Exposition Isn’t Enough

Expository preaching stands above other types of preaching because of faithfulness to Scripture, but more is needed. Sola scriptura? Amen! Sola sola scriptura? Insufficient. Sola scriptura should be interconnected with sola fide, solus Christus, sola gratia, and soli Deo gloria. While honorably trying to tackle biblical illiteracy, we’ve neglected Gospel literacy.

On an episode of Jeopardy, all three contestants could not fill in the blank on the Lord’s Prayer with the word “hallowed,” which is a symptom of the rampant biblical illiteracy we now see in our culture. According to the 2022 State of Theology Report, 44 percent of those identified as evangelical believe that Jesus was a good teacher but that he was not God, and 55 percent believe that everyone sins a little, but people are good by nature. While those statistics connect to biblical ignorance, there is a far direr issue.

Biblical illiteracy is a symptom, but Gospel illiteracy is the disease. The church often seeks to treat the symptoms while neglecting the cure. We cannot ultimately be educated out of our sin, informed out of our unrighteousness, or taught into the kingdom. Even the demons believe and shudder (James 2:19). I acknowledge that Gospel illiteracy is an oxymoron. One cannot be literate in something that is only supernaturally granted. It is merely a practical term to contrast the focus of scriptural exposition for knowledge while minimizing or neglecting the Gospel. After all, the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation, and Christ is He who lifts the veil for us to behold the light of the knowledge of the glory of God(Romans 1:16 and 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:6).

What if the church succeeds in disseminating biblical information and fails to proclaim the good news of Christ crucified? Catechisms, Sunday school, and sermons that teach doctrine or robust theology are important. However, we must prioritize the Gospel, or all our efforts are nothing more than rote memorization for a final we’ve already failed. One must indeed know letters before one can read. But it’s also true that one must be alive before one can read. Jesus contrasted searching the Scriptures with understanding that they testify of him (John 5:39).

A pastor could preach through the Bible verse by verse and largely ignore the metanarrative of scripture. This happens on many Sundays as moral, sociological, political, historical, philosophical, biographical, or practical emphases supplant a Gospel emphasis. Preachers should always seek to engage the text and present the point with proper hermeneutical practices. All of Scripture is profitable for teaching, reproof, and correction (2 Timothy 3:16). However, there is a way to use scripture that bypasses the heart, focus, and point of scripture.

A sermon isn’t a book report on the Bible. It should elucidate the passage but never make Christ and his atoning work elusive. Christ makes it clear that he is the ultimate aim of Scripture (Luke 24:13-49). In his Gospel, John highlights the purpose of his writing as believing Jesus is the Christ (John 20:30-31). Peter reminds us that the word of God that endures forever is the good news that was preached (1 Peter 1:24-25). Survey the sermons in Acts, and you’ll overwhelmingly see the good news of Christ crucified included(Acts 2:14-36, 3:12-26, 4:8-12, 10:34-43, 13:17-41, 26:2-23).

What good is filling in the blank of the Lord’s Prayer on Jeopardy if you fail to recognize your sinful condition, Christ’s deity, and his atoning work for sinners? It’s not a matter of choosing between exposition and preaching the Gospel. Expositing a text in a sermon includes preaching the Gospel. Exposition is a good start, but it isn’t enough.

Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash

Chris Dunn
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