Why Preach Expositionally?: Because Expository Sermons Are Text-Driven Sermons

Some evangelicals have argued that biblical exposition cannot reach the 21st century believer. Others have criticized exposition saying it is dull and boring, dry, uninspiring and irrelevant. These kinds of criticisms are legitimate if you are critiquing “bad preaching.” However, these critiques are out of bounds if engaging exposition is the target, and I am convinced that the need for preaching that is faithful and inspiring, expository and engaging has never been greater.

A Basic Description

Before offering one of many reasons I believe expositional preaching is the most appropriate way for Christian preachers to communicate God’s Word, a basic definition or description is in order. By expository preaching, I mean text driven preaching that honors the truth of Scripture as it was given by the Holy Spirit. Discovering the God-inspired meaning through historical-grammatical-theological investigation and interpretation, the preacher, by means of engaging and compelling proclamation, explains, illustrates and applies the meaning of the biblical text in submission to and in the power of the Holy Spirit, preaching Christ for a verdict of changed lives.

Exposition is Text-Driven

The first reason for why I would suggest all pastors should give their people a steady diet of biblical exposition is because expository preaching is text-driven preaching rooted and grounded in the inerrant Word of God. Expository preaching allows the Scripture text to determine both the substance and the structure of the message. How one sees the structure of the passage will determine how one structures the sermon. The Scriptural text drives and determines, shapes and forms sermon development as it relates to the explanation of the biblical text. Sidney Greidanus reminds us that,

“Biblical preaching is a Bible shaped word imparted in a Bible-like way. 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.”[1]

Allen Ross of the Beeson Divinity School concurs and adds an important warning:

“Too many so-called expositors simply make one central idea the substance of their message. The narrative may be read or retold, but the sermon is essentially their central expository idea—it is explained, illustrated, and applied without further recourse to the text. This approach is not valid exegetical exposition. In exegetical exposition, the substance of the exposition must be clearly derived from the text so that the central idea unfolds in the analysis of the passage and so that all parts of the passage may be interpreted to show their contribution to the theological idea.”[2]

The faithful expositor will reject any method that would entice him to superimpose his preconceived agenda on the text because he knows his people need to hear a word from God. Further, he will not, as Kaiser states, “[force the] text to answer one of his favorite questions or to deal with one of the contemporary issues that our culture wants to have solved.”[3] The faithful expositor will make sure that his people meet the God who inspired the text and is in the text.

The Unacceptable Assumption of Felt-Needs Preaching

Unfortunately, in our therapeutic culture, where felt needs and how-to sermons are dominant and deemed essential (even by evangelicals!), text-driven preaching is viewed as simply inadequate for the day. Consider this excerpt from an article entitled “What Is the Matter With Preaching?”:

“Every sermon should have for its main business the solving of some problem—a vital, important problem puzzling minds, burdening consciences, distracting lives… And if any preacher is not doing this, even though he have at his disposal both erudition and oratory, he is not functioning at all. Many, preachers, for example, indulge habitually in what they call expository sermons. They take a passage from Scripture and, proceeding on the assumption that the people attending church that morning are deeply concerned about what the passage means, they spend their half hour or more on historical exposition of the verse or chapter, ending with some appended practical application to the auditors. Could any procedure be more surely predestined to dullness and futility? Who seriously supposes that, as a matter of fact, one in a hundred of the congregation cares, to start with, what Moses, Isaiah, Paul or John meant in those special verses, or came to church deeply concerned about it? Nobody else who talks to the public so assumes that the vial interests of the people are located in the meaning of words spoken two thousand years ago. The advertisers of any goods, from a five-foot shelf of classic books to the latest life insurance policy, plunge as directly as possible after the contemporary wants, felt needs, actual interests and concerns… Preachers who pick out texts from the Bible and then proceed to give their historic settings, their logical meaning in the context, their place in the theology of the writer, are grossly misusing the Bible. Let them not end but start with thinking of the audience’s vital needs, and then let the whole sermon be organized around their endeavor to meet those needs. This is all good sense and good psychology.”[4]

Interestingly, this statement is not the musings of a contemporary pulpiteer, but rather of Harry Emerson Fosdick, who penned these words in 1928! Fosdick, and those who follow his train of thought, reveal that text-driven preaching falls flat because, in their view, the text has little or nothing to offer. It is no wonder that biblical exposition has never been popular among advocates of various liberal theologies. They have jettisoned biblical inerrancy, and so it naturally follows that a careful and consistent exposition of the Bible would not be required or even expected.

It must not be so among us evangelicals. Why biblical exposition? Because it is the kind of preaching that takes seriously the divine origin of the Bible in both its content and shape, and that is the message that our people and the world so desperately need to hear.

(Note: A version of this post previously appeared on

[1] The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text (1988), 11.

[2] Creation and Blessing (1997), 47.

[3] Kaiser, Toward an Exegetical Theology (1981), 153.

[4] “What is the Matter with Preaching?” in Harper’s Magazine (July 1928), 135.