Engaging Exposition (19): The Work of Exposition: Structuring the Message

Engaging exposition requires the preacher of God’s Word to develop a comprehensive and structured method for moving from his study notes and research to the completed sermon. John Stott says, “the golden rule for sermon outlines is that each text must be allowed to supply its own structure.”* An effective teacher of the Word of God recognizes the wisdom of honoring the substance and structure of the text. What he says should be faithful to the text as well as obvious from the text both to himself and to those he instructs.

I want to suggest ten basic and related steps to follow. These steps will develop and be true to our short definition of expository preaching: “Christ-centered, text-driven, Spirit-led preaching that transforms lives.” They will also be true and develop our more full description of biblical exposition:

Expository preaching is text driven preaching that honors the truth of Scripture as it was given by the Holy Spirit. Its goal is to discover the God-inspired meaning through historical-grammatical-theological investigation and interpretation. By means of engaging and compelling proclamation, the preacher explains, illustrates and applies the meaning of the biblical text in submission to and in the power of the Holy Spirit, preaching Christ for a verdict of changed lives.

1) Let your exegesis drive and determine the structure of your message.

2) Have as many major points as the text naturally demands.

3) Make sure your major points and sub-points clearly and naturally flow out of the text. Be able to see your outline (or movements) in the text.

4) State your points in complete sentences that are application focused connecting them to the sermon title, MIT and MIM.

5) Make your sub-points connect with the major points that they support.

6) Look for the theological truths the text clearly supports and develops.

7) Cover and fill the skeleton outline with the meat and marrow of your exegesis.

8) Add to your expository content the supporting accessories of introduction, conclusion, application and illustrations.

9) As you hone the finished product, make sure there is balance, symmetry and cohesion to the message as a whole.

10) Practice reading your text repeatedly (and out loud), remembering that it is a sin to read God’s Word poorly.

In “A Treatise on Christian Liberty” Martin Luther throws down the gauntlet and gives us some final words in this chapter to guide us and inspire us:

Let us then consider it certain and conclusively established that the soul can do without all things except the Word of God, and that where this is not there is no help for the soul in anything else whatever. But if it has the Word it is rich and lacks nothing, since this Word is the Word of life, of truth, of light, of peace, of righteousness, of salvation, of joy, of liberty, of wisdom, of power, of grace, of glory, and of every blessing beyond our power to estimate.

Preaching the Word of God for the glory of our Savior and the good of His saints – this is an essential component for healthy churches in our day. It is an essential component for healthy churches in any day.

* John R. W. Stott, Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 229.rpg online mobile game

Engaging Exposition (10): The Importance of Structuring the Text

Once we have determined the genre of a biblical text, it is essential to analyze the structure of the text. The second step of the inspection process is the development of a teaching outline. Today, some pastor-teachers minimize or neglect this aspect of exegesis altogether. We remain convinced, however, that the practice of outlining remains one of the key components for discovering the author’s main idea of the text (MIT). Remember, the author wrote with a specific purpose in mind. To accomplish this purpose, he chose words, developed sentences, and organized those sentences into a specific format.

Discovering the Author’s Content

Seek to develop a “genre-specific” outline of a biblical text. Identify the key events, people, and language cues (key words and sentences) necessary to interpret the text. Look for key theological themes that are revealed in the text. Note the various contextual elements in the text which will help you discover the author’s MIT.

Analysis of Historical Narrative

Prose is the most prevalent genre in the Bible.

Interpreters must begin with the setting of the story when analyzing a Historical Narrative. Setting refers to the circumstances and location where an event takes places.

Every story revolves around a cast of characters. Generally, every story has a protagonist (the hero) and an antagonist (the enemy). In Historical Narratives this is slightly different, however. Ultimately, God is the hero of every narrative in the Bible. This must never be forgotten! The human characters described in the Bible are participants in God’s redemptive plan for humanity. Ultimately, understanding the characters and their role within the story is important for discovering truth about God.

Point of View
In narratives, point of view refers to the perspective of the person telling the story. This, in turn, leads us to consider why he is telling the story. There are a number of ways to tell a story, but most Historical Narratives are told from the “omniscient point of view.” In other words, “the story is told by the author, using third person, and his knowledge and prerogatives are unlimited” (Perrine, 175). Our understanding of the inspiration of Scripture also means that the biblical writers recorded the events as God willed.

