Expository homiletics

How to apply the content of the biblical text to the hearts and lives of those who hear our preaching

Jud Lake, Th.D., D.Min., is professor of preaching and pastoral theology, Southern Adventist University School of Religion, Collegedale, Tennessee.

Recent publications on homiletics have identified four paradigms, each with its own outcome for listening congregations: (1) the Traditional Homiletic under standing truth through explanation; (2) the Kerygmatic Homiletic encountering the presence of God; (3) the New Homiletic experiencing faith and meaning; and (4) the Postliberal Homiletic engaging the local cultural-linguistic community.1 The purpose of this article is to introduce a fifth homiletical paradigm that focuses on helping congregations understand and experience the power of the biblical text in its context.2

This homiletical approach began in 1980 with the publishing of Haddon Robinson's Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages3 considered by editors of the journal Preaching to be "one of the most influential homiletics texts ever published."4 Robinson laid the theoretical foundation by defining expository preaching 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 the preacher, applies to the hearers."5

During the 1980s and 1990s, expository theorists built upon this foundation, providing works of their own that developed their approaches to expository preaching.

It is important to note that while all these works emerged from the framework of the Traditional Homiletic, the distinguishing feature that sets them apart is the emphasis they put on expository methodology: describing expository preaching, its assumptions about Scripture, the role of hermeneutics and exege sis, and their intentional focus on such emphases as application philosophy. Other traditionalists advocate preaching from the biblical text, but lack this emphasis on expository methodology.

While there is no unanimity among this expository group in all things, they do share a common belief articulated by David Bass: "There are not, strictly speaking, several kinds of preaching (topical, expository, textual) or many kinds of sermons (doctrinal, lectionary, life situation, relational, etc.); there is only one: [and that is] expositional." Only this kind of preaching is worthy of the name because in it "the truth of a Scripture text is explained and applied to the lives of the hearers."6 As such, the significant body of literature emerging from these expository homileticians sug gests the existence of what I call the Expository Homiletic, the fifth major paradigm characterizing the contemporary homiletical landscape.7

Eight reasons to embrace the Expository Homiletic

The literature of the Expository Homiletic has much to offer Seventh-day Adventist preachers and others who value the Bible as the Word of God. I suggest eight reasons why we need to embrace the writings of this important homiletical paradigm.

First, it capitalizes on the biblical model of preaching advocated by the apostle Paul: "Preach the Word!" (2 Tim. 4:2. NKJV). Commenting on this verse, Ellen G. White has urged ministers to "speak in sincerity and deep earnestness, as a voice from God expounding the Sacred Scriptures."8 This happens only when the preacher is "rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15, NKJV; cf. Neh. 8:8, NKJV).

Second, it holds to a high view of Scripture and thus stresses the centrality of the biblical text during the preaching of the sermon. Renowned expositor John Stott writes: "It is my contention that all true Christian preach ing is expository preaching. ... To expound Scripture is to bring out of the text what is there and expose it to view.

The expositor prizes open what... is obscure, unravels what is knotted and unfolds what is tightly packed. The opposite of exposition is 'imposition/ which is to impose on the text what is not there. .. . Whether it is long or short, our responsibility as expositors is to open it up in such a way that it speaks its message clearly, plainly, accurately, relevantly, without addition, subtraction, or falsification. In expository preaching the biblical text is neither a conventional introduction to a sermon on a largely different theme, nor a convenient peg on which to hang a ragbag of miscellaneous thoughts, but a master which dictates and controls what is said."9

A longtime teacher of expositors, Walter Kaiser, is known for this hyperbolical statement: "Preach a topical sermon only once every five years and then immediately...repent and ask God's forgiveness!"10 Kaiser's point is that congregations need a steady diet of preaching "guid ed by God's Word in its origins, production, and proclamation." 11 Such preaching will move us away from topical preaching, in which the sermon is governed by a topic, 12 to expository preaching, in which the sermon is governed by the inspired text.

Third, this expository homiletic stresses the importance of careful exege sis through which the biblical text is accurately understood. In the various expository volumes, one will find an abundance of practical helps that aid us in analyzing the historicalcultural, literary, grammatical, semantic, and theological contexts of Scripture. Moreover, one will find helpful suggestions on how to use this exegetical data creatively in expository preaching.

Fourth, this homiletic is ideational in nature. Haddon Robinson makes the following unforgettable statement in Biblical Preaching: "A sermon should be a bullet, not buckshot." By this he means that a sermon "is the explanation, interpretation, or application of a single dominant idea supported by other ideas, all drawn from one pas sage or several passages of Scripture."13

Expository homileticians have followed this single-idea approach consistently over the years because they believe those who listen to sermons search for unity and order. These homileticians teach preachers to extract an idea from God's Word and make that idea the central idea of the sermon. This practice has a suc cessful track record and has proven itself as the best approach for engag ing exposition.14

Fifth, this expository paradigm teach es the Christ-centered nature of Scripture and thus emphasizes that all exposi tory preaching should be Christcentered. Seventh-day Adventists believe in the importance of uplifting Christ in the sermon. Foundational to the Adventist understanding of what is at the heart of good preaching is the concept that "Christ crucified, Christ ascended into the heavens, Christ coming again, should soften, gladden, and fill the mind of the minister of the gospel that he will present these truths to the people in love and deep earnestness."15

Bryan Chapell's Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon is fast becoming an evangelical classic on this subject. In two remark able chapters16 he sets forth a Christcentered methodology for preaching the expository sermon that resonates with the Adventist understanding of the great controversy. He writes: "A passage retains its Christocentric focus, and a sermon becomes Christcentered, not because the preacher finds a slick way of wedging a refer ence to Jesus' person or work into the message but because the sermon iden tifies a function this particular text legitimately serves in the great drama of the Son's crusade against the ser pent."17

Sixth, this expository homiletic emphasizes creativity in sermon form. For instance, expository scholar Harold Bryson provides examples of 20 sermon forms or designs that can be applied to various genre in Scripture: nine deductive designs, five inductive designs, and six narra tive designs. 18 As such, the caricature "three points and a poem for every sermon" finds no place in the think ing of these expository homileticians.

