Since D. A. Carson’s messages on “The Primacy of Expository Preaching” were one of the promptings that led to the birth of the EFCA Forum on Expository Preaching, I thought it would be helpful to hear again his definition of expository preaching.
Carson was asked (“Profiles of Expository Preaching” in SBJT 3/2 (Summer 1999), 86-96, “What do you consider to be the essential elements of an expository sermon?” He defines preaching, and then states that expository preaching is never less than that, but more. Here is his abbreviated response.
Preaching is verbal communication of which at least the following things are true:
- Its substance is the unfolding and application of what God has said in Scripture.
- In the well-known phrase of Phillips Brooks, it is truth mediated through human personality.
- It has an essential heraldic element; i.e., it is proclamation.
- As in the past God disclosed himself so often in words, so, ideally, the sermon should in some measure be a “re-revelation”—not, of course, revelation in exactly the same sense that the word was revelatory when it first came, but in the sense that God mediates himself to us by that same word when, once again, it is announced. In other words, ideally the sermon is more than a communication of propositions and moral exhortation; it is the communication of God.
- Its long-term goal is to glorify God, primarily by announcing God’s salvation and thus by the calling out of God’s people, and their edification so as to build up the church into the maturity and godliness that are its heritage and destiny.
- Its immediate purpose is to instruct, inform, persuade, correct, appeal, condemn, invite response, encourage, edify, rebuke—in short, to convey God’s truth and God’s will in such a way as to elicit the appropriate response from God’s image-bearers.
I shall assume that expository preaching is never less than what I have described. But precisely how is it more?
- Above all, it is preaching whose subject matter emerges directly and demonstrably from a passage or from some passages of Scripture. In other words, its content and structure demonstrably reflect what Scripture says, and honestly seek to elucidate it.
- Yet despite this emphasis on the content of Scripture, an expository sermon is no mere running commentary—in the style, perhaps, of what used to be called (and still is, in a few circles in Britain) a “Bible reading.” The expository sermon distinguishes itself from a Bible reading in three particulars:Ideally, expository preaching is preaching which, however dependent it may be for its content on the text or texts at hand, draws attention to inner-canonical connections that inexorably move toward Jesus Christ and the gospel.
- It has structure.
- It coheres—i.e., it carries a unified burden, a sense of direction, a coherent message. It does not simply pick up the text from the previous meeting and wander through the next chunk of text.
- It diligently aims to apply the Word of God.
- Ideally, expository preaching is preaching which, however dependent it may be for its content on the text or texts at hand, draws attention to inner-canonical connections that inexorably move toward Jesus Christ and the gospel.