Review of Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., “The Crisis in Expository Preaching Today,” Preaching (September/October 1995): 4-12.
As the title indicates, Walter Kaiser believed there was a “crisis in expository preaching” in the pulpit. That was 25 years ago this month. Has the situation gotten better or worse over the past two and a half decades? A recent Gallup poll suggests that “sermon content is what appeals most to churchgoers,” and not just any sermon content, but content based on the Bible. Maybe Kaiser’s warning was heeded after all.
Kaiser argued that there never was a widespread demand in the American church for systematically laying out and explaining biblical texts for contemporary listeners. That was a crisis to him because only expository preaching could afford the Scriptures their rightful place in setting both the agenda and the diet for a congregation’s spiritual health.
Moreover, the much revered Old Testament scholar contended that only expository preaching could successfully confront the crisis of truth and the widespread assault on authority that was rampant in society at the time. Postmodernism eroded the concept of truth and rendered the Bible a mere “dialogue partner,” he said. Scripture was the main casualty of the revolution, having been lost in the clamor for relevance, relatability, and the trendy “meeting of needs.”
“Rather than Scripture declaring what God wants to say to us, the crowds that come dictate what is acceptable, popular, nonthreatening, and preachable for modern audiences” he warned. The absurdity of this reversal is that “the people, who theoretically are in need of spiritual help, are prescribing for the spiritual physicians what it is they need!”
“Rather than Scripture declaring what God wants to say to us, the crowds that come dictate what is acceptable, popular, nonthreatening, and preachable for modern audiences.”
The remedy for this “contemporary morass that preaching has fallen into,” he said, was to preach the whole canon of Scripture—faithfully, exegetically, and systematically. This includes the Old Testament as well as the New. Parishioners must see the organic unity of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.
“Modern congregations have lost their sense of direction because they do not know either the beginning, middle, or end of the plan that God has laid out so clearly in the Bible,” he wrote. Preachers must avoid getting “stuck” and simply going over and over again the same old elementary truths of the gospel, thereby serving only milk to their people and not solid food.
Given our gravitation toward those portions of Scripture we know best, preachers must endeavor to exegete for their people the whole counsel of God, he said—book by book, chapter by chapter, paragraph by paragraph. “A consistent and systematic exposition of the Scriptures will help restore order, end the habits of a violent society and repair damaged relationships at every level of society,” he wrote.
Kaiser made a strong case for the preacher’s systematic and exegetical approach to expository preaching. “If the sermon is to have any authority in this day and age, it must have the divine authority claimed in the text as its warrant,” he noted. This kind of logic, which permeates the article, is as inspiring as it is foundational.
“If the sermon is to have any authority in this day and age, it must have the divine authority claimed in the text as its warrant.”
Kaiser probably could have addressed other important homiletical issues in his article, such as cultural intelligence, the ethics of persuasion, and communicational effectiveness in our day. After all, our society as a whole doesn’t seem to be any healthier than it was back in 1995, despite the uptick in biblical exposition. What good is expository preaching that doesn’t connect, inspire, or persuade?
Still, as many pulpits began slouching toward a foggy future at the behest of spiritual gadflies and cultural malcontents two and a half decades ago, Kaiser envisioned a glorious church whose life would be built squarely and unashamedly on the firm foundation of God’s authoritative truth—the sacred Scriptures.
Gallup seems to agree. At least for now. Not that Kaiser needed the confirmation.