“Preach the Word!” That simple, forceful command from Paul to young Timothy, found in 2 Tim 4:2, frames the act of preaching as one of obedience or disobedience. Obedience to this command requires a correct understanding of what it means to preach the Word; but its definition has proven to be an elusive task even for those committed to expository preaching. The lack of clarity is readily apparent in the diversity of definitions of expository preaching offered in standard evangelical texts. Graeme Goldsworthy has noted, “A cursory glance at the available literature will enable us to ascertain that the term ‘expository preaching’ is fairly elastic” (Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, 119).
The basic etymological definition of expository is to expose the meaning of the text. The opposite of exposition is imposition, which means to impose on the text what is not there. However, for a functional definition that provides clarity concerning the actual task of preaching, there needs to be a more substantive definition than the mere etymological meaning of the word expository. What biblical preacher does not think he is exposing the meaning of the text? If expository preaching means everything, it means nothing. But there is equal danger in an overly expansive definition; the preacher needs to be able to judge if his actual practice qualifies as “expository.”
Expository preaching is preaching that takes a particular text of Scripture as its subject, proclaiming the truth of that text in light of its historical, epochal, and Christocentric, kingdom-focused canonical contexts, thereby exposing the meaning of the human and divine authors for the purpose of Gospel-centered application.
Faithful application of this definition will yield sermons that are truly expositional; and, because of that, they will proclaim every text in light of Jesus Christ and eschatological fulfillment in him. A Christocentric expository approach seeks to understand the text according to the human author in its immediate and antecedent context but also seeks to understand every text in light of the meaning of the divine Author, in the Bible’s redemptive-historical canonical context. This approach to preaching is not atomistic (as some expository approaches are), nor is it holistic to the neglect of the unique contribution of individual authors (as some redemptive-historical approaches are). A Christocentric, kingdom-focused approach to expository preaching is rooted in the premise that the unifying theological center of both interpretation and homiletics is the glory of God in Jesus Christ and his Kingdom.
Pursuing the meaning of all biblical history in light of Christ is not is not dehistoricizing the biblical text. Rather, it is a matter taking biblical history seriously: it is purposive; it is going somewhere. When contemporary preachers refuse to retell biblical history in light of Jesus’ inauguration of the kingdom, they displace the Gospel in the life of their churches. Christocentric, kingdom-focused expository preaching avoids the two most common sermonic clichés, the predictable Jesus bit (every sermon is vague, generic Jesus talk) and the predictable morality bit (ethical imperatives abstracted from Jesus): the first is Christocentric but not expository; the second is expository but not Christocentric. Expository preachers must proclaim the Scripture with awareness of a given text’s genre, but keep in mind that the Bible considered, as a canonical whole possesses a metagenre—Gospel story.