In addition to providing content which explores a wide range of pertinent and contemporary theological issues, the Reformed Forum has sought to provide specific biblical content, particularly through its program “Proclaiming Christ.” In Proclaiming Christ we talk about preaching. We began the program with four foundational episodes that discussed the nature and purpose of preaching as well as some hermeneutical guidelines for the task. We then went on to our primary task: applying those principles to specific biblical texts – namely, the book of Genesis.
Having just recorded a couple more episodes, I wanted to answer this question: how do we actually define preaching – specifically expository preaching – the kind that seeks to bring to light the truth of the text? Many representative definitions have been offered. Haddon Robinson’s classic Biblical Preaching defines it as “the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, then through him to his hearers.”(1) Sidney Greidanus comes closer by defining it: “handling the text ‘in such a way that its real and essential meaning as it existed in the mind of the particular biblical writer and as it existed in the light of the over-all context of Scripture is made plain and applied to the present-day needs of the hearers.’”(2) Brian Chapell defines it as “a message whose structure and thought are derived from a biblical text, that covers the scope of the text, and that explains the features and context of the text in order to disclose the enduring principles for faithful thinking, living, and worship intended by the Spirit, who inspired the text.”(3) Graeme Goldsworthy notes that some have suggested that the term “expository” should be dropped altogether in favor simply of “biblical” preaching.(4) I’m not convinced of this myself as the moniker “biblical” is claimed by more positions on preaching than there are flavors of Baskin Robbins. But the point is well taken that if we are to expose the text then “we must then proceed to ask how the meaning of the text is thus exposed.”(5)
With that in mind, allow me to propose a definition of expository preaching – one that seeks neither to be too restrictive nor too broad, but yet one that fills what I consider to be a gap in many contemporary definitions. A hat tip here to Jim Cassidy for helping me not make this definition too cumbersome.
Expository preaching is the Spirit empowered proclamation of God’s herald in which the text of Scripture is revealed not only in its original context, but in its consummate redemptive purpose, as it sets forth the person and work of Christ, with a view to the salvation of souls and the enabling of believers to live out its message.
This is the definition out of which I work in preaching, and also what I trust comes through in Proclaiming Christ. Not all of the panelists of the program might necessarily adhere to this definition particularly, but I do think it describes the general sentiments of the program. We seek to bring to light the truth of the text itself and expose the listener to that text’s specific content as it is revealed within its context and place in the canon, and fulfilled as part of the Scriptural whole.
I’d like to walk through each element of this definition, and hope later to offer further thoughts on one particular aspect: the eschatological or “consummate redemptive purpose” dimension. I welcome your feedback.
The most crucial element in preparation and proclamation is the materially invisible but spiritually indispensable empowerment of the Spirit. That same Spirit who moved upon the original creation bringing it to life (Gen. 1:2), also moves upon the new creation bringing life as the word of God begins to work (John 3:8; 6:63; I Peter 1:12). The Spirit stirs the message in the heart of the preacher (Luke 24:49; Acts 17:16; 18:25), illumines his understanding (I Cor. 2:10; John 16:13), empowers the preaching (Micah 3:8; Acts 1:8; I Cor. 2:4; I Thess. 1:5), convicts and converts the sinner (John 3:5; James 1:18; I John 5:6-11), and enables the believer’s walk (I Peter 1:2; Eph. 3:16; Gal. 5:22). In light of voluminous biblical data, preaching without the Spirit’s empowerment is hopeless folly, preaching with it is boundless efficacy.
The Proclamation of God’s Herald
Expository preaching is not a matter of offering a subjective opinion, but making an authoritative declaration. Khrussw, the most prominent New Testament word for preaching, predominantly speaks of the announcement of a herald, (6) stressing the message as a thing which is given to the messenger, and not sourced in his own authority (John 3:1; Matt 12:41; I Tim 2:7).(7) Functionally related to Khrussw, euaggelizw speaks of announcing good news with an emphasis on the news as a received message,(8) and not one sourced in the messenger. Two other prominent words, marturia and didaskw, are also closely connected, particularly when speaking of the authority of Christ himself.(9) Thus the preponderance of scriptural terms for preaching speak not of the messenger, but of the source of the message.
