Book Review: Preaching: A Biblical Theology, by Jason Meyer
Jason C. Meyer, Preaching: A Biblical Theology. Crossway, 2013. 368 pages. $22.99
I hate to say it, but my impression is that much—most?—of what goes by the name of expository preaching isn’t actually expository preaching. More like expo-lite.
Expo-lite is a subtle variation on exposition, harder to spot than the standard alternatives. Topical preaching is obvious. “Textual” preaching—where the text is more diving board than driving force—is a shade more subtle, though still plain enough. But what I’m calling expo-lite is well camouflaged. The sermon is on a biblical text, and usually the sermon series works through a biblical book. The preacher will read the text. Usually he’ll explain it to some degree. But here’s the catch: the point of the text still isn’t the point of the sermon. The real meat of the sermon comes from somewhere else: the gospel versus religion, the emptiness of idols, how the gospel changes us, finding identity in Christ versus performance, and so on.
Don’t get me wrong: many texts of the Bible talk about these things, and faithfully applying the Bible will lead you to address these things. But I hear a lot of preaching that means to be expositional, but instead filters the text through whatever tidy grid the pastor is most taken with at the time. If the sermon’s a meal, the text is more spices than steak.
If anyone out there agrees with me that expo-lite preaching is a problem, you’ll be glad to know I’m also bringing you a solution. In his recent book Preaching: A Biblical Theology, Jason Meyer—who recently succeeded John Piper as pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem Baptist church in Minneapolis—argues, “The way to preach an expository sermon is (1) to share what the point of the passage is, (2) to show why that point is the point from the passage, and (3) to shepherd the flock according to where the text leads when applied to the present circumstances of the congregation” (258).
Meyer’s first point is a given in definitions of expository preaching, but his second and third aren’t. His second point recognizes that preacher and people alike are under the authority of God’s Word. So instead of saying “Trust my interpretation because I say so,” preachers should show enough—and just enough—of their work to enable the congregation to see for themselves how the Word teaches what the preacher says it does (260, 263-65). In other words, an expository sermon doesn’t just show people what’s in the Word; it shows the people how to see what’s in the Word.
Meyer is not arguing for an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach to exegesis in exposition. Instead, he guards against errors of both excess and defect when it comes to verifying your interpretation. His point is simply that the point of the passage should be not merely asserted but demonstrated.
Meyer’s third point is that an expositional sermon should shepherd the congregation where the text leads them; that is, that it should explicitly apply the force of the text to the facts of the congregation’s life. “If application is an afterthought, then a preacher has not yet learned to love both the text and the congregation” (265).
These two points, properly applied, work together to convert expo-lite into genuine exposition. If a sermon should not only say the point of a passage but show why it’s the point of the passage, then preachers will have to do more than offer a few summary statements about the text before warming to their well-worn Jesus-versus-religion theme. And if application is shepherding the flock to where the text leads them, it should be specific to the passage.
Of the book’s five parts, part three, which I’ve just been quoting from, is the strongest. Meyer’s argument in chapter 19 concerning the “why” of expository preaching is outstanding, full of sensitive exegesis and sound reasoning. Section four is also very strong, offering supporting rationales for expository preaching in light of the biblical doctrines of Scripture and sin, and concluding with a balanced treatment of topical preaching.
I’d recommend that every preacher and aspiring preacher read these two sections. They will instruct, edify, and challenge you. They will sharpen your conception of the task of preaching and, I trust, deepen your conviction of its importance.
Section one sketches a biblical theology of the ministry of the Word, using stewardship as its organizing theme. Section two explores paradigm shifts in the ministry of the Word throughout Scripture. Although it amounts to more than half the book, this section isn’t crucial to the book’s main argument, and Meyer says as much early on. For the sake of giving Meyer’s excellent apologetic for exposition the widest possible hearing, I would’ve liked to see the material in sections three and four front-loaded.
At the 9Marks at Southern conference on preaching, Mike Bullmore compared expository preaching to Jacob’s wrestling match with God: the blessing is in the losing. Yes, Jacob “prevailed” with God, but only because God let him—hence the dislocated hip. I pray that God would raise up a generation of preachers who let the text of Scripture wrestle them into submission every week, and who step into the pulpit with a limp.