Dick Lucas on Expository Preaching and Its Impact (Part 4 of 5)

WordPartners Staff

August 30, 2020

What follows is Part Four of the transcript of our interview with Dick Lucas. Listen to the audio below (starting at 37:52).

TK: As we are thinking about preaching, especially expository preaching, there’re many definitions of that term. I’m sure you have heard many of them. How do you understand expository preaching?

DL: I would be sorry to think that there is only one way. At the moment, criticisms have been leveled at evangelical preaching today, that it’s too much like a lecture. I agree that there is something in that criticism. The idea seems to be that we all take things from each other. It seems that the pattern at the moment is taking a whole chapter. I’m not against that; it depends on where you are. If you’re taking a narrative in the Old Testament naturally, you may take a chapter or two chapters. But to take a whole chapter of Paul or Isaiah is quite heavy going for the congregation, isn’t it. I think at the moment I want check on that because I think it’s gone a bit too far. The people think of a running commentary on a chapter is expository preaching. I don’t think that’s necessarily expository preaching at all. It’s a pattern that can be used, but I do think the bread of life does have to be broken up.

“Expository preaching is taking the Bible seriously as the Word of God.” Dick Lucas

I think we need a bit more simplicity at the moment. I think at the moment we need more application to the heart. We’ve become a bit cold and theoretical. These criticisms are easily made. It’s like a boat. I learned this from the steersmen in the Navy. When you change a ship, even a liner, you do it by tiny little touches on the tiller. Even with the Queen Mary, you’re only doing it an inch at a time to swing it ’round. All I’m talking about is touching the tiller a little bit too far in academic, slightly heavy-lecture sermons. I don’t think that’s wise. I wouldn’t want to say that the people doing that are not expounding the Word. They are trying very much to do so. They’ve trapped themselves, so they tend to be too long and often not reach out to the people. They are so intent on telling you what the chapter is saying they get very little further than that.

Charles Spurgeon

Expository preaching is taking the Bible seriously as the Word of God, that’s the key to it. It is the very Word of God. Therefore, I assume what none of my theological learning assumed, that it is correct and there is no quibble about it. I’ve got to find out why it says it in the way that it says it and for the purpose it says it. It’s really as simple as that. It all starts with a belief in the actual inspiration of Scripture, and only evangelicals have that. Which is why you hear such rubbish if you go to the cathedral or anywhere like that on a Sunday. I ought to say our cathedrals are full, because they are full of refugees from liberal churches who come for the setting experience and a very well-arranged service. That’s why the cathedrals are doing quite well.How different was Spurgeon? I mean, Spurgeon would just take a text… but then he was a genius. You don’t learn how to teach the Bible from geniuses. But we could learn something from Spurgeon.

I’ve got to find out why it says it in the way that it says it and for the purpose it says it. It’s really as simple as that.

TK: I like the way you define that: “why it says it, the way it says it, for the purpose it says it.”

DL: Yes, you see Jonathan is always saying, “What is the surprise?” When I look at a text, the danger is to impose. The opposite of exposition is imposition. I bring my framework. I bring my ideas. I bring my theology and I place that on the text. Well, you know these lessons. We teach people not to go beyond the Bible, we teach them not to go below the Bible. Those are vital issues, aren’t they? My theological college was the Bible minus. Fanaticism, the charismatic movement, is so often the Bible plus. Now that’s a very interesting case you see. There’s a tremendous lot of life here through Holy Trinity. It is probably the very major Church of England and the world financially and in influence. It’s the church that the archbishop goes by. That’s the evangelicalism he likes. But their authority is really the Holy Spirit.

A young man came to me only a fortnight ago to spend the afternoon to tell me that his congregation has charismatics. They’re retired people from London who said to him, “We only want a ten-minute sermon. We want more worship.” And that sounds thoroughly sincere and good-hearted but what it means is we don’t want to sit under the Word of God. We want what comes out of our own heart. If you make the Holy Spirit your authority, where does the Holy Spirit dwell? In my heart, and you can’t help getting this muddled up with my sinful self, can you? For a long time now the charismatic movement, the authority is the Holy Spirit with Scripture. Our authority is Scripture alone. Within 20 years that will be a liberal evangelical movement.

