Chapter 106

Dramatic Expository Preaching

How truly biblical sermons can stir the soul. Some preachers avoid expository preaching because they think it's less dramatic. Do you feel that's a valid conclusion?

Haddon Robinson: There are folks who think of expository preaching as a dull, plodding through the text that gives out information nobody wants and answers questions nobody's asking. There's nothing dramatic about it because there's no tension. If that's what people mean by expository preaching, I can understand why they walk away from it.

All drama consists of conflict.

But that's a wrong definition. Expository preaching is more of a philosophy than a method. It's the answer to the question Do you bend your thought to the text, or do you bend the text to your thought?

Preaching that takes the text seriously can be dramatic. The Bible is filled with drama. Paul didn't sit down one day and say, "Well, I haven't written to the folks at Galatia in a while. Let's see. What will I write about? Oh, I'll write about legalism. I haven't covered that topic." No, he was upset when he wrote. He saw them giving up the gospel. That's why he begins without any introduction and just says "if anyone preaches any other gospel, either me or an angel from heaven, let him be damned." That's dramatic. He's concerned about what's happening to those people.

If you can pick up the spirit of Paul, it will not be a pedantic plodding through the text, sentence after sentence as though there were no great issues at stake.

What is it about nonexpository sermons that may make them seem easier to preach dramatically?

You don't have to bother with the text. You can take your own stories and fashion them and handle the text any way you want that has dramatic flare.

The problem with that is if we take seriously our calling as preachers, we haven't been called to entertain people, haven't been called to tickle their ears, to get them to say, "Wasn't that a magnificent sermon! Wasn't that dramatic!" We are called to proclaim the Word of God. And so there may be an easier route to being more dramatic, that is, ignoring the text, but ultimately it causes us to be unfaithful to God. If it's not expository and not solidly biblical, I don't care how wonderful the sermon is, I don't care how people line up at the door to tell you it's a great message, and I don't care how many people break down in tears as they listen—if it's not faithful to the Scriptures forget about it. You're not called to be an actor; you're called to be a preacher.

What approach to expository preaching can cause it to be more cerebral and less moving?

The more cerebral sermon says the main object of preaching is to inform people. But the main object of preaching is to change people's lives through the use of the Scriptures.

If I think of the sermon as an information dump, it moves me away from being dramatic, and it moves me away from the mood of the text. A good expository sermon is true to the text, its basic idea, its general development, its tensions—and also its mood. If you capture the mood of that text, that can be moving.

How much time can we spend talking about the words of the text and still keep the dramatic level high?

It strikes me that most sermons don't spend that much time in the text. I have not heard many sermons in which I thought this passage of Scripture is opening up in front of me. But it is possible to spend too much time in the text if you spend all your time in the content and don't think at all about the audience.

There are two basic parts of preparation. The first part is to ask what the text is saying, what the purpose of the author is, and what the biblical writer was saying to the biblical readers. The second part of preparation is to discover what this text says to people today. How can I get this text across to people in the twenty-first century in a way that grips them?

When I do that, I will move towards drama because all drama consists of conflict. A TV movie starts off, somebody is shot, and they can't explain the murder. The police are called in, and they try to unravel the crime. You work all the way through that program until at the end they discover the murderer was the maid and not the butler.

Sermons can be that way. They start off by raising an issue important to the audience. I am not teaching people the Bible; I'm talking to people about them from the Bible. And so I want to talk about issues they have that are reflected by the issues in the biblical text.

If we can put sermons together with a sense of conflict, with problems that need to be solved, questions that need to be answered, needs that must be satisfied from the Scriptures, then we will have a dramatic sermon.