Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Expository Preaching under attack

Just in case one did not think that an altar based liturgy and a pulpit based one do not conflict with each other, witness the recent attack on expository preaching. It begins at Reformed Catholicism where Kevin Johnson extols ‘kergymatic preaching’ which he defines as follows:

[kergymatic preaching] brings the acts of God to fore in the proclamation of God’s Word so that both in word and in deed (communion, the Lord’s Supper, weekly if possible), the covenant community is brought ever more forward into a unity with God through Christ and by His Spirit.

He makes clear it is not:

"micro-exegetical" line by line word by word expository preaching through books in order. That should have passed with the Puritans.

This shot at the line by line preaching straight through a book done by the Reformers was then heralded by The Boar’s Head Tavern, and the Restless Reformer, who rightly calls it ‘Christian Storytelling’. The Restless Reformer goes on to connect this problem to Systematic Theology, noting that Christology is usually the third course or topic in Systematics. Nielson’s Nook makes the jump from the original attack on expository preaching to the Lord’s Supper seemingly linking believing propositions from sermons to a misuse of the sacraments. What is clear is his desire to have a more liturgical way of propounding the gospel, which for him seems to include weekly communion and less expository preaching.

Which brings us full circle to the original post by Kevin Johnson. Notice the comments. Comment #2 by Mike Spreng states the following after relating a story about Roman Catholic sermons:

I think good preaching certainly can and should be done with the help of the scriptures, but yes, wrangling with the text and expecting the people to take out there notebooks does not seem to emphasize the centrality of the ceremony and even the gospel itself. That is better done in an academic context

Kevin responds in comment #3:

I have found nine times out of ten when I’ve been at a Roman Mass that the preaching was actually very much gospel-oriented and in line with what I’ve written above. The fact that the Western liturgical tradition in large part sees the sermon as part of the liturgy rather than the climax helps this aspect of it, imho

This shocking bit of information cannot be passed over. The preaching of the Romanist church was ‘gospel-oriented’? The church that denies one is saved by faith alone and requires work and sacraments to achieve salvation had a ‘gospel-oriented’ sermon? Has this attack on exegetical preaching changed the definition of gospel or at least the message of the gospel?

I believe it has, and I believe it does. I want to be clear there are those that should be legitimately criticized for preaching badly and some who may even leave Christ out of the sermon. However, this is a failure of the preacher not the method. These gentlemen are advocating a return to pre-reformational ways of preaching and pre-reformational messages that those ways are meant to communicate. They are extolling the centrality of the service, the centrality of the ritual, the Supper and the altar. This is exactly why the Reformers changed the service from an altar based one to a pulpit based service. The words of Christ are life (John 6:68). We should cling to them line by line. We should usually go straight through books so we can see the ‘story’ develop before us. So we can see his truth, and receive the gospel of eternal life. Kergymatic preaching that elevates the story above the words, and is designed only to make the focal point the altar and not the words, is not emphasizing Christ, it de-emphasizes him. It de-emphasizes his gospel words and returns us to the yoke of works as the Roman system openly admits.

Exegetical preaching should always present the call to Christ. But is does this through line by line exposition of his words. The preacher must be aware of applying it to the lives the believers and showing them Christ in every story, in every message. These posts come dangerously close to advocating a giving of the gospel without the words of the gospel. ‘Christian Storytelling’ is nice, but it is not preaching. Preaching is an explaining of the Scripture, which cannot be done by simply finding its ‘kergyma’. Jesus fulfilled every ‘jot and tittle’ of the Scripture, not just the main points or central thrust (kergyma) of it. We must not return to the methods of an age that denied the gospel and replaced it with sacerdotal system unless we desire to return to that same gospel denying sacerdotal system.


John Dekker said...

Well, I think it's unfair on your part to say that all these guys are attacking exegetical preaching. They're criticising the method of preaching word-for-word and line-for-line. And the only argument you've given for that is "The words of Christ are life [and so] we should cling to them line by line." And that's hardly an argument!

