How the Cross Overcomes Love of Power with the Power of Love: An Interview with Derek Vreeland

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As we enter into the Lenten season with an eye to Good Friday, some of us may be wondering: How do I help my congregation understand the cross in the context of God’s larger story? Derek Vreeland has a new book recently released, N.T. Wright and the Revolutionary Cross, a reader’s guide to N.T. Wright’s book The Day the Revolution Began. We sat down with Derek recently to talk about his book and explore how the cross leads us into hopeful mission.

Missio Alliance: Derek, give us a look behind the scenes. What made you want to write this book?

Derek: In 2015, I wrote a short reader’s guide to Tom Wright’s big book on Paul, Through the Eyes of N.T. Wright. I could have never imagined the tremendous amount of responses I received from people who read the book. Pastors, seminary students, and average Christian churchgoers contacted me to say thanks for summing up in about 100 pages what Wright was saying in nearly 1,700 pages. When I read his book on the cross, The Day the Revolution Began, I thought to myself, “Wow. This book is a game changer. I think another reader’s guide is in order.”

I wrote this book to help people catch of glimpse of Wright’s theological vision. My two atonement articles this summer for Missio Alliance (“Is Penal Substitutionary Atonement Necessary?” and “Is the Cross Even Necessary?“) grew out of my work in this book.

Missio Alliance: Why is Wright’s theology so important for us today? How is it a “game changer,” as you say?

Derek: Evangelicalism has been wrestling for some time to articulate a clear understanding of how the cross saves us.

One branch on this family tree has argued strongly for penal substitution as the definitive theory for an evangelical understanding of atonement. Some have even gone so far as to equate penal substitution with the gospel, arguing that if a person denies penal substitution then they deny the gospel!

Wright clearly demonstrates that the idea that Jesus died to satisfy the wrath of God does not fit into the big story the Bible is telling. Wright is at his best when he grounds Christian doctrine in the grand narrative of Scripture.

I took the time to write this reader’s guide to help people access Wright’s theological point of view, one built on historically-grounded exegesis. Wright is so important because he does his best work for the church to empower the church for her mission of making disciples of the nations.

Missio: Some of our readers may not understand what a “reader’s guide” is for. Is your book just a summary of Wright’s book?

Derek: It includes a summary, but it also contains a lot of my own interpretation of Wright. I tried to write a straightforward summary in Through the Eyes of N.T. Wright. In this new book, I included more of my own reflection and interpretation.

I have been reading Wright for nearly ten years and I have grown comfortable enough with his primary themes that I felt confident in adding some of my own thoughts in this book without drawing anything away from Wright’s primary points. Also, I am confident that if people only read my book they will grasp the primary themes of Wright’s book.

Of course, I’d still suggest reading both together. In a reader’s guide there is no way to summarize all the content from Wright. Some things will be left out. My book provides a good summary that will help someone before reading Wright’s book, and I also provide reflection questions at the end of each chapter that can be used for personal or small group study.

Missio: Lots of books have been written on the cross. What makes your book and Wright’s book different?

Derek: The subject of atonement is a hot topic right now and there are many books written about it, but a number of them are written from a systematic or dogmatic perspective. From my experience people tend to talk about atonement as a theological doctrine cobbled together from various verses of Scripture drawn primarily from Paul. Wright approaches the atonement from the perspective of a biblical theologian. He turns up the volume on all the biblical writers, most importantly the gospel writers, so we can hear what they each have to say about the death of Jesus and its meaning for the church and the world.

Missio: And what is it that we hear about the cross when we listen to each of the gospel writers?

Derek: We come to find that the death of Jesus was nothing less than the reverberating explosion of a world-wide and world-saving revolution.

The modern American evangelical emphasis on the cross has been that Jesus has died for my sins to save me and take me to heaven when I die. From this vantage point, the cross is about saving us from personal sins, leaving big systems of sin untouched.

The gospel writers show us that the political and religious power brokers of their day colluded together to execute the Jewish Messiah, but in actuality, Jesus’ death overcomes the love of power by the power of love. Jesus’ words from the cross—“Father forgive”—sends shock waves through the systems of economic, social, and political corruption and sin.

Jesus' death overcomes the love of power by the power of love. Click To Tweet

Missio: Some people may be afraid that speaking of the cross in this revolutionary way ignores the personal benefits of the cross. Do you agree?

