The Manifest Allegiance of Expository Preaching
One of the missing ingredients in so much preaching today is what John Piper calls a manifest allegiance to the Word of God. As Piper writes:
Our authority as preachers sent by God rises and falls with our manifest allegiance to the text of Scripture. I say “manifest” because there are so many preachers who say they are doing exposition when they do not ground their assertions explicitly—“manifestly”—in the text. They don’t show their people clearly that the assertions of their preaching are coming from specific readable words of Scripture that the people can see for themselves.
Even pastors who have committed themselves to expository preaching are often negligent in this area. They faithfully exegete the passage, and their understanding of the divine intent is clear and precise. But once they get behind the pulpit, the sermon they preach is so loose in its connection to the text of Scripture that any allegiance it has to the passage itself is difficult to discern. In this way, the sermon hovers above the text rather than explicitly arising from it.
As a result, the average person in the pew is looking at the passage in his Bible and listening to the sermon from the pulpit, but he is struggling to recognize a clear correspondence between the two. What the passage says and what the preacher is saying are similar in their subject matter, but any allegiance of the latter to the former is less than conspicuous. These sermons often sound more like preaching about a passage—or proclaiming thoughts that were inspired by a passage—rather than preaching the passage itself.
As a remedy, Piper makes a helpful suggestion: “My continual advice to beginning preachers is, ‘Quote the text! Quote the text! Say the actual words of the text again and again. Show the people where your ideas are coming from.’” The value of pointing the congregation to the text—even citing the verse number and quoting the part of the verse being exposited—can hardly be overstated. By showing the people that his ideas are coming directly and demonstrably from a specific portion of God’s Word, the preacher makes it obvious that his ideas are ultimately God’s ideas. This kind of manifest allegiance is not only the sine qua non of expository preaching—it is the surest way to cultivate confidence in the divine authority of the message being proclaimed.
Matt Waymeyer serves as an associate pastor at Grace Immanuel Bible Church in Jupiter, FL and teaches NT Greek and Systematic Theology at The Expositors Seminary.