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"Either-Or Christianity and the Pulpit"
by Tom Goodman
November 25, 2005

I’m committing six of my newsletter articles to the commandments of what I call “Either-Or Christianity.”  Here’s the Fourth Commandment:  “Biblical preaching is expository and relevant preaching is topical.”

Did you think that the American church’s “worship wars” was simply about music styles?  Not at all.  Preaching is another front in this sad war, and the shelling is getting more intense.  To some, preaching is defined exclusively as a verse-by-verse analysis of, say, one of Paul’s letters—complete with Greek definitions and descriptions of the first-century cultural setting.  To others, preaching is defined purely as an application of biblical principles to, say, marriage enrichment.  The first definition is labeled “expository” and the second is labeled “topical.”  To Either-Or Christians, a preacher can be pigeonholed as either one or the other.  I’m told by Either-Or Christians that being expository makes someone a biblical preacher and being topical makes one a relevant preacher.

Give me a break.  I recall my days in seminary when I would attend preaching classes where we were told that the only real preaching was line-by-line studies of one text.  At the end of that class, I would go across the hall to another class called “Systematic Theology.”  There we would study various Scriptures collected under certain topics: all the Scriptures on the divinity of Jesus, for example, or everything the Bible has to say about church discipline, and so on.  Then I would go to another class called “Christian Ethics” where we studied everything the Bible had to say about divorce or homosexuality.  I found it strange that in one seminary class I was told that the only way to really teach the Bible was by preaching upon a single passage, but then in every other seminary class we studied the Bible topically.

Besides, I reject the typical definition of “expository preaching.”  It’s too narrow.  Either-Or Christians will typically define “expository preaching” as a verse-by-verse, line-after-line explanation of one text.  But it doesn’t take a PhD in English to see that the words “expository” and “expose” are related.  Anytime you faithfully expose the meaning of Scripture, you’re being an expository preacher!  You can expose the meaning of Scripture through verse-by-verse preaching and also through verse-with-verse preaching.  The verse-by-verse approach lingers over one text of scripture; the verse-with-verse approach pulls together several texts to explain the Bible’s position on an issue.

I like to “expose” the meaning of the Bible through verse-with-verse and through verse-by-verse.  Don’t let an Either-Or view of preaching keep you from understanding God’s Word!  And stay tuned, because next week we’ll break the Fifth Commandment of Either-Or Christianity!


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