Derek: Not at all. In Christ, and through his death, God is reconciling the world to himself. God is rescuing and repairing the world he loves, which starts by rescuing and repairing individuals within his world. This larger, more revolutionary view of the cross does not remove any of the personal accomplishments for us who are in Christ. It just puts our personal experience with the cross in a larger context.

If God is going to set right a world gone wrong, then he needs to first set right his image-bearing creatures. So yes, we are each forgiven of our personal sins, but the reach of the cross extends beyond that.

The reach of the cross extends beyond individual salvation. Click To Tweet

Missio: What’s so dangerous about having this limited view of the cross? How does it influence us and how we see God in ways we may not understand?

Derek: Wright discusses a three-fold mistake. First, he argues we have Platonized our eschatology, assuming Jesus died to take us to heaven. Second, we have moralized our anthropology, assuming God created us to keep the rules. And finally, we have paganized our soteriology, assuming Jesus’ death satisfies God’s wrath.

These three mistakes prevent us from seeing the big story the Bible is telling. The Scripture does not tell the story of an angry God handing out rules and killing his Son to pacify his moral anger at the moral failure of his people. The Bible tells the story of creation and the corruption of human sin, followed by covenant, God’s answer to human corruption. God’s covenant, particularly with Abraham, is fulfilled in Christ who brings God’s new creation. Jesus’ death is the beginning of the unfolding of new creation.

Missio: Amen! Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Derek, and for offering the fruits of your study to the church.

We hope all our readers will check out Derek’s new book, N.T. Wright and the Revolutionary Cross, available now on Amazon.

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38 responses to “Expository Preaching: A Comment on the Comments Before the Next Post

  1. David,

    Thanks for the links.

    Yes, this mythology is deeply seated. I have had people tell me that their theology is based upon “the very words of God” and that my theology is based on human philosophy. When I try to show them that their theology is at least as much dependent upon human philosophy as mine, they say, “There you go again arguing from human philosophy.”

    The idea that expository preaching is free (or essentially free) from human bias is so difficult to discredit because it has almost become an article of faith in certain corners of the church.

    The two most powerful ideas you mention in your book (which I have read)are

    One) that this form of preaching gives the listener (and preacher) a false sense of sercurity that human idea are not being imposed upon the text and

    Two) that it turns the Bible into a commodity that the individual consumer can accept or reject (or find useful or not useful).

    I have been experimenting with narrative preaching. I have also included more Scripture reading in our Sunday service. I believe that these are moves in the right direction.

    By the way, some of those same people who say that their theology is based upon “the very words of God” have argued that they are very much aware of the limitations of human exegesis and exposition. Apparently not.

    God Bless,


  2. I think perhaps you will more strongly resonate with those of us pastors actively engaged in post christian culture, the unchurched or just post modern folks in general…esp. the young postmodern culture (teens and 20s in particular). Expository teaching even at its best generally isn’t effective with most of the people to which we minister unless, as you say, they are already firmly engaged in a Christian worldview and seeking to dig deeper. I’m sure it has its role in “churcheanity” and i don’t want to write it off completely (even just to be fair) but I have to chuckle at how violently people will defend a method of teaching that Jesus himself certainly didn’t create and a method that clearly is ineffectual in many cultural contexts today esp. in the worship setting. I think it is also incumbant on us to define “success”. Personally, I don’t think the Church at large has been terribly successful so when someone points to history to show me how good expository teaching is I shudder.

  3. Hi there,
    Sorry for the longer post, but here’s my chance to vent. I’m a C&MA church member, elder and attendee at General Assembly two years ago. As a young seminarian (under the teaching of a young Franklin Pyles, by the way) I was taught that preaching was to be expository. (Except perhaps one or twice per year and then the preacher should repent!) When I served with a pastor who’s preaching was not expository I became upset and set out to prove that he ought to preach expository sermons by means of history.

    What I discovered changed my mind. Preaching has always taken a variety of forms. Expository preaching, as we know it, is a quirk of history– the confluence of enlightenment modernity and fundamentalism. They valued Bible knowledge in a culture where knowledge was power. Meaning well, they believed they could use this power as a force for good. With an antiquated King James, average folks needed “The Expositor”. This way they would understand the Bible and so be able to follow God’s blueprint for life.

