Monday, October 22, 2007

Expository what?

The other day at church, the senior pastor announced that something was changing. Over the summer, in the absence of the raucous student night church, they’re going to introduce something different. Expository teaching. That’s right, the old get-a-passage-of-the-Bible-and-draw-everything-from-that trick. He even used the words ‘exegesis’ and ‘hermeneutics’ so we know it’s serious.

My primary thoughts on this go along the lines of: yusssss! It starts in November, and so it’s given me a reason to be glad my exams go so late. To tell the truth, I think pure teaching drawn only from the Bible will be a refreshing change. I need to be careful here, because the ‘sermonisers’ at this church aren’t heretical or anything, but I frequently get lost wondering how their messages relate to the passage they started with. It often seems that there is a lot of application with somewhat less biblical substance behind it. In light of this, I’m amping to hear some straight exegesis coming from the front.

It gets me wondering, though, shouldn’t all preaching be expository? And what makes this ‘exposition’ evening different from what happens every Sunday morning? I feel uncomfortable about having an environment where we need to create a separate time to study God’s Word to any great depth. It has got me thinking a lot about what we are actually doing on Sunday mornings.

Clearly this initiative is not creating an absolute dichotomy where we study the Bible in the evenings, and have a raging heretical party in the mornings. Rather, the distinction (as far as I can tell) is between an intellectual study of the scriptures and a more emotive exhortation from them. The implication seems to be that simple Bible expostulation can’t stir the heart, and instead only informs the mind. This, I would argue, is a misleading assumption.

Certainly it is true that treating sermons purely as English (or Greek and Hebrew) exercises will cause them to be dry and unhelpful. However I believe that without a thorough understanding of the context and composition of the various books of the canon we will never be able to fully understand the message they contain. It is this message that, as God’s inspired word, can equip us for every good work. It is this message that has power to rebuke, to encourage, to heal and to transform, through the work of the Holy Spirit. Hence I think the in depth study of the Bible as literature is inextricably linked to passionate and emotive exhortations from the same, the former serves to fuel the latter. I hope it is clear that I think good preaching should consistently utilise expository techniques in drawing out the glorious truths contained within scripture. I think passion and enthusiasm follow simply from the magnitude of those truths.

I find evidence for this in the sermons of John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Bryan Chapell and the like. There are many examples of teaching that sticks rigidly to a text, that follows the author’s line of thought in a clear and reasoned fashion, and still stirs the heart and soul.

Tim Challies has a helpful article on The Benefit Obtained by Preaching. In it, he concludes, with Jonathon Edwards, that “Preaching…must first of all touch the affections.” I agree whole-heartedly with this, though I would assert that this ‘stirring of the soul’ is derived not from mere rhetorical displays from the pulpit, but by unpacking and explaining the very words of God.

For those who are interested, I found this interview with Bryan Chapell on the subject of expository preaching very helpful, especially his simple but tidy definition of it (right at the start).

Now I readily admit that this is an awful lot to draw from a quick little notice on Sunday morning, especially without knowing what they meant by ‘expository teaching.’ Overall, as I said at the beginning, I’m stoked that the leadership have decided to do this. It is great to be at a church that upholds the Bible as the words of God, even if I disagree with some of their interpretations of them. I’ll be there with bells on.


J Puddy said...

Check out Rob Bell's church, Mars Hill. They're sort of a liberal arts church with very literal Bible teaching. I really like their podcasts, and his book Velvet Elvis is quite excellent.

Marcus said...

Thanks Jonathon, from what I've seen/read of Rob Bell (Nooma videos and his 'Sex God' book) I've been impressed with how he treats the Bible. You can check out my review of the book on this site somewhere. I haven't heard much about his church, so thanks for that.