In the same way Morocco states in the Merchant of Venice, ‘that all that glitters is not gold’, Mike Gilbart-Smith wrote a brilliant article for 9 Marks, showing that not everything called expository preaching is expository preaching.
Mike speaks broadly about 3 groups of sermons that miss the mark of expository preaching. His definition of true expository is borrowed from Mark Dever in that it is, ‘preaching that takes for the point of a sermon the point of a particular passage of Scripture.”
This post is reproduced here with the permission of 9 Marks.
Expositional Imposters Group 2:
IMPOSTERS THAT FAIL TO SEE THE CONGREGATION
6) The “Exegetical Sermon”: The Text Remains Unapplied
If the “unfounded sermon” totally misses the text, the “exegetical sermon” totally misses the congregation. Some preaching that claims to be expositional is rejected as boring and irrelevant . . . and rightly so! One could just as well be reading from an exegetical commentary. Everything that is said is true to the passage, but it’s not really preaching; it is merely a lecture. Much might be learned about Paul’s use of the genitive absolute, but little about the character of God or the nature of the human heart. There is no application to anything but the congregation’s minds. True expository preaching will surely first inform the mind, but also warm the heart and constrain the will.
A regular diet of exegetical preaching will make people feel that only topical preaching can be relevant, and will model private Bible reading that presumes we can read God’s Word faithfully and remain unchallenged and unchanged.
7) The “Irrelevant Sermon”: The Text Is Applied to a Different Congregation
Too much preaching promotes pride in the congregation by throwing bricks over the wall toward other people’s greenhouses. Either the point of the passage is applied
only to non-believers, suggesting that the Word has nothing to say to the church, or it is applied to problems that are rarely seen in the congregation that is being preached to.
Thus the congregation becomes puffed up, and like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable ends up thankful that they are not like others. The response is not rep
entance and faith but, “If only Mrs. Brown heard this sermon!” or “the local Methodist church really ought to have this sermon
preached to them!”
Such preaching will grow the congregation in self-righteousness, not godliness.
8) The “Private Sermon”: The Text Is Applied Only to the Preacher
It is easy for the preacher to think merely about how a passage applies to himself, and then to preach to the congregation as if the congregation is entirely in the same situation as the preacher. For me it is certainly easiest to see how a passage of Scripture applies to a white British man in his forties with a wife and six kids who works as a pastor of a small congregation in West London. That may be great for my quiet times, but not much use to my church, as nobody else fits that bill.
What are the implications of the text to the teenager and the single mother? The woman in her forties who’d love to be married and the immigrant? The unemployed and the visiting atheist or Muslim? The congregation as a whole and the bus driver or the office worker or the student or the stay at home mum?
The private sermon can lead to the congregation thinking that the Bible is only relevant to the “professional” Christian, and that the only valid use of their life would really be to work fulltime for a church or other Christian organization. It can cause the congregation to idolize their pastor and live their Christian lives vicariously through him. It robs the congregation of seeing how to apply the Word to every aspect of their own lives, and how to communicate it to those whose lives are quite different from theirs.
9) The “Hypocritical Sermon”: The Text Is Applied to All But the Preacher
The opposite error to the “private sermon” is the sermon where the preacher is seen as the one who teaches the Word, but does not model what it means to be under the Word.
There are times when a preacher needs to say “you” and not “we.” But a preacher who always says “you” and never “we” does not model how he is only an under-shepherd who is first and foremost one of the sheep who must himself hear his great shepherd’s voice, who must know him and follow him, trusting him for his eternal life and security.
A preacher who preaches like this may make the opposite error to the congregation who lives vicariously through their pastor: he will live vicariously through this congregation. He will assume that his discipleship is entirely about his ministry, and end up not walking as a disciple under God’s Word at all, but only as one who places others under a Word above which he sits aloof.
10) The “Misfit Sermon”: The Point of the Passage Is Misapplied to the Present Congregation
Sometimes the hermeneutical gap between the original passage and the present congregation may be misunderstood, so that the application to the original context is wrongly directly transferred to the present context. So, if the preacher does not have a correct biblical theology of worship, passages about the Old Testament temple might be wrongly applied to the New Testament church building, rather than being fulfilled in Christ and his people. Prosperity gospel preachers might claim the promises of physical blessings given to faithful Old Covenant Israel and flatly apply them to the New Covenant people of God.