    I was in a restored gold rush town in British Columbia (Fort Steele) and we went into the Presbyterian Church. Its heyday would have been about 1910. There was sitting room for about 20 people. There were hard benches with no backs. But the pulpit was ornate and absolutely enormous– a semi-circle about 20 feet across and 5 feet thick behind which the pastor sat with a 50 pound King James Bible. Anyone coming to church there would have been met by the very quintessential vision of power and authority– and an Irish accent to boot. But the people’s lives were licentious to say the very least.

    Expository preaching never worked. If you read the great preachers of our tradition like DL Moody and John Wesley– and A.B Simpson too– it was not expository. They had a text as a jumping off point, but preaching was topical, like “What Think Ye of Christ” and depended on the Holy Spirit to empower the words.

    The problem with expository preaching is that it ignores the unlimited human capacity for compartmentalization. People listen and say ‘here, here!’ but what’s said in church stays in church.

    Jesus told us not to do that, in John 5:39 we read “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me.”

  4. Hey,
    I really enjoy your blog! Thanks for your honest heart and truthfulness, it is refreshing to hear someone be real. Its cool to read about real people who serve Jesus.

    I am a musician, and I would be honored if you would check out my music. All music on my site is free for download. Anyway, don’t want to be a pest, I just thought that I’d share.

    “All my music is free.”

  5. I think the distinction between teaching and preaching is essential even though we don’t need to be legalistic or rigid about the functions. They serve similar but not synonymous purposes. Offering explanations of what the words mean and what the authors were trying to say definitely has a place of importance and, I suppose, in some sense, that is what many people mean by expository preaching. However, it seems to me that most folks use “expository preaching” as a euphemism for preaching that is truly-biblical-not-that-topical-feltneed-mamby-pamby-preaching. We are not saved by propositions, exegesis, inerrancy, or contemporary anecdotes but by the God/man Jesus.

    I look forward to your next post on this subject.

  6. I’m relatively new to your blog and I just discovered your book so haven’t read it yet. As a pastor who preaches weekly I am familiar with expository preaching as you describe it. However, being younger, it was never engrained in me so deeply. I am truly a child of the postmodern age. What I somewhat intuitively want to do is help my faith community engage with the STORY – the narrative content – of the text. Even to say “narrative content” sounds like an oxymoron to the expository preacher that you describe. What that type of preaching attempts, it seems to me, is to discard the narrative like so much pulp from an orange, and deliver to the congregation the pure juice, direct from the Holy Spirit (even though the preacher is doing the juicing). Narrative preaching, however, offers up the text itself, in it’s narrative context, and then offers pointers to how our contemporary context might echo the ancient context. I am currrently doing this at my church as we walk, verse-by-verse, through Colossians. We’re still going verse-by-verse, but in a narrative way. It’s actually quite evocative and has stimulated a great imagination among some of my members. The others are ticked that they didn’t get three points and an application.

    At the risk of going long here, another shift I’ve made is from applications to implications. Thanks for your insightful and provocative blog. I’ll get the book!!! 🙂

  7. I’m gonna go way out on a limb here and ask if this has not so much to do with the “problem” of expository preaching, but more of an issue of the perhaps imbalanced view of the Bible?

    I say this as a believer in the inerrancy of the Scriptures, and even in a sense the Authority of Scripture, so it almost sounds paradoxical to make my previous statement. I think the passage that was highlighted earlier is apt, the one where Jesus says “you search the scriptures, because in them you think you will find eternal life, but the scriptures speak of me”

    I personally also happen to like expository preaching, which makes my statement seem even more bizarre.

    I also wonder what this big drama with “individualism” that everyone talks about…is all about.

    Frankly, you cannot kill off individualism by killing off the individual. A community is not some nebulous organism that exists of itself. A community is the unity of individuals, not some sociological “otherness” that we may be trying to implement or imitate.

    Even the doctrine of the Trinity which is where we are attempting to draw this community praxis from is a demonstration in this. The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is not the Father, yet they are perfect in community.

    Ultimately any attempt to imitate the Trinitarian community is going to be fraught with MAJOR problems.

    We do not eternally proceed from each other.

    I will always remain an individual, known by my own name…even in eternity, otherwise there is no value for Jesus saying that he is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, relating this to their resurrection in refutation of the Saducees.

    Perhaps I have simply misunderstood the whole damned thing. One minute the problem with Christianity is this, the next minute the problem with Christianity is that. Blah! Someone shoot me.

