Expositional Preaching, David Helm

expositionalpreachingbookcoverExpositional Preaching is short book by David Helm in the 9Marks of a Healthy Church series that seeks to define true biblical preaching. Helm makes a compelling argument that biblical preaching is “expositional preaching,” also commonly called “expository preaching.” Helm defines expository preaching as “empowered preaching that rightfully submits the shape and emphasis of the sermon to the shape and emphasis of a biblical text.” First published in 2014, Expositional Preaching aims to lay down the foundation in training preachers to herald the Word of God in this way, a way that is submitted to the Word of God.

Helm writes the book to a wide audience which may consist of pastors, lay preachers, church members, or aspiring preachers. He states that his book may serve as an introduction to expositional preaching or as a useful grid whereby one can examine their current preaching practice. Helm firmly believes that if men will faithfully proclaim the Word of God through preaching expositionally, the “health and happiness of the church can be restored.”

Helm begins the study of expositional preaching through demonstrating what it is not, primarily through descriptions and examples of impressionistic preaching, inebriated preaching, and “inspired” preaching. In impressionistic preaching, the preacher becomes preoccupied with the world rather than God’s Word, where the cultural context takes the driver’s seat of the message. Inebriated preaching uses the Word of God, but only to support our preconceived ideas of what we want to preach. This style of preaching manipulates the Word to “support our intoxicating plans and purposes, rather than those of God.” The preacher may use an outline or main points that are not directly derived from any specific text of Scripture, yet will use Scripture to “back-up” or support his outline or emphasis. Finally, impressionistic preaching shifts the understanding of our authority from Scripture to the preacher, focusing primarily on his “fresh” and “spirit led” devotional reading of a specific passage of Scripture, instead of an accurate understanding of the primary emphasis of the a biblical text.

Helm argues that the only way to avoid these kinds of preaching, all of which rob preaching from its true authority, the written Word, is to preach expositionally. One of the most common hesitations of engaging in preaching that is truly expository is appearing “too-intellectual,” or preaching a sermon that isn’t “relevant” to the culture. Preachers fear that if they root their message in the ancient text, that the natural result will be a sermon that would only be relevant to ancient listeners. I am thankful that Helm mentions this, because I have heard this concern raised on several occasions. Helm tells us that we can preach sermons rooted in the Scriptures that are relevant to our contemporary audience. In the remainder of the book, He demonstrates how to do prepare and preach such sermons by being faithful to the biblical text, understanding its primary emphasis, and making culturally relevant application.

As Helm moves on to explain the preparation of an expositional sermon. He beings, “A faithful preacher starts the sermon preparation process by paying attention to a biblical text’s original audience and a text’s purposes for those readers.” This theme is paramount throughout the book: give attention to the text’s original audience and purpose. Helm gives several tools for preachers to employ in studying the original text, such as (1) giving the biblical context control over the meaning, (2) listen to see how the text fits into the overall message of the book, and (3) see the structure and emphasis of the text. In doing these things, we allow exegesis to rule the preparation process instead of contextualization.

After equipping the preacher with several practices to complete the above three tasks, Helm makes sure the preacher knows that he is not done preparing when exegesis is complete. He does concede that if exegesis is done in isolation, the subsequent preaching could be overly intellectual or imperatival. We must make the first audience a primary concern, but not our final concern. Helm also encourages us to make sure we consider the gospel context of the whole Bible to avoid turning exegesis into merely moralistic sermons, which leads into his next step in crafting and expositional sermon: theological reflection.

Helm describes theological reflection as an essential component in sermon preparation that is a rigorous and prayerful discipline of taking the time to meditate on a specific text and how it relates to God’s plan of redemption. He encourages us to look for the “road to Christ” in addition to utilizing biblical theology to avoid undermining specific texts (such as Old Testament passages). In so doing, he encourages preachers to get a biblical theology (and lists several options), follow the New Testament’s lead, and make good gospel connections.

The final section of the book relates to communicating the biblical message to our contemporary audience. It is important to note that this comes last in the book, as Helm believes it should in sermon preparation. In an effort to apply the intended application of the original author to our contemporary audience, Helm suggests considering (1) our audience (our church, city, citizens, and culture), (2) the arrangement of our material (where he gives a plea for clarity), and (3) the application of our message. In applying our message, he encourages us to aim at heart repentance, root it in heart prayer, springing from heart awareness, all from the heart of the biblical text. After these, he concludes with a reminder that our heart is of utmost importance in all of this. When Jesus returns, He will not only reward us for how we preached, but why we preached, revealing our heart’s motives.

Expositional Preaching is not a challenging read, but the content is challenging. Throughout the read I was constantly considering a lot of preaching that I have heard, as well as the ways that I myself have prepared sermons. I believe that I am far better equipped to approach the work of sermon preparation from this little book, and I would readily recommend it to others. The simplicity of the book is its advantage over other books that try to tackle such a large subject. The book communicates, “this is hard work, but it doesn’t have to be that complicated.” Helm demonstrates that the work of exegesis, theological reflection, and contemporary application is one that requires a rigorous amount of work, but it is nevertheless a joyous work that must be completed in total dependence on the Spirit of God.

All of the highlighted points listed in the first four pages are what impacted me the most. I was equally impacted from beginning to end, starting with how to approach exegesis, and ending with how to make application. Helm’s description of different types of preaching in the beginning provided me with a good foundation of what not to do, as well as equipping me to better understand what biblical preaching is. Helm’s suggestions for how to keep the biblical audience and author in mind are very insightful. The section on theological reflection also excited my heart as it reminded me that I can preach Christ and redemption from every text!

The biggest takeaway I have from this book is that expositional preaching requires diligent work. It requires the preacher to first and foremost know God, know His Word, and know the shepherd of His flock. It requires him to not take the easy way of preparing sermons from his devotional reading of a text, but to do the work of an exegete and a pastor. He must know his church and his culture, and above all things, he must labor with all of his might to preach the glories and wonders of Jesus Christ, for the glory of God alone. Helm masterfully depicts preaching as a noble task that any reader should aspire to engage in, but he also correctly explains the amount of work that must go into true preaching. I finished the book excited to implement the things I have learned and to share them with others.

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