What constitutes an expository sermon? Better yet, how might the preacher know if he has preached an expository sermon, and how might the congregation know if they’ve heard one?
The question is a bit more angular than one might initially perceive. It is a question that has struck me in recent months, as I have heard multiple preachers describe their preaching style as expository. Never mind that they give little attention to interpreting the text, applying the text, or actually preaching the text.
Regrettably, the title “expository preaching” has grown so elastic that it has become an almost inadequate, if not altogether unhelpful, designation. Much preaching gets crammed under the heading “expository preaching,” though it bears little resemblance to classical exposition.
In fact, the designation “expository preaching” has become like the designation “evangelical.” There is enough residual respectability in these labels that many want to cling to them, even if their theology or preaching methodology have long since given up any true resemblance to it.
So, what constitutes an expository sermon? Expository preaching begins with a commitment to preach the text. This commitment is rooted in the Bible’s self-attestation that “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” and that the preacher’s primary task is to “preach the Word.” As he does, the preacher stands on promises like, “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls off, but the word of the lord endures forever.”
These passages, among many others, provide a rationale for biblical exposition, but they do not delineate its essential, distinguishing marks. A consensus definition of expository preaching proves stubbornly elusive, but there are three essential marks that are supported by Scripture and consistent within most classical definitions of the term. Consider how Alistair Begg, Haddon Robinson, and Bryan Chappel define expository preaching.
Begg defines expository preaching as, “Unfolding the text of Scripture in such a way that it makes contact with the listener’s world while exalting Christ and confronting them with the need for action.”