Q: #278. What is expository preaching?
By: Steve Shirley
A: Expository preaching is simply teaching, or giving a sermon on the Bible verse by verse. The preacher first picks a section of scripture that he wishes to teach on, then he thoroughly investigates everything he can find on those verses including such things as the history, context, theology, and Greek/Hebrew language they were written in.
When he gives the sermon, he will read the selected passages verse by verse, and share the meaning he has discovered with the audience. Sometimes a few illustrations may be thrown in, as well as how the verse can be applied to the life of listener. If done well, this will generally shed new light on those particular scriptures for those in the audience.
There are several benefits to this type of preaching. The most important is that it is the most Bible-focused of any style of preaching. Most who preach this way generally will start at the beginning of a book of the Bible and go verse by verse to the end. Obviously, the listener is going to have a much greater understanding of that book when the teaching is done. It can also equip listeners with scriptures to apply to their lives, give them motivation and a hunger to want to study the Bible more deeply, and make them more Bible literate.
Several benefits for the preacher include that he never has to worry about what to preach on, it keeps his sermon Bible focused, and it helps him to keep "his personal opinions" out of the sermon. Eventually, it will also force the preacher to deal with and teach the "hard" verses of scripture that are often avoided by others. Finally, if you are preaching God's Word, you can be pretty confident you are in God's will (see the last two sentences of the next paragraph for an exception).
There can be some drawbacks too. For one, some preachers are just not qualified or able to study scriptures as deeply as they need to be studied to preach in this way. Secondly, if not done the right way, this type of teaching can be very "dry" and "boring" for the audience. And, while I said above that a "benefit" was that it helped the preacher to keep "his personal opinions" out, I believe the reverse can be true as well. A preacher can interpret a verse with personal bias and mislead his audience (i.e. depending on his views on election). Finally, I believe that there are certain times when a "topic" may need to be addressed. If a preacher rigidly holds to expository preaching, he may miss hearing from God in addressing these "topics."
This type of preaching has been done by a number of well-known preachers including: G. Campbell Morgan, W.A. Criswell, J. Vernon McGee, and John MacArthur. It is common in many "Reformed" churches.