Sorry, we’ve moved on from expository preaching. But see this is the attractive thing to young people. The authority of the Spirit seems freeing. But we are free under the Word. There is no such thing as freedom that does not have submission. Otherwise, it becomes simply anarchy.

TK: What you’re saying highlights something very important. What is the impact you’ve seen expository preaching have on either individuals or churches?

DL: There’s not doubt it transforms people’s lives. Dull preaching doesn’t attract people. Long preaching and lectures don’t attract people. I just think we’ve got the devil tweaking our tail all the time, haven’t we. He knows we’ve got something good. All he has to do is put a little bit of poison in or just distract us. So, of course, it’s transforming people’s lives all the time. I think at the moment we are a little complacent.

Expository preaching is not at the expense of prayer, of witness and study.

I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings and I don’t want to discourage anybody, but I think we’ve become a bit complacent. We think we are being more effective than sometimes we are. Expository preaching is not at the expense of prayer, of witness and study. I think, there’s no time for boasting at the moment, in this country. We know what we are meant to be doing. At least a large number of evangelicals do. God has been very merciful to us. We’ve seen the fruit of it, we’ve seen what it does to change churches and change lives. We’ve seen the excitement of it, but perhaps at the moment, we’ve become a little bit complacent. I don’t know. It’ll be different in different places won’t it?

TK: When expository preaching is not a priority in the life of the church, what are some of the consequences?

DL: I don’t know. The answer in the country, of course, is empty churches. I don’t really know how the liberals fill the churches. I can’t see that they do. I’ve never done any fieldwork in this way. I was intrigued to find that the cathedrals are doing well. I can understand that. It’s a wonderful setting experience. It’s a false experience in some ways, isn’t it? I mean these little boys who have to practice every day. It’d be much wiser and healthier to be out on the football field, but that’s not up to me to criticize. I think that’s why they’re full, I don’t think that’s going to change anything.

TK: Why do you think more preachers do not do expository preaching?

DL: Well, they’re lazy for one thing. Secondly, of course, if you don’t think the Bible has got anything to offer you, you won’t spend any more time. We spoke just now to somebody on a Saturday night, if you do your sermon preparation on Saturday night it means that you’re not taking it seriously. An awful lot of clergy in the old days did their preparation on Saturday night. Which is just playing at it isn’t it. This is, I think, is something we all had to learn that you had to do your study in the morning and your people will not understand it. I think we have to help our younger men to realize nobody’s going to understand why they’re closeting themselves. Even their wives will be crying out for them to deal with the baby’s nappies, diapers or whatever it is you call them in America, and you won’t have the discipline to say, “I’ve got to do this work in the morning.” If a man gives way to his wife’s demands, if he gives way to the parish’s demands in the end, he will be a man frittering around doing this job at this hour, that job, at that hour then the undertaker calls up the next hour. So he rushes down to the crematorium… His work is never seriously concentrating. I think parish-work like that can become a terrible time waster.

We do have to tell people rich preaching doesn’t come out of nowhere. You have to get your head down and kick the dog out and take your cup of tea or coffee and work for at least two hours every morning. I asked Kevin DeYoung (we said goodbye this morning [after EMA], “How do you prepare with seven children?” He said, “I just switch off and I can work in the middle of all the noise.” Thank God for that—I couldn’t do that. I used to work at the old British Library, sometimes in desperation, because the weekend had been so full I would go immediately on Tuesday morning. I would actually start my preparation on the Friday or Saturday, but I would go on Tuesday morning and nobody can get at you in the reading room at the British Library. There is wonderful and powerful silence—even if you sneeze they will look at you. In two hours there I would do more work than four hours in the day. You’ve got to fight for that. Expository preaching is a discipline, isn’t it? Unless you get used to that in your young years you won’t do it. You already know that. It’s hard work, isn’t it?

