This is the second part of Eight Reasons Why Consecutive Expository Preaching is Needed.
Kevin: Some think that consecutive exposition is great for books like Philippians or James, but not so great for longer and more difficult books like Ezekiel, Isaiah, or 1-2 Samuel. Consecutive exposition might bring to mind Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ preaching through Romans for decades and cause some to think, “That’s not for me and my congregation.” Are there ways to preach books without getting bogged down?
Tim: There are. You don’t want to preach through Deuteronomy and have your people sense that you’ve been there 40 years, do you? You want them to feel like they will soon cross over the Jordan and something new will come.
Here are a few practical ways to keep consecutive exposition fresh:
Tim: Understanding the genre of the text helps with this. Too often preachers are most comfortable preaching through epistles and approach larger books like epistles. Just because it’s a large book doesn’t mean you have to go through it in fifteen years. Narrative lends itself to larger chunks to preach through. Romans does too. It would be good if we could get more comfortable preaching through larger chunks. And if we’re preaching through small chunks, we are probably fragmenting the text. We need to be preaching through an author’s complete thought. If we are preaching through complete thoughts, the preaching will go faster.
I’ve found personally in preaching narrative that young kids go home and they’re reading ahead. It’s not getting boring for them; they want to know what’s happening next. If we’re doing it right, taking larger chunks is very helpful and needful and will help us carry the story along so as to keep it fresh in people’s minds. If you take smaller chunks, you could be coming back to the same thought, again and again, every week.
Kevin: It also forces preachers to have a really good understanding of the story as a part of a whole, which makes it that much more interesting. And people want that.
Tim: A lot of preachers stop what they’re doing in the summer. If you’re preaching through Judges, you could slip Ruth in the middle of it because it is a similar timeframe and it is the opposite of the story. It would be exciting to preach Ruth right in the middle of this downward pull of Judges to see a story of God’s great salvation and kindness to his people.
You can use the church calendar for breaks, but I don’t think you need to take many. If you’re doing exposition right, people will keep on with you and want the next thing to get to the conclusion. People feel the need for breaks is if it’s bogging down. I sit through a 2.5-hour movie and I don’t feel like I need to stop and take a break. I want to see the entire story.
Kevin: Representative exposition is another option. What are the pros and cons of representative exposition?
Tim: It’s an interesting approach. I was recently asked to preach ten sermons on 1–2 Samuel. I thought, “What are the ten sermons? What are the key thoughts that would help carry the story along?”
The danger in it is you pick everybody’s favorite story and you make it a series through all the popular stories but they’re not necessarily connected in carrying the story that the author has for you in the book. You could miss the set up for the main stories. You’d have to be really adept at telling the story up to that point. The other danger is that your preaching could be thematic through a book. Then it becomes more informational and not transformational. The themes dominate on a doctrine or a practical issue but it doesn’t necessarily flow from the author’s intent in that moment or section. There are some dangers in it.
We should be able to, with a book, break it down into a few sections. We should help people see what the portions of a book are about, but we should connect it to the whole of what the author is unfolding in a book. We’d have to know how this story (or book) begins and how it ends, where the author is going, and how that unfolds—and then pick out some of the key points.
But, I think this is a lot more work. You run the risk of losing important tensions, like in narrative, that are there on purpose. If we by-pass them, we miss the climax of the story. I think representative exposition can be done, but I think it is a lot more work and requires a lot more skill than just preaching through the book.
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