Of course, "exegetical preaching" is a tautology.

Lee said...

You are probably right, and I should try and change the post title. I believe I said 'expository preaching' in the post itself, which is probably more accurate. I will look for the best phrase and use it in the title.
This post was meant to show the antipathy that must exist between altar based liturgy and a pulpit based one (line by line preaching). I may try to defend 'line by line' preaching in a future post.

John Dekker said...

Well, I'd be interested in that - I don't see the necessity of "line by line" preaching myself, though I've heard many such sermons.

Expository preaching can quite easily be "paragraph by paragraph". And I know of no preach would would be able to preach line by line through Ezekiel without being excruciating.

Lee said...

I am not making a distinction between line-by-line and paragraph by paragraph. That way is actually the way I normally do it, but preaching a paragraph at a time still has you dealing with the words and each line. I am not advocating the '40 years on the book of Job' approach. However, I am saying that the Lectionary preaching that does not take one through books or the storytelling that has one preach through the entire bible in 70 week (advocated on one of the pages linked) are not dealing with the actual words of Scripture. At least they are ingnoring and skipping many words of the Bible. A dangerous thing, in my opinion.

Mr. Baggins said...

I think it just needs to be pointed out here that expository preaching was the standard practice in the early church. I'm sure that you believe that, Lee, since you must read Chrysostom. But the lectio continua is not something that the Reformation invented. They rediscovered it from the early church. I agree completely with your shock. These guys don't know what they're talking about. They are attacking preaching itself!

Travis Prinzi said...

Wow. I'm not even criticizing the method of expository preaching. I'm criticizing its exaltation to the point of idolatry along two lines: (1) the false claim that it is the only God-sanctioned way to preach (book, chapter, verse please?) and (2) the tendency to be so "micro-exegetical" that the sermon misses the overarching story and theme of Christ's life, death, and resurrection and turns instead into a lesson in grammar.

In short, any preaching, expository or otherwise, that is not primarily about Christ is not preaching.

GL said...

Interesting discussion. A couple of questions come to mind:

1) if you typically preach expositionally in a paragraph-by-paragraph manner, might you possibly have some common ground with those who criticize preaching that is only word-by-word and line-by-line preaching? I LOVE expositional preaching, but I've come to see that Baconian modernism that became enculturated in the American mind was one major factor in the rise of word-by-word, line-by-line manner of preaching.

Also, related, one can distinguish between word-by-word, line-by-line study of the texts in preparation to preach, and the actual preaching in a worship service. I would hope that those whose manner is more or less paragraph-by-paragraph still engage in minute scrutiny of the text.

2) As you survey the preaching in the New Testament, could you identify that which fits your understanding of expositional preaching and that which does not? That would be helpful since Scripture is our authority. Also, if some NT preaching is not expositional, does that not give implicit permission to preach occasionally in a non-expositional manner? Would you go so far as to say that ANY sermon that is not expositional is outside the will of God?

Lee said...

I understand your points, but I think the criticisms are of only a faint few. I agree with your definition of preaching that if it is not primarily about Christ then it is not preaching (we might could argue about what it means to be ‘about Christ’ but that can be for another day), but I also would add that if it is not from God’s Word then it is also not preaching. We are to preach the Word (chapter and verse would be II Timothy 4:2). This does not mean preach Christ from a moralistic story or from a topic that has no expository foundation. We are to preach the Word. If we are not preaching from the Word, then we are not preaching. As for becoming micro-exegetical, I do not know many preachers who make this mistake. Perhaps you do, but I do not think the grammar lesson method of preaching is as wide spread as you seem to think.

