The Myth of Expository Preaching (part 2): proclamation that inspires the imagination

David Fitch is back to explain why he believes expository preaching is a myth that is hindering the full potential of the pulpit. In part one of his post Fitch said expository preaching has led to the commodification of Scripture. As he promised, he's back to offer suggestions for reclaiming preaching from the influence of consumerism.

Two weeks ago I wrote a post on "Expository Preaching." On the one hand, I was surprised with the number of sympathetic comments and excellent discussion that recognized the problem of "commodification of the Word." On the other hand, there were some folk who implied that I was either denigrating Scripture, diminishing the importance of preaching, or making "meaning" unstable so much so that it wasn't worth preaching anymore. To me, these were the very things I was working against by alerting us to the danger of commodifying the Word. And so I promised a second post that would explore how we might preach more faithfully in our times.


We will no doubt need to explain some things in the text, but the primary task of preaching on Sunday morning is "proclaiming" the reality of the world as it is under the good news of the gospel that renders all things new. This means our first task as preachers is to describe not prescribe.

The primary move of preaching will not be sentence-by-sentence exposition & explaining, then an application. Instead the primary move of the preacher will be to describe the world as it is via the person and work of Jesus Christ, then invite the hearers into this reality by calling for submission, confession, obedience, or the affirmation of a truth.

In Brueggemann's words, we preach to "fund imagination." Through proclaiming the Word, the Spirit reorganizes perception, experience, and even faith to enable hearers to live in the reality of Christ's work, respond to Christ, and obey. This kind of preaching subverts the dominant habits of thinking and the ways our imaginations have been taught to see the world. Instead of dissecting the text, making it portable, and distributing it to people for their own personal use, the preacher re-narrates the world as it is under the Lordship of Christ and then invites people into it.

When I preach I see my role as the herald of the new world that has been inaugurated in the death and resurrection of Christ. Whether in the Old or New Testaments, I am unfurling the world as it is under the work of God down through history and ultimately in Jesus Christ. I always start by narrating a common experience from a personal story, a movie, a piece of literature. I try to expose the way we might be living under an alternative interpretation of the way things are. But then I move to the text for the day, read it and start to unfold the reality as it is in God thru Christ. Finally, I then move to invite the gathering into this Christ-reality, looking for responses we can all make to live more faithfully out of who He is, what He has done, and where He is taking us and the world.

July 25, 2006

Displaying 1–10 of 26 comments


August 29, 2006  8:41pm

It seems to me that David is hitting a different target than what he says. Expositiory preaching, which is not the only method of preaching, should by its conclusion have brought the ancient text into the modern world. Any sermon that does not try to do this amounts to pastoral incompetence. Of course, pastors will have varying amounts of success at bringing the text to the present. Consistent failure to bridge the Bible text to present reality likely indicates that the pastor is not in touch with his congregation. I think that our bigger worry is how connected the clergy are with the laity.

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Jeff Russell

August 07, 2006  10:19am

And All God's Preacher's said AMEN!!!!! What you are expounding is exactly what has needed to be said for a long time by senior members of the clergy. Somehow, the ABC's-123's method of line by line explanation is what has actually denigrated Scripture. Or put another way: One method is designed to teach and explain the other to serve to convict, convince and convert with compassion. Today, the modern church in America doesn't preach, it provides seminars from the pulpit. Thank you for this wonderful article. You have voiced my very frustration in what I am hearing in the pulpit from most.. and yes, I mean a significant majority of contemporary protestant/mainline churches today.

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August 01, 2006  12:07am

Anthony brings up a good point. God did in fact give his people 10 commandments, but more accurately he gave them 10 "words" to be interpreted. All Scripture needs to be interpreted, it is not necessarily "plainly understandable." If so, then we could write one large commentary of the text, explaining what the author meant and move on. Hhhmm, to my understanding no such book exists. Yes, there are parts of the Scriptures that are clear, but there are others that are not. There simply is no one monolithic interpretation of the meaning of the text, as if we could just menmorize the "right" one in every situation and move on. The Scriptures are filled with a myriad of meanings and truths, somke even captured in one area of text. Back to the 10 "words". God says, "Remember the Sabbath, and do no work." One key question that arises from the text is "What does God mean by work?" No where in any text does God give a definitive answer to the question. The rabbis argued over this point in the text, they sought to understand what God meant, some followed one line of thinking, others followed another. All this to say, merely preaching line upon line or word upon word may not help capture the full meaning of a passage. Without exploring the historical, sociological, and cultural setting, and merely relying on sola scriptura... the irony is that we may never uncover the deeper meanings and nuances of the text. Great article, David... keep pushing us to think critically about what we are handling - the story of God's interaction with real people, in real places, in real times.

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Anthony Paul Mator

July 30, 2006  11:43am

The propositional and the experiential and the narrative CANNOT be separated, as if one may be embraced without the other. To destroy proposition and exposition is to destroy language itself. God gave the Jews 10 Commandments, not 10 Experiences. I have a hard time listening to arguments written by those who deny me the right to make arguments of my own.

