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For the first five years of my Christian life I was blessed by the expository preaching of a U.K. Baptist minister. Sermons were usually 45 minutes in duration and the word of God was preached without apology or excuse. Application of Scripture and biblical principles within our Christian lives was made clear. Often I would feel distinctly uncomfortable as I realised that there were lessons there which I had to apply in my life. Sadly, since moving away, I have been unable to find a church that applies the same rigorous teaching programme aimed at the congregation.

I believe that preaching is central to Christian worship. Yes, there is a place for singing hymns and praying, but hearing the word of God is why I go to church. The evangelical Baptist church I now attend seems to think that most of the time should be devoted to singing bland songs, repeating the simple tunes over and over and over again. Why, last Sunday, the visiting preacher only had 20 minutes left to deliver his message. It was hardly worth getting out of bed for because the preaching of the word of God was not the focus.

My question is aimed specifically at Evangelical Protestant churches. I would like to know if expository preaching is the norm or if it's become a thing of the past.

My question is inspired after reading this article which comes from a Southern Baptist source: The Sheer Weightlessness of So Many Sermons—Why Expository Preaching Matters.

I realise that evangelical churches in other continents may have a different take on Expository Preaching, so allow me to narrow the field.

How do U.K. and European Evangelical Protestant churches define expository preaching, and how does that differ from modern-day evangelical preaching?

EDIT: Subsequent to the posting of this question, I have found a Reformed Protestant article which teaches that Scripture should interpret Scripture. https://www.theopedia.com/analogy-of-faith

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    "Contemporary preaching" just means preaching that happens now. It doesn't make sense to contrast it with expository preaching, as expository is one type of contemporary preaching.
    – curiousdannii
    Apr 9, 2023 at 7:41
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    There is no way of answering this question except by field research or opinion polls, since it would come down to the styles of individual preachers. (I had informal permission to preach at my previous church, and expository sermons were the only kind I was able to write) Apr 9, 2023 at 8:04
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    In response to the valid criticisms made, I have editied my question and apologise if my comments offended anyone or gave the impression I was just expressing a personal gripe. Seriously, are there any "old fashioned" Protestant ministers who know how to deliver expository Bible preaching and teaching?
    – Lesley
    Apr 9, 2023 at 11:39
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    @StephenDisraeli - Point taken, but I'm trying to establish what expository preaching is within Protestant Evangelical churches. You have had experience of this type of preaching so perhaps you can explain what it involves?
    – Lesley
    Apr 9, 2023 at 11:47
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    @IsaacMiddlemiss - Please accept my apology. I genuinely want to know how Protestant Evangelicals view expository preaching.
    – Lesley
    Apr 9, 2023 at 11:48

3 Answers 3

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This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts. - Zechariah 4:6b

In a conservative Baptist church in the United States I have sat under the teaching and preaching of theologically excellent content wherein, 20 years after my conversion and 20 years into my study of God's word, I could find no doctrinal error nor worldly contamination. The Word of God was carefully expounded in both immediate context and in harmony with the whole counsel of Scripture while practical application, which often rebuked worldly wisdom, was unapologetic and clear.

Interestingly, over 15 years I witnessed a long slow decline of the effectiveness of this very preaching. Church members became disconnected and distracted by sermons rather than engaged and challenged by them, all the while extolling the intellectual excellence and integrity of the preaching itself. The church dwindled from hundreds to handfuls under technically excellent expository preaching with many folks having left dried up (spiritually), tired, and hurt.

My current church is somewhat of a hot mess when it comes to technically excellent preaching, at least on a regular basis. Not that anything is necessarily incorrect in content so much as it is often jumbled in presentation and 'non-linear'. There is one man who occasionally preaches and whose style I would classify as expository while the bulk of the preaching is difficult to classify at all, yet this church is growing both in size and in discipleship and is vibrantly alive. People of all ages are being vitally connected to Jesus and delivered from all manner of sin and spiritual destitution.

My personal preference is expository preaching. It meshes well with the way that I take in and process information and it satisfies my intellect. There is nothing wrong with it per se but, in and of itself there is nothing right with it either. As in any other aspect of God's Kingdom whatever work is to be done must be accomplished in the power of the Spirit and this is the difference I have seen and am outlining in this answer.

Expository preaching as a style can be taught, learned, practiced, and heard to a high degree of excellence and at the same time be nothing more than a demonstration and satisfaction of the flesh. A sermon can be constructed and delivered with unerring biblical accuracy and be about as nourishing and lifeless as sawdust if it is not done in utter reliance upon the Spirit of Christ. Apart from me, says Jesus, you can do nothing.