The Text of Scripture Is Revealed
It is thus imperative that expository preaching exposes the meaning of the words of God set forth in the text itself. The word “exposition” extends from the Latin exponere,(10) which means to set forth, explain, or expose.(11) The preacher is to take the text of God’s word and bring it to light, exposing its meaning to the listener, and exposing the listener to its power. While there are many styles of preaching (topical, systematic, etc.), all true preaching is expository in nature,(12) and rooted in the text of Scripture. Paul’s charge to Timothy is to κήρυξον τὸν λόγον – preach the Word (I Tim. 4:2), and “rightly handle the word of truth” (II Timothy 2:15). His preaching task was to “bring to light for everyone” – the plan of God for salvation (Eph. 3:9).
In Its Original Context
Scripture was not written in a vacuum, but was deposited in a particular context which informs its meaning. Thus the preacher’s first hermeneutical task “is to relate the text to its immediate theological horizon,” and then to the surrounding canon.(13) The details of context inform the meanings of words, and only after these considerations should the preacher move to specific meaning, broader fulfillment, and contemporary application. Without such consideration the text becomes a confused fragmentation of definitions and un-relatable terms at times manipulated to promote the intention of the messenger, rather than the revelation of the message giver.
In Its Consummate Redemptive Purpose
The infallible rule of the interpretation of Scripture is that one must interpret Scripture with Scripture (WCF 1.9). Scripture does not have a meaning determined by man (II Pet. 1:20), but by God, and thus accurately to determine meaning one must turn to God’s recorded words. Ultimate interpretation must take into consideration the whole of God’s revelation. Thus individual texts do not become isolated fountain heads for dogma, but fit within a divine theological paradigm revealed through the warp and woof of biblical revelation. This paradigm is often referred to in terms of “biblical theology,” which underscores the “massive inner coherence of the divine plot in salvation history.”(14) While each text must be interpreted in light of its context, there is a “concordant unity”(15) which ties each part to a unified whole. “The text is part of one unified word from God. The whole Bible is the context of the text.”(16) Scripture’s unified story leads to a consummate goal: the manifestation of the glory of God through his work of redemption. From the first promise of the gospel in Genesis 3:15 the story of Scripture is consistently forward-looking.(17) The biblical agenda for preaching as expressed in Col. 1:27 includes presenting everyone mature in Christ, as through the preaching of the word believers are transformed as they await the consummation (I Cor. 1:8). The larger agenda of preaching is “the continued formation of a community that awaits the parousia”(18) (cf. I Thess 2).
It Sets Forth the Person and Work of Christ
The central element preaching must always be the revelation of the person and work of Jesus Christ. Though the Paul preached primarily from the Old Testament, he resolutely declares “we preach Christ crucified” (I Cor. 1:23), determining in his preaching “not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (I Cor. 2:2; cf II Cor. 4:4, 5). The content of his preaching centered always on “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8). Christ is the central message of the Scriptures as he himself testified (Luke 24:27), and the central content of the disciples’ preaching (Acts 5:42; 11:20; cf. Rom. 16:25). Thus a “proper interpretation of any part of the Bible requires us to relate it to the person and work of Jesus.”(19)
A View to the Salvation of Souls
The salvation of souls comes primarily through the preaching of the word by the herald sent by the church for that task (Romans 10:14, 15). Preaching is the means by which the call to repentance is issued (Matt. 3:1; 12:41; Luke 3:3; 11:32), reconciliation is offered (Acts 10:36), and by which the gospel of the kingdom is proclaimed (Mark 1:14; Acts 20:25). It is the means by which the Holy Spirit grants faith (I Cor. 2:4). The people of God are set apart through the word (John 17:17), because that word of truth is “the gospel of your salvation” (Eph. 1:13), and the means by which the children of God are given birth (James 1:18).
