The case for expository preaching

The February 2010 edition of The Banner of Truth contains an article by Iain Murray warning of the disadvantages of ‘expository’ preaching (by which he mean “preaching which consecutively takes a congregation through a passage, or book of Scripture, week by week). Unfortunately the article is not online, but you can read a summary here. Iain is right to warn of the dangers, but as the letter below (which I’ve just sent to Banner HQ) says, I think he goes too far:

I believe Iain Murray (February 2010) overstates his case for non-‘expository’ preaching. First, the preacher’s responsibility is to preach ‘the whole counsel of God’. If I am to preach through a large part of the Bible over a ministry, I will need to preach on texts significantly longer than a single verse (otherwise it would take more than 200 years to get through the 31,000 verses in the Bible).

Second, preachers should model the handling of the scripture from the pulpit. Preaching is very different to private devotion or study. But it is from the pulpit that our congregation will learn how to read the Bible for themselves. Would we want our congregation’s regular devotions to be a meditation on a single verse, plucked apparently at random?

Third, I want unbelievers to be utterly convinced that the gospel application in a sermon is from God’s Word. A great danger with non-‘expository’ preaching is that whilst the sermon’s content may be very biblical, it is not seen to be biblical by the unconverted because the preacher’s text serves only as a spring-board and not as a foundation.

Fourth, I reject the ‘either/or’ antithesis. In being committed to ‘expository’ preaching, I am not rejecting preaching that helps the hearers, is memorable, evangelistic and relies on the Spirit. It is true that attempting to preach in an expository style can expose inadequacies in the preacher. It is true that a running commentary is not a sermon, and that you can be faithful to the Word yet fail to preach, and fail to know the Spirit’s power. But I do not believe only an elite few should attempt to preach in an ‘expository’ way. Mr. Murray’s advice that novice preachers tread carefully is wise. But every Christian should always be maturing and growing. Safe, easy methods that stretch neither the preacher nor the congregation are a recipe for dull sermons, tired preachers and bored congregations.


  1. Joe Holloway says

    I just wonder if we might be missing the issue a little, that being the preacher is being called to acquiesce to the modern habit of sporadic church attendance. The preacher is truly pressured to choose between what he/she feels is the integrity of the pulpit and the desire to reach the masses. The debate marches on…

  2. Expository is so badly needed from the pulpit because it allows the preacher to share the message from the heart of God. The Father’s intention in scripture is to gather the meaning of an extended passage. That is why he provides us with stories in the gospels and these stories provide powerful material for expository preaching that conveys the essence of God’s heart at length. So much more rich and compelling than textual sermons that flip about scripture pushing the speakers agenda.

  3. I also champion “expository preaching”. Why? It encourages the preacher to preach the whole counsel of God. It teaches your people to read the Bible in context. It forces the preacher to preach the Bible in context and it develops the preachers delivery style.

    I have preached through many books of the Bible and it is a challenge and a blessing to present the truth of God’s word in an interesting and vibrant way.

    Of course, expository preaching does involve hard work. After all, it requires study and creativity, especially creativity in sermon outlining. In fact, I am so passionate about creative sermon outlining that I wrote a twelve page article “How To Write Sermons With Ease” to encourage fellow preachers.

    Enough of my preaching! I certainly appreciated your article. Thanks!

  4. As a layman, I appreciate expository preaching. However, I would add that it should ensure that when a chapter, and when the book is completed, the congregation be able to summarize what has been taught. I dare say that when a preacher teaches through a book, like Galatians, verse by verse for a year or more, the entire picture is lost. After the book is completed, a simple ten question quiz would serve to prove my point that the congregation may recall the last, or perhaps the last two sermons, but still not have a grasp of what the message of the book of Galatians is about? Some key words might be “freedom” or “law vs. grace”, or “another gospel”. And Galatians is a short book!

    Just a lament from a layman.


  5. Pastor Trevor thomas says

    I appreciate the comment by David Pursel. I must confess, I am most comfortable with expository preaching and expository Bible Study. I find people respond positively to expository messages and are challenged by them. But I have not really considered the point raised by David, and intend to take on the advice. Perhaps at the end of a series, to do a revision type message that highlights the issues discussed and concludes with an overall picture of the epistle.

    Good points

  6. Jim Roberts says

    For years I sat at Grace Community Church listening to John MacArthur Jr.

    I call topical sermons vitamin therapy. A pastor figures out a weakness or deficiency in themselves or another and pastes together a sermon to address that deficiency.

    One can go to church and take vitamins or they can go and eat the bread of life.
    Notice that JESUS addressed several topics/issues in his sermon on the mount MATT 5-7. He knew His audience was comprised of a variety of types of maturity, knowledge, and challenges.

    His sermon can be read in 9-10 minutes..but does not necessarily mean that His sermon was only that long.

    The way to preach is found in NEH 8:8. Many in the pews have the wrong idea of what gospel, grace and salvation are. Since most preachers just pump out the error from their seminaries, at least expository sermons get people looking at the verses so they might detect when they are being conned.

    The world is generally dumbed down and cursed by lazy preachers who present just topical sermons.

  7. One of the gravest sins of the preacher is preaching that takes the text out of context. Almost just as grievous though for different reasons is to make the Bible boring. Some look at it as an either or. I believe and practice expository that is in context and not boring. I do believe in general of preaching longer texts (paragraphs from the epistles and often chapters from the OT). Systematic series are vital in forcing a preacher to preach all Gods word. From my experience I have found that by doing so, I have seen fulfilled what is written in Ps 199:98-99 “You, through Your commandments, make me wiser than my enemies; For they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, For Your testimonies are my meditation.”
    In other words, sermons are much more profound when discovered in the text than when they are drawn more from our own thought process.


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