Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Why Sequential Exposition?--My 9 & 10

I've attempted to compile "Top 10 lists" from other pastors regarding the merits of sequential exposition. Clicking the DTMW4I link (Don't Take My Word 4 It), will pull up these lists. As an assignment, our sermoneutics class was asked to also make a list. The following are my results...but first, a few observations:

--While my blog is called "lectio continua" (latin for sequential exposition), you'll also notice the intent of the blog has expanded. At one time, I may have considered it a noble effort to get every pastor to practice sequential exposition. However, I have come to see a man can practice sequential exposition and still be preaching wrong, so I have not made it my ultimate cause.

--I would agree with Al Mohler that if exposition is simply reading the text and explaining it, then all preaching is to be expositional. While I can't "thunder" that all exposition should be sequential, I do hope this list helps show why I think it is the most advantageous form of exposition to a man who is regularly in the same pulpit.

Advantages 10 and 9 to Sequential Exposition.

10. Offense is placed at the Word, and not at the preacher.

    Preacher—The preacher is protected from the accusation that he was intentionally preaching right at somebody and using the pulpit to bully people.
    Congregation—Members of the congregation are released of the temptation to think a sermon was just intended as the pastor’s form of manipulating or abusing his authority. When struck with deep conviction, the congregant is more tempted to see it as offensive in the text, rather than think it was just a disagreement with the pastor.

9. Felt needs are mitigated.
    Preacher—The preacher is protected from constantly trying to figure out exactly what the church needs to hear. He does not have to respond to rumor or insinuation of problems the Body is facing. He can preach from passages without people wondering, “I wonder what happened this week to make him say that?” He is also relieved from the burden of thinking he must figure out exactly what his people need to hear.
    Congregation—Members of the congregation are encouraged not to place their personal felt needs as a primary focus of the pastor. Members are less prone to suggest topics for preaching which reflect issues they see others struggling with…thus being tempted toward self-righteousness. The congregation is not simply hearing what the pastor thinks they need, but what the Text actually addresses.


Darby Livingston said...

I'm glad you're finally distancing yourself from such a radical view of preaching, at least allowing for other types of legitimate preaching. Maybe now we can all get back to only a boy named David and climbing Jacob's ladder.

danny2 said...


Brad said...

Whence this aversion to learning the particular needs of your congregation and preaching what you know they need to hear?

I don't see the apostles having much of a problem with the practice.

"It is actually reported that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not even among the Gentiles, that one of you hath his father's wife..."

Darby Livingston said...

You said, "While I can't "thunder" that all exposition should be sequential..."

And I've taken that as a capitulation on your part. So the next logical step would be to revert back to weekly veggie tales character studies. It's a joke.

Seriously, I agree with Brad that preaching should be tailored specifically to the local congregation you're preaching to. Most of my sermons are personal and specific to CAYA Fellowship. I preach at/to the people I've been called on to serve. If it were a different group of people, my sermons might be an entirely different flavor and cover entirely different matters.

I feel no reason to justify preaching exactly what my listeners are struggling with and I have no problem with others in the congregation knowing that's what I'm doing. I can think of no other way for the Word to cut the hearts of the hearers.

danny2 said...

a) felt needs are significantly different than addressing adultery.

b) you are quoting a letter, not a sermon.

c) i am no paul

d) we discussed last night in the class that while we may see the sin manifested, we may not know the root cause that must be addressed. however, the Holy Spirit can convict through the Word of God. i frankly do not have the ability to look out over the congregation and have any idea what issues they are dealing with. But He does, any Scripture is capable of being used to address it.

danny2 said...


i'm preaching specifically to Greenville Grace, not to an anonymous group. i'm thinking of the people in my congregation too.

i advocate exegeting your congregation too. but i also think it works best to let the text determine what you are preaching about, then you apply it to your Body.