The Enabling of Believers to Live Out Its Message
The believer is sanctified by the word of God (John 17:17), which means that the word not only provides information, but empowerment to godly living. In preaching one must “move from the truths of the text to the theme, thoughts, and thrust of the text expressed homiletically.”(20) That is, preaching remains in embryo until it develops the imperative. The objective teaching of the text – the indicative – must be developed into the imperative thrust of the text. The one who has seen Christ must also understand what it is to live in Christ. “The person who has died to sin no longer lives and acts in the sphere or realm of sin”(21) (cf. Rom. 6:10). When we have heard the preaching of Christ, we are compelled to live for Christ – as certainly as he has been resurrected (II Cor. 5:14). This not only affects our minds (Col. 3:1), but our bodies (Rom. 12:1), words (Eph. 4:29) and conduct (I Pet. 1:15; II Pet. 3:11). The life enabled by the power of the gospel “consists not only in having once been raised with Christ and in having been placed under a new rule, but also in being renewed from day to day (2 Cor. 4:16).”(22) To be faithful to the text however, the content of the imperative must not be an invention of the preacher, but must be derived from the indicative of the text. “The imperative is grounded on the reality that has been given with the indicative, appeals to it, and is intended to bring it to full development.”(23)
Good preaching will certainly effect change, instruct, and edify. But its primary purpose is to proclaim the person and work of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, from the perspective of the believer seated in the heavenly places, that God may be glorified and believers may be empowered to live out their union with Christ. Anything short of this misses the mark. I hope each of these elements comes through in nearly every episode of Proclaiming Christ.
His grateful servant,
Mark A. Winder
Pastor, Wolf River Presbyterian Church, Collierville, Tennessee
1 Haddon Robbinson, Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages (Grand Rapids: Baker book House, 1980), 20.
2 Sidney Greidanus, The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text: Interpreting and Preaching Biblical Literature (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), 11.
3 Brian Chapell, Christ Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 31.
4 Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible As Christian Scripture (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000), 121.
6 Walter Bauer, A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament, trans. William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1957), 432.
7 Stuart Olyott, Preaching Pure and Simple (Bryntirion, Bridgend, UK: Bryntirion Press, 2005), 12.
8 Bauer, 317.
9 Edmund Clowney, Preaching and Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: William B. Erdmans Publishing Company, 1961), 57ff.
10 Glynnis Chantrell,ed., The Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 192.
11 Frederic M. Wheelock, Wheelock’s Latin, 6th ed. (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2000), 474.
12 Sinclair Ferguson, “Exegesis,” in The Preacher and Preaching: Reviving the Art in the 20th Century, ed. Samuel Logan (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1986), 192.
13 Clowney, 88.
14 Goldsworthy, 17.
15 Richard Gaffin, “The Redemptive-Historical View,” in Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views, eds. Stanley Porter and Beth Stovell (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 97.
16 Ibid., 16.
17 From Genesis 3:15 to the subsequent confirmations and expansions of God’s covenant promise, to the establishment of a typological kingdom in Israel, to the expectations of the prophets, to the eschatological horizon of the New Testament, the movement of redemptive history is a consistent “straining forward to what lies ahead,” pressing “on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13, 14).
18 James Thompson, Preaching Like Paul (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 90.
19 Goldsworthy, 84.
20 Stephen Olford and David Olford, Anointed Expository Preaching (Nashville: B&H Academic, 1998), 155.
21 John Murray, Principles of Conduct: Aspects of Biblical Ethics (Grand Rapids: William B. Erdmans Publishing Company, 1957), 204.
22 Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, trans. John R. Dewitt. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1966), 224.
23 Ibid., 255.