“There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Expository preaching had fallen onto hard times in Post-World War II. Gifted ministers, along with unmistakable prodigies, like Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones, that distinguished Welsh physician of souls, revived the art and science of assessing and diagnosing the human condition from the Scriptures (“the plight of Man” he called it) and treating the pathology with the healing balm of Scripture (exposing the timeless truths of God’s solutions, or, as he called it “the power of God”).
That preachers should declare the intent of the divinely inspired author seems basic to homiletics. However, some are questioning whether making propositional statements from Scripture about our condition today is unhelpful. In a world shaped by Michel Foucault and his social constructs, deconstructionism, and “doubt everything” approach to life, can we truly be effective using what appears to some to be an archaic preaching methodology.
What is expository preaching?
Even one well-known “evangelical” church leader has questioned the validity of expository preaching. The minister in question assures us that expository preaching is not found in the Bible. I disagree.
Expository preaching is the exegesis and “exposing” of universal Biblical truth to every age, every audience. This was the ministry of Jesus. It was the preaching of Peter at Pentecost. It was the ministry of Paul at Mars Hill. And it remains the incontestable work of the preacher.
There is, of course, a breadth to the expositional method. One may preach through a lectionary, through chapters, or sequentially move from Genesis to Revelation. The important thing is that wherever you land in the 66 books of the Bible you preach: not a Bible study, not a foundational text for a topical concern, but rather preach wrestling with the biblical text and its implications for anthropology (the human condition), soteriology (the application of the cross of Christ), and ethics (how shall we then live).
If I had no other reasons to write you but pragmatic ones, then I would still want to write this; for expository preaching works. Expository preaching is the proleptic seed of the ministry that when planted, springs forth to a supernatural harvest: revival, healing, and eternal life. In short, expository preaching is the very power for the pastorate.
Below, I offer 8 concise reasons why expository preaching is the power for the pastorate, whatever your situation:
1. Expository Preaching Is Divinely Wrought
The Word, my beloved brothers in the ministry, is the God-given place where we may stand, where we may reason, where we may dialogue with others. Indeed, we have been forbidden to go elsewhere. As a pastor, the reason that I want to focus on expository preaching—that is, proclaiming the inerrant and infallible Word of the living God as it is written, as it has been transmitted to me by God through the church, passing muster with the intent of the author, with conviction in my own life, and with love for those before me—is because expository preaching fixes itself, by its best definition, onto God’s Word, divinely wrought and divinely authorized.
2. Expository Preaching Is Biblically Faithful
The whole matter of whether expository preaching can effectively communicate to a “late modern” Western secularized culture is a question that has been posed and pondered by many. Yet if we are preaching the very Word of God, then surely God knows what we need in every age.
This Word worked in the fallen ruins of Eden when God promised a Savior in Genesis 3:15. The Word worked in Genesis 12 when God’s Word provided promises to Abraham for a land, a nation, and a blessing that would reach around the world. God’s Word was enough in 586 BC in the crumbled remains of Jerusalem when a weeping prophet named Jeremiah preached with tears. God’s Word worked in first-century Rome when Paul preached it. It worked in the eighteenth century in America when George Whitefield roared out its truths up and down the colonial coast. It worked in the nineteenth century in Korea when missionaries preached there, and it worked in industrial Dundee in Scotland when Robert Murray M’Cheyne preached there. It worked in the twentieth century, the bloodiest century so far in the world’s history, when modernity overtook the West and men such as the Anglican, John Stott, quietly thundered forth the truth of the Ages from a world capital such as London.
It will work in the twenty-first century, in postmodern and post-Christian North America, as it will work in China, Africa, India, and Europe. The Word will work in Charlotte as well as Chennai, will free slaves to sin in Miami and Miramar, give abundant life in Los Angeles and in London, renew cold-hearted saints from Des Moines to Dehradun, restore marriages at Peoria and Pretoria, reunite severed relationships in Topeka and Tirana, sprinkle the spirit of holiness in New Orleans and Nice, call new missionaries out of Kansas City and Kabul, and save souls from eternal punishment in Bangor, Boston, and Bogotá. That is a lot of alliteration about cities of the world! If you will pardon the possible abuse of literary device, my unabashed argument rests: The exposition—unveiling and unleashing—of the inerrant and infallible Word of the living God transcends time, tongue, and territory. Expository preaching is the handmaiden of the Lord for the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the world: yesterday, today, and until Christ comes again.
The power of our ministries is expository preaching because, if what we have to say is the Word of God, then how we say it matters. And expository preaching rightly followed, is the way to say it.