Brad said...

a) Agreed

b)I'm quoting a letter that was written to be read to the entire congregation in the assembly.

c)But you are called to follow the pattern of his teaching, unless you're also no Timothy.

d)If a man truly has no ability to look out over the flock and see what issues they're struggling with (which I don't believe about you for a second) then that man has absolutely no business being an overseer (unless there's some difference I'm missing between "looking out over" and "overseeing").

danny2 said...

an overseer is not required to see the heart.

only God can do that!

Darby Livingston said...


Brad said...

Perhaps not. But he is certainly required to see the soul (Heb. 13:17).

Darby Livingston said...

My internet went down for a minute so it looks like I agreed with a comment I didn't agree with. I agree with Danny's 9:34 comment while having some reservations about his 9:51 comment.

Brad said...

Would you, Danny, advise parents against dealing with heart issues in their children?

danny2 said...

here's the danger...

my top ten (which really amount to being a top 20 with the dual perspectives) is too long to post all at once. so it gets posted piece by piece and things look overemphasized.

i do not disagree that a pastor can and should address heart issues. but when i'm looking out over hundreds of people on a Sunday (many of whom are visitors i don't know), i don't pretend to know WHICH sin issue they need to hear about most.

i do know their greatest need, regardless of sin or circumstances, is to grow deeper in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.

so....i simply think it's best to let the Text dictate what we are going to talk about.

for instance:

if i know quality marriage is a problem. i could do a sermon on marriage (even give it a cool name like "desperate house lives") and someone who knows their marriage is struggling may simply tune out because they assume i'm gunning for their particular issue. however, i could preach john 1:1-4 and make a quick comment to the fact that "the Word was with God" and speak to the Fellowship of the Triune God and find that person convicted that they do not experience genuine Christian fellowship with their own believing spouse.

The Spirit does that, and I guess all I'm saying is that He wants me to preach the Text and be faithful to the Text, and He'll use it to address the needs of the Body. (sometimes directly, sometimes rather indirectly)

JanAl said...

Danny, I have to tell you that there are times that I think you have overheard one of my conversations with someone, and the sermon is directed right at me. :}
But I know that it is the Holy Spirit working through your preaching of the word.
Also, going through a book at a time, I think, allows the Holy Spirit to work in each of our hearts, right where we are.
Thank you for preaching the Word of God, which is ........
"For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart."
(Hebrews 4:12)

danny2 said...


sometimes i think your comments sound like you've been sitting in on our sermoneutics class!

David Mohler said...

You are saying that the Holy Spirit "aligns" the hearts of the congregation with the dominoes of your sequential preaching schedule. I say that the Holy Spirit guides the shepherd in his preparation of the diet for his sheep, so long as that diet is composed of biblical exposition, and that He opens the hearts of the congregation to receive it. Obviously, in either case, the Word does not return void, as the comment immediately above so indicates.

Going back to your comment of 7:17am, isn't that a contrived scenario that says the Holy Spirit can only speak within a certain formula?

Why can't the Holy Spirit lay upon YOUR heart to preach to YOUR congregation, topically, about marriage? And why wouldn't the exposition of Ephesians be just as applicable to everyone as the sequential serendipity of John 1:1-4?

I think the argument can be made that John MacArthur is not a sequential expositor. He is a biblical expositor. The bulletin at their church identifies the sermon topic in boldface letters every week, with smaller type indicating the text he will use. On Resurrection Sunday, he preached an expository sermon using selected scripture out-of-sequence of his series on Mark. His books are ALL topical. But everything is biblically exposited, which is different than proof-texting or lecturing on a topic.

There is such a thing as topical preaching from biblical exposition. You are a shepherd; your job is to know your sheep, what they eat, what the dangers in life are are, how often to shear, etc. Jesus told Peter to "Feed His sheep." Surely there is a consistent, metaphorical application there.

Biblical exposition requires people to think in a spiritually holistic way. I would disagree that sequential exposition inherently has the same, potentially consistent effect.

