Monday, July 10, 2006

Shortcomings of expository preaching

If you visit this blog very often you probably know I'm a strong proponent of expository preaching. On the other hand, David Fitch is blogging these days about its shortcomings. His criticisms? That expository preaching promotes both the illusion of objectivity and a "commodification of the Word" that encourages modernistic individualism. While I think topical preaching is equally as apt to promote individualism, Mr. Fitch is certainly on target with this observation:
. . . historical-critical methods in the hands of individuals have not yielded a singular consensus meaning as “intended by the author” in over 100 years. Instead what we have is thousands of commentaries on books of the Bible that present numerous unresolved options for interpreting grammatical lexical issues for practically every verse in the Bible. Historical critical exegesis hasn’t generated more unity over Scriptural interpretation, it has generated less. The reality therefore is that what guides interpretation is not scientific individual interpretation of the text. It is the broad consensus interpretation for the Biblical texts found in the ongoing history of church doctrine. The myth then that expository preaching based upon such exegesis is more true to the text is simply not true. There is plenty room for all kinds of human interpretation even in expository preaching.
True. Although Dr. Fitch makes the common error of equating "myth" with "common misconception," he is on-target in asserting that expository preaching needs to be done "in and of community of the Spirit."

Dr. Fitch has also written a follow-up post (Hat tip: connexions).


Blogger PamBG said...

This is an interesting post and I find myself having a lot of "hands".

On the one hand, I like good expository preaching and I guess I must have a had a lot of good luck with the churches I've attended. Although I have heard a few howlers in my time, I think that if one does one's research and one is a reasonably good preacher, it's not actually all that difficult to do. I think I'm an easily-pleased listener.

On the other hand, I think the author makes good points about how it can be done badly. I always appreciate an analysis of the risks and benefits of any process and I think that all processes have risks and benefits, even if one largely supports a particular approach. I get impatient when people don't want to hear about the risks of their preferred approach.

As you point out, the risks extend beyond preaching per se to a person's hermeneutical approach. Having been raised in a fundamentalist (using the word in the "old" theological sense) denomination, the article highlights a poor approach to reading scripture that I recognise.

On another - purely personal - hand. Whilst, as a preacher, I need to listen seriously to "the sermon is dead" arguments, with my "listener's hat" on, I sometimes get tired of hearing this pronouncement. I love to listen to decent preaching - doesn't even have to be excellent - and I always have.

5:25 PM, July 11, 2006  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

I always like listening to decent preaching, too. Fred Craddock, Will Willimon, Tom Long, and Bob Russell are my favorite "big name" preachers, but I've benefited at least as much from strong local preachers such as Chris Bunn and Charles Stiles.

Thanks for your thoughtful contribution to the topic.

7:38 PM, July 11, 2006  
Blogger PamBG said...

Milton, I admit to being relatively new to your blog as well as to blogdom. I've looked to see if you've read Richard Lischer's new book, The End of Words (, and if so, what you think of it.

(Disclaimer: I consider myself an amateur theologian turned novice preacher and not an experienced preacher by any meanse. I'm still thinking a lot of things through.)

6:02 AM, July 12, 2006  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

I've not, but it sounds like one I would like. Do you recommend it?

4:23 PM, July 12, 2006  
Blogger PamBG said...

I think I'd recommend it. I was really wondering what your take was on it.

He sees the goal of preaching as 'speaking reconciliation'.

He prefers what he calls 'focal instances' to narrative preaching. A 'focal instance' is a verbal image (my term) such as 'leave your sacrifice at the altar and make peace with your brother or sister'. He dislikes narrative preaching because he believes most people use stories to entertain and distract.

He recommends a 'figural interpretation' of the text: weaving God's story with the story of a particular congregation rather than focusing on 'correct exegesis'.

He thinks preaching is a vocation and an incarnational act rather than an act that imparts propositional truths. It matters who speaks the word, it matters where the word is spoken and to whom.

There is a quick synopsis!

4:52 PM, July 12, 2006  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

Sounds very much like something I'd like to read. The focal instance sounds like a valid idea and I'd like to see how Lischer develops its implications. I also agree that storytelling can too easily become distraction and entertrainment. Thanks for the synopsis.

10:10 AM, July 13, 2006  

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