The Expositor’s Distinction: Tethered to the Text

Steven J. Lawson | May 21, 2019

A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.

Robert Murray McCheyne


Walter Kaiser, a leading evangelical scholar, issued a simple but striking statement in his commencement address at Dallas Theological Seminary in April 2000 – a stirring challenge that should grip the hearts of all who are called to the ministry of biblical preaching and teaching. Those who enter the pulpit to preach, Kaiser admonished, should always be pointing to a text of Scripture.

When a man preaches, he should never remove his finger from the Scriptures, Kaiser charged. If he is gesturing with his right hand, he should keep his left hand’s finger on the text. If he reverses hands for gesturing, then he should also reverse hands for holding his spot in the text.

He should always be pointing to the Scriptures.

This is sound advice. Both literally and figuratively, the preacher should always be pointing to a biblical text. This Word-centered focus in the pulpit is the defining mark of all true expositors. Those who preach and teach the Word are to be so deeply rooted and grounded in the Scriptures that they never depart from them, ever directing themselves as well as their listeners to its truths.

Biblical preaching should be just that – biblical – and all who stand in the pulpit must show an unwavering, even relentless, commitment to the Scripture itself. As a practicing physician knows and prescribes medicine, so every preacher should be ever studying, learning, and dispensing heavy doses of the healing balm of God’s Word to all patients. Whatever the ailment, there is but one cure for the soul – the Word of God applied by the Spirit of God to the human heart.

The Missing Prescription

But this biblical prescription is an unknown remedy for many preachers today.

In their zeal to lead popular and successful ministries, many are becoming less concerned with pointing to the biblical text. Their use of the Bible is much like the singing of the national anthem before a ball game – something merely heard at the beginning, but never referenced again, a necessary preliminary that becomes an awkward intrusion into the real event. In their attempt to be contemporary and relevant, many pastors talk about the Scriptures, but, sadly, they rarely speak from them. Instead, they rush headlong to the next personal illustration, humorous anecdote, sociological quote, or cultural reference, rarely to return to the biblical text. How can pastors expect dying souls to become spiritually healthy if they never give them the prescribed remedy? How can pastors expect sinners to be converted and Christians to be sanctified if they fail to expound God’s Word (1 Pet. 1:23-25; John 17:17)?


Doctor of Ministry Program

Refine your preaching and deepen your love for Scripture this summer under John MacArthur, Dale Ralph Davis, Daniel Block, and Steve Lawson. Application Deadline: June 1, 2019.


Writing almost a half century ago, Merrill Unger saw this dangerous departure from biblical preaching already at hand and threatening the vitality of the church.

Sounding a warning, he wrote,

To an alarming extent the glory is departing from the pulpit of the twentieth century. The basic reason for this gloomy condition is obvious. That which imparts the glory has been taken away from the center of so much of our modern preaching and placed on the periphery. The Word of God has been denied the throne and given a subordinate place.

What Unger saw looming on the horizon – the dearth of expository preaching – is now fully upon the church. ‘Where such exposition and authoritative declaration of the Word of God are abandoned,’ Unger wrote, ‘Ichabod, the glory is departed, must be written over the preacher and over the pulpit from which he preaches.’

At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the renowned expository preacher James Boice reinforced Unger’s words. Writing shortly before his death, Boice warned, ‘These are not good days for the evangelical church, and anyone who takes a moment to evaluate the life and outlook of evangelical churches will understand that.’

Now, more than ever, pastors must come back to the centrality of the Word of God and preach it in the power of the Holy Spirit if the church is to be put back on the right course.


Taken from Famine in the Land: A Passionate Call for Expository Preaching by Steven J. Lawson (©2017). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.


Steven J. Lawson avatar
Steven J. Lawson is President and founder of OnePassion Ministries, a ministry designed to equip biblical expositors to bring about a new reformation in the church. Moreover, he is Professor of Preaching and oversees the Doctor of Ministry program at The Master’s Seminary, where he also serves on its board.

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