Impositional Preaching

Some of the greatest preachers of recent history have built sermons on single verses.  I tend not to do that.  Am I saying I know better than them?

Dr Lloyd-Jones, not to mention Spurgeon, and others, have demonstrated extended sermon series that essentially preach a single text at a time.  Surely if we were to be preachers after their kind today, then we should pursue the same kind of ministry?  Actually, I think not.

First, let’s recognize what these men did. Spurgeon sometimes resorted to an allegorical exegesis of the text, but not always.  Lloyd-Jones tended to preach the Bible’s theology radiating from the impact point of a single verse.  That is, since the word “justified” is in this verse, what all could be said from the whole canon on that theme (perhaps in this message, perhaps over several).

Second, let’s recognize what wannabe’s often do. Today when I hear people building messages from single texts I tend not to hear people with the pedigree of Spurgeon or Lloyd-Jones.  I do hear some allegorical, not to mention fanciful, interpretations.  These lack credibility and authority.  I also hear some waffling messages padded with poor cross-referencing that shows neither theological acumen, nor precision in respect to recognition of biblical connections (nor genuine understanding of the theological needs of the listener).  In an era where listeners will look at the text and dismiss apparently unfounded sermonizing, we would do well to reevaluate the efficacy of many “single verse” approaches to preaching.

Third, let’s realize that imposition is not exposition. Too often the preacher has the mindset of seeking to utilize the text as a series of pegs on which to hang their thoughts.  All too often those pegs are not divinely intended to hold the weight placed on them.  The Bible is an intricate and powerful construct of divine design.  Sadly, all too often preachers take a twig from the oak tree and assume it will bear the same weight as the oak was designed to hold.  Impositional preaching is not exposition, it is a pale imitation of what some greats from church history did.

Fourth, let’s realise that exposition is about honouring God, not historical figures. I deeply respect Spurgeon and Lloyd-Jones, as well as many other preachers through church history that I do not seek to emulate every week.  My view of expository preaching is built on my understanding of the nature of God’s Word.  As I seek to explain it, to demonstrate its relevance, to say what it says and seek to somehow make the message do what it does, I am pursuing a contemporary ministry of expository preaching.  I may fall short of historical models, and yet at the same time I may at times get closer to honouring the intent of the text.  I pray that God will enable me to have a fraction of the impact of these great men.  I pray that God will equip me to be a preacher of His Word, rather than one who seeks to reproduce a historically bound model of ministry.

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7 thoughts on “Impositional Preaching

  1. Well said, Peter. I especially appreciated your point: “The Bible is an intricate and powerful construct of divine design.” Certainly without realizing what they’re doing, I see much preaching today (and theologizing as well) as an implicit critique of God’s ways of communicating his heart to us. By overriding and overrunning the broader context in a passage we too readily slide into a low-grade pride. Thanks.

  2. I have done this over the course of the last two Sundays. I have bee preaching from 1 Thessalonians 5:23. The first week was on sanctification, the second on preservation. It has been an enlightening and enjoyable process working through the Scriptures and preaching on these great truths. There is still more to be fed on from this verse as well.

  3. I totally agree with Ron!!! Very well said, Peter. I also greatly appreciate those great men and have benefited from their ministries but one thing that I began to notice over time was that their ministry was more of a systematic study in theology rather than an explanation of the text. While I know that many would point to them and call them some of the greatest expositors of history their style seems more what I like to call a “topical exposition” of a of the text rather than a truly biblical exposition of the text or giving the plain explanation of the meaning of the text within its authorial intent. While a “topical exposition” can be very helpful in some ways, it can also be very harmful. It can be harmful for those who sit under that style of ministry and are wowed by the theological savvy and comprehension of the preacher but find themselves thinking that they personally would never be able to get those truths out of the passage. This can be harmful and discouraging because they are not able to go back to the text and discover those same truths for themselves. This can also be very harmful as it can cause some people to find themselves dependent upon those preachers to rightly divide the truth. Those who sit under true expository preaching should be able to do as the noble Bereans, and go back to the scriptures to see if the things they were taught were really so.

  4. Well I am not sure that any of us can surpass the preaching of Spurgeon or Lloyd-Jones. God sure did use them in an usually great way. I don’t know if that will happen again or not. I would say that they both came close to the intend of what God want them to say about the text. While Spurgeon didn’t preach verse by verse, he did hit meaning of the text. While Lloyd was the master of it. I still think MacArtur is still the best currently. He is my model that I follow as Paul encourages us to do. Philippians 3. But still learning after 50 years of learning.

  5. People should be able to go back to the scriptures to see if the things they were taught were really so said Steve. Which I would agree. Now with that said, those who try to put Christ in every verse in the O.T. I would say 99 percent of Christians who read the O.T. could do that if they just read the Scripture for themselves. So if you just say what the text is saying.

  6. Hi Charles, no offense intended by my comment and I certainly do not want you or anyone else to think that I think that any of us could surpass Spurgeon, Lloyd-Jones or MacArthur. Nor was my statement an attempt question the effects of their ministry at all, for they were or are masters at preaching. My statement was only to point out some possible harmful effects if those in the congregation are not able to go back to that text and see the point that was being made in our sermon.

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