When Homiletics Took A Wrong Turn . . . . . PT #2

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Where Did Homiletical Theory Take A Wrong Turn?  —- Pt. #2

Where did homiletics make the wrong turn? 

The previous article argued that there is ample evidence that something has gone terribly wrong in the teaching and practice of homiletical theory.

The proof is overwhelming as seen by the steady stream of materials, over just the past decades, devoted to improving “the pulpit.”

The evidence?: The many books, articles, conferences, seminars, classes, blogs, entire websites — all devoted to the subject of homiletics and addressing the obvious weaknesses in the “pulpit” — by those who are sincerely endeavoring to improve their ability to communicate God’s Word effectively!

Strangely enough, another article on preaching showed up in my email box today.  After I saw it pop up, I thought — again — Here is another part of the endless stream of materials which is aimed at improving preachers and teachers of the Word — so why are so many still so ineffective in the pulpit ministry?

I maintain that it is because . . . .

there was a wrong turn made in homiletical theory.

This article brought me to a link and another article and book on preaching which was featured on the website  “Preaching Today” (connected with “Christianity Today” — which typically features monthly articles on the subject of preaching).

I looked up the highlighted book  — “Preaching To Be Heard,” written by Lucas O’Neill — and began reading his book.

Interesting, in the “Forward” of O’Neill’s book, Bryan Chapell gave unwitting support to the fact that indeed a wrong turn took place.   Chapell stated . . . .

We are at an opportune moment in the teaching of homiletics.

We are beyond the era of Puritan messages that devised a method to wring doctrine and duty from the topical comparisons of individual texts.

We are beyond the acceptance of running commentaries that claimed to be exposition of text — though they were little more than data dumps for theological hobbyist. — or weekly penance for congregants whose consciences required that they go to a church that “focused on the Bible” regardless of its apparent applicability to their lives.” (emphasis mine)

I was reminded again of the very point which has been made over the years in a number of my various posts on RhetoricAndHomiletics, and which was specifically made in a recent posts.

As Chapell states, it was a historical turn . . . .

— We are beyond the acceptance of running commentaries
which claimed to be exposition of text —

“We are beyond the acceptance” — When did that “acceptance” – take place?
“that claimed to be exposition!” — When was the claim that this is exposition – made?

When did that wrong turn take place?  I suggest it was with the publication of  “On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons,” by John Broadus who formalized the only acceptable approach to preaching.

“John A. Broadus was, in many ways, the father of modern expository preaching.”1

As a professor, Broadus wrote On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, which became the standard American textbook on homiletics for a century.” 1 

However, Broadus and maybe more his “students” failed to differentiate between “exposition” and “exegesis” and/or between “exposition” and “hermeneutics.”

“If the treatment be textual or expository, a large part of the materials will be derived from this study of the text . . . . Now the basis of preaching cannot be original, because it must come from  Scripture.  . . . Two remarks may be made here in conclusion.  One is that the preacher should not desire to originate any part of the fundamental material of his preaching.  He should only submit, but rejoice, to take this from the Word of God.  Too many preachers are in these days seeking after originality, and other novelty, by forsaking the Scriptures.

Finally, both PDS and his lectures reflected the strength of Broadus’s commitment and dependency on the authority of Scripture and its sufficiency for preaching.  While the expository sermon included the arguments and applications of the teacher, the message must derive its substance and power from the Scriptures.  For Broadus, expository preaching endured as the form of proclamation that best strengthened the past and his preaching ministry.  Thus, through both PDS and the /Yale lectures, one can see Broadus’s unchanging instruction to preach sermons grounded in the exposition of Scripture. . . . . nothing is preaching which is not expository of the Scriptures. 9

In studying the history of homiletical theory, several concepts must be kept in mind.

#1) What happened and when it happened is different depending on what nation you are looking at in a moment in history.  France, Germany, England, Scotland, and America all have a different branch of for the development of homiletical theory. 5

#2) Up to and including in the Reformation, homiletical theory was focused on polemics, defending the positions and practices of the Reformation.

#3) There are but a very few examples of preaching in the Bible, if by preaching you mean — the taking of a passage of revealed truth/Scripture and expounding its meaning and application to that audience.

You cannot go to the prophets’ prophetic proclamations to find examples of preaching.  That was the presentation of revelation, not the expounding of previously recorded revelation.  You have to look at those individuals who took a passage of Scripture and empressed its truths on the audience — such as the short and very limited example in Acts 3 by Peter.  Peter calls up the words of the prophet Joel and explains its meaning (Acts 2:16), and also takes the words of David about Jesus (Acts 2:27).

