The Myth of Expository Preaching (part 3): responding to Scripture as a community

In his final post outlining an alternative to expository preaching, David Fitch invites us to think differently about how we respond to Scripture. Rather than three alliterated application points, why not a liturgical response? And instead of preaching that targets the individual's life, why not a communal interaction with the text? Fitch also shares practices at his own church as they move beyond commodified preaching.


By "liturgical" I mean the activity of responding to God, who He is, what he has done, and what He has said. It is what shapes us into relationship with him. It makes no sense for the preacher who proclaims the Word of God to conclude with more notes of applications and "to do" lists. Instead the Word invokes postures of response: silence, submission, obedience, affirmation in faith, confession, and of course the Eucharistic celebration of participating in receiving the Body of Christ. Slowly I am formed through the faithful preaching of the Word and ever hearing, responding, submitting, obeying, confessing, affirming and acting in faith.

This means our understanding of sanctification in preaching might have to change. For what is happening to the hearers is not a.) the cognitive digestion of some information about God and moral life, from which we b.) understand and assent and then c.) tell our body to do it. Instead we hear proclaimed the reality of the world through the good news, a declaration of the way the world is, and we are invited to enter in through submission, confession, repentance, and affirmation.

Through this, over time, we cannot help but be changed and engage the world differently. Our character changes, our view of the world changes, the way we see the poor, our money, our children - everything changes. In Christ, by the Holy Spirit, "the eyes of our imaginations are opened, and we receive a new self."


If preaching starts and ends with the sermon on Sunday, and if the Word is distributed to individuals as portable property to be taken home in notes or a cassette tape, it cannot help but be the means of fostering interpretive violence. The violence comes when we put our own meaning or agenda onto Scripture. The violence comes when the preaching of the Word separates us as individuals each armed with the interpretation we want because we do not come together in mutual submission to discern the Scripture's meaning for our lives today.

If preaching is to avoid this violence, it must foster communal practices that allow us to submit to one another as the Spirit works to interpret the Scriptures. We do this not as a democracy, but as a Spirit filled community where we submit to each other's authoritative gifts. Of course, to even think of doing church this way requires a new imagination.

July 28, 2006

Displaying 1–10 of 15 comments

Mark Galli

August 07, 2006  12:04pm

I love the basic outline of the argument here–many current practices, including the giving and receiving of God's Word in preaching, need to be grounded more in the life of the church and its liturgy. That being said, we are wise to remember that the Spirit will go where he wills. Meaning, I'm always amazed at what happens to my sermons, what people take away from them, how the sermonds do and don't change lives–personal and ecclesial–far beyond my imagination. Though we are called to do our best to shape a biblically authentic life, in the end, God does odd and wild things with our paltry homiletic offerings.

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Graham Veale

August 03, 2006  11:22am

Derrida would argue that to resolve any binary opposition, to say that this article has one determinate meaning, is violence. Communities, more than individuals commit this violence as they have more power. All authority, even the autority of Gift, tends to violence. So if you want to study the Bible in this way, leave the Church.

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August 02, 2006  8:30pm

David F. Good stuff!

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Lambert Dolphin

August 02, 2006  7:22pm

Having spent 30 years under the Expository Preaching of the late Ray C. Stedman, I am convinced that what has come to be called Expository Preaching in the past decade or two is not the real thing at all. May I recommend the following messages by Ray Stedman on his understanding of this topic. (single messages) (three studies from 1982). Haddon W. Robinson's 1980 book "Biblical Preaching" speaks to me powerfully about the horrific decline in sound preaching in the past 25 years.

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August 01, 2006  5:50pm

Isn't it interesting the differing things people hear, see, feel or think about individual sentences, subjects or impressions of what is written. I think (and i use this word "think" instead of "feel")the current methodolgy of our churches focuses on the "telling" and very little on the "hearing" or the ability to love another by listening; that is, being on their agenda instead of your own throughout the conversation. I suppose the small group is an attempt to have a two way conversation, but I find in many cases there is simply an exchange of interpretations or ideas with no one listening. Story listening is in my mind - if I have one left - the prerequisite to loving another as there is a reason someone tells a story. The story is about what is going on in their lives, but what we generally do is tell a story ourselves in response instead of listening to the story-teller's heart. In this short discourse, I can give as an example: If one listens, one can always tell what is going on in the life of the preacher because one cannot help but tell their story. So, in our current methodoly of "church" or expository preaching we find the tellers and the listeners, but who is really listening and by definition, loving?