You manufactured the hypotheses that "someone who knows their marriage is struggling may simply tune out because they assume i'm gunning for their particular issue." Why is it necessary to hypothesize that kind of reaction? There must be a better reason than that. People are just as certainly tuning you out in sequential exposition because 1) it might be boring to them; 2) they think they have already heard this; 3) they are not spiritual; 4) their troubled marriage is preoccupying their thoughts. But that still doesn't mean the Holy Spirit won't wake them up in the pew to hear you.

There is a way to teach so that people think biblically in terms of their whole life. There is nothing in the "design" of "sequential exposition" which precipitates consistent, biblical thinking. In my local church experience as a congregant, Skip White was a great example of proper preaching. I am more of a biblical thinker in terms of my family, work, and life because Skip preached in a spiritually holistic way, always from expositing the scripture. The single most life-changing sermon series he preached was topical on how we behave as Christians, and it totally convicted me and precipitated a change in my life. I carry notes from that series in my truck to this day, and refer to them often. The fact is, I knew I needed to change certain behavior. I prayed that this would happen. By the power of the Holy Spirit, Skip fed me what I needed, topically, through biblical exposition.

Expository preaching is a means to an end; it is not the beginning, and it is not the end. In a very real sense, the pastor is the beginning (in terms of his own spiritual sensitivity, maturity and shepherding responsibility); exposition of the Word is the means; and the end is the healthy growth of the sheep in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. Out of the deep resources of God's provision, the selection of the diet matters and is within the realm of the shepherd to prepare that meal.

Brad said...

Oh no. Did I just agree with Dave? And in public even? :)

danny2 said...

ok, this is getting laughable to me. for a couple years i have advocated sequential exposition almost to the level of it being the only way to preach, and rarely heard a peep (except from brad, who has been consistent). now, i state that my position has softened, yet i still find it the preferred way to preach most often to a congregation and i'm a shepherd who doesn't really do my job by prying into the hearts of my people? perhaps i should go back to being hard nosed about it! ;-)

let's get out of the world of the theoretical and get down to real life:

this week, we had a visitor (who charity and i know) who is unregenerate and battling a sin issue we discussed in the sermon. this person told my wife in advance that they were going to attend and could have totally felt like i prepared a sermon just to blast them when they walked through the door. except, we've been walking through leviticus and the issue is very clearly in the text we covered, which had been planned to be covered long before i knew this person was attending.

there was no way possible for this person to believe i was personally trying to pick on them. did that matter? maybe, maybe not. but even if i was simply doing a series on marriage or sex and had planned to cover the topic they struggle with this week, the person still may have thought i picked that particular aspect of the larger topic just because they had attended. not so.

i will also say that we have addressed all kinds of issues from the book of Leviticus. a) if you are preaching the text right, you are going to present the redemptive thread in the Text, therefore your passage will not be just some facts in seclusion...it will be wholly biblical. b) the sermons and our LifeGroup studies are laiden with cross references. if exposition means to read the text and explain it (as cousin al states), then we will have to unpack some topics beyond the text we are in.

janal's testimony is not alone. i'm amazed by the number of people in our church who have felt directly confronted by current life circumstances in the midst of Leviticus. all i can tell you is that this preacher has been called to think more biblically and deeply by going through the book. i have no idea why we are in leviticus right now. it really was a subjective (yet i believe Holy Spirit driven) process that drove me there.

so brothers, what really is the offense of me stating that if i am going to be in the pulpit week in and week out, i think God will do a better job of deciding what the sheep need to hear than i can do? am i saying a topically driven exposition of a passage is bad? no. do i ever do that? yes. have we covered things in leviticus i never would have thought to address and yet seen it smack all of us right between the eyes? absolutely.

and i happen to find that pretty cool.

Brad said...

My initial inquiries on this thread were not in response to what I felt you were advocating, that is, sequential exposition (as you know I've decided to use that very approach during my internship this summer); I was responding to what I understood you to be advocating against, that is: 1) attempting to discern the particular struggles of your flock and 2) bringing to bear those portions of God's word that address those particular concerns.