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Truth Seeker

July 29, 2006  1:26pm

Kirk, Are you serious? I am not joking, are you serious?! Didnt Peter stand up on the Day of Pentecost and go to the Old Testment and laid out how those prophecies came true in Christ? Didnt Paul go into the Synangogues and reason through the Old Testament with the people guiding them through the text and relating it back to Jesus? Didnt all the apostles look at the text and then point it to Christ? That's expository teaching! Peter, when he was on the rooftop and he had the vision of the sheet and animals did expository thinking. He went back mentally all through the Old Testament Law and saw that to eat those things he would have violated the law. But when God said it was okay, he had to reason from the Old Testament and put it all together through Jesus to see that it was okay. Thats expositing. We dont need to do another post to understand David's motivation, it's in his writing (author intent). He wants to make the word what he wants it to say and he doesnt want to submit to historical and scriptural authority. Plain and simple! I dont need another blog to figure that out. Blessings,

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July 29, 2006  7:18am

Mr. Fitch I have read this article and the first. My view point is that I'm not sure. I'm not a person of higher education and therefore don't comprehend alot of the meaning behind what you wrote. I have enough trouble, sometimes, trying to get what God is telling. That's why I pray and read more of His word so He can help me get it. I'm sure your article has reached many and it's comprehension, no issue. Quite frankly, God's word is now easier to understand than your article. Respectfully Beck

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July 28, 2006  9:37pm

"What is important is the reality being unfurled about God in Christ and how we can best respond so as to live into it until He returns." This is nothing really knew to me. I am biased however as an expository preacher myself. Correct me if I am wrong, but is this not just Karl Barth's neo-orthodoxy repackaged in 2006? Barth elevated man and his revelation to the highest task as a theologian/Chrisitan. He also wrote: "There is no question about it: here man was made great at the cost of God – the divine God who is someone other than man, who sovereignly confronts him, who immovably and unchangeably stands over against him as the Lord, Creator, and Redeemer….The stone wall we [young theologians] first ran up against was that the theme of the Bible is the deity of God, more exactly God's deity – God's independence and particular character…God's absolutely unique existence, might, and initiative, above all, in His relation to man. Only in this manner were we able to understand the voice of the Old and New Testaments. Only with this perspective did we feel we could henceforth be theologians, and in particular, preachers – ministers of the divine Word. (Barth 1977, p. 39-40)" So, nothing new. Man is elevated too high and his interpretation/revelation (or application in this case) is more important than anything - especially the truth of the Scripture. What matters most is how I can apply, not what the text truthfully says.

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July 28, 2006  3:55pm

How much of the preaching done in the New Testament is expository preaching? Shouldn't the apostolic example figure into our thinking? I don't see Peter and Paul doing historical-critical exegesis and application–there is a different paradigm at play. I appreciate what David Fitch is doing in these posts, but I have the feeling that blog posts are too abbreviated a format for those who aren't already conversant with these discussions to grasp what motivates his thinking.

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July 28, 2006  12:41pm

so let me get this straight. I can gleam anything i want to gleam from this article written by David Fitch, because, of course, it really doesn't matter what David meant. I get it! Ok this is good; I love heralding and unfurling new worlds also David. Thanks for the insight!!!! Let me fund your imagination for a second. Post-moderns thrive on meaningless discussions that lead nowhere. Authorial intent is what is inspired by the Holy Spirit, not your own interpretation. It's not expositional preaching, or thorough study that has brought us into a society with many interpretations of scripture; its new/old ideology such as this which takes people further from the true inspired meaning of scripture. Now i understand that I could certainly be wrong in my interpretation on a particular passage. I could even bring in false personal views in my expositional preacing, but the answer isn't to throw the baby out with the bath water. The answer is to study even harder and pray even more and look into our own world view and test it against the "text" which is absolute truth in its original authorial intent. David said, "Authorial intent is not the main issue although it may be of importance for understanding the text at certain times. What is important is the reality being unfurled about God in Christ and how we can best respond so as to live into it until He returns." Thats neat but, if authorial intent isn't that big of a deal; then how do you know there is a reality of God in Christ and how to best respond to it? Should the Spirit of God just hit you upside the head with the answer due to your own experiences and context? and if so would that not teach us to be extremely selfish and lazy and use the Spirit of God as some sort of tool to do exactly what David in his article is trying to avoid? (Make God's word a selfish commodity used to enhance individualism)

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Trtuth Seeker

July 28, 2006  10:08am

Subversion (and others), Amen! I agree that we must take it one step further and look at the historical context. I remember in my early bible college days when we studied hermenutics and also had a teaching field ed at the same time. It was horrible hearing some of the things coming out of some students mouth, almost rank heresy, simply based on the fact that they had not studied the text, looked at the background history, and looked at what the church fathers had said. Just a simple 1-2 hour study (I recommend a little more) will allow you to at least see that you may be teaching heresy. One problem that I see with Flitch's approach and one I have seen time and time again is that he starts with what he wants to say and his life experience and than goes into the word. Through this approach one will read the text in the light they want and will pick out those things that will bolster their claims. However, if we read the text first, study it, analyze it and than get our meaning from it, the application is clear. Again, this is a mistake that I see time again and someone will have an issue one week and read the text in light of that issue and take the text completely out of context therefore ruining the application. I agree with some that expository preaching need not be dont every single Sunday morning, but our study of the word should be that way. Blessings,

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