on the quality of expository preaching

Expository preaching is all the rage. I remember reading one blogger in ancient internet history proclaiming that his generation would be kept from the errors of the current and preceding generations of fundamentalists by expository preaching.

Well, that remains to be seen.

In the meantime, certain figures are seen by many to be the paragons of expository preaching. After them, as one commenter said, all you hear is “crickets”.

In other words, the world of preaching is dominated by these notable expositors and no one else rates.

Well… I recently had the opportunity of listening to a series by one of these princely preachers. The series was on the preaching of John the Baptist from Luke 3.1-17. The theme of the series was Repentance.

I was surprised at the repeated expositional errors this preacher made.

Here are some of them:

  • John the Baptist is the model for Christian preaching. This comment was made repeatedly, a major point of the first message.

But wait a minute… is that how the New Testament presents the preaching of John? As a model for Christian preaching? Was John a Christian? What about the preaching in the book of Acts? Wouldn’t that be more likely to be called the models of Christian preaching, if any part of the New Testament presents any such ‘model’ at all?

  • The 120 gathered in the upper room on Pentecost were all that remained of John’s and Jesus’ preaching. The people who thronged John and Jesus were false professors, who even these two couldn’t win with their preaching of repentance.

It is true that many who followed Jesus were following for the wrong reasons. The end of John 6 mentions some of them. But… for all that ministry, all the Lord and John had to show for it was the 120? What about the “500 brethren at once” to whom the Lord showed himself (1 Cor 15.6)? I guess 380 of them were false professors? Or died between this incident and Pentecost? Or what about the disciples of John who Paul came across in Ephesus (Ac 19.1-5)?

This statement is just a basic error – a statement that was repeatedly made throughout the four messages of the series.

  • The preacher repeatedly asserted that John the Baptist was ‘the greatest man who ever lived’.

Is that the Biblical teaching concerning John? Well, Matthew quotes the Lord this way: “Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Mt 11.11) We could quibble here and say, ‘See, John is just the greatest up till that time…’ But let’s not quibble. Let’s look at the whole story. Here is Luke’s version: “Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” (Lk 7.28)

Luke makes the reference clear. (And it is the same gospel the series is based in!) So… is the expositor right? Was John the greatest man who ever lived?

Just quibbles?

You might accuse me of just picking at trifling points. Well, they are minor points of the messages to be sure. They aren’t huge details in the overall scheme of the messages or the series.

But… they weren’t just ‘slips of the tongue’. They were statements repeatedly made. The preacher obviously has these details in his head this way, even though they aren’t exactly accurate.

And the points may be relatively minor, but they were stated in such a way as to be ‘supporting evidence’ to bolster the main point of the messages and the sermon series.

So… I wonder how good this expositor really is.

One last quibble

This really bothered me. In the bit where John says that Jesus will “baptize with the Holy Ghost and fire” (Lk 3.16), the preacher changed the text: he made it say “Holy Ghost OR fire”. Now… there are some respected men who do take it that way. But does it bother you the same way it bothers me? In order to take it that John is saying the One to come will offer two alternatives: Spirit OR fire (“turn or burn”), you have to change one of the inspired words. The word kai is never translated or – it can be translated ‘even’ or ‘also’, but never ‘or’: mostly it is ‘and’.

Since some commentators do take it as presenting alternatives, I can’t be too hard on this expositor on this point. But still…

Conclusion

Some have described this preacher as one of the great expositors of our time. After him and one other, “crickets”, some have said (meaning there is no one else after them).

If this is true, and if my examples of these expositional errors are accurate – maybe the reason we hear crickets after these guys is that everybody else is way ahead of them on the parade line. Maybe there is literally no one else after them!

I am purposely not naming the preacher involved here. You can guess away in the comments. There is no prize if you get it right, but I will acknowledge it if the preacher and the series can be identified.

don_sig2

Comments

  1. tjp says:

    Don,

    In many cases I’m afraid we are forcing young preachers to go to war in Saul’s armor. Expository preaching isn’t for everybody, yet it’s presented as the only option. The truth is very few men do expository preaching well, much less attractively and coherently. And even those who are currently famed as great expositors suffer. Unfortunately, their reputation exceeds their presentation, if you know what I mean.

    Over the years I’ve collected various books on sermon-crafting and preaching. Here are the ones I presently have in my library.

