Upon hearing a whimsical sermon, the little boy asked, “If God didn’t mean what He said, then why didn’t He say what He meant?” A simple question, but it speaks to the heart of the sufficiency of Scripture, doesn’t it? Consider the ancient church father, Origen, and his explanation of the Good Samaritan:
The traveler (Adam) journeys from Jerusalem (heaven) to Jericho (the world) and is assaulted by robbers (the devil and his helpers). The priest (the law) and the Levite (the prophets) pass by without aiding the fallen Adam, but the Samaritan (Christ) stops to help him, sets him on his breast (Christ’s body) and brings him to an inn (the church), giving the innkeeper two denarii (the Father and the Son), and promising to come back (Christ’s second coming).
Is that actually what God is saying? The Protestant reformer, Martin Luther, didn’t think so:
That is why Origen received his due reward a long time ago when his books were prohibited, for he relied too much on this same spiritual meaning, which was unnecessary, and he let the necessary literal meaning go. When this happens Scripture perishes and really good theologians are no longer produced. Only the true and principal meaning which is provided in the letters can produce good theologians.
Sadly, ours is a day of allegorists, many of whom don’t even recognize they hold that infamous title. The same principles Origen used are being repackaged in our day, often by those who in theory reject the allegorical method. Luther was correct: “When this happens Scripture perishes,” and that has disastrous implications: flawed soteriology, flawed ecclesiology, flawed theology, flawed responses to society’s groanings, and more. Such allegorical vainjanglings today are—to borrow Kaiser’s phrase—the seedbed for tomorrow’s heresies. Only one solution exists to the present crisis: A return to the sufficiency of Scripture, which means a return to expository preaching.
God Says What He Means
God breathed-out Scripture (2 Tim 3:16). It’s one thing to acknowledge that fact. It’s quite another to practice it in preaching. Think it through: If the Scripture writings (graphe) are God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16), then the actual words and their arrangement (syntax) must be examined carefully within their original historical context. We call this “exegesis,” (that is, “to lead out of”). Our single aim must be to draw-out the pure meaning of the actual words (graphe) as God revealed them through His human authors. More specifically, exegesis seeks to:
[I]identify the single truth-intention of individual phrases, clauses, and sentences as they make up the thought of paragraphs, sections, and, ultimately, entire books. . . exegesis may be understood in this work to be the practice of and the set of procedures for discovering the author’s intended meaning.
Preaching rooted in sound exegesis “exposes” God’s Word to men. We hear the term “expository preaching” often, but few know what it means; even less actually practice it. Walt Kaiser offers the most specific and comprehensive definition I’ve found:
[T]hat method of proclaiming the Scriptures that takes as a minimum one paragraph of Biblical text (in prose narrative or its equivalent in other literary genre) and derives from the text both the shape (i.e. the main points and subpoints of the sermon) and the content (i.e. the substance, ideas, and principles) of the message itself.
Simply put, expository preaching preserves, protects, and proclaims the biblical author’s single meaning in the preaching-text. This method—at one and the same time—preserves, protects, and proclaims both the authority and the sufficiency of God’s Scripture. It conveys, “God says what He means.”
God Means What He Says
Not only does God say what He means, He means what He says. Many of our present-day problems will be corrected when we commit to expository preaching. Some God-honoring benefits will be:
- Expository preaching will glorify God. God chose to reveal Himself to us in writing. If we truly treasure His Word, we will study it (2 Tim 2:15), rightly divide it (2 Tim 2:15), and proclaim it (2 Tim 4:2). When we accurately proclaim what the King has written, it glorifies His Majesty. The proper proclamation of God’s Word is the engine that drives our worship.
- Expository preaching will fulfill the Great Commission. Expository preaching is one of the best means in fulfilling the Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20). It offers the greatest width, breadth, and depth of what God has revealed to mankind about Himself. It is the most faithful means of presenting “everyone mature in Christ” (Col 1:28).
- Expository preaching will correct flawed soteriology. Preach paragraph-by-paragraph through the book of Romans. Scripture will begin to correct decades of defective understandings regarding salvation and effectually call-out individuals unto salvation.
- Expository preaching will correct flawed ecclesiology. Preach expositionally through texts regarding church polity, church structure, church membership, etc. Members will begin to ask beautiful questions like, “Why do we do it this way?” and, “Why aren’t we do it the Scripture-way?” Correct ecclesiology will produce deeper, stronger disciples.
- Expository preaching will correct flawed theology. Preach expositionally through books of the Bible. Watch how it sharpens, refines, and deepens the everyone’s theology (including yours!). A steady diet of exposition will bring everyone in concert with God’s revealed will.
- Expository preaching will hold pastors accountable. Every true man of God wants to stand before God and say with Paul: “I did not shrink from declaring . . . the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). There is but one way to make that declaration stick: Expository preaching. It doesn’t allow you to skip difficult or uncomfortable passages.
- Expository preaching will speak to current events. God’s Word has abiding relevance: It is living and active and discerns the intentions of all of mankind’s heart (Heb 4:12). It exposes the world’s actions, reactions, and motives. It exposes the world’s elementary principles (Col 2:8) and destroys every lofty opinion it raises against the knowledge of God (2 Cor 10:5). Further, it provides comforting answers to a society that groans under sin’s curse.
Faithful expository preaching fundamentally changed the church and society during the Protestant reformation (education, laws, architecture, art, etc.), and it has the capacity to do so again today. It starts with purity in the pulpit. Put in the work of purposeful exegesis and passionate expository preaching until no one else is left to wonder, “If God didn’t mean what He said, then why didn’t He say what He meant?” Check back, and we’ll discuss some helps to achieve greater purity in your proclamation.
Sidney Greidanus, The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text, 159-60.
Martin Luther, Answer to the Hyperchristian, Hyperspiritual, and Hyper-learned Book by Goat Emser in Leipzig—Including Some Thoughts Regarding His Companion, the Fool Murner, 1521, in Luther’s Works, vol. 39 (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1970), 178.
Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Toward an Exegetical Theology, 47.
Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.,“The Crisis in Expository Preaching Today,” Preaching (Sep-Oct 1995): 4.