From my fundamental premise (which is that we should be striving to the greatest extent possible to follow the pattern or teaching and preaching handed down to us by the apostles) both of these practices seem to have specific biblical sanction.

I'm not attempting to argue that you should always and only do it this way or that sequential exposition represents an automatic failure to fulfill this duty, but I disagree that you shouldn't even be trying.

Do I say these things on human authority? Do not the scriptures say the same? For it is written in the book of Proverbs, "Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds." Is it for sheep that God is concerned? Does he not speak entirely for our sake?

JanAl said...

Danny~ What! are you saying that you never noticed me taking the sermoneutics class?
J/K! LOL! :}
Cleyo loves the class, and has been very disappointed that his work schedule has prevented him from participating.

Seriously, I am not deeply involved in this conversation, because my mind just does not think that deep! But what I do know is that whatever you are doing, the Holy Spirit seems to be working in the people at our church. Thank you for preaching God's Word, and not your own agenda.

danny2 said...

perhaps some of this is that we've zoomed in too narrowly.

preaching is not the only way i shepherd the flock.

therefore, counseling/discipleship and just general conversations with sheep give me infinite opportunities to administer specific portions of God's Word to specific needs as well.

but i also think Christ preached from a specific text through a redemptive lens will apply to every person in the room every week....regardless of their perceived needs.

Brad said...

A point well taken.

David Mohler said...

ok, this is getting laughable to me. for a couple years i ... rarely heard a peep (except from brad...We like to listen to you, but we are skeered of you. We are afraid you will start listening to our sermons and critiquing them, and drawing your circles even smaller until we are excluded. ;)

Over time, you've actually addressed two principal things: 1) Seeing Christ in all of scripture (the "Jesus Hermeneutic") and 2) "Sequential Exposition".

Brad has been making the argument, with essentially the same questions over and over. I don't see where you've actually silenced his questions through biblical exposition.

let's get out of the world of the theoretical and get down to real life:You used the Bible to defend the "Jesus Hermeneutic", which I principally agree with (but not to the extreme you appear to take it; one does not preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified from Numbers 1:20-46.)

But I do not see where you have used the Bible to defend "Sequential Exposition" as a superior preaching model. You do claim it is a superior, if not exclusive, model.

Jesus appears to have used sequential exposition with the two men on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:27). But he also taught topically, using selected scripture (Matthew 5); Jesus read from a portion of Isaiah 61 and sat down before the text was concluded. But the extent of his "exposition" (actually, I think of it as "revelation") was that those words were fulfilled at the hearing of them from his mouth.

One example of "sequence" leading to "exposition" might be the Ethiopian Eunuch who might have been reading sequentially through Isaiah, when Philip explained chapter 53 to him. (The text does not say Philip explained the whole Bible or the whole of Isaiah; it says, "Beginning with this text..." (Acts 8:35).

In Acts 2, Peter did not preach using sequential exposition. He plucked a section of Joel that applied to that very situation.

On Mars Hill, Paul did not use sequential exposition as he picked a few verses from Deuteronomy and maybe Malachi.

But all three used biblical exposition.

so brothers, what really is the offense of me stating that if i am going to be in the pulpit week in and week out, i think God will do a better job of deciding what the sheep need to hear than i can do?That's easy. Your question exposes the problem precisely. You claim that "God will do a better job of deciding what the sheep need to hear" than you can. That is exactly correct.But you take this to an extreme by saying that God only leads a preacher to pick a book of the Bible from which the preacher's lesson is sequentially exposited. The problem is that you therefore equate your method of sequential exposition with what God thinks the sheep need to hear. If that is not your claim, then your method is reduced to serendipity.

In "real life", there is no difference between you PICKING the book of Leviticus, and another preacher PICKING the subject of Apostasy. BOTH must be biblically exposited; BOTH must use the Bible, the Whole Bible and Nothing but the Bible; BOTH must incorporate a correct hermeneutic.