3. Expository Preaching Is Pastorally Effective
There is no program, no model, no paradigm, no experiment, no policy, and no amount of pure elbow grease or mental genius that can equal the power of the Word of God preached. It accomplishes everything I hope for in the ministry. Recently, I read that the best time-tested discipleship tool in the history of the church has been faithful attendance in a service of Christian worship where expository preaching is central. The service may be liturgical or “free church.” But, for example, when the Book of Common Prayer worship format is paired with regular expositional preaching of the Bible, souls will be saved, lives will be transformed, and the Kingdom of God will come (I would posit that expository preaching combined with a Gospel-retelling liturgy is the supreme form of Christian worship and most effective pastorally). My own experience as a disciple and a pastor is that I couldn’t agree more. Place a wounded soul in a parish ministry where the Bible is preached by exposition and there will be significant emotional, spiritual, and, thereby (because of the unseen “sinew” connecting soul and body), possibly even some kind of physical healing over time.
4. Expository Preaching Is Vocationally Satisfying
Expository preaching fulfills God’s purpose for our lives as preachers. He has called you to preach the Word, and you will never be happy until you go to that Word, live in that Word, exegete the meaning of that Word, dive like a Pacific native to the bottom of the ocean for the rich pearls of that Word, and then come back up from your time in the deep-blue of God’s presence, string those pearls together in a sermon, and put them on the neck of your people.
5. Expository Preaching Is Eschatologically Useful
Expository preaching brings our people into contact with ultimate realities. In personal eschatology, expository preaching prepares our people to not only live but to die. Oh, if we could hear the stories of faithful preachers, seated right here today, who have shared those sweet and sacred moments of vigil with a family when a loved one is going home to heaven. You know that the power for your ministry at that time is in the exposition of the Word. I will never forget an elder in the church where I was pastor (and who heard the Word preached for many years prior to my arrival) tell me, “I have been waiting for my time to come. I have dreamed of Christ in every sermon that I have heard through my life. Now, I am ready to go home. I am dying to meet this Christ.” This is what Richard Baxter called, The Saints Everlasting Rest. This is the priceless pearl fashioned by the Holy Spirit; spinning trials into testimony. This is the golden harvest of expository preaching.
6. Expository Preaching Is Personally Edifying
When we are about the work of expository preaching in the pastorate, the work carries us along in a sense. Week-in and week-out, we develop a discipline of study, for to preach the Word of God line-upon-line, precept-upon-precept, demands time, struggle, and prayer. I know that in this room, your heads and hearts are turning, perhaps not over this address, but over the portion of Scripture that you must deliver this week. Is there anything as rewarding in life as unburdening your soul in that movement when you approach the sacred desk and open up the Bible? Expository preaching feeds my soul. I know of no other way to put it.
7. Expository Preaching Is Constantly Challenging
To present the mind of Christ in a text requires much of us, does it not? I once heard a preacher say that every time he preached, a little piece of him died. I am sure there are those for whom that is true because they are tired of preaching, or they will know that they will get ripped to pieces at the front door of the church. But this man was speaking about preaching in a way that I can identify with. Like you, to preach the mind of God, to go through the necessary steps to get there, then to emotionally discharge the holy calling on your life through the act of expositing a text, is the most challenging thing in the world. It takes your very life.
8. Expository Preaching Is Always Contemporary
When we preach the Word, we never have to worry about whether it is the right time or not, or if it is the right message or not. Now surely wisdom is needed to discern between preaching Lamentations at a wedding or Leviticus 15 and “bodily discharges” at the baptism of an infant! But you know what I mean. Expository preaching is always in vogue, always “cool,” if you will. Why? The human condition remains the same in every age. God’s Word is truth. Jesus of Nazareth is the Word of God. The Holy Bible is the “inscripturated” (Dr. Robert Reymond’s wonderful word) mind of the Father, in the life of the Son, by the power of the Spirit. To preach anything else is to withhold the “Word from Another World” that has come into ours. And why in the world would God-ordained ambassadors of heaven preach anything else? The answer? They shouldn’t.
Parts of this newly edited article appear in Dr. Milton’s The Secret Life of a Pastor.
Michael A. Milton, PhD (University of Wales; MPA, UNC Chapel Hill; MDiv, Knox Seminary), Dr. Milton is a retired seminary chancellor and currently serves as the James Ragsdale Chair of Missions at Erskine Theological Seminary. He is the President of Faith for Living and the D. James Kennedy Institute a long-time Presbyterian minister, and Chaplain (Colonel) USA-R. Dr. Milton is the author of more than thirty books and a musician with five albums released. Mike and his wife, Mae, reside in North Carolin
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Photo credit: ©Getty/4maksym
Michael A. Milton, Ph.D. (University of Wales; MPA, UNC Chapel Hill; MDiv, Knox Seminary) Dr. Milton is a retired seminary chancellor and currently serves as the James Ragsdale Chair of Missions at Erskine Theological Seminary. He is the President of Faith for Living and the D. James Kennedy Institute a long-time Presbyterian minister, and Chaplain (Colonel) USA-R. Dr. Milton is the author of more than thirty books and a musician with five albums released. Mike and his wife, Mae, reside in North Carolina.