You probably do not need to be convinced that preaching is a central component of corporate worship. And if we were to attempt to make such an argument, we most likely could not improve upon some works that already exist.1 Therefore, we simply want to describe our approach to preaching at CCC.
As we seek to define our method of preaching here at Cornerstone, we would first want to declare that we intend for a majority (if not all) of our preaching here to be expositional. This is not a novel idea by any means, and the mere mention that expositional preaching should be the kind of preaching done in our day has drawn support by many evangelicals. What then is expositional preaching? Mark Dever has given us a straightforward and simple definition: “Expositional preaching is that preaching which takes for the point [or points] of a sermon the point [or points] of a particular passage of Scripture.”2
This can be contrasted to topical preaching where the preacher takes a topic (perhaps with several points) and speaks on that topic while finding Scriptural texts to support what is being said. In contrast to the one preaching topically, the expositional preacher comes to the text with no points he wants to make. If asked what he is going to preach on Sunday, he should be able to say in good conscience, “Whatever the text demands, that will I preach.” Thus, for example, someone preaching Hebrews 10:19-25 is probably going to remind his hearers of what Christ sacrifice has accomplished in bringing us to God (as the author does in verses 19-21), and then, on that basis, he is going to give three exhortations to his hearers, following the author’s three exhortations in verses 22, 23, and 24-25. To do something too different from this (in some form) would not be to preach this text in an expositional fashion. And since it is our conviction that it is the text (and not simply our thoughts) that changes people’s lives, transforming them into the image of Christ, we are committed to expositional preaching, seeking to make the point or points of the sermon the point or points of the text.
The Depth of the Outline
Oftentimes individuals think of expositional preaching as simply that kind of preaching that focuses on a phrase or few verses at most, teasing out from those verses every ounce of truth or application that can be found in the text. Here, William Gurnall’s The Christian in Complete Armour might be held up as an (albeit extreme) example. His sermons on Ephesians 6:10-20 are published by Banner of Truth in two volumes that total 1,189 double-columned small-print pages. Moving forward from Gurnall we might turn to Lloyd-Jones as an example of expositional preaching, whose sermons on Ephesians are printed in eight volumes, totaling over 3,000 pages. And in our present day, one could look to John Piper who preached around 115 messages before finishing 8 chapters in Romans. Preaching in this manner is often thought of as the only manner in which to preach in an expositional manner.
In truth, however, the size of the text does not dictate whether one is preaching expositionally. The question is simply, “Is the preacher making the point or points of his sermon the point or points of the text which he is taking up to preach?” If he is preaching only a few verses he must simply make the points of his sermon the points of those few verses, and if he is taking up an entire book of the Bible, then (again) he must simply make sure he is making the point or points of his sermon the point or points of the book.
Therefore, our practice when planning to preach through a book of the Bible is to approach a book at an “A,” “B,” and “C” level outline, in which the “A” level outline of a book is least depth and the “C” level outline is greatest depth. Thus, for example, one might preach the book of 1 John in 5, 11, or 21 messages. The benefit of a more in-depth outline is that you get to see the fine details of the text, every tree in the forest, if you will. The disadvantage, however, is that this can lead one to miss the big picture or overall message of the book (to carry on the illustration, missing the forest for the trees). On the other hand, a less in-depth outline allows you to see the bigger picture of a text but forces you to have to overlook some of the fine details of the text. Each level of an outline has its advantages and disadvantages. Therefore, we attempt to alternate our approach as we preach through books of the Bible.
The Whole Counsel of God
We are also committed to preaching through the entire Bible. In Acts 20, as Paul spoke to the Ephesian elders, he proclaimed to them that he “did not shrink from declaring to [them] the whole counsel of God” (20:27). That is our commitment as well. Since the entire Bible is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, rebuking, training, reproving, and equipping the saints (2 Timothy 3:16-17), we make it our goal to preach through the entire Bible.
As we look toward Sunday as a time of corporate worship, we want everything we do to be corporate. We also believe this about the preaching. This doesn’t mean, however, that we have reduced preaching to a discussion or question and answer time. No, we believe that preaching is a time when God’s word is declared by his servant, and his people need to hear. However, it does mean that we encourage the congregation to read ahead the sermon text prior to our gathering on the Lord’s Day.
We print upcoming sermon cards well in advance so that the congregation can see what books will be covered in the upcoming months and what text will be covered on a specific Sunday. Then, as we near time when we will begin studying through a new book, we take a midweek service to hear the entire book read in one setting. This allows us to hear the reading of God’s Word, to see the book as a whole before looking at its parts, and for the whole community to anticipate together our task of studying this book. Then, each member is encouraged to read and meditate on the specific text upcoming each Lord’s Day. This has allowed our preaching to be corporate in nature. Again, though there is only one speaking (the preacher), others have invested themselves in this text and anxiously await hearing it. This practice has been a rich one for us.
Preaching and the Gospel
As we work through preaching the entire Bible we are also committed to preaching in a certain manner. It is our conviction that the whole Bible needs to be preached in light of the fact that God’s “plan for the fullness of time [is] to unite all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things of earth” (Ephesians 1:10). Therefore, we do not mention Christ only when preaching the New Testament but also the Old, for we believe that all things find their end in him. The entire storyline of the Bible leads us to Jesus of Nazareth, through whom God has reconciled his people to himself and through whom his perfect plan of redemption is accomplished. Thus, in every text we preach the gospel as the natural outflow, since all parts of Scripture find themselves located within a storyline that climaxes in the death, burial, resurrection, and return of Christ.
1 For example, Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching, Don Kistler, ed.(Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 2002).
2 Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), 40.