Seventh, this expository homiletic provides effective strategies for applying the ancient text to the contemporary audience. For example, discussions of audience relevance, dynamic illustra tion, and careful application are found frequenting its books. The con viction is that authentic expository preaching should convey biblical truth while avoiding pedantic expla nation or oral commentary. Thus, one will find helpful ideas on how to explain and apply Scripture in such a way that it engages contemporary audiences.

Eighth, this expository paradigm places stress on the role of the Holy Spirit and prayer during the preparation and preaching of the sermon. The convic tion of many in this paradigm is that when the biblical text is faithfully expounded, the Holy Spirit will anoint the expositor with a special empowerment that carries his or her delivery beyond natural abilities. 19 This is true, of course. But in contrast to this rather limited view of the role of the Spirit in preaching, there is the conviction that in each sermon experience, ministers should "plead with God to imbue them with His Spirit, and enable them to lift up Christ as the sinner's only hope."20 This prayer encompasses the whole of the preaching experience. What a difference this can make in our preaching!

Preach biblically!

Preach better By embracing the Expository Homiletic and implementing its principles in our pulpits, we can preach better, and preach biblically. Then our congregations will hear text-centered, audience-focused, Christ-centered, Spirit-filled sermons that impact their lives and deepen their knowledge of Scripture. The result will be churches that grow and flourish because God's Word accomplishes its purpose (Isa. 55:10, 11).

1 For discussion of these four paradigms, see Robert S. Reid, "Faithful Preaching: Preaching Epistemes, Faith Stages, and Rhetorical Practice," Journal of Communication and Religion 21 (1998): 164-199; Lucy Atkinson Rose, "Preaching in the Round-Table Church," (Ph.D. dissertation, Emory University, 1994); and Judson S. Lake, "An Evaluation of Haddon Robinson's Homiletical Method: An Evangelical Perspective," (Th.D. dissertation, University of South Africa, 2003), 20-44.

2 This article is based on chapter two in my doctoral dissertation, and a chapter I contributed to a festschrift in honor of Norman Gulley. See "The Birth of a New Homileticai Paradigm," in The Cosmic Battle for Planet Earth: Essays in Honor of Norman Gulley, Ron du Preez and Jiri Moskala, eds. (Bemen Springs, Mich.: Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, 2003), 187-209.

3 Robinson recently released the revised second edition (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980, 2001).

4 See "1999 Book of the Year," Preaching (January/February 2000), 6.

5 Robinson, 21. See also Lake, "An Evaluation of Haddon Robinson's Homiletical Method," 128-155.

6 David M. Bast, "Why Preach?" The Reformed Review 39/3 (Spring 1986), 175, 176.

7 See Mark A. Howell, "Hermeneutical Bridges and Homiletical Methods: A Comparative Analysis of the New Homiletic and Expository Preaching Theory 1970-1995," (Ph.D. dissertation, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1999), 26, 109ff; and Lake, "The Birth of a New Homiletical Paradigm," 195, notes 33, 34.

8 Ellen G. White, Gospel Workers (Washington, D.C.: Review & Herald Pub. Assn., 1948), 147.

9 John Stott, Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,1982), 125, 126.

10 Walter Kaiser, Toward an Exegetical Theology: Biblical Exegesis for Preaching and Teaching (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), 19.

11 Ibid.

12 This is not to disparage evangelistic-thematic (or biblicalthematic) preaching, a very important practice in Seventh-day Adventism. There is a place for preaching on the great topical themes of Scripture (Holy Spirit, Second Coming, Sabbath, etc), but the "regular diet" for our con gregations should be lectio continua, the systematic exposition of Scripture passages in their God-given context.

13 Robinson, 35.

14 Ibid., 57, 58; for an apologetic of ideatsonal preaching, see Keith Willhite and Scott M. Gibson, eds. The Big Idea of Biblical Preaching: Connecting the Bible to People (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), which serves as a festschrift to Haddon Robinson.

15 White, Testimonies for the Church (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), 4:399,400.

16 Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 263-311.

17 Ibid., 293.

18 Harold Bryson, Expository Preaching: The Art of Preaching Through a Book of the Bible (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1995), 339-372; see also Donald Hamilton, Homiletica! Handbook (Nashville: Broadman and Hoirnan, 1992), 32-116, for discussion of various forms for expository sermons.

19 For an unforgettable study on this subject, see Tony Sargent, The Sacred Anointing: The Preaching of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Wheaton, II!.: Crossway Books, 1994).

20 White, Gospel Workers, 155.



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Jud Lake, Th.D., D.Min., is professor of preaching and pastoral theology, Southern Adventist University School of Religion, Collegedale, Tennessee.

January 2005

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