Simple Not Simplistic
Making things simple isn’t the same as reducing a thought or truth to a simplistic point. Oversimplification of a truth makes it shallow. As Albert Einstein said, “Make things as simple as possible but no simpler.” He also said, “The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple.”
My first pastor, Chuck Smith, knew how to do this when teaching God’s Word. He advised those who felt called to teach the Bible to “simply teach the Word of God simply.” But it’s not as easy as some think and I’m afraid Pastor Chuck’s advice gets reduced to a cliché instead of a wise guideline for teaching.
In a previous article, I spoke of the biblical ignorance in America in spite of the abundant resources of Bible teaching and study helps available to Americans. I believe one factor contributing to this ignorance is the assumption that verse by verse teaching is equivalent to expositional teaching. It’s not.
More and more pastors and teachers pass off a loose, rambling verse-by-verse commentary of the Bible as exposition. But this is not true exposition, it’s more of a Bible knowledge dump. Just giving information or commentary about a Scripture text doesn’t help people understand the truth of the text itself.
Expositional teaching opens up the truth of a text so it can be understood. It is not a style or method of teaching but the process of making the truth of a text clear and understandable by those who hear the teaching or preaching on a biblical text.
Hear how a few proven authorities of exposition explain what it is—
- John RW Stott– “If by an “expository” sermon [message] is meant a verse-by-verse explanation of a lengthy passage of Scripture... this would be a misuse of the word. Properly speaking, “exposition” has a much broader meaning. It refers to the content of the sermon [biblical truth] rather than its style [a running commentary]. To expound Scripture is to bring out of the text what is there and expose it to view. But the text in question could be a verse or a sentence or even a single word. It could equally be a paragraph, a chapter or a whole book. Whether it is long or short, our responsibility as expositors is to open it up in such a way that it speaks its message clearly, plainly, accurately, relevantly, without addition, subtraction or justification.” (words in brackets are mine) [from Between Two Worlds by John RW Stott]
- Haddon Robinson– “Exposition is drawing from your exegesis to give your people what they need to understand the passage.” [from Peter Mead’s blog, Biblical Preaching]
- Dr. Billy Graham– “Effective preaching must be biblical preaching, whether it is the exposition of a single word in the Bible, a text, or a chapter. The Word is what the Spirit uses…Thousands of pastors, Sunday school teachers, and Christian workers are powerless because they do not make the Word the source of their preaching or teaching.” [from Preaching Life blog]
Just giving information or commentary about a Scripture text doesn’t help people understand the truth of the text itself
Teach the Word Simply
The quotes above from preaching greats John RW Stott, Haddon Robinson, and Billy Graham underscore what Pastor Chuck Smith meant by “simply teach the Word of God simply.”
I remember how Chuck opened up my understanding as he opened up God’s Word in his messages on Sunday mornings, and as he taught through chapters of the Bible on Sunday nights, and his in-depth teaching on Thursday nights. Pastor Chuck was the living example of good expositional preaching and teaching in those early days that provided my foundation and grounding in God’s Word.
I remember Chuck sharing at a pastor’s conference his biblical guideline for exposition found in Nehemiah 8:8—
So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading.
This is the work of genuine exposition—reading and “giving the sense” of God’s Word so people can understand. The Scripture text itself needs to be our source for exposition, not what someone says about it.
Sound exposition requires solid exegesis—an accurate, faithful study of the Scripture text itself guided by the Holy Spirit. This is far more valuable and life-giving to teach in an expositional way than relying on what other teachers and commentaries say.
Sound exposition requires solid exegesis—an accurate, faithful study of the Scripture text itself guided by the Holy Spirit
Next, I’ll look at the critical link between solid exegesis and genuine exposition. Until then, here are a couple of resources for exposition, including Chuck Smith’s notes on Nehemiah 8:8.
Simply Teach Simply—Pastor Chuck Smith’s notes on Nehemiah 8:8
Biblical Preaching—blog of Peter Mead (some excellent guidelines for exposition)
Nuts and Bolts of Expository Preaching—a good, basic workshop by Pastor John Miller