  8. Joshua,

    You put your finger on an important issue. In Christianity there is a “balance” between individual identity and community identity. This is really not so different than the Trinity as you point out. There are distinct individuals, but they are an essential part of each other.

    Eastern religions teach that the individual will lose his identity. You could even say that is the goal. Western culture turns the individual into essentially an idol. People do their own thing. They try to find themselves. They look out for their own interests.

    But Christianity teaches something else entirely. It teaches that we are part of a community without losing our individual identity. One person had it right when he said that the more we become like Christ the more different we become from others who are also becoming like Christ.

    So the problem with the church is not the individual. The problem is the prevelant individualistic mindset. This is especially acute with in Protestantism because we tend to celebrate the individual as an individual.

    (Please don’t interpret this as patronizing or preachy. I am simply trying to express my view of the situation.)

    God Bless,


  9. Pastor Rod,

    Thank you for your response, I have not taken this as patronizing or preachy, and your response is quite informative.

    As for your eastern religion allegory, that is probably closer to how I have interpreted the de-crying of the “individualistic mindset” to be advocating. You then understand my response with that as my persepective of what is happening.

    I’m not sure what the “individualistic” mindset in question, actually is. Perhaps the problem hasn’t hit here in Australia as it may have over in the States…although it seems to be such a big problem over there that it doesn’t need to be re-defined all the time.

    It kind of makes me think of the “legalism” charge levied throughout Christendom…everyone agrees that it is a problem, and it is something that everyone else has a problem with…but no one clearly defines it so that the offending people can reflect and correct themselves.

    I am not saying that this is the case here, but simply saying that I haven’t really found any information on what the problem with the “individualistic mindset” actually is, so I fire away with my anti-eastern religion antidote.

    Once again, thank you for your response…and if you have more specific information on the problem that would be great to see, as I would like to put thought into the issue that seems to affect such a large proportion of the American church.

  10. Joshua,

    Individualism is almost as deeply ingrained in the American culture as baseball and apple pie. Add to that the individualistic tendencies of the Protestant Reformation and you have individualism run amok.

    Individuals set themselves up as judges of church leaders. Lay people with no formal training act as theology experts. People here shop for churches the way they would shop for cars by comparing benefits and features.

    Author Scot McKnight in his book Embracing Grace says, “The thickest barrier to the gospel is Individualism.” I think he’s right.


  11. David,

    I just do not understand the false dichotomy between expository preaching and community. When the church gathers to hear the word preached, they gather as a community to hear from God and to live as a community in fellowship, mission, and service.

    The early church as well as the first century Jewish culture, very much practiced expository preaching. A person would read a portion of Scripture, and then the teacher would explain what the text means. At this point, the people could ask him questions. I indeed think that this last aspect is missing today, but expository preaching is not the problem.

    Here are some examples of “expository preaching” from Scripture:

    Paul’s charge to Timothy: “2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage– with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:2-3).

    “26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road– the desert road– that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian {27 That is, from the upper Nile region} eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” 30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. 31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him” (Acts 8:26-31).



  12. Nick,

    I’m not sure that the scriptural examples you give of expository preaching really prove what you want them to. It seems to me like you might be reading something into these passages. The Timothy passage certainly does tell us to preach the Word with patience and care, but it seems to me like it might be an anachronism to read expository preaching into it.

    As for the Acts passage about Philip, I think that one could just as likely be seen as encouraging narrative preaching as expository. In order for Philip to make sense of the passage for the Ethiopian, he would have to explain to him the narrative of God’s work in the world which culminates in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Outside of that narrative the text from Isaiah makes no sense at all.

    I don’t think Dave’s point is to completely reject expository preaching or the necessity for doing the exegetical work necessary to understand scripture well. His point is that we need more than this, that the work of exegesis and historical-critical scholarship should be subservient to the end of inviting people into the narrative world of the scripture and letting it become their story as well. Only then can it truly make sense to them. Otherwise, we are simply dispensing information to people whose minds are shaped by other narratives (in our case, the stories of secular modernity) which distort the way they hear the text or keep it from making sense.

    Peace to you,

  13. Gordon,

    If Expository preaching can be defined as:

    “the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, then through the preacher, applies to the hearers” [Haddon Robinson, “Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages, Second edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 21].