Identify the Plot
Once you have discovered the setting, characters, and point of view of the story, it is time to identify the plot. This is a simple exercise. Read the account and place the events in their proper order. This will help you get a sense of the development of the story over time, including the introduction of the characters and the problem. The more familiar you are with Historical Narratives, the more likely you are to skip this step. You should exercise caution before assuming that you know the plot of the story. Remember, the key to interpreting a narrative is not simply the ability to tell the story. The key is to discover what the story reveals about God and his relationship to his people. The principles contained in Historical Narratives must often be inferred, because they are not stated explicitly. We will find those principles embedded in the details of the plot.

For example, David and Goliath (1 Sam 17) is more than a story about a young man who kills a giant. It is an exposé that reveals Saul’s lack of faith in God and the spiritual impotence of Israel. It is a reminder that there are always people, perhaps even in your own family, who are prepared to stand in the way of your own journey of faith. It is a testimony to the power of God, which is greater than the perceived strength of any enemy. It is a story about David and his victory over evil that anticipates a greater Son of David and His ultimate victory over evil when He crushed a head, the head of Satan (Rom 16:20)! You might miss some of these principles if you do not take the time to discover the plot, as well as consider the story in the full canonical context of Scripture.

Identifying the Peripeteia

The peripeteia is the “turning-point moment” in a narrative. It is the event that abruptly changes the direction of the story and begins moving it towards its denouement, or conclusion. It is critical to find that sudden, unexpected turning point, because that event often sheds light upon the primary meaning of the story.

Identifying the Theological Themes
Once you have looked at all of the different aspects of the narrative, you are ready to begin identifying the theological themes. Most Historical Narratives yield their theological truths via inference. In 1 Samuel 17, there are a number of theological themes: fear vs. faith; weakness vs. strength; self-reliance vs. reliance upon the power of God. Each of these themes can be found throughout the narratives of Scripture. Yet, all of these themes are subordinate to the primary theme-God alone has the power to deliver his children from their enemies.

Theology & Culture (3): A Theology of Culture (Creation & Fall)

Over the course of my time in the “ministry” (18 years now), I have heard folks use the word culture in many different ways. Often evangelicals refer to “the culture” as a synonym for “the spirit of the age” or anything that is opposed to gospel and church. However, I do not equate culture with “the spirit of the age” because although the spirit of the age is something that influences a culture to a greater or lesser extent, it is not the only influence on a culture, and therefores it is not to be equated with the notion of culture. Indeed, even God’s Word and his church are a part of culture, and they are not to be equated with the spirit of the age. So culture by no means is a comprehensively bad thing. Other times, English speakers may refer to “culture” in such a way as to mean “high culture” such as Rembrandt’s paintings and Beethoven’s music, or “wealthy culture” such as Gucci or Louis Vuitton. However, I am not referring exclusively to high culture or wealthy culture, but also to whatever sectors of culture are excluded by such terms.

Oddly enough, I’ve even heard some talk about how unhelpful it is for certain Christians, theologians, and seminaries to spend so much time talking about culture because it is not even a biblical word. However, my response to that is that the word “culture” is an English word that is used to cover a variety of things that are woven deeply into the fabric of the biblical teaching.

So what am I talking about when I use the word culture? I have in mind something similar to what Niebuhr was talking about (a definition which I provided in the previous installment) but I’d like to provide a more streamlined and well-ordered definition provided by Paul Hiebert. For him, culture is “the more or less integrated systems of beliefs, feelings and values, and their associated patterns of behavior and products shared by a group of people who organize and regulate what they think, feel, and do.”* Indeed, Christians and theologians have more than a little to say about beliefs, feelings, values, symbols, patterns of behavior, and products.

But where does a person begin when setting forth to articulate a theology of culture? I’d like to articulate a basic theology of culture along the lines of the biblical narrative, organizing my thoughts under the rubric “Creation, Fall, Redemption, New Creation.” The present installment will treat Creation and the Fall, leaving Redemption and New Creation for the next installment. [Note: The material in this installment is adapted from my forthcoming book, The Theology & Practice of Mission (B&H, Fall 2011).]


The Bible’s opening narrative tells us about God’s creation, including God’s design for human culture. In the very first chapters, we are told that God created the heavens and the earth. He created out of nothing, he shaped what he created, and he called the work of his hands “good.” At each step along the way, the narrative affirms the goodness of God’s handiwork. Moreover, when God completes his creation by making humanity in his image and likeness, the narrative affirms that God’s creation was “very good” (Gen 1:31).

