There are many definitions of expository preaching which have been offered over the years, but perhaps the most popular one among evangelicals is the definition of Haddon Robinson, from his book Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages: “Expository preaching is the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, then through the preacher, applies to the hearers.” I like Robinson’s definition, because it includes several important points of emphasis:
1. Expository preaching seeks to communicate a biblical concept – what Robinson later calls the “Big Idea” of the sermon. We do not preach to share our own imaginative insights or to comment the news and interests of the day; we preach because God has given us His Word, and we have been called to communicate His truth.
2. Expository preaching involves study of the text. It is not a frivolous task to preach. The person who steps to the pulpit without preparation and comments on one verse after another may be doing something, but it is not expository preaching.
3. Expository preaching, like all authentic preaching, is utterly dependent on the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Unless the Holy Spirit is in it, it is nothing but a talk; when the Holy Spirit fills and empowers us, it is the proclamation of the Word of God in power.
4. Expository preaching takes the text and applies it to the lives of the listeners (including the preacher). Exposition is not simply teaching what a passage said; it also involves showing what it means in our lives today. There is a strong practical element to expository preaching.
I also appreciate something Robinson added to the second edition of his book Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages. He said, “Expository preaching at its core is more a philosophy than a method.” Whether or not we can be called expositors starts with our purpose and with our honest answer to the question, ‘Do you, as a preacher, endeavor to bend your thought to the Scriptures, or do you use the Scriptures to support your thought?’”
Michael Duduit is founding Dean of the College of Christian Studies and the Clamp Divinity School at Anderson University. He also serves as Professor of Christian Ministry. He is the founder and still serves as Executive Editor of Preaching magazine, one of the nation’s premier publications for pastors. His email newsletter, Preaching Now, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world. He is founder and director of the National Conference on Preaching and the International Congress on Preaching. He has been a pastor and associate pastor, has served a number of churches as interim pastor, and speaks regularly for churches, colleges and conferences. He is author and editor of several books, including the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching, Joy in Ministry: Messages from Second Corinthians, Preaching with Power: Dynamic Insights from Twenty Top Communicators and Communicate With Power.