    Then, I think that it can still be done narratively, in the sense that the individual passage is always explained and illustrated in the context of God’s overarching story. I think why myself and others are so concerned with the undermining of expository preaching is that people will then take what they want to preach (whether that is N.T. Wright’s newest idea, or their own new idea), rather than wrestling with the biblical text as given by God and then expounding that text to the people of God so that they can deal with God. The above passages of Scripture are expository in that the preacher is explaining what the text means so that the receipiants understand what God is saying to them.

  14. Nick,

    You said, “I think why myself and others are so concerned with the undermining of expository preaching is that people will then take what they want to preach…, rather than wrestling with the biblical text as given by God and then expounding that text to the people of God so that they can deal with God.”

    I’ve come to that conclusion myself. The reason that many are so resistant to the problems with expository preaching is that they cannot imagine anything better to take its place.

    But those are really two different issues. Even if we can’t think of anything better, we should acknowledge the limitations of a particular method.

    Unfortunately, in many parts of the church expository preaching has been canonized. And these people are convinced that a pastor using this method is proclaiming “the very words of God.”

    Just admitting the limitations of expository preaching would be a giant step in the right direction.


  15. For your interest: I have been expositing the book of John evangelistically with unchurched non-Christian youth: Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, and nominal Christians the two past years and they keep coming back for more. Over food, we study the passage for two weeks in small groups and then on the third week I will usually preach from the passage. We have about 50 to 70 youth coming out. To see some of these youth two years later and how they have grown in their knowledge of God’s word and have been transformed is amazing. I attribute this to nothing in me, but, I believe, because of their continual exposure to God’s word in small groups and in the messages they have been transformed:

    “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

  16. Food for thought: “There is, of course, more than one valid approach to biblical exposition. When the preacher surveys a long section of biblical text, he is able to expound on large ideas and present the grand flow of biblical logic in a panoramic way. When he deals with smaller sections in more careful detail, he can home in on specific issues and explain them in greater depth. There are advantages and disadvantages to both styles. Both methods have a legitimate place in biblical preaching” [John MacArthur, forward, in “The Message of the New Testament: Promises Kept by Mark Dever (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005), 11].

  17. Nick,

    Thanks for your response to me. I don’t think we are that far apart in reality. I certainly believe in doing serious exegesis and the other work necessary to understand scripture and I think Dave does too. Eugene Peterson has some wonderful stuff on this in his latest book “Eat This Book” where he reminds us that scripture is given to us in the form of a story, but also says that we should love the biblical text enought to do the best exegesis we can and understand the words as acurately as we can. I agree.

    I think one of the big issues for Dave, though, is the difference between preaching and teaching. Dave believes that preaching should be primarily descriptive and invitational. That is, it describes the world of scripture and the world made possible through Christ and invites the hearer to submit to Christ and enter that world. It seeks to provide the hearer with a counter-imagined world over and against the picture of the world that we are continually bombarded with by the forces that shape our culture, such as the media, advertising, etc. Teaching, on the other hand is the place where we delve deeper into the text and explain to people the exegetical, historical, cultural aspects of the text.

    I attend the church where Dave ministers and we have an hour before the service where Dave explains the passage and deals with the exegetical, historical issues of the text. Then, during the main service, the preaching is descriptive and invitational.

    Concerning this statement:

    “I think why myself and others are so concerned with the undermining of expository preaching is that people will then take what they want to preach (whether that is N.T. Wright’s newest idea, or their own new idea), rather than wrestling with the biblical text as given by God and then expounding that text to the people of God so that they can deal with God.”

    I think one of Dave’s major points is that even when we do all the exegetical, historical, grammatical work, etc. that it is still possible for an agenda to be snuck into the preaching, and it is even more dangerous if we believe that having done all of the work makes us immune to this possibility.

    Peace to you,

  18. Gordon,

    Thanks for your clarification. Yes, I agree that we have to be aware of the sinfulness of our own hearts and our unconscious bias that we bring to the text that would set an agenda for our preaching instead of the Biblical text itself. Also, I think that with what Dave is doing bridges both worlds well provided that people go to both. I perfer both in one. However, it sounds like your church is doing some excellent things. May God richly bless you in the important ministry you are doing,


  19. Nick,

    Thanks again for your response. I pray that God blesses your ministry also, particularly your ministry to the youth of various religious backgrounds that you describe. It’s very exciting to me that people of other religious backgrounds are interested in a serious study of scripture with you, and exciting to think of these people coming to know Christ this way.


