Friday, July 23, 2010

Wounded in the house of my friends?

- expository preaching under critical spotlights

Expository preaching has received some criticism recently from surprising places. First, Iain Murray published an article in the February (2010) issue of Banner of Truth, online here.

Then, Iain D Campbell wrote ‘Some thoughts on pulpit methodology’ on the Reformation 21 blog and finally Peter Masters at the Tabernacle Summer School lectured on the advantages and disadvantages of the method (see here and scroll down to July 10th).

Murray helpfully begins with a definition: ‘If this [expository preaching] means that the preacher’s one business is to confine himself to the text of Scripture, and to make the sense plain to others, there is nothing more to discuss… But ‘expository preaching’ has often come to mean something more. The phrase is popularly used to describe preaching which consecutively takes a congregation through a passage, or book of Scripture, week by week.’’

Murray’s right so far. Properly, the phrase refers to preaching which takes a text of Scripture and opens up (exposes, hence expository) its meaning to the congregation, together with its application to their lives. But, yes, in the minds of many it means a long series on a relatively short passage.

Murray has five criticisms to make.

1. ‘Know your gifts’. ‘It assumes that all preachers are capable of making effective sermons along these lines… Spurgeon was not unfamiliar with ‘expository preaching’… and he decided it was not best suited to his gifts. There is reason to think that being an effective ‘expository’ preacher is not such a common gift as some seem to think.’

Indeed there is! In fact, there is good reason to think that preaching is not such a common gift as some seem to think (but that’s a subject for another blog). But to suggest (as Murray does – see the whole article) that too many try to follow Lloyd-Jones who don’t have his gift – while holding up Spurgeon as an alternative model – seems to miss one rather important point: we don’t have Spurgeon’s gift, either.

2. ‘What is preaching?’ Murray argues that expository preaching is seen as supreme because of the idea ‘that the foremost purpose of preaching is to convey as much as possible of the Bible. But that idea needs to be challenged…’

Here I beg to differ. I don’t think so. On the contrary, it needs to be re-affirmed. Yes, a sermon has to be more than a lecture – it has to have as its purpose to ‘strike, awaken, and arouse men and women so that they themselves become bright Christians’ but when Murray continues ‘and daily students of Scripture’ I have to disagree. I've got into bother for this before so let me say straight away: of course, it’s a good thing to be a daily student of Scripture. But you won’t find in the New Testament that idea at all – as Stuart Olyott pointed out (to my initial surprise and consternation) in the Banner of Truth Magazine some years ago. Actually, it is the preacher’s job to acquaint his congregation with the whole Bible – though not usually in one sermon. Many people - even today - are illiterate. It's a noble thing for the educated to search the Scriptures daily and check up on the preacher (Acts 17.11). But that's not the same as saying preaching is there to produce Bible readers.

3. Sermon or lecture? I’ll come back to this…

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