Iain Murray: Beware of Expository Preaching

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Jared

Puritan Board Freshman
Tom, I can understand where Murray is coming from with Spurgeon. But, it's one thing when someone who is skilled in the scriptures like Spurgeon preaches from a variety of texts. It's quite another thing when a Pentecostal preacher like many of those that I grew up hearing skips from one text to another Sunday to Sunday and Wednesday to Wednesday. I think for most preachers, expository preaching with a little bit of flexibility for special occasions or the leading of the Spirit is best.
 

rbcbob

Puritan Board Graduate
If Murray's definition of expository preaching is accepted, along with his qualifiers, and cautions then there is room enough for commendation. But I am not ready to submit so strictly to his parameters.
 

Willem van Oranje

Puritan Board Junior
Responses to Murray:

1. Good expository preaching, even that which uses the lectio continua, which he describes, also treats each individual sermon as a distinct and complete unit which may stand alone. The Scripture (in every genre according to its unique characteristics) are made up of a series of distinguishable thoughts which make up a larger point in a particular book or large section. These individual units of thought make a fine basis for preaching individual sermons as a rule, and make even more impact when subjected to the larger theme of the book.

2. In cases where the text itself is not "memorable" enough, as Murray seems to think, it is the duty of the preacher to boil the pericope down to a memorable phrase which restates the main point, also known as the big idea. And it is to be adapted to the audience by answering and addressing specific questions that will arise in their minds. "What does that mean?" "Is that true?" "So what, what difference does it make?" which will differ depending on who is listening. So the lectio continua method, which Murray calls, "expository", will also be applied to the needs of the listeners. In addition the careful preacher will select a book of the Bible to preach through based on what his listeners most need.

3. Murray's analysis makes no mention of the historical fact that the ancient lectio continua method of preaching successively through the text of Scripture was largely responsible for the beginning and continuance Protestant Reformation, as it was practised in Zuerich and Geneva (who got the idea from this traditional practice Greek fathers like Chrysostom.) How any Reformed Christian could diminish its track record is beyond me.
 
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MarieP

Puritan Board Senior
What is Murray's definition of expository preaching? There are many definitions of it, it seems. Some say that if you deviate at all by bringing in other texts or that if you bring in the redemptive-historical method it isn't purely expository.
 

Willem van Oranje

Puritan Board Junior
What is Murray's definition of expository preaching? There are many definitions of it, it seems. Some say that if you deviate at all by bringing in other texts or that if you bring in the redemptive-historical method it isn't purely expository.

True statement. In my book, topical preaching at its best is one type of expository preaching. But for the purpose of responding to Murray I tried to use it the way that he was using it, which was evidently, the lectio continua.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
Yes, his definition of "expository" is pretty narrow. But I thought it was an excellent article. Forget that his critique strikes at a term we hold dear. Notice instead his call for preachers to do real preaching, not running commentary.

I like text-based preaching. That's what I call "expository." And I like working our way through a particular Bible book. But if indeed the "expository" model is producing lecturers instead of preachers, whose sermons read like a verse-by-verse commentary, then we do need to revise the model and recover the art of preaching to the soul. Solid teaching does not by itself make a strong sermon.
 

christiana

Puritan Board Senior
Seems to be bad timing as it is only recently that pastors increased their inclination to preach in an expository manner! For so many years I listened to topical sermons that seemed to drift further and further from the message of scriptural truth! Much as I respect Iian Murray I regret his thoughts on this most important topic. Its only in the past few years that I've been blessed to be in a church whose pastor preaches expositorily and my knowledge of scripture has grown and understanding increased. I'm so thankful for expository messages! Just the thoughts of a lay-person.
 

SolaScriptura

Puritanboard Brimstone
Oh, I've heard plenty of expository "sermons" that are essentially running commentaries and more akin to being properly termed lectures.

I may be in the minority here, I'm not sure, but while conformity with right doctrine is the foundation of a good sermon, it isn't the sole determining factor in what constitutes good preaching or a good sermon. Truth be told, it is challenging to preach a book in which the author makes the same basic point multiple times and have each of the sermons be something other than copies of each other in their points. (I think that the perceived easiness of keeping things "fresh" is what draws some to a more topical model.) And it takes skill to do it well.
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
I liked the article and thought it made some good points. Dr. Lloyd-Jones himself emphasized that when you have done an exposition of the passage, you have merely preached the introduction to an expository sermon.

I remember reading that Spurgeon thought it took unusual gifts to maintain a lectio continua style of preaching, and decided he didn't have them; but I wonder if Spurgeon's gift wasn't more unusual still. Of course, Spurgeon also did some exposition, and you can find his expositions, which like the lectures Murray mentions, were separate from the sermon.

But this quote gives a good balance:
This is not an argument that the whole concept of consecutive preaching through a passage is wrong, simply that it must not be allowed to have an exclusive place in pulpit ministry. Let each preacher find what he is best able to do, and let it be ever remembered that, whatever the method of presenting the truth, it is men filled with faith and the Holy Spirit who are needed most at this hour. More than correct teaching is needed: we need messages that will move congregations and even sway communities.

I have wondered sometimes if the attempt to force all preachers into the same mold isn't damaging, and it seems that Murray has wondered the same thing - but from a much broader base of experience and knowledge.
 

CharlieJ

Puritan Board Junior
I appreciated this statement: "At the end of the day, the best preaching is preaching which helps the hearers most." Of course, it requires a mature understanding of just what it is that helps hearers most, but I think it reinforces the biblical concept that preaching is not an end in itself but a means to a congregation growing in Christ-likeness. That said, I still like the lectio continua as the normal procedure. Some churches who devote their Sunday mornings to exposition and their Sunday nights or a midweek service to topical/doctrinal teaching achieve a good balance.
 