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a brilliant orator, unique mind, and yet he says quite openly ‘the sermons that God used most of mine were the sermons I’ve worked the hardest on.’ To many people that is extraordinary. They want a sermon where God falls upon you. There is the greatest preacher of his era saying, ‘the sermons God used most were the ones I worked the hardest on.’ It’s a strange thing. It’s the Holy Spirit through our hard work and we know our hard work is useless without the Spirit.

TK: You’ve worked at this a long time, working with younger men at expository preaching. Much of our work at WordPartners is in that same line. I’m wondering, what have you found over time that best encourages expository preaching?

DL: The results, isn’t it. When people hear it, they say, “We want to do it.” It’s not giving lectures on it really. When you heard John Stott at the height of his powers in the 50’s, you said, “I want to preach like that.” I wouldn’t have been able to put it into words, but as a 15-year-old witless athlete of the lower fourth, I knew that I was hearing something very, very exciting. I don’t know that I would have said that I wanted to do it at that stage, but it was still in the back of my mind. I knew if I wanted that job, I would want to do it like those people had done it. Therefore, anything else you hear, you realize it’s not working. I think you’ve got to hear it. We need good examples everywhere. From what you’ve told me of these men [who you train], they hear it, they say, “I want to do this!” and then they want to tell other people how to do it.

TK: It is an amazing process God uses. But I think you’re right, there’s something in hearing the preached Word. The Word that comes alive, because it is alive. And the soul hungers for it.

DL: It satisfies mind and heart. For some reason, at the moment, we are satisfying the mind but we’re not satisfying the heart. That’s an exaggeration, but I feel that’s the imbalance of the moment.

TK: In some ways that connected to the third part of your definition that you spoke of earlier, the purpose a text was given. Do you think we perhaps feed the mind without getting to the pastoral shepherding intent of the text?

DL: As I walked up the pulpit on Tuesday, I would ask myself, what are you wanting to say? What, in a sentence, are you wanting to say? Often in at our conferences, I used to say to a man who had spoken incomprehensibly for ten minutes. I would say, tell me in a sentence what you were saying. Then that puts them back on their heels and they can’t think what they were saying, in a way that was just learning from my camp days. We learned to be very frank with each other. That was quite fresh. I think that the young fellows when they came to our conferences they might be a little taken aback for the first night or morning. The place was full of friendship. They realized that nobody was getting at them, but that they couldn’t be allowed to go on just waffling, and that your congregation will allow you to do that—they just go to sleep or turn you off. I think our conferences were quite demanding in those early days. But they were tremendously enjoyable. I suppose a few people may not have liked them at all, but on the whole, people came back for more.

TK: A pastor friend of mine in Sydney made a comment one time that often you’ll hear in the prayer that follows the message the actual thing the preacher wanted to say. I thought that was insightful.

DL: Yes, that’s very good.

TK: Dick, we shared with you a bit earlier about some of the ways God is building his church around the world through the Word of God in the ministry of WordPartners and through an excitement for expository preaching. The Word gives life, that’s really what’s happening, God’s life is spreading. How does it stir your heart hearing stories of what God is doing in other places?

DL: Oh, it stirs me tremendously hearing what you had to tell me. You can’t do what you’re doing too much. We must equip other people. I think in the old denominations there is far too much clericalism still. The clergy is meant to do everything. We’re only recovering in the last generation from the one-man ministry. I think you Americans are far better at this, partly because you’re more generous and you have more built up staffs. Whereas we haven’t been able to afford that until comparatively recently, that’s of course, one thing that expository preaching does. It excites people and then they feel into their pocket. We never incidentally ask for money on the Tuesday service because I realized people thought the church was simply going for their pockets. I often think that over 30 years we must have lost millions of pounds by never asking anybody for a penny. But you don’t need to do that because when they find the Lord, they want to give. I think it’s exciting to hear.

In the final part of the interview, Dick speaks to our cultural moment.

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