Rhetoric & Homiletics: Why Are We Still Talking About Expository Preaching?

rubics cube

Because Broadus Didn’t Solve It!


A passage of Scripture
is not a repository of biblical truths
that can be used as a springboard for preaching!

The game-changing book on preaching, written just before the turn of the century, by John Broadus, was aimed at moving preachers to — or back to —  expository preaching.

John Broadus recognized that grabbing a word, phrase, or a short verse from a portion of Scripture and preaching on it, was homiletically unsound.  At the time of his writing, preachers were more prone to use short texts, a word, a phrase, or a theological truth or concept as the basis of their sermon.  Broadus states . . . . .

Frequently, however, as was natural, they would find a brief passage so fruitful as to confine themselves to it. Usage tended more and more toward the preference of short texts. . . . many a passage has been mutilated and applied in a way full unwarrantable.” 1

In describing Christian preaching in 1898, Broadus stated that it was common for preachers to take a verse or a phrase, such as “We are saved by hope” and run with that theological subject(s) or truth(s), and miss the point of the passage.1  He taught and wrote against this “topical” tendency, and argued for an exposing of what the text taught — “the true meaning of the text.”

The přimary idea is that the discourse is a development of the text, an explanation, illustration, application of its teachings. Our business is to teach God’s word.

And although we may often discuss subjects, and aspects of subjects, which are not presented in precisely that form by any passage of Scripture, yet the fundamental conception should be habitually retained, that we are about to set forth what the text contains.2

Broadus advocated the use of larger passages of Scripture  – which he calls “texts” — and identified preaching of a verse, phrase, or truth within the passage as “topical preaching.”

Scripture sentences or phrases are employed as signifying what it is well known, and perhaps even declared at the time, that the sacred writer did not mean to say and has not at all said. “The original meaning of these words, as used by the inspired writer, is – so and so – but I propose on the present occasion to employ them in the following sense.” . . .  you stand up to teach men from a passage of God’s blessed word, and coolly declare that you propose to make the passage mean what it does not mean. . . . 3

It is preaching “systematic theology” from a passage of Scripture which indeed contains that theological truth . . . .

It is merely words of Scripture, used without authority to convey a different meaning; just as truly as if we had picked out words from a concordance, and framed them into a sentence.4

The passage, words, or phrase selected indeed contains that theological truth, but it is using that truth to argue the point being made.

Example: While I Corinthians 8:4-5 does state that the is no other God but one, that is not the point Paul is making.  He is using that truth to build, develop, drive, support his argument, which will follow (Not everyone has that knowledge when they sit and eats meat which has been offered to an idol).

As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one.
For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)

During the days of Broadus, the label “topical preaching” thus became almost synonymous with “anti-expository preaching — to this day.3  Textual and topical became opposites homiletical concepts.

Broadus’ book produced a trend to deal with more extensive passages rather than a verse or biblical phrase.

Why Are We Still Talking About
Expository Preaching?

BECAUSE . . . . .

. . . . .the problem still remains — to this day.  Broadus didn’t resolve the issue.  The proof of that is found in the decades of articles, books, seminars, speakers who continue to address the need for expository preaching.

While John Broadus recognized the problem, he came up short by suggesting that the resolution was built on examining passages — not words, phrases, theological truth, or a short verse of Scripture.

It is because expository preaching is not merely grounded on or substantiated by the use of a  Scriptural passage – as opposed to words, phrases, or a verse.  Broadus pushed peachers to avoid grabbing words, phrases, a verse as the basis of sermonic construction.

While Broadus tried to get preachers to “put off” the flawed homiletical approach, and “put on” the practice of using larger passages, it did not, and still does not, yield “expository preaching.”

Preaching from larger passages does hold out the hope for credible exposition.  One could hope that the speaker-preacher-teacher will see the broader argument which the writer is making — but not necessarily.  The speaker-preacher-teacher may end up with three or more theological “systematic truths” — and a longer sermon thereby!

Preaching from larger passages
does hold out the hope
for credible exposition.

Expository preaching — exposing the argument that the writer was/is making — does require an examination of a broader portion of Scripture — as Broadus sought to maintain.

However, one must look for, be able to see, and pinpoint the culminating argument being made in a passage or the portion of Scripture, in order to preach an expository message,

How do the various parts and pieces
(the words, verses, phrases, passages)
fit into and drive that argument?

The words, verses, phrases, and/or passage are either contributing to the argument, developing and/or moving the argument, or is finally the statement of the actual argument that is being made by the writer.

The issue is not “textual” or “topical.”
Topical sermons can be as expository as “textual.”

Actually, the issue is preaching “the argument of the passage” or “springboarding” — preaching a biblical truth which may well be found within the passage or preaching the argument/point of the passage.

A passage of Scripture
is not a repository of biblical truths
that can be used as a springboard for preaching!


1. —A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, John Broadus pgs. 18-19; 23 — Approximately 600 pgs. — published – 1898

2. — Broadus, pg. 19

3 — Broadus, pg. 29

4 — Broadus, pg 30

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