TomVols

Puritan Board Freshman
A lot of good points have been made, which obviously were stolen from my own mind :)

I can't help but think Murray's exposure to Lloyd-Jones is coming through, because I don't know if we'd consider the Doctor to be purely expository. And I am willing to admit that there are cautions worth heeding. That said, the whole time I read his article, I can't help but wonder if Murray isn't guilty of what many critics of expository preaching are guilty of - namely, attacking a caricature of expository preaching and not expository preaching itself.

A lecture is not a sermon. Broadus rightly said that, where application begins, there the sermon begins as well. (There is a debate as to whether he stole that from Spurgeon or vice versa).

You can do expository preaching on selected texts. You can preach through Biblical books in an expository fashion. Why would we divorce the two? Why not have the best of both? I'm not saying that to be right with God, all pastors must always be in a Bible book. I think there is a place for lectio selecta. But in our day of Biblical illiteracy, how can anyone demean Spirit anointed preaching through a book of the Bible? If there were no lectio continua, we'd be robbed of goldmines from the likes of Calvin, Luther and in our day Begg and others.

I'll even agree with Rick Warren here (GASP!) that verse-by-verse exposition and verse-with-verse exposition (what is commonly called topical preaching) has a place.

I agree that the best preaching is that which helps hearers. And nothing helps hearers like being confronted with the systematic exposition of the truths of God's Word. So I have to disagree a thousandfold with Murray here.

I don't agree with Murray at all that Evangelistic preaching and expository preaching are mutually exclusive. That's just bunk. Again, he's arguing against a caricature. But if he would call for more evangelistic sermons, selecta or continua, I'll hook arms with him.

The most perplexing of his statements is this one:
2. The argument that the 'expository' method is the best means to cover most of the Bible is too largely connected with the idea that the foremost purpose of preaching is to convey as much as possible of the Bible. But that idea needs to be challenged. Preaching needs to be much more than an agency of instruction. It needs to strike, awaken, and arouse men and women so that they themselves become bright Christians and daily students of Scripture. If the preacher conceives his work primarily in terms of giving instruction, rather than of giving stimulus, the sermon, in most hands, very easily becomes a sort of weekly 'class' - an end in itself. But true preaching needs to ignite an on-going process.

Huh? "You'd better help folks dig into their Bibles, but don't you dare try to help them by preaching through a book?!?!?!?" Am I missing something here?

His first point is way off, too. One seminary professor said it best. To be expository, you needn't be creative, gifted, articulate, eloquent, or fanciful. You need only be faithful. Whether you wholeheartedly agree or not, at least we can agree with his gist: expository preaching lets the text talk as Dick Lucas says, and while many preachers who shun this are letting themselves talk instead.

So while there are nuggets worth heeding in Murray's article, in large measure I believe he misses a mark he isn't sure he's aiming at. I think the dross outweighs the gold here in this article.
 

Willem van Oranje

Puritan Board Junior
Yes, his definition of "expository" is pretty narrow. But I thought it was an excellent article. Forget that his critique strikes at a term we hold dear. Notice instead his call for preachers to do real preaching, not running commentary.

I like text-based preaching. That's what I call "expository." And I like working our way through a particular Bible book. But if indeed the "expository" model is producing lecturers instead of preachers, whose sermons read like a verse-by-verse commentary, then we do need to revise the model and recover the art of preaching to the soul. Solid teaching does not by itself make a strong sermon.

I have heard sermons that sounded like an exegetical commentary, but there are plenty of verse-by-verse sermons that are really preached and applied! The Great Reformer Dr. Luther was great at this.

---------- Post added 06-16-2010 at 12:01 AM ---------- Previous post was 06-15-2010 at 11:57 PM ----------

Oh, I've heard plenty of expository "sermons" that are essentially running commentaries and more akin to being properly termed lectures.

I may be in the minority here, I'm not sure, but while conformity with right doctrine is the foundation of a good sermon, it isn't the sole determining factor in what constitutes good preaching or a good sermon. Truth be told, it is challenging to preach a book in which the author makes the same basic point multiple times and have each of the sermons be something other than copies of each other in their points. (I think that the perceived easiness of keeping things "fresh" is what draws some to a more topical model.) And it takes skill to do it well.

For what it's worth, Scott Gibson says that if you are preaching through a book, and you seem to be stuck with the same exact idea to preach again and again, you are not sufficiently narrowing down the big idea of your passage. That is, each pericope may restate and repeat, but there is always a sufficient nuance of difference to yield a different angle and main idea, if you understand it well enough in its context. Of course within one chapter of one book there may be huge overlap between the ideas of distinct pericopes, but then again, repetition is one of the most effective tools of communication.
 

TomVols

Puritan Board Freshman
For what it's worth, Scott Gibson says that if you are preaching through a book, and you seem to be stuck with the same exact idea to preach again and again, you are not sufficiently narrowing down the big idea of your passage. That is, each pericope may restate and repeat, but there is always a sufficient nuance of difference to yield a different angle and main idea, if you understand it well enough in its context. Of course within one chapter of one book there may be huge overlap between the ideas of distinct pericopes, but then again, repetition is one of the most effective tools of communication.
I'd agree with this. That's why I prefer Haddon Robinson's idea of the Big Idea as opposed to Wayne McDill who asks for a one word subject and a one word predicate. To McDill, you can ostensibly say a text is about salvation. For Robinson (and subsequent others like Chappel, Gibson, Richard, Sunjaikin, et.al.) that's too broad. When preaching through a book, you have to do justice to the natural divisions of the texts, the author's own thought block if you will. Failing to do this is to fail to be expository in the best sense.
 
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