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This post is part of a full article by Jeramie Rinne entitled Exposition and Sufficiency which can be read in its entirety at Reformation 21 website. Please click this link.

Making God’s Point Your Point

We’ve said that expository preaching flows naturally from a preacher convinced of Scripture’s sufficiency.  But what exactly is expository preaching?  There are many good definitions.  At 9Marks ministries, we typically say that an expositional sermon is one in which the point of the text becomes the point of the sermon, which is in turn applied to the congregation.  It’s a preaching that exposes what the Word says, and then shows how that relates to the hearers.  Visualize the expositor pointing at the text with his right index finger, and then pointing at himself and the congregation with his left index finger.  That’s the essence of exposition.

Perhaps it would be helpful to clarify what expository preaching is not.  Unfortunately the term carries negative and inaccurate connotations for some of us.  Consider these four clarifying denials about expository preaching:

First, expository preaching is not merely a verse-by-verse approach to Scripture.  A pastor can exposit a text verse-by-verse.  But he can also take up a paragraph, a pericope, or a whole chapter.  God’s Word speaks whether we take a microscopic look at one word, or a wide-angle shot of a whole book.  I have one sermon that I intentionally repeat at my church that covers the entire book of Job.  I recycle that sermon because suffering is a constant challenge in our peoples’ lives, and Job calls us to worship God even in our pain and perplexity.  But the point is that it’s one sermon on the main point of the entire book.

Second, expository preaching is not to be equated with the style of any one expositor.  When you think of someone who typifies expository sermons, who comes to mind?  Whoever that model pastor may be, don’t think that to be a faithful expositor you need to mimic his style, mannerisms, or preaching pace.  Give a text to four faithful expositors, and you will likely get four similar, yet unique sermons.  Though they will make similar points about the passage, the tone, emphasis and insights will vary according to the distinct personalities and gifts God has given to each.

Third, expository preaching is not merely a running commentary on the text.  Our definition includes an emphasis on application.  We preachers often struggle with making application.  Our seminaries trained us in exegesis, hermeneutics and theology, and our sermons often reflect this.  But if we never make application, we merely puff up our hearers with knowledge, or possibly cause them to tune out, without ever pushing the point of the text into their hearts, their families, their speech and their wallets.

Fourth, expository preaching is not inherently seeker insensitive.  We sometimes assume that relevant, topical sermon series are good for unbelievers and new Christians, while expository preaching is better for mature Christians.  Again, this betrays our faltering courage in the Bible’s adequacy.  Seekers (i.e. unrepentant sinners) need the Word of God if they are ever going to believe: “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).  Furthermore, sinners aren’t stupid; they’re just ignorant.  They can learn what God’s Word says if we’ll take the time to explain it to them clearly.  If teenagers can pound down Harry Potter and Twilight novels, and adults can consume The Wall Street Journal and follow the twists, turns, and theology of The DaVinci Code, then they can certainly digest a cogent expository sermon.

Expository preaching at its core is faithfulness to the Bible’s message and intent.  It arises from twin desires to see sinners sanctified and God glorified, by showing the power for doing both comes from God’s Word alone.  By making the point of the text the point of the sermon and application, we as preachers merely lead people to God on God’s terms and then watch as people encounter him through his Word.

 

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Excerpt of Tim Challies’ review on Philip Graham Ryken’s book entitled, City on a Hill. To view entire article, please click this link.

 

 

City on a Hill begins with an introduction to postmodernism. Ryken identifies these post-Christian times as being characterized by relativism and narcissism. In order to combat those forces and to be a remedy to society, the church needs to return to the model of the 1st century church – a church that was modelled on teaching, worshiping and caring. These three forces, when combined, caused the church to grow. Ryken identifies seven objectives for the church: expository preaching, worthy worship, Bible study and fellowship, pastoral care, educational programs, missionary work and service to the church and community. Each of these objectives forms a chapter in the book.

While these objectives are hardly unique, and could as easily be found in a book written by John MacArthur or any of the other Reformed or conservative church leaders, Ryken does something that gives this book great value. He shows how relativism and narcissism negatively impacts each of these seven objectives, and also shows how returning to the biblical model can be an antidote to the influences that pervade our culture. For example, he teaches that in a post-Christian culture, worship becomes less about Scripture, and less about honoring God, while becoming predominantly about the individual. Church becomes a place where needs are met rather than a place where God is worshiped. He teaches that we need a theology of worship to guide our practice so that we can avoid society’s negative influences. In the fifth chapter, which deals with pastoral care, the author teaches that “the revolt against the meta-narrative helps explain why people are so resistant to the gospel. Christianity has a story to tell. It claims to be the story, the story of humanity…However in these post-Christian times, people don’t want to listen to God’s story; they want to make up their own. When they read the script of salvation, they discover that it’s all about God and His glory. But they were hoping to play a bigger part. Hence the postmodern revolt against the meta-narrative, which is really a rebellion against the authority of God” (page 94).

Ryken determines that if we are wise, “we will recommit ourselves to expository preaching, God-centered worship, loving fellowship, pastoral care, costly discipleship, global evangelism, and practical compassion. But none of this will matter unless we recognize our need – our daily need – for the gospel. The church can only be a city on a hill if it confesses its sin and trusts in the crucifixion, resurrection, and intercession of Jesus Christ for any hope of salvation” (page 179).

For the church to succeed in its ministry during the post-Christian era, it must take care that it presents a biblical alternative to the forces of society, all the while ensuring that it does not accomodate them. When church does what it is called to do – to be a city on a hill; a light shining in the darkness – it will give the world what it most needs – the message of life and salvation in and through Jesus Christ.

This is a book that is sure to challenge the reader. It is consistently biblical, returning constantly to the Word of God. It calls the church to return not to the model of the twentieth century, but the model given to us in the Bible. I enjoyed this book and recommend it to others.

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About the Author: 

Dr Ryken holds degrees from Wheaton (B. A.), Westminster (M. Div.), and the University of Oxford (D. Phil.).  He is on the Board of Trusties at both Wheaton College and Westminster, and is an Executive Board Member with the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.

Philip Graham Ryken is Senior Minister of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, where he has preached since 1995.  He is Bible Teacher for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, speaking nationally on the radio program Every Last Word.  Dr. Ryken was educated at Wheaton College (IL), Westminster Theological Seminary (PA) and the University of Oxford (UK), from which he received his doctorate in historical theology.  He lives with his wife (Lisa) and children (Josh, Kirsten, Jack, Kathryn, and Karoline) in Center City, Philadelphia. 

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