Alec Motyer has written: “An expository ministry is the proper response to a God-breathed Scripture . . . Central to it all is that concern which the word ‘exposition’ itself enshrines: a display of what is there.”
There are a variety of sermon types that fail to “display what is there.” These include:
1. The “I want to tell you what is on my heart” sermon.
It may begin with the text, but the text functions as a mere peg on which to hang the preacher’s “concerns.” Its hermeneutic is inadequate. It fails to look at the intention of God in the passage. What emerges is often full of passion but devoid of precision, earnest but effervescent, relevant but unrelated.
2. The “I have been reading Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology” sermon.
Instead of asking the question, “What is the intention of God?” it asks, “Where does this passage fit in my systematic theology?” or “What doctrine does this passage teach?” Both Reformed and dispensational schools fall into this practice regularly. They have a certain shape of truth, and this shape is going to be stretched and made to fit. Thus, sermons become defensive. These sermons are often better when dealing with Pauline epistles but go hopelessly astray when dealing in the genres of poetry or history. The sermons are often careful—too careful—in avoiding the barriers established by systematic theology, but fail to come right up close to them, as many texts of Scripture force us to do. In order to make the passage fit, it must be bent out of shape, and the result looks very different from what a cursory reading of the passage would suggest.
3. The “I have a seminary education and I am determined to let you know that” sermon.
In its extreme form, this kind of sermon becomes a lecture on the original meaning of the Greek or Hebrew. What belongs in the preacher's study is brought into the pulpit. There is enormous emphasis on the word study, syntax, Greek and/or Hebrew, archeology, textual variants, original intent, and cultural background. The vast research has as its aim a proper exegesis of the passage. But it fails to “bridge the gap between two horizons” (to borrow the language of Gadamer and Thiselton, and popularized by John Stott) stretching from the world of the Bible to the world of the listener. The sermon sounds like a lecture because it is a lecture. It titillates the intellect, but fails to minister to the affections. Its delivery even (perhaps unintentionally) suggests that only the few—those endowed by special wisdom and insight—can possibly be trusted to understand what the Bible says. The sermon fails to underline the Reformational emphasis on the perspicuity of Scripture: “that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain a sufficient understanding of [the Bible].” A Reformed sacerdotalism has emerged, with the preacher squarely resident between the Bible and the listener.
4. The “I am in such a hurry to apply this that you must forgive me for not showing you where I get this from” sermon.
The necessary study may well have been done, but the listener is unable to “discern how God teacheth it from thence.” Listeners gain the impression that they are being lectured, that some hidden (and maybe not so hidden) agenda is at work. They do not come away having understood the passage better or with the impression that they could have discerned this for themselves.