Exposition Begins with Reading

David Lang, at the Accordance blog has some very good things to say about the nature of exposition and how exposition has to start with our reading—really reading and understanding—the text.  Lang writes:

What is exposition? Here’s a great explanation from John Stott’s Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century:

Whether it (the text) is long or short, our responsibility as expositors is to open it up in such a way that it speaks its message clearly, plainly, accurately, relevantly, without addition, subtraction, or falsification. In expository preaching, the biblical text is neither a conventional introduction to a sermon on a largely different theme, nor a convenient peg on which to hang a ragbag of miscellaneous thoughts, but a master which dictates and controls what is said.

Note the approaches to preaching which Stott contrasts with exposition. The first uses the text as “an introduction to a sermon on a largely different theme.” Have you ever heard a sermon like that? The sermon may be wonderful, but at the end you find yourself wondering how what was said had any connection to the actual sermon text. The second approach uses the text as a “peg on which to hang a ragbag of miscellaneous thoughts.” I saw that in a church my family visited when we first moved to a different town. The pastor preached for forty minutes from a powerful text in Ephesians, yet he only turned to the actual text twice during that entire time. In the end, the passage became nothing more than a peg on which he hung forty minutes of good advice. Although we liked a lot of things about the church, we never went back.

In contrast to these approaches, Stott holds up expository preaching which allows the text to control the message being preached. Put another way, an expository sermon draws its structure and message from the text itself. The expositor asks what the main point of a passage is and then seeks to make that the main point of the sermon. The expositor asks how the text communicates that message and then organizes his points and subpoints along those same lines. As Darrell Johnson puts it in The Glory of Preaching:

expository preaching is not about getting a message out of the text; it is about inviting people into the text so that the text can do what only the text can do.

If exposition involves inviting people into the text of Scripture, enabling them to read it for themselves with greater clarity and engagement, then it stands to reason that exposition must begin with reading. Unless the expositor knows how to read the text for himself with clarity and engagement, he cannot hope to help others do the same.

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One Response to Exposition Begins with Reading

  1. Aaron says:

    Man, that quotation from Darrell Johnson hits the nail on the head, doesn’t it? Good reminders in this post. Thanks.

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