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.
I hate to say it, but I see this all the time. Literally, all the time. When I listen to other preaches when I’m on vacation, I often hear this. Most frequently, though, I see this kind of preaching come on Saturday afternoons. After my own sermon manuscript for the next day is almost finished, I troll the sermons of famous preachers online, looking for illustrations or applications I haven’t thought of myself. Invariably, I find sermons that are nothing more than someone taking a biblical theme or idea and ham-fisting it into whatever passage they are in. They are preaching right theology from the wrong text. What really worries me is that these are often the men who are examples many others are following.
But what concerns me most is that this is dishonoring to God’s Word. We preachers simply have to get this into our heads: the point of the passage must be the point of our sermon. Regardless of how the great the latest book is, or how biblical an idea may be, when we go to preach God’s Word, we must actually preach God’s Word. Start with the text itself, not our ideas or theology (even if they are firmly rooted from elsewhere in the Bible). We have to ask questions like: ‘What is God saying in this passage?’, ‘Why is this in the Bible?’, ‘What does this passage add to the whole counsel of God?’, and ‘How does God want this text to build up his people?’
If this isn’t how you were taught to preach, then let me encourage you to re-teach yourself. Take 3 months and devour some key passages on preaching. Think and pray through passages like Acts 20:17-38; Rom 10:1-17; 1 Cor 1:18-2:16; 2 Cor 3:1-5:21; Col 1:24-29; 1 Thess 1:2-2:16; and all of 2 Timothy. Then, read great books on preaching. Meyer’s book, Preaching, is a good place to start. Then I would read Mohler’s He Is Not Silent, Dever & Gilbert’s Preach, Azurdia’s Spirit-Empowered Preaching, Millar & Campbell’s Saving Eutychus, and Chapell’s Christ-Centered Preaching (and in that order).
Remember that if we’re called by God to preach, then we are called to preach God’s Word. Therefore, we should take the greatest care to handle it well–for the good of the Church and the glory of God’s name.