Is expository preaching too boring, technical, or divisive? I have had many people tell me that they don't like expository preaching. When I ask why they complain it is too technical and that its technical nature makes it boring. They also claim that the hair splitting approach to interpreting the Bible which expository preaching requires causes division in the church. Are these claims true?
First, I admit that there are expository preachers out there who are killing their congregations with overly technical sermons, just as their are far more preachers out there who are killing their congregations with interesting and engaging sermons that have no biblical content or sound doctrine. I readily admit that there is a subgroup of expository preachers who think they are being the most faithful when they are least understood. But we would never stop going to the doctor because there are some quacks out there or a certain percentage of doctors with terrible bedside manner. Likewise, to reject all expository preaching because of the worst of the bunch is a grave mistake. We must be careful not confuse expository preaching as a method of preaching, with the less than stellar preaching of some biblical expositors.
Second, let me state with definitive certainty that expository preaching isn’t by definition a boring or overly technical approach to preaching. There are many Bible expositors that are crystal clear, engaging, interesting, and who make even the most complex doctrines clear and easy to understand. The problem is not with the method, but with a given preacher. Yes, it is possible to craft and deliver a boring, technical expository sermon, yet you can also craft a boring, technical non-expository sermon as well.
Third, let me state with equal definitiveness that expository preaching is divisive--in a God glorifying way. Why? Because truth divides. Truth, by its nature creates antithesis. It can’t be avoided. If something is true, then by logical inference every other position that contradicts that truth is by necessity false. Two antithetical truths cannot both be true. Jesus claimed to be, “The Way, the Truth, and the Life.” That statement by Jesus, given in Jn. 14:6, is a very “narrow” statement. It is a narrow statement to say as Peter preached in Acts 4:12, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name given among men by which we must be saved.” No other person than Jesus can save you. Mohamed can’t save you, Allah can’t save you, Buddha can’t save you, a Jesus who isn’t’ God or who didn’t rise from the dead can’t save you either, nor can any other person. There is only one person who can save you, Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, born of a virgin, crucified for the sins of men, and risen from the dead, and no other! Truth is narrow and because truth is narrow, it creates antithesis, and is divisive.
Every preacher would do well to consider what Jesus, the Prince of Peace, said in Mt. 10:34-36:
Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. “For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.
Jesus says one of the reasons He came was to divide people around the truth. All preachers are commanded to preach that same truth (II Tim. 4:1-4). Expository preaching of the Word of God causes people to either follow Christ or reject Him. Those who follow Christ want to submit to and obey Jesus as their Lord. Those who reject Christ as their Lord and Savior don’t want to submit to Him. The truth, like a sword, divides people, pits them one against another, even in families. This is what the expository preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ and sound doctrine forces upon people who hear it. Men are forced to choose or reject Jesus Christ and the truth of His Word. Faithful preaching will always cause God glorifying division.
But faithful preaching also causes unity among those who are truly saved. You hear a great bit of noise these days from the world crying out for tolerance as some great social good, by which they mean, “Let us spout our worldly opinions, but you Christians remain silent, keep your truth and your gospel out of our government, out of our society, out of our science, and out of the public schools. Sure, hide in your religious huddles and say what you want, but keep quiet in public so we can speak our lies.” You can be sure that any faithful preacher of God’s Word is going to cause division in a world like the one in which we live.
And this brings us to an often misunderstood doctrine, the doctrine of unity in the church. Many want to have unity in the church, and that is a good thing, as God wants us to maintain the spirit of unity in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3). Yet what many mean by that and what the Bible teaches about biblical unity is completely different. People love to quote Eph. 4:3, but most never quote the definition of biblical unity in the following context. Eph. 4:3 is the exhortation to maintain unity in the church, but vss. 4-6 describes what kind of unity is to be maintained. Let me show you from the Scriptures that biblical unity is not tolerating diversity in doctrine, but being united in doctrine.
Eph. 4:4-6 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
I Cor. 1:10 Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.
Phil. 2:1-4 Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
Did you see what biblical unity is from the Scriptures? The Bible defines unity as being of the same mind, same judgment, united around the one common faith. Many man-pleasing preachers adopt a worldly definition of unity. They define unity as tolerating all doctrines. Puritan Thomas Watson warned that by practicing doctrinal toleration, "we adopt other men's sins, and make them our own." The preacher who adopts a faulty view of unity will fail to preach as God requires for he will seek to please men, avoiding division at the expense of truth. Remember what we read above from Mt. 10:34-36, Jesus came to wield the sword of the Spirit and promised the truth would cause division.
Yes, we need to strive for biblical unity, which is a unity that seeks to get everyone believing the same truth, united in doctrine, and holding to the same Christian faith. We need to practice tolerance in the areas of personal opinion and Christian liberty as long as our preferences don't violate the Word of God. We must also keep in mind that sound doctrine is only arrived at when the Word of God is diligently studied, biblical texts are painstakingly and accurately interpreted (II Tim. 2:15), and the truth relentlessly preached and taught (Titus 2:15), which is why expository preaching is necessary! (This blog post was adapted from a larger paper posted on www.drivennails.com titled, "The Necessity of Expository Preaching.")