The issue of how one defines expository preaching is important. The preacher’s understanding of it will ultimately shape the content of his sermon. The divergent understandings of expository preaching are manifest in the debate over whether expository preaching demands Christocentric teaching from the whole Bible.
Old Testament scholar Walter C. Kaiser argues for understanding a text via the single intended meaning of the original author. Added to this is another principle, which he calls “the analogy of (antecedent) Scripture.” According to this principle, interpreters should be “limiting our theological observations to conclusions drawn from the text and from texts which preceded it in time” (Toward an Exegetical Theology, 137).
Kaiser serves as an excellent representative of the single-intended-meaning-of-the-original-author approach to biblical interpretation because of his pervasive influence on an entire generation of conservative preachers and teachers. Richard Schultz points out in his review of Toward an Exegetical Theology that the approach Kaiser teaches is so prominent that it is simply known among many students as “the Kaiser method” (Review of Toward an Exegetical Theology, Westminster Journal of Theology 45
While Kaiser asserts that “the central theme of both the Old and New Testaments is Christ,” the methodology he advocates leads the interpreter of the Old Testament to understand the text only by looking backwards and forces the interpreter to ignore where the text fits into the total unity of biblical revelation (Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament, 41). He writes, “However, in no case must that later teaching be used exegetically (or any other way) to unpack the meaning . . . of the individual text which is the object of our study” (Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament, 140).
There lurks in evangelical thought the occultic idea that a hidden meaning lay just outside the purview of the human authors of the Old Testament that can be unlocked now that we have the New Testament (Recovering the Unity of the Bible, 217).
The Kaiser approach precludes the interpreter from understanding and interpreting each text in light of its relationship to Jesus Christ and eschatological fulfillment in him. The method functions, as Millard J. Erickson observes, on the faulty “assumption that the Bible was written like any other book” and functionally ignores the fact that the Bible is divinely as well as humanly authored. Further, Erickson contends that the Kaiser method moves forward on “antisupernaturalist (or at least nonsupernaturalist) assumptions” (Evangelical Interpretation, 30-31). Dan G. McCartney and Charles Clayton write, “If God is the author of the whole (both the history and the text), then surely the later is latent in all the former, and meaning in the former is expanded by the appearance of the later. Do we not as authors expect that our readers will understand our first chapter in light of the later ones?” (Let the Reader Understand, 170-171).
Wilhelm Vischer critiques the notion that we should not use later biblical revelation to interpret a biblical text:
It interprets the testimony backwards, in order to discover records of something which has happened, instead of being ready to look forward to that which should come as the records indicate. Since it is the characteristic of the Old Testament to look forwards and not backwards, that can be done only by a violent dissolution and reconstruction of the text” (The Witness of the Old Testament to Christ, 29).
Such an approach to biblical interpretation, preaching, and teaching can have negative consequences; it may, for instance, occlude the biblical metanarrative from the local congregation. Another consequence is to find moral commands and principles for living in the text but fail to understand the commands and principles in the fabric of the unity of biblical revelation. Paul Heibert explains the consequence of the loss of the biblical metanarrative:
Most Christians have a smorgasbord theology—based on the study of specific Biblical passages in sermons, Sunday School classes, and Bible studies—which answers certain questions and focuses on individuals and their needs. . . . We have a fragmented story—of Jesus, Ruth, David, Mary, and Peter. No longer do we see ourselves as part of a movement far greater than ourselves and a universal history that gives meaning to our lives because it shows us our place in a cosmic story (foreword to Arthur Glasser, Announcing the Kingdom: The Story of God’s Mission in the Bible, 7).
The Bible, like a great painting, can be appreciated in its incomplete form but is always meant to be interpreted and appreciated as a completed work of art in its finished form. In a similar way, God is the divine author of his masterpiece, the Scripture, and he intends it to be understood and appreciated in its fullness, in its canonical context. The pursuit of historical meaning is indispensible; but, as an interpreter seeks the intended meaning of the original author, he must not ignore the ultimate divine author.