  20. Joshua, your “community as a unity of individuals, not some sociological ‘otherness'” reminds me of the Adam Smith malady. Pastor Rod alreay addressed your points, but I wanted to mention that. It’s one of the very things to which the body of Christ should run counter. Also makes me wonder who the angels of the churches are to which Christ addressed his letters in Revelations.

    Nick Hill, to say that the early church practiced expository preaching, sorry if this sounds harsh, to me sounds rediculous. I mean, I guess if you think of expository preaching one certian way (a modern way, sort of), I could see how you would say that. But if you made that statement to Dionysius the Aeropogate, he would look at you with a “huh???” kind of dumbfoundedness. I too get excited when I hear of folks of other religions and cultures engaging with you in the scriptures, but at the same time I get weary that they are just being turned into Adam Smiths, with a Christian twist.

    I mean, you said we “have to be aware of the sinfulness in our own hearts and our uncious bias”, but that very phrase itself could just be a getting off the hook of modernization. What would you say to one of my favorite quotes (from a friend of mine), “Lets leave the analysis for the afterlife”? What does that mean? What implications does it have for the nature of learning and living, keeping in mind that all modern learning (and much of its very living) is analytic like disecting a pig (“When I am formulated, sprawling on a pin / When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall /Then how should I presume?” – T.S. Eliot) rather than synthetic? We are new CREATIONS. Where does the analytic urge come from?

  21. Jason,

    The early church, in Jesus’ time, taking its influence from its Jewish synagogue heritage would read a Scripture and then someone would explain what it meant (John Stott has written on this). How could this be modernistic? How could studying the Word of God in small groups make someone into a “Christian” Adam Smith? This is ridiculous!!

  22. Thanks to everyone for all the comments and banter. I have been in Canada speaking, and at EkklesiaProject leading some break out sessions, so it’s been hectic. But I shall be posting my response to all of this in the next day or so. And Nick, you’re a C&MA pastor in Canada? Toronto? is that right? … hey I’d sure like to talk next time I’m in your town.
    Blessings …

  23. David,

    Yes, it would be great to talk with you when you are in Toronto next. Just let me know. Looking forward to it,


  24. Hey, I’m from Canada too. Windsor, ON. Next to Deeetroit. Let me know when you speak in my vicinity or surrounding areas i.e. Toronto and I will come as well.

  25. Nick,

    I definitely said that too harshly. Sorry. I can be that way sometimes (in other words, an ass). The essential distinction that I was pointing out, I think, is found in the idea of analysis that undercuts expository preaching. A lot of what has made me squirm in the pew when I’ve heard expository preaching is that its M.O. is to, like a modern scientist who assumes a certian abstraction, neutrality and objectification, plow into the scriptures with the unbeatable team of knowledge and a scalpel, with the pre-set aim of dissection and the help of a powerful non-local (totalizing) anesthetic. Ancients might have “explained” the scriptures, but we have to pay attention to how energies and scenes of action have been transformed and translated, and what voices and powers have been at work doing the translating and transforming.

    In other words, just because back then they “explained” the scripture doesn’t make that the same thing as the expository preaching that we now know. The Rennaissance (the time of transition from ancient to modern) artists who learned about human anatomy by dissecting the body had to sneak around in the morgues late at night because the body was considered in a way sacred, not to be plowed into the way we now regularly and habitually plow into bodies of humans and scriptural text.

    I think a lot of times, in our discussions on “expository preaching” or whatever else and “narratives”, its easy to miss the boat while reading it’s name on the back as it sails away.

    You seemed to hint at the need for translation when included in your quoted definition of expository preacing (“the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, then through the preacher, applies to the hearers”) was the idea that it is contexualized.

    Problem is that embedded in the very language of that definition is the idea of reading the name of the boat while standing on the dock instead of IN the boat, where the party is at (where the narrative is being lived). I could be off on my stated judgement in the last sentence, because the meaning of that definition does depend so much on its context, the overall message of the rest of the book in which it appears. But in general, the words “concept”, “personality”, “application”, and in some cases even “transmission” for me raise big huge modern warning flags. Flags that say, “Hey you. Get off the boat. Go stand on the dock where you can see it better. Know it better. Communicate to OTHERS about it more clearly. Conveniently separate yourself from it like the inherent separation between an idea and a reality.” A modern concept BELONGS to and inside of a modern self (mind), which then assumes the right to plow away with the scalpel. Problem is, then the boat sinks. No wonder we miss it!