The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. - John 3:8

If the Spirit of the Living God is not visibly and tangibly bringing light into the darkness of human hearts, if the life of the Lord Jesus Christ is not being increasingly manifested both corporately and individually, and if the love of God is not blowing through the flock in a manner that is easy to discern and difficult to predict and control then there is no style of preaching which can serve as cause or remedy. The ministry of any individual or any church possesses and manifests the gospel of God and the life of Christ through the Holy Spirit alone... not human theological excellence, liturgical scaffolding, preaching style, or religious rigor.

Utter reliance upon the Holy Spirit is access to effective preaching. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom:

Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: And not as Moses, which put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart. Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away. Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. - 2 Corinthians 3:12-18

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    "Utter reliance upon the Holy Spirit is access to effective preaching. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." Quite so. Intellectual assent is not the point - it is the power of the Word (which is alive) and the power of the Spirit that moves and transforms.
    – Lesley
    Apr 11, 2023 at 7:18
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    Up-voted +1. I agree with you that Word and Spirit are essential, that God and the Father may be properly set forth, worshipped and be really present and in union. We who are Trinitarian in deed (and not word only) know that it must be so. The words that I speak unto you - they are spirit and they are life. (But only when He is present, in Spirit and when He speaks the words, through his own sent Ministry.)
    – Nigel J
    Apr 11, 2023 at 14:12
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True expository preaching must have all three of these elements; first it tells the congregation what the text says, then it states what it means in context, then applies it to our lives today, but the main thing is that the text rules. A problem today is that variations in texts have crept in with many translations of the Bible, some of which are downright misleading, but that calls for a different question.

Today's contemporary expository preaching is the art of keeping a balance between heavy, dry, intellectual preaching, and flitting like a butterfly all over the place, using lots of different ideas based on proof texts. A book dealing with preaching and teaching, first published in 1936, and in its 6th edition, reprinted in 1977, is before me, and provides useful quotes on this matter. The first quote deals with trying to keep preaching and teaching relevant:

"There is always the danger that in condensation [of theology], ambiguous phrases may obtain a footing and mislead the unwary. The necessity of avoiding, as far as possible, technical terms, either of philosophy or theology, has not lessened this danger...

The Bible presents us with the work of God in revelation in many forms... God's dealings with men are unfolded in varied records of individual experience... it is our privilege to classify and arrange, and thus to make more intelligible the unifying purpose that governs the whole...

We often hear it glibly said, 'You see, I know no theology!' And frequently this particular ignorance is regarded as a matter of pride. A study of Christian doctrine is often thought to be dry and uninteresting. By a single perversion of ideas it is sometime said to be 'unspiritual'! 'Doctrine', 'theology', 'dogma' are thought to have an unpleasant ring to them, to be solely the art of making hair-splitting distinctions, and altogether remote from the vital issues of salvation. Every serious study has its dogmas...

Yet sometimes even 'professional' ministers of the gospel content themselves with a minimum of theological information. 'Amateur' Christian workers often display commendable eagerness to 'save souls' and yet are themselves satisfied with a very hazy knowledge of the real nature of salvation.

We need to remember that Christian doctrine is important. It has a twofold application. It is of value both in consolidating the spiritual faith and energizing the spiritual life of the individual life...

We need to remember there is only one way to enter into the truth of God. 'Through thy precepts I get understanding' (Psalm 119:104). There is no biblical opposition between 'faith' and 'understanding' or 'knowledge'. ...No clear teaching can be given, either to children or adults, unless the principles of the subject discussed have been clearly grasped. We need to remember that truth produces its proper result and error always takes its revenge. Even slight deviations from the fact of revelation may lead eventually to graver aberrations. The best way to avoid error is to define as clearly as possible the norm of truth." In Understanding Be Men, pp 7, 13 & 14. C. Hammond, Inter-Varsity Press [emphasis mine]

The quotes above (from a Reformed Presbyterian author) show the difficulty in maintaining the right balance if preaching is to be biblically expository. That is why after this first chapter in Hammond's study book, he swiftly delves into "Final Authority in Matters of Faith - the inspired Holy Scriptures as the ultimate authority". From this, we can see that any preaching that undermines this fundamental principle of the Protestant faith cannot be expository, starting with exposing preachers who emphasize the Church as 'an organization' (i.e. a particular denomination):

"Much harm has been done by those who dogmatically assert, not that their way is the 'one true way', but that it is 'the only true way'. It has sometimes brought its own nemesis. By a strange irony those who have set out to obtain a purer community have sometimes ended by securing a larger 'mixed multitude', and those who have disavowed what they considered to be abuses have themselves become the most addicted to them, under other names!...

It cannot be too strongly emphasized that the church is an organism rather than an organization... The New Testament places its emphasis upon union with Christ in a life 'hidden in God' and looks for the outward manifestation of that inward spiritual life in seeking to determine the extent of the visible church [which] is therefore more or less holy in proportion to the sanctity of the lives of its members. The church is also 'the temple of the Holy Spirit'...

