the text and is not seeking to aid the Church in living under the authority of the text. One must wonder whether the preacher believes the text is authoritative at all. Whatever the preacher preaches, that is what he takes to be authoritative. If he preaches the latest self-help book, then he takes it to be authoritative. If he preaches his own motivational thoughts, then he elevates his own ideas above the precepts of scripture. You can tell a lot about what a preacher believes by the way he preaches.

So, why do I preach expositionally? Because scripture is universally authoritative. If I really believe that the text is authoritative, then I will do the best I can to understand it, to live under it, and to help the Church live under it as well. If I really believe that the text is authoritative, then I will not usurp the authority of the text with other competing authorities. If I believe the text is authoritative, then I will preach the text.

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