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August 01, 2006  3:46pm

Tom, I am sorry to hear your pain. Evidently the church has not been a place where you have found peace and healing and instead have found pain and struggle. But, don't abandon the church, God certainly isn't and not all local congregations are the same. There are many wonderful places of where redemption is active and powerful each day. Do yourself a kindness and seek out such a community and let the grace of God heal you. Blessings- Greg

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August 01, 2006  12:04pm

"I really could care less. Like most evangelical churches, most preachers and their sermons are out of touch. I pastored for 25 years and finally came to the conclusion the church is nothing more than money, power, politics, and control. It serves rich Americans while the poor suffer. I don't see Jesus in any of it anymore, especially in narcissitic preaching, we call "God's Word."" Ah, the big three: Money, politics, and power. We're surrounded by it each and everyday, and the thing that rankles us is when it's uncovered in the Church. Raw naked power, with reports of preachers seducing the fairer sex, stripping coffers of proffered monies, and the mixing of politics with faith...just makes us wish for them good O'l faithful days, now, doesn't it? Cause I'm sure that all three of those things are just recent occurences in America, and have never, ever, in a couple of thousand years, ever occured anywhere on this earth except in America. Seriously, Corinth never had those problems, right? The Romans never had those problems, right? And the Jerusalem Church was never plagued with those problems either, right? They are the epitome of what we are to aspire to. Tom, people are people, and that is what makes this whole life thingy interesting. G-d has given you an ability to see what he wants changed in the American church just as he showed the apostles what had to change in those churches as well, and instead, you're having a pity party. Sorry, I didn't get the invite, so...SNAP OUT OF IT! And do what G-d wants you to do.

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Doug Resler

August 01, 2006  11:47am

Wow...that last comment from Tom hurt as I read it... On preaching...I have preached in a variety of ways over the last several years and have settled into an expository format, traveling verse by verse through books of the Bible. It is my observation that the problem the author is getting at has nothing to do with whether or not one employs topical, expository, or any other method of preaching. In my experience, the locus of the problem is found in the utter lack of opportunities for people to digest the Word of God with their brothers and sisters in Christ. Groups like "Bible and Brew" have become essential parts of the "preaching moment" because a) this kind of discussion no longer happens in the family, therefore b) the church must create a space where people can pray, interact, and be held accountable for the way God is transforming them in and through their encounter with the Word. The sad reality is that we do not create or provide such spaces and instead sell the "preaching moment" as a product one can either accept or reject. In such a paradigm, it is the "consumer" who reigns and not the Word of God. I am reminded of what Bonhoeffer said in his classic, "The Cost of Discipleship", when pastors are approached by parishioners who complain that they didn't "get anything out of the (sermon)" on a particular day. Instead of being at a loss for what to say, we might try asking instead "what is preventing you from listening to Christ and believing in his grace?" And I would say that such hard questions are best asked in small groups where real, authentic community is being built and where brothers and sisters can lovingly confront, encourage, and pray for one another that they might hear the Word and obey. Again, the problem is not in the preaching method, but rather in the lack of sacred space where the "preaching moment" continues among the people of God.

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Truth Seeker

July 31, 2006  3:01pm

Tom, Than I am afraid that those churches have not been preaching the truth. The Word of God when taught properly and with the Holy Spirit should drive us to the highways and bi-ways seeking the lost, destitute, and poor. It should drive us to forsake all we have to seek the kingdom of God. Only the Holy Spirit through the Word of God can stir the heart of man to serve those who need it. I hope that you do not give up on evangelical churches, there are many that have a strong commitment to the poor and reach out to them. I am not saying my church is perfect, not by any stretch of the imagination, but we have people committed to helping the poor all over the world and in our own back yard. We have all not lost the message. We are still here!! :) Blessings,

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July 31, 2006  2:06pm

I really could care less. Like most evangelical churches, most preachers and their sermons are out of touch. I pastored for 25 years and finally came to the conclusion the church is nothing more than money, power, politics, and control. It serves rich Americans while the poor suffer. I don't see Jesus in any of it anymore, especially in narcissitic preaching, we call "God's Word."

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