Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Restoration and Expository Preaching

Last week I attended the lectureship at my old school, Florida College, which was on the theme of Restoration. The lessons were based out of the books from the period of Israel's restoration from Babylonian Captivity (Ezra-Esther, Haggai-Malachi). This theme was chosen because of its relevance to the modern effort to restore New Testament Christianity.

The concept of restoration is a simple one. Each generation has the obligation to challenge its assumptions, beliefs and practices by the standard of Scripture, and align itself to the will of God. This is a challenging task - it is a lot easier to settle for the status quo of tradition.

One of the great dangers of restorationism is that it can easily degenerate into a purely reactionary posture in which the entire focus of preaching and teaching is on what is wrong with current religious practice. As a result the sum of truth is contracted down to a few key passages which relate to the areas in question. This leads to sermons and classes that the unquestionably biblical (they focus on the meaning of biblical texts), but which is not fully truthful because so much of what God's revealed will teaches is minimized, abbreviated, or neglected.

There may be other ways to avoid this pitfall, but the only way that I know to steer clear of reaction while seeking restoration is expository preaching. In my experience as a listener and a preacher, the vast majority of sermons have been topical. In this style of preaching various verses from throughout Scripture are marshaled together to make a point. This is not inherently wrong (take a look at Acts 2 or Hebrews 1 for instance). But it is all to easy to selects topics that fall into the reactionary pattern of preaching, which in turn means that the only verses that are selected for study and preaching are those that are relevant to that topic. Not only does this style make it easy to snatch verses completely out of context and distort their meaning to score points on a pet issue, but even worse, it makes it easy to ignore much of the Bible.

Expository preaching systematically works through books of the Bible, and it forces the preacher and the listener to carefully consider each verse of God's word. This kind of preaching lets the Bible dictate the agenda of our study, rather than the other way around. Of course it is possible to pretend to do expository preaching while in fact imposing the same sort of reactionary concerns on the text that topical preaching does. But hopefully this will be easier to spot on the part of the listener.

Expository preaches done correctly demands that you study and apply all of God's will, not just the select verses that apply to the controversial issues of the day. It affords opportunity to make corrections when relevant to the meaning of the text, but it keeps preachers from veering into the rut of reaction, a ditch it is easy to skid into but difficult to emerge from.


  1. I think that you're right that the balance has been too much to the topical side, at least in the 60's-2000. However, there is a danger that in reacting to too much to topical preaching that we abandon it altogether. Topical preaching allows us to pin down important doctrinal issues and when done correctly is absolutely essential. Almost all Biblical sermons are topical. So, I agree that there needs to be more expository preaching, but let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Here are some good articles on the importance of topical preaching.

  2. Woops! Sorry for too many "tos" in the second sentence. Once these things are posted I don't see how they can be edited.

  3. Hey Gardner
    Thanks for your comments. I think the key is your qualifier, "and when done correctly." The true definition of expository preaching is preaching that focuses on the text, whether one or many, and allows the text to determine the agenda. The reason I encourage verse-by-verse expository preaching is to maintain balance and teach the whole counsel of God. But "done correctly," a topical sermon could still be expository in the sense that the scriptures that are used to make the various points are properly handled.