    How to Improve Your Preaching (Bob Jones, Jr.)
    Lectures on Preaching (Matthew Simpson)
    The Theory of Preaching (Austin Phelps)
    The Craft of Sermon Construction (W.E. Sangster)
    Preaching and Preachers (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones)
    A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons (John A. Broadus)
    The Preacher: His Life and Work (J. H. Jowett)
    A Primer on Preaching (Alfred P. Gibbs)
    He Expounded: A Guide to Expository Preaching (Douglas M. White)
    The Fine Art of Preaching (A.W. Blackwood)
    Doctrinal Preaching for Today (A.W. Blackwood)
    Expository Preaching without Notes (Charles W. Koller)
    Principles of Expository Preaching (Merrill F. Unger)
    Preaching Biblically (Don. M. Wardlaw)
    Lectures on Preaching (Phillips Brooks)
    An Introduction to Contemporary Preaching (J. Daniel Baumann)

    Needless to say, I enjoy books on preaching and sermon-crafting. At the end of the day, however, a preacher must know his own abilities and work from there. If he has the talent and temperament for expositional preaching, then he should pursue that style, and God will bless him. However, if his strengths lie elsewhere, perhaps in topical or doctrinal preaching, then he should cultivate that style and become as polished and dynamic as possible (“If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth”).

    For my own part, I enjoy a variety of styles, mostly however expositional and textual. As a young preacher I listened to the pros and cons of the preaching debate. In the end, I settled on a style that fit me and then found several older men who practiced that style, observing them as carefully as I could. It was a great help to me. But this new “one size fits all” mentality in preaching will ultimately handcuff otherwise good preachers and turn loose others who will struggle with an imposed technique.

    Have a good one!

    tjp

  2. Brian Ernsberger says:

    Don,
    Thanks for the insight. I would say that your “quibbles” are justified when we realize that as sermon makers we start with the “little” things and build upon them. If we come back and remove those little things the whole structure faces a possible collapse. We must be accurate and truthful even in the little things for they too build up or tear down our proclamation of the truth.

    • Hi Brian

      These little points would be one thing if they happened only one time in the series of four messages. We all mis-speak from time to time. (Some more than others!) But in this case, the errors were made repeatedly and stated in such a way as to be supporting material for the overall point being made.

      and Hi Tracy

      I agree with you about the ‘one size fits all’ approach. There is value in many different styles of preaching and each man needs to find his own niche. I tend toward expository, with an occasional topic thrown in (usually coming from something I saw in the exposition).

      I have about 50% of those titles on your list. That might be a good blog post some time, just comparing the titles we have on preaching.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jerimiah 33.3

  3. Keith says:

    Yes. John the Baptist was a Christian.

    • Keith, I don’t think you can make a Biblical case for that assertion. Christians are disciples of Christ. John was never a disciple. The Bible never identifies him as such. He was the forerunner, he was a prophet, but he wasn’t a follower of Christ.

      If you are making your assertion based on Covenant theology and the identification of Israel and the Church, well… you still don’t have a case.

      And, FWIW, the speaker I am referencing in this post would not agree with you. He would not say that John the Baptist was a Christian.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  4. Keith says:

    I’m not making an assertion based on Covenant theology. I’m making an assertion based on the Bible.

    Here’s what Jesus said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

    Here’s what the apostles said: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

    So, if John is with the Father, if he is in heaven, he is in Christ.

    Furthermore, Here’s what John’s mother said on hearing that Mary was pregnant with Jesus: “And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” (Luke 1:39-45)

    Elizabeth calls Jesus her Lord, and she is the forerunner of John. So, surely being a forerunner does not make it impossible to be a Christian. Plus, John leaps for joy at the news of Jesus — while still in the womb. John knew Jesus and believed in him. Jesus was John’s Lord — He said that he wasn’t worthy to carry Jesus’ sandals, he said that he needed Jesus’ baptism.

    If you want to quible about “Christian” not existing as a term until later in history, fine. If your point is that John wouldn’t have been called a “Christian” in his lifetime, fine.

    I’m not intending to fuss over a historical quibble or even some systematic theology nit-picking.

    I’m intending to say that John’s faith was in the Lord Jesus Christ, and he preached and lived the necessity of repentence and trust in Christ.

    Call that what you will, most people today call it “Christian.”

    Oh, and I have no idea who the preacher you are referencing might be. If you say that he wouldn’t think John a Christian, then I’m guessing Macarthur — since he’s the only dispensationalist in the currently popular “conservative evagelical” club. And, the point you are making smells like dispensationalism.

    • All righty then… so by that logic Abraham and Moses are Christians.

      Sorry, that isn’t the truth. All men come to the Father through Christ (ultimately), but not all such men are Christians.

      You speak like dispensationalism is a bad thing! Surprise, surprise, I am a dispensationalist.

      And you are right, the speaker in this case is MacArthur.

      Now, you’ve had your say on the point that bothers you, but we aren’t going to spend the rest of this thread arguing about whether John the Baptist was a Christian or not. That isn’t the point of the post.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  5. Keith says:

    Well, as to the point of the post — of course Macarthur isn’t the greatest expositor, he’s a dispensationalist so he’s going to be exegetically way off on quite a bit.