The evangelical Protestant position is that the Scriptures are the supreme rule of faith. The church has authority only in a secondary sense." Ibid., pp 153-157

He makes the point (page 170) that God's means of grace involves the whole scheme of God's dealings with us on the basis of faith, very much including expository preaching, for biblical preaching is "to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved, it is the power of God... For it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe... Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1:17-24 & Romans 10:8-17). This shows the fundamental content of expository preaching. But this will be dismissed by those who prefer the wisdom of men, or to accumulate men who will tickle their ears (2 Timothy 4:3-4) by saying what they want them to preach.

Finally, you ask how prevalent such expository preaching is within Protestantism. That is an impossible question to answer accurately, but there are many Protestants today who can compare a relative abundance decades ago of such sound preaching in, certainly, Reformed Presbyterian circles, who now see a dearth of it. Yet it is still to be found in Reformed Presbyterian gatherings, for the training of men for the responsibility of preaching remains grounded in expository preaching of the whole inspired word of God, the cross and resurrection of Christ central to all such preaching. That is what is to be looked for. Keep looking while praying for direction.

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  • Love this quote: "truth produces its proper result and error always takes its revenge."
    – Lesley
    Apr 10, 2023 at 13:05
  • This feels like the only answer so far that actually attempts to address the question usefully and in line with CSE, +1 Apr 10, 2023 at 21:41
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How Prevalent is Expository Preaching within Protestantism in the UK ?


The sentiments expressed in the question are felt by many in the UK.

One need only read from the past, and then go to hear what is on offer in the present, to experience a truly vast difference.

My personal reading, from my teens (I am now in my seventies) was and still is William Huntington and I have twenty volumes of his writing. It is deeply spiritual, centred on the gospel, ministered from his own personal experience of salvation which he detailed in the book 'The Kingdom of Heaven Taken by Prayer' an account of his own convictions and conversion.

The number of ministeries that I am aware of in the UK at the present time which would come anywhere close to that of William Huntington ? Well, I can count them on the fingers of one hand. (And can still count them if I cut off two fingers.)

What has happened over the past few generations, and distinctly during my own generation from 1967 (the year of my conversion) to today, is a dilution and a contamination of the gospel.

The result is worldliness. In the churches. And, the salt of the earth being no longer salty, thus the world is worldlier itself than ever, being unsalted and preserved from its own destructive tendencies ; no longer being served with a testimony that warns them.

Worldly attitudes, worldly ambitions, worldly conversation, worldly activities - worldly everything.

Gone are the days when one would see grave and sober people gathering to attend a meeting at which there would be noticeably present . . . the fear of God.

Now, we are not supposed to fear God at all.

And it is abundantly obvious that very, very few do.

Obvious by the worldliness and obvious by the arguments extended in favour of said worldliness.

Therefore, many do not care to seek after, and to find, a real ministry. A ministry that genuinely expounds scripture out of the minister's own and personal experience of their own salvation.

I speak from experience of many parts of Scotland, many parts of England and some parts of Wales.

I know for a fact that I can travel fifty miles from my home, in any direction, to find nothing suitable that could be really called 'Christian Ministry' in the sense of the term as applied to such as William Huntington.

I know the fact because I have so travelled - seeking, searching and hoping.

But it will be difficult to catalogue the experience of those of us who are not content to merely go along to something local and support it, just because it is there.

Because we are few. And we are scattered. And we are unknown.

We are, as yet, just a 'little flock' in an alien sea of what the apostle Paul prophesied would be 'an apostasy'.


Here lies the coalheaver who departed his life July 1st 1813 in the 69th year of his age, beloved of his God but abhorred of men. The omniscient Judge at the grand assize shall ratify and confirm this to the confusion of many thousands, for England and its metropolis will know that there has been a prophet amongst them.

Inscription on the Gravestone of William Huntington 1745-1813

William Huntington was an extremely poor 'coalheaver', unskilled, uneducated, the illegitimate son of a wealthy landowner but disowned and brought up in crushing poverty in England.

Yet, 'beloved of his God' he was brought through much conviction, many trials and almost universal persecution till, towards the end of his life, he preached to thousands in London, even the rich and famous and even (it is said) Royalty attending his preaching.

Yet his books are not much published because the gospel he delivered has become a thing of the past. More is the pity.

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    I still live in hope of finding a church where the minister makes me stop, think and learn new biblical truths. Guess I was spoiled by coming under the ministry of that Welsh Baptist preacher. The little Baptist church I attend is trying to find a full-time minister to appoint. I pray God will send us someone who will preach the gospel without apology or excuse and who will also focus on proper hymns, instead of those modern songs.
    – Lesley
    Apr 9, 2023 at 16:01

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