So, the offense is when you establish the mutual exclusivity that "sequential exposition" is the method God uses to minister His Word, through the shepherd, to the sheep.

danny2 said...

man, i guess i need to write with more clarity.

i actually thought i had stated here that i don't think sequential exposition is the only way to preach and i simply thought the word "advantages" was stating there is a reason i prefer this form.

if you prefer topical biblical exposition, you will have advantages and disadvantages, but that doesn't mean you are stating them exclusively. i prefer sequential exposition (but do not exclusively do it myself), and do think it brings advantages with it.

you are welcome to state the advantages to topical biblical exposition in the comment section or on your own blog, but i don't believe i have to in order to convey that sequential exposition is not the only way to preach.

danny2 said...

not to get to distracted from the meta (although i haven't had this many comments for quite some time!)

why wouldn't i preach Christ and Him crucified from numbers 1:20-46?

why is Judah the largest tribe? (genesis 49--the scepter)
why is God preserving a nation?
how are they winning all these wars despite their small number? (ezekiel 16--grace)
why does it matter that the Bible records literal historical events and not just fables? (1 cor 15 or 2 peter 1)

seems like it could be pretty powerful for the congregation to see Christ exalted in the history of Israel.

Darby Livingston said...

Wow, I've been gone all day and this is what I come back to! Danny, I agree with your last comment. If a preacher can't figure out how and why Christ should be preached from any and every text, he's not really ready to preach the Bible on an ongoing basis yet.

I also give you the point about the advantages of sequential exposition. It's been the primary method I've always used. I wasn't disagreeing with that at all. I was disagreeing with the premise of the two points you happened to mention. I dont' think a preacher has to seek protection from these two particular points. I'm looking forward to the rest of this topic.

David Mohler said...

why wouldn't i preach Christ and Him crucified from numbers 1:20-46?I think you knew that was bait, and I appreciate you taking it. You answered by postulating questions which have nothing to do with the text itself.Your questions are topical. Without starting in verse 1, or further back in Exodus 19, you have devised a basic outline of sermons from 24 verses in Numbers, and you selected other discrete passages for the actual lessons.

Thus, as your own answer shows, you are not preaching Christ and Him crucified from Numbers 1:20-46. You proposed to preach Him from Genesis 49, Ezekiel 16, 1 Corinthians 15 and 2 Peter 1.

The main advantage of "sequential" progression is that it provides built-in seed for topical study.

But that seed can come from any of the preacher's studies! Sometimes it will be from sequential study or sequential planning.

Other times, it will be from the preacher's private devotions, or certain circumstances that demand something specific. In any case, one should be able to say, "The Lord led us to this passage, evidenced not because it is the next domino to fall, but because we have been receptive to his leading."

You superimposed questions onto the text of Numbers 1. The irreducible fact is that the passage was written as a historical census, with an authorial intent that did not consider those questions you believe can be raised.

However, you know (better than Moses did) that the text (which I think Moses had no clue was inspired for our use today) can be used to preach Christ. Why? Because all scripture is profitable for training in righteousness. Accordingly, you are like a good scribe who has been trained for the Kingdom of Heaven, is the shepherd of his sheepfold, and is able to intentionally bring out of his treasure the old with the new (Matt. 13:52). In order to do that, you needed to postulate four topics of your own supposition. If your postulation is wrong, I would say you will end up with eisegesis. If your postulate is correct, I would call that biblical exegesis. "Sequential exposition" is, in this case, a non-factor.

Your topics for a month of Sundays might be:

"Who was Judah?"
"The Elect Nation among the Nations"
"The Divine Protection and Triumph of God's Elect"
"The Nature of the Inspired Word"

As you already did, you now must turn to discrete passages throughout the Bible, not necessarily sequentially (and certainly not proof-textually) to actually exposit these topics in light of the historical facts in Numbers. I would disagree that you could say you are expositing Numbers; I would say you are now exploring questions of your own making. That is appropriate, and is an advantage of topical preaching. The topics come from engaging with the text: What does that mean? Why is that there? What does the Bible say about X?As I am burdened for my sheep on a certain issue, I have the liberty to use discrete passages as a foundation to speak on that topic. If the burden is marriage, I might go to Hebrews 13:4 as a seed text (akin to the Numbers passage) and biblically exposit from a host of other passages why marriage must be held in honor among all. Charles Spurgeon did this all the time, often using a single verse non-sequentially to develop a massive expository sermon.

