I am currently deriving much benefit and pleasure (not mutually exclusive categories by any means!) from reading essays by C. S. Lewis collected in On Stories and Other Essays on Literature. I hope to write several things arising from reflections on this book. Here though I want to focus on a line from Lewis found in a transcript of a conversation held between him and two author friends. Along the way Lewis brought up the point that a certain person demanded ‘moral earnestness’ but Lewis himself preferred ‘morality.’ He explained:
“I’d sooner live among people who don’t cheat at cards than among people who are earnest about not cheating at cards.”
His response brought appropriate laughter. Indeed we know of situations where people substitute earnestness for something for actually doing that thing. What good is it to say you really care about being honest if in fact you are not honest.
This point, ready for many helpful applications, reminded me of a phenomenon I observed at the SBC. There was great earnestness about ‘expository preaching.’ Quite often expository preaching was extolled and encouraged; and each time such statements were met with enthusiastic applause. However, we rarely if ever saw any example of expository preaching actually being done. I fear we are those who are earnest about expository preaching but not those who are actually doing it. I for one would certainly rather have a pastor who preaches expositionaly than one who was simply earnest about it.
Brothers, it will not do simply to extol expository preaching. We must actually do it. Taking up a certain verse, even verses in order though a book does not itself insure expositional preaching. We must approach a text asking what the text itself (as written by the author) intends to say and we must then apply that message to our people. We simply may not take texts to say what we desire to say- no matter how orthodox the statements we desire to make. Truly expositional preaching is rooted in the idea that in Scripture God speaks inerrantly. Thus, what matters is what the text itself says. Who cares what sort of creative thing you might be able to come up with! It is practical nonsense to extol inerrancy and then ignore what a passage says in context for what you want it to say. Inerrancy becomes irrelevant when the message is more dependent on the preacher’s ideas than the text itself- for the preacher himself is not inerrant! No, we must preach the text and not creative concoctions, dreams, rhetorical flourishes or anything else. Let us not merely be earnest about expository preaching but let us do it.
For more on true expositional preaching see especially this interview with Phillip Jensen, and these other articles from 9 Marks Ministries.