  26. Oops, hit “log in a publish: on accident. Sorry about that. Meant to “explain” a bit more what I mean by “concept” and it’s connection to “analysis”. The very grounds that allow for analysis (the mode of expository preacing) are the same grounds that allow for the separation between idea (well, concept) and reality, mind and body. No one would ever “operate on” a body until they pre-supposed their sepration from it. That’s the anesthetic. There’s no empathy in analysis; but it is the very basis by which a narrative is lived out, written or “experienced”. How many times have we cried in a movie theater? How bout in the middle of a sermon that is preached expositorily? This empahty similar to compassion. There’s no compassion in exposition. They contradict each other.

    Literacy [which, like “conception”, analysis or exposition, requires a rising up OFF of the page] creates very much simpler kinds of people than those that develop in the complex web of ordinary tribal and oral societies [the kind of societies to which you refer in the early church in which they would “explain” the scriptures]. For the fragmented man createes the homogenized Western world, while oral societies are made up of people differentiated, not by their specialist skills or visible marks, but by their unique emotional mixes. The oral man’s inner world is a tangle of complex emotions and feelings that he Western practical man has long ago eroded or suppressed within himself in the interest of effeciency and practicality.” – Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, p. 50

    And David, I have patience. I know you’re a busy guy. I’m just grateful that you take the time to write these blogs!


  27. Nick,

    A passage for a kick-start: “Jesus was certainly no theologian in the western sense of the word, beceause he was a Jew. Like the prophets before him he gave concrete biblical answers to the pressing questions of daily life – poverty, payment of taxes, feauding between relatives or colleagues, and daily subsistence. HE WOULD CERTAINLY HAVE DETESTED AS ARROGANT BLASPHEMY ANY ATTEMPT TO UNRAVEL AND NEATLY SYSTEMATIZE THE MYSTERIES OF GOD. The same holds true for Paul, whose letters addressed very concrete, contemporary, and local problems, and whose style reveals unmistakably rabbinic thought FORMS and lets Parisaic dialogue patterns shimmer through. All of his responses, even the most well-reasoned, seem curiously fragmentary, and remain, in truly Jewish manner, open-ended…” – from Paul: Rabbi and Apostle, by Pinchas Lapide and Peter Stuhlmacher, quoted in Our Father Abraham, by Marvin R. Wilson.

    Now, I’d like to partially ignore the part of the above quote about how back then their “expository preaching” was about ordinary, everyday, concrete life. It could easily be said that contemporary expository preaching is full of concrete addresses. So there are two buckets I’d like to draw from that passage. One is simply the unexposed pride and arrogance behind the myths of modernity that lead to its various forms of analysis, which include current expository preaching. That’s why you can always sense a funny inner conflict in a humble pastor trying to preach expositorily.

    The other is the passage’s addressing of the FORM of ancient rabbinic “explanations” or dialogue (the form of something is where the translation and trasformation to which we must pay heed is apparent). The passage says that to us ancient forms of “explanation” seems curiously open-ended and “fragmentary”. Interesting, because in the quote I provided previously by McLuhan, he referred to our contemporary society as “fragmented”. Such funny and ironic grounds for miscommunication and misunderstanding are symptomatic of the problems that arise with modernity. McLuhan was referring to the modern mass of man’s fragementing along the assembly line of the factory or printed page of the mechanical press.

    When we now think of ancient forms of “explanation” as fragmentary, we are flaberghasted by certain practices that were normal for those ancient “tribal, oral” men and taken for granted. In their culture, they acutally had the Word of God IN them – memorized. When they spoke they re-membered (exposition is a dis-membering). A rabbi might make passing and hidden (to us) reference to a whole other part (or “fragment”) of scripture that completes the meaning of his statement, but is not included in what is actually spoken aloud orally.

    Obviously for someone who has the entire OT memorized this isn’t a problem. For us moderns who rely like a wife on visual alphebets to “complete” us (“literate man”, whose “book” is on his book shelf, “where it belongs”, rather than IN him), we are left feeling empty and confused, or “fragmented”. It is at the very place of our dis-location (blamed by McLuhan on the printing press, and blamed by me here on the necessary grounds for modern analysis), in seeing and realizing the wholeness (and holyness) implicit in ancient man’s having the entire OT memorized, where a modern man comes face to face with his fragmenting.

