For pastors/leaders: D. A. Carson on 5 Elements of Expository Preaching and a Defense on Why it Ought to be Primary

A Definition from Carson on Expository Preaching from Preach the Word (176-7):

“Exposition is simply the unpacking of what is there… it is unpacking what the biblical text or texts actually say.”

A Definition from his article, “Accept No Substitutes: 6 Reasons not to Abandon Expository Preaching”:

“The expository sermon must be controlled by a Scripture text or texts. Expository preaching arises directly and demonstrably from a passage or passages of Scripture.”

5 Elements of Expository Preaching (assuming the definition of preaching already given):

  1. It is preaching subject matter which emerges directly and demonstrably from a passage or passages of Scripture. The content must be controlled by a text or texts not losing the flow of the passage. It is explication of text(s). Topical preaching finds its organizing principle from some external ordering. Textual preaching takes a smaller portion and often loses the flow of the context.

  2. It is not simply running commentary on texts. It is not a bible reading (done in the U. K.). But expository preaching is (1) heavily committed to application, (2) it is far more committed to structure, and (3) each sermon coheres and can stand as an individual unit.

  3. It is not necessarily systematic preaching through a book or a larger part of a book. You can preach on temptation and choose 4 sermons based on 4 passages from Genesis 39, 2 Samuel 11, Matthew 4, and James 1. Each sermon can be an expository sermon directly and demonstrably from the main passage.

  4. The length of each passage is exceedingly variable. Not everyone is Martyn Lloyd-Jones who can preach Romans in 8 years. One preacher did Job in 4 and it was powerful. “Our age is particularly short of a certain kind of expository sermon. The expository sermon of a passage that is sufficiently long that should teach people how to read their bibles… We are ministering now to men and women who have very little bible knowledge in many cases. And if you pull a half-verse out and expound for 45 minutes, you may not be teaching people how to read their texts.”

  5. At its best, it is preaching which however dependent it may be for its content on the text or texts at hand, draws attention to innercanonical connections that inexorably move to Jesus Christ.

Why should it be primary? (Also found in his article, “Accept No Substitutes: 6 Reasons not to Abandon Expository Preaching”)

  1. It’s the method least likely to stray far from Scripture.

  2. It teaches people how to read their bibles, especially if you take large enough sections (not just to understand but to apply the text).

  3. Gives confidence to the preacher and if done rightly authorizes the sermon. It will be God’s message to the church, and you’ll know it is. This is wonderfully freeing.

  4. It meets the need for relevance without letting the clamor for relevance dictate the message.

  5. It not only enables but forces preachers to handle the tough sections.

  6. It enables the preacher to expound systematically the whole counsel of God so long as the portions are substantial. You’ve got take large chunks of the Bible to preach the whole Bible.

From D. A. Carson’s lecture on Expository Preaching. See part 1 blogging on this lecture.