Expositional is the adjective that makes all things right. The use of the term supposedly solves the twin dilemmas of feel-good preaching and fact-filled teaching. But, what I find is that the term expositional is often misused. And, I’m not the only one who sees the misuse. Four books, in particular, go to great lengths to help clarify.
In What is a Healthy Church, Mark Dever explains, “Expositional preaching is the kind of preaching that, quite simply, exposes God's Word. It takes a particular passage of Scripture, explains that passage, and then applies the meaning of the passage to the life of the congregation. It's the kind of preaching most geared to get at what God says to his people, as well as to those who are not his people. A commitment to expositional preaching is a commitment to hear God's Word.” He explains, “…expositional preaching is not so much about how a preacher says what he says, but about how a preacher decides what to say. Is Scripture determining our content or is something else? Expositional preaching is not marked by a particular form or style. Styles will vary. Instead it's marked by a biblical content.”
In Biblical Preaching, Haddon Robinson defines the term, “Expository preaching is 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.”
In Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church, Gregg Allison and John Feinberg help explain the move from preparation to exposition: “Exposition is not exegesis; it does not refer to word statistics, word etymologies, and hapax legomena, nor does it parse Hebrew verbs and identify Greek participles or periphrastic perfects; all of these may be helpful to proper interpretation, but it is the results of such excellent study—not a detailed report on the study itself—that will form and develop the exposition communicated to the church.”
Bryan Chapell, in Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon, says that the “main thing to be done in an expository sermon” is application. Then, he lists four questions that must be answered for application to be achieved: 1) What does God now require of me?, 2) Where does He require it of me?, 3) Why must I do what He requires?, and 4) How can I do what God requires?
It’s not that people applying the term expositional or expository to their preaching and teaching don’t have a high view of Scripture. That seems to be a given when they use the terms. The issue is what they seem to mean by it. Some think expositional means verse-by-verse. It may, but expositional may be topical and still rightly be called expositional. What makes the difference? Application!
As teachers, let’s stop bringing in the raw ingredients of our lessons to the class. Instead, let those raw ingredients inform our study so that the Holy Spirit may use us to transform the people of God into Christlikeness. He does by applying the truth of the Word He inspired to the hearts of those who would be transformed. And, for reasons I cannot fully explain, He uses us to communicate His truth and call for that transformation.
Exposition is best way man has found to communicate to others. But, expositional is not just an adjective we stick on our own methods of preaching and teaching as if to legitimize our preferences. It is an adjective that describes life-transforming sermons and lessons from the Bible to those who would be transformed.