Haddon Robinson on Expository Preaching and Divine Authority

In Biblical Preaching, Haddon Robinson addresses the importance of authority in preaching:

Preachers should pour out the message with passion and fervor in order to stir souls. Not all passionate pleading from a pulpit, however, possesses divine authority. When preachers speak as heralds, they must cry out “the Word.” Anything less cannot legitimately pass for Christian preaching. (20)

Robinson rightly contends that when preachers “fail to preach the Scriptures, they abandon their authority. No longer do they confront their hearers with a word from God.” This is because “God speaks through the Bible.”

Through the preaching of the Scriptures, God encounters men and women to bring them to salvation (2 Tim. 3:15) and to the richness and ripeness of Christian character (vv.16-17). Something fills us with awe when God confronts individuals through preaching and seizes them by the soul.

The type of preaching that best carries the force of divine authority is expository preaching. (20)

Robinson goes on to explain that expository preaching has a poor reputation because it has been misrepresented by those who “paste the label expository on whatever sermon they please.” After defining expository preaching, he explains that it is more a philosophy than a method:

Whether or not we can be called expositors starts with our purpose and with our honest answer to the question: “Do you, as a preacher, endeavor to bend your thoughts to the Scriptures, or do you use the Scriptures to support your thoughts?” This is not the same question as, “Is what you are preaching orthodox or evangelical?” Nor is it the same as, “Do you hold a high view of the Bible or believe it is the infallible Word of God?” As important as these questions may appear in other circumstances, a passing grade in systematic theology does not qualify an individual as an expositor of the Bible. Theology may protect us from evils lurking in atomistic, nearsighted interpretations, but at the same time it may blindfold us from seeing text. In approaching a passage, we must be willing to reexamine our doctrinal convictions and to reject the judgments of our most respected teachers. We must make a U-turn in our own previous understandings of the Bible should these conflict with the concepts of the biblical writer. (22)

“Do you, as a preacher, endeavor to bend your thoughts to the Scriptures, or do you use the Scriptures to support your thoughts?”

The danger of much contemporary preaching is that it relies too heavily on the preacher himself and the force of his personality. The favorite camp meeting preacher is usually the one who is charismatic, clever, or tells humorous stories. Sometimes, entire sermons are built around a single illustration. But however well a preacher arrests the attention of his audience, he has no authority apart from the Bible. An expositor starts by studying and submitting to the authority of the text at hand, then calls others to do the same.

While preachers communicate God’s truth through their personality, the first and essential element is that the content of the message is from the text:

A significant number of ministers, many of whom profess high regard for the Scriptures, prepare their sermons without consulting the Bible at all. While the sacred text serves as an appetizer to get a sermon underway or as a garnish to decorate the message, the main course consists of the preacher’s own thoughts or someone else’s thought warmed up for the occasion.

Even in what is billed as “expository preaching” individual verses can become launching pads for the preacher’s own opinions. (26)

Expository preaching is more a philosophy than a method.

Do we believe that preaching should carry the weight of divine authority? If so, why do we spend so little time in the text? We should be deeply troubled when a preacher reads one or two verses, out of context, then delivers his manufactured outline. A preacher’s best ideas cannot compare with the weight of “Thus saith the Lord” that comes from expository preaching.