David E Fitch
Many evangelicals take comfort in the fact that their church preaches the Word because they have expository preaching. Because their preaching follows the text sentence for sentence, this somehow ensures them of a more faithful interpretation of the text. But no expository preaching can escape becoming interpretation no matter how close to the text the preacher follows. And faithful interpretation of the word requires that interpretation be confirmed or worked out over time among a faithful community. Surely expository preaching can be an important aid in leading a congregation further and deeper into the faithful interpretation of God’s Word. But the fact that the preacher follows the text word for word in and of itself does not guarantee that the church preaches the Word.
In fact, the danger exists in expository preaching that preachers, not seeing how their own social habits condition them to read a text in a certain way, dogmatize their own interpretive habits with no recourse to the community. Verse for verse, sentence by sentence, preachers read their own agenda into the text unaware that they even have an agenda, or worse, believing their personal agenda is directly from God. Confident of their expository method, preachers are delinquent in preaching with the necessary humility in submission to the testing of their words before the congregation. And so in the name of preaching the Word, the expository preacher inserts unawares habits of interpretation learned from other places. Expository preaching thereby hides the giveaway of the preaching of the Word.
Likewise, the same danger exists when the expository preacher is confronted with a new issue of interpretation in the church around which a consensus does not exist. Here again, relying on the expository method, the preacher does not preach in submission to the work of the Spirit in the community to lead that community to a further interpretation. Instead, living under the modernist assumption that the author’s intended meaning is there for all to see, expository preachers interpret selected texts to underwrite their own social agenda, believing that this one meaning of the text should be plain for all to see.
When disagreement occurs, the expository preacher digs in to defend the one meaning, doing harm or causing divisiveness in the congregation. And the congregation, living under the same modernist assumption, knows only how to accept that all they hear from the preacher is truly God’s Word or else it is heresy, and they must surely leave the church. Both preacher and congregation miss how preaching the Scriptures is necessarily the outworking of a politics that is always answering the question, How are we going to live? And so the church that is so confident that ‘our church preaches the Word’ may completely miss its own unfaithfulness because of its premature confidence in the modernist method of expository preaching.
From chapter 5 of The Great Giveaway, reclaiming the mission of the church from modern maladies, published by BakerBooks 2005