Humans are the culmination of God’s good creation. They are different from God’s other handiwork. Indeed, the first statement about humans is that God made them in the image and likeness of God, male and female alike. They are like God in many ways, including but not limited to their capacities for spirituality, morality, relationality, language, rationality, and creativity. Man’s likeness to God, Calvin argues, “extends to the whole excellence by which man’s nature towers over all the kinds of living creatures.”** Because of these capacities, God could place the man and woman in the garden to have dominion over God’s good creation (Gen 1:26-27) and to work it and keep it (Gen 2:15).

After having created man, God commands him to “work” the garden, and in so doing to participate with God in his ongoing work of creation and providence. Man is to work the garden, change it, and even enhance it. His work in the garden manifests itself not only in agriculture, but in all types of culture. He may “work the garden” not only by cultivating plant life (agri-culture), but also by cultivating the arts, the sciences, or the public square (culture in general). When man obeys this command to responsibly cultivate the earth, he is pleasing God.

What, then, does the creation narrative contribute to a discussion of culture? First, human culture is part of the physical and material world, which is part of God’s creation before the fall and therefore is not inherently bad. We must not allow ourselves to fall into a form of neo-Gnosticism, treating “spiritual” things as good and “material” things as bad. We may not take a metaphysically dualist view of the creation, with its attendant impulse toward comprehensive cultural separation and withdrawal; to do so is to adopt a hollow and deceptive philosophy, to denigrate God’s good creation, and implicitly to undermine the Incarnation. Second, God gave humans the capacity to create culture and then commanded them to use those capacities. God created humans in his image and likeness, thereby giving them capacities for spirituality, morality, relationality, language, rationality, and creativity. Then he commanded them to use those capacities (e.g. Gen 2:15; Ex 31:1-11).


God’s creation of the world is the opening scene of the Scriptures and constitutes the first major plot movement of the overarching biblical narrative. Immediately after this opening scene, however, Adam and Eve rebelled against God, seeking to set themselves up as autonomous. The effect of this sin for them, and for all of humanity, was disastrous (Rom 1:18-32). Humanity no longer lives in paradise, but instead lives in a world pervaded with sin and its effects. Man’s relationship with God was broken, as well as man’s relationship with himself, with others, and with the rest of the created order.

In Romans 1, Paul describes the result of humanity’s broken relationship with God, pointing out that humans now worship the creature rather than the Creator (Rom 1:25). The image of God in man is now distorted and defaced. However, not only is man alienated from God, he is alienated from others (Rom 1:28-31). Rather than loving his neighbors as himself, he lies, murders, rapes, and otherwise demeans his fellow image-bearers (e.g. Gen 9:6). Further, he is alienated from the created order, as his attempts to “work the garden” are full of frustration and pain (Gen 3:17-18). Finally, he is alienated even from himself, as life becomes meaningless because of his separation from God (Ecc 1:1-11).

The implications of the Fall for a discussion of human culture are massive. Sin defiles everything. Spiritually, humans are idolaters, worshiping God’s gifts instead of worshiping God himself (Col 3:5). Rationally, they have difficulty discerning the truth and they use their capacities to construct vain philosophies (Rom 1:18-21). Creatively, they use their imagination to create and worship idols rather than to worship the living God (Is 40:18-20). Relationally, they use their power to exploit others and serve themselves (Gen 5:8). As a result, any and all human culture is distorted and defaced by sin. No dimension of culture is left unscathed by sin’s pervasive reach.

The Fall and its consequences do not, however, make God’s creation (or, by implication human culture) inherently bad. Even though the world is corrupted by sin, it is still materially good. Recognizing this frees us from false asceticisms and Gnosticisms that view the use and enjoyment of God’s creation as wrong. As Al Wolters puts it, God’s creation remains structurally good, although since the Fall it is directionally corrupt.*** Structure refers to the order of creation, while direction refers to the order of sin and redemption. The directional results of the fall, for human culture, are revealed in such things as poor reasoning in the realm of science, kitsch in the realm of art, and human hatred in the realm of relationships.

Anything in creation can be directed toward God or away from him. It is this direction that distinguishes between the good and the bad, between worship and idolatry, rather than some distinction between spiritual and material. We should note, however, that in spite of the Fall, things are not as bad as they could be. Without common grace and the Spirit’s restraining work, this world would be an utter horror, and because of God’s grace through his Spirit after the Fall, we may continue to produce culture, thereby utilizing our uniquely human capacities.


*Paul Hiebert, Anthropological Insights for Missionaries (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985), 30.

**John Calvin, The Institutes, I.15.3

***Al Wolters, Creation Regained, 2d ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 87-114.rpg game