    It is up to our exposition and analysis to reach all the way to the full and total completion of the content and meaning of the text, so as to close off the SYSTEM, encompassing and completing our being for us, RATHER THAN the GOD who is the is the “content” of the “exposition”. It is this systematization, grounded in OUR analysis and/or exposition (“study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher”) that the referenced passage claims Jesus would have “detested”.

    When a discussion’s end is left open in the way of the ancients, the educational system is one based on mimesis (imitation). It’s the doorframe around the opening that is left by the end-ing inherent in the nature of the dialogue. In ancient Jewish discipleship, common in Gallilee at the time of Jesus to which you made reference, the whole basis of the education system was that the “disciple”, or Talmid (student) wanted to be just like the rabbi. I’m sure we’ve all heard the phrase “what would Jesus do” 🙂 And I’m sure it also, at least to some degree and in some way, sounded cheap! That’s because modern man is not seeking “completion” of his being by being like his rabbi (that was Jesus), but by his system arrived at by exposition and analysis. To a modern “WWJD”, because all of the implications inherent in the phrase, sounds ingenuine (David mentions similar topics in his book). The unreconcilable difference between imitation and systematized knowldege (the very basis of modern education – certainly the way that I was educated) is similar to the previously noted contradiction between compassion and exposition.


  28. Also Nick,

    Not to differentiate between the “explanations” of the early church and those of contemporary “expository preaching” is to be Narcissistic. By that I don’t mean arrogant. I mean not recognizing your own reflection in the differing ponds of ancient dialogue and contemporary exposition. You’re hearing your own echo. “Explanation”. “Explanation”. Problem is, in the context of the myth of Narcissus, Echo is the wife of Pan. The Greek word Pan, meaning “all”, is the root of the word that we know as “SYSTEM”.

    This is why I was talking about discipleship and systematization as contradicting way of completing our being; that we thirst like a wife after our systems to complete us. In other words, you hear yourself telling yourself that the “explanations” of ancient folks were “explanations”, the “explanations” of contemporary “expostion” are “explanations”. They’re the SAME THING, right! Point being that through the ages of translation and transformation they have become two differnt reflecting pools which reflect two different images of man. Because the ancient echo seen in the ancient pool is left open, it leaves room for God to be the original image of the reflection. The origin of the modern echo is man’s own urge to build the cave in which the echo can be enclosed.

    Much of expository preaching is spent on the futile attempt to chisel our way out of the cave while remaining warmly and comfortably encolsed in the modern mythology that built it.


  29. On a little lighter note. C. S. Lewis mentions something at the End of Surprised by Joy about the difference between “enjoyment” and “analysis.” (He borrows this idea from someone else.) He says that it is not possible to enjoy something while we are evaluating it. This is a much simpler way to understand what Jason is talking about. When we analyze a text, we are placing ourselves above that text and treating it as an object. When we “enjoy” a text, we are allowing the text to change us.

    Of course, both of these are important. But expository preaching tends to ignore (or render impossible) the experiencing of a text.

    I don’t mean this as any kind of a criticism of what Jason said. It was very useful. I just remember how confused I was when I first encountered McLuhan in college. I hope this helps to make the whole thing a little clearer.


  30. Thanks Pastor Rod. My friends often end up doing a lot of translating for me. Thanks; I like what you were saying. If you don’t mind, however, I would like to make an adjustment. We are also being “changed” when we analyse the text. I think that’s the whole point, why this is acutally an important topic. The question becomes what it is into which we are being changed. God doesn’t stop moving just because we think we step outside onto the stillness of the archimedean point needed to do an analysis. In reality we don’t reach any archimedian point. We just assume that the body and/or text stopped moving; we put it behind us in the past (we kill it), hence McLuhan’s famouse photo in “the medium is the massage” of a horse-driven caravan being viewed in the rear-view mirror of a car.

    And HEY! I thought I was being light and playful!

  31. 2 Timothy 4:1 “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage– with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”

  32. […] by me on the subject of expository preaching, you can look here, here and here, here , here, and here and of course the 5th chapter of The Great Giveaway. If people want to see what preaching looks […]

  33. […] Expository Preaching (2006). Back in June and July of 2006 I wrote a few posts ( the other two are here and here) on the problems inherent in expository preaching. It was picked up in the blogosphere […]

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