1) I would like you to expound on Baconian modernism and the rise of line-by-line preaching. This is how the church has done it for centuries, at least since the Reformation which pre-dates Baconian modernism, and I believe in the Early Church as well. So I am not sure what association between modernism and line by line preaching you have in mind.
2) While I do think that paragraph by paragraph have to engage in line by line exposition, I am not sure what you are asking is possible. Since it is all Scripture it seems a little unfair to demand that Jesus preach expositionally of the OT. Jesus taught in parables, but that does not mean we should create parables and preach them from the pulpit. That being said, I do believe we can see examples of this in Luke 4:16-21 where Jesus takes a text and preaches it about himself. It seems then to have been the custom of the synagogue to read a text and expound that text. Which means the other times we see Jesus preach in the synagogues he is expositionally preaching (Mark 6:2, Luke 2:46, etc.). We also see Apollos (Acts 18:24) expounding Scripture, and having Scripture expounded to him by Priscilla and Aquila. We see also Philip preach to the Ethiopian on the text of Isaiah 53:7-8 (Acts 8:32-34). Plus all of the times it speaks of ‘preaching the Word’ which means preaching from Scripture. It seems to me that we have ample evidence of expository style preaching as opposed to Liturgical preaching and even topical preaching. There are examples of preaching sermons with great broad brush strokes covering large chunks of the Bible in one sermon, but those were done by apostles, who knew they were inspired by God. I suppose the question then is do we have that same authority or should we stick to explaining the words God gave us through the prophets and apostles.

GL said...

I'll respond to your questions, but please first respond to my question. Your answer will help me think through how best to reply to your questions.

My question from my prior comment:
if you typically preach expositionally in a paragraph-by-paragraph manner, might you possibly have some common ground with those who criticize preaching that is only word-by-word and line-by-line preaching?

I'm pointing to a distinction that others have made between paragraph-by-paragraph preaching on one hand, and word-by-word preaching on the other. I tried further in my comment to distinguish between the level of exegetical scrutiny one might engage in during preparation versus the level of exegesis one would use in preaching to a congregation.

I can't tell from your response whether you accept those distinctions. How you think about those distinctions affects how I will reply to your questions to me, so I thought it best to return to these so that I understand you as best as I can.

Lee said...

Yes, I do believe I have some common ground with those who were making the objections. I agree that Christ should be preached, and when he is not then something has gone wrong. I do think I disagree that this is the method's problem. I also have common ground in objecting to those who spend 40 years in one book going word for word through the text. I can agree with objecting to that level of scrutiny (although I bet that Joseph Carol, the Puritan who spent 40 years in Job, did more rabit chasing than actual exposition of the texts). However, I disagree that people spend that much time in one book any more. I would like to see a modern day example. So in short, I do believe I accept your distinctions and do believe that some common ground exists, but that the criticisms are overplayed and pushed to an extreme that ends up rejecting the expository method altogether.

GL said...


I think we're hampered by this medium. There are so many questions where it would be helpful to be talking in person. You're in SD, so let's try the next best thing, the telephone. I'm enjoyed the post and comments, but I don't have time for all the typing of careful qualifiers and pursuing of different questions. I think we could have fun and better communication by phone.

The email I use publicly on the internet is feedbackcg@yahoo.com. If you'll contact me there and give me your phone number(s) and a range of times to call, I'll reply to your email with my "real" email address and select one of your times.

I think we both share a love for expository preaching and I look forward to being able to chat more easily than Blogger comments allows.

For more on me, check out the group blog I lead at commongroundsonlne.typepad.com.

Of course, you may not be interested in a phone call so I don't assume this will be of interest to you. Feel total grace/feedom to decline my phone proposal.



Lee said...

I will write to your email soon, but I am going out of town this weekend for a Missionfest, so it will be a few days. I look forward to talking with you!


Will Nielsen said...

Hey, Lee. So glad you're engaging this topic. My blog only this week picked up on your link to my post (almost two years later!) So, though this is post hoc, given that you engaged with and I think missed pretty badly the point of what I wrote, I thought I would respond now. I did want to let you know of the response at Nielsen's Nook.