John Broadus was the first broadly influential figure who addressed homiletical theory and expository preaching.  He was and still is the foundational person in the seminary classroom and/or study of homiletical theory.

Homiletics took a wrong turn when it . . . .

√  connected exposition to preaching, rather than connecting exposition to hermeneutics or exegesis.

√  saw exposition and preaching as occurring at the same moment, rather than seeing exposition as preceding preaching.

When “exposition” was for all practical purposes, linked to and/or defined as a “word by word” / “verse by verse” preaching process, rather than as part of a hermeneutical or exegetical principle — which guided the Bible student or preacher in the study — homiletics took a wrong turn.

Exposition is what one does in the study of Scripture, to ensure a proper biblical interpretation and understanding of the Word.  It is not what you put your audience through — as Chapell stated above.

Historically, this turn took place because there was a proper reaction against . . . .

√   allegorical preaching which was willing to go “non-literal” in the understanding of the words/verses/meaning of a passage. 6

√   “spring-board” preaching, which was willing to take a word or phrase out of context, and preach on whatever the preacher has alrady determined to preach on — no matter how biblical true or theologically accurate.

√   “spiritualizing” Bible truths, which gives meaning to various biblical images and pressing them too far. 7

That reaction pushed homiletical theory to declare that . . . .

√ only preaching which approached Scripture with a literal hermeneutic was authoritative (which was correct)
and that
√ the only legitimate homiletical methodology to be employed when preaching was the “exposition” of Scripture.

It is not that “exposition” — exposing what the original intent of the author was, based on the grammatical, cultural, and contextual elements of the original language — is misguided.

“Exposition” was brought into the pulpit, and not seen as part of what should take place in the study of Scriptures to ensure a proper exegesis, as part of one’s hermeneutic — how the Scriptures are to be handled.

It is that “exposition” is an exegetical and/or hermeneutical issue which informs the Bible student as to how to handle the Scriptures.

It is designed to make sure that the person who preaches “thus saith the Lord” is actually saying what the Lord says.

It is for the study, not necessarily the pulpit.

It precedes the message, it is not the message — per se.  2 

It is for the preparation of the meal, not the presentation of the meal.

It is designed for the kitchen, not the dining room.


When the mantra became — “I firmly believe that expository preaching is the most faithful way to preach” 3  — and the like, said many different ways — a historical direction was locked in place.

That mantra has directed and guided preaching,  homiletical thinking and practice for much homiletical world then, and today — by most authors and teachers of homiletical theory.

There is hardly a book on homiletics today — within our theological circles — which does not teach that “only expository preaching is legitimate” and that expository preaching is a word-by-word / verse-by-verse process of working through the Scriptures.



1. https://www.preaching.com/book-reviews/john-a-broadus-a-living-legacy/

It is also worth noting that in the book by David Dockery on John Broadus, m=numberous preachers and professors give testimony to the influence that the words and works of John Broadus had on their outlook.

2. I say “per se” — because at times what one does in the kitchen is of value to those who are in the dining room and for their great understanding and enjoyment of the meal.


3. “My father – H.B. Charles, Sr. – was a faithful preacher. He was not, however, an expositor. His messages were thoroughly biblical. But they were not expositional. My dad was more a textual preacher. He would often lift a verse and keep turning it to show the beautiful gospel implications in it. But the main point of the text was not necessarily the main point of his sermon.

I was not led to Christ by expository preaching. The preaching that nurtured my faith was not expositional, either. Much of the preaching that continues to feed my soul is not classic Bible exposition. So I would not dare claim that expository preaching is the only right way to preach. But I firmly believe that expository preaching is the most faithful way to preach.”

4.  “All” is not intended to imply that each and every Bible commentator which we could name is an expository Bible commentator.  But within the circles of our general theological world, it is fair to assume that all such well-known Bible commentators of ages past and up to the contemporary authors such as Lloyd-Jones, Boice, Calvin, Luther, Jamison-Fausset-Brown, Gill Mac Arthur, Lightfoot, Matthew Henry, Spurgeon, Atkin, Moore, Platt, Smith, Dever, Anyabwile, H. C. Charles, Charles Stanley, Swindoll, Wiersbe, Steadman, Clowney . . . . . . world seek to expose what the text was intended to communicate.

5. A History of Preaching, by Edwin Charles Dargan

6. Pg. 61 Broadus

7. Pgs, 65, 75 Broadus

8. Pgs. 126, 129, 135 Broadus

9. David Dockery & Robert Duke – John A. Broadus

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