Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Praise for expository teaching

Recently, I was reminded of the great benefit of expository bible teaching. Wait, you're saying, isn't all teaching expository? I can tell you it most certainly is not. I would say a huge amount of teaching in bible study groups and from the pulpit is topical, not expository.

What is the difference? Topical teaching takes a topic and examines what Scripture has to say about it. I may want to teach about anxiety, so I get out my bible and I find relevant passages that will discuss that topic. Bible studies for women of this nature are in abundance. Whether it is prayer, financial giving, parenting, or submission, for example, topics are popular.

Expository teaching, on the other hand, takes a passage of Scripture and explains it, revealing the teaching in context. Remember, the word "expository" has the same root as "expose." When we teach in an expository manner, we are laying out what the text says.  The beginning point is not the topic, it's the text.

I listened recently to an excellent discussion about how this kind of teaching benefits women. It comes by way of Jenny Salt, who delivered this originally at the Gospel Coalition Conference two years ago. I was in another session when she delivered this one, so I'm really glad the sessions were taped and are available for free at The Gospel Coalition. You can listen to Salt's talk here.  I recommend that you do so.

Salt points out that one of the benefits of expository teaching is that it helps us to "avoid our soapboxes." I really, really liked that. When we a study in an expository manner, rather than us picking the topics, the topics are revealed to us, and in context. That helps us to avoid studying only our particular fascinations or arguing against our bugaboos of the moment. We may be prone to letting Christian pop culture tell us what is important for us as women; studying in a expository manner directs us right back to the text, where we should begin.

Please don't misunderstand me; I'm not saying topical studies should never be undertaken, but they are a whole lot more work than one might think. If I do that study on anxiety, for example, each and every passage I use must be studied in light of its historical, literary, and theological context. I cannot simply pull out a random verse to "prove" my point. If I'm going to do a topical study, I'd better be prepared for a lot of work.

I recently taught through the book of Philippians in an expository manner, and some of the topics that we looked at were joy, unity, humility, godly leadership, prayer, anxiety, our thought life, and sanctification. They came out in context as we studied, and we were able to jump around to other parts of Scritpure to get further explanation. It was a rich study, and all done by just opening the text and letting it direct us.

If you have a study group and you want to do something that will really excite your students (and you!) do expository study. Don't know where to start?  Again, click here for Jenny Salt's discussion, and you will be thrilled at how the ideas start forming.

In the context of Salt's presentation, she mentioned Bryan Chapell's book Christ Centered Preaching.  I caved and bought it.  No, I'm not planning on becoming a preacher, but another point she brings up in this message is that when we teach, we are proclaiming, so calling it preaching isn't entirely misleading. When I get a chance to start reading it, I'm sure I will have tidbits to share.


  1. Hear! Hear!

    I have Chapell's book and am planning to read it soon, after I finish "Christ Centered Ministry" by DA Carson.

  2. Yes!!

    I am in a topical women's "Bible study" at my church, and while I love the interaction with other women and the fact that we have all gotten to know each other better, there is actually not much Bible study going on.

    We are nearing the end of this study, and I have prayerfully (and I hope humbly) recommended Keri Folmer's study on Philippians as our next study. Praying it is accepted and that we will actually study God's word next time! Good things can only come from that!

  3. I love expository preaching. One of the things that I like most about it is that it makes sure the Pastor cover everything - even the "hard parts." My dad preaches expository sermons and there was once a church member who was demanding that he preach homeschooling from the pulpit. The easy answer was "I'll preach it when I get to that verse ;-)"