Incidentally, given the present debate about Mark Driscoll, I have yet to see anyone commend Spurgeon's sermons on the Song of Solomon. They were not delivered sequentially, but topically. Some portions of the book were never preached. Yet the sermons powerfully and gloriously proclaim Christ, and sequential exposition does not appear to have been employed at all.

Your view seems to be this: "God, I believe you have led us to Leviticus. As we earnestly desire to have the mind of Christ, I ask that you guide and guard us to rightly divide the Word of Truth, and we trust that you will cause us to encounter those things you want us to hear and learn."

But another preacher says, "God, I believe you have led us to study apostasy. As we earnestly desire to have the mind of Christ, I ask that you guide and guard us to rightly divide the Word of Truth, and we trust that you will cause us to encounter those things you want us to hear and learn."

Which pastor was led by God?You said earlier, "i think God will do a better job of deciding what the sheep need to hear than i can". What does "better" mean? Aren't you saying that God will do a better job when the preacher is engaged in sequential exposition?

BOTH pastors are led by God, obviously. If the Holy Spirit is leading the preacher, then PICKING a book is no more serendipitous than PICKING a topic. Conversely, PICKING a topic is no more disadvantageous than PICKING a book. The point is to be rightly dividing the Word of Truth.


To your earlier comment at 5:57, you have been very clear. I did not suggest that you were saying that sequential exposition is the "only way to preach". Nonetheless, you admitted that "for a couple years i have advocated sequential exposition almost to the level of it being the only way to preach ... now, i state that my position has softened".

My point is that you have clearly indicated that the sequential method is superior ("God will do a better job"). That is the notion I detected, and compelled me to jump into this thread. It begs the question: When it comes to rightly dividing the Word, how can anything which is necessarily inferior be an acceptable method?

You said: if you prefer topical biblical exposition, you will have advantages and disadvantages, but that doesn't mean you are stating them exclusively. i prefer sequential exposition (but do not exclusively do it myself), and do think it brings advantages with it.Are there any disadvantages to sequential exposition? You seem hesitant to say so, but quick to concatenate "advantages and disadvantages" when referencing topical biblical exposition.

Brad said...


You said, "If a preacher can't figure out how and why Christ should be preached from any and every text, he's not really ready to preach the Bible on an ongoing basis yet."

Sometime, please not tonight (I wouldn't be able to resist foolishly staying up too late to read it), I'd be interested to hear how you would biblically substantiate this statement, particularly your phrase "from any and every text (even more particularly, the word "from") and especially in light of Dave's subsequent analysis.

Blessings, brethren.

danny2 said...


sorry, bro. didn't assume you were baiting me, but were just assuming you were saying what you think.

topics that have nothing to do with the text...judah has more people in their tribe than any other tribe. that is a question brought up from the text.

again, looking at the numbers which are listed in the text will reveal israel isn't that big a nation to be ready to conquer the entire region of canaan. to conclude that God must be supernaturally working for their advance is not a thought isolated from this text.

if i would have known it was a set up, i guess i would have spent more time considering some things. i didn't, so i typed those four thoughts quickly, in the midst of getting the kids ready for bed, cleaning the house and answering some phone calls. i'd put much more preparation in before preparing to preach the text. (i also wouldn't preach all four of those points, but was only saying there may be a number of options to get to Christ from the text.)

Thus, as your own answer shows, you are not preaching Christ and Him crucified from Numbers 1:20-46. And this quote shows you are either setting me up again, or completely misunderstanding what is meant by sequential exposition. i do not believe the preach is confined to only the one Text, but believes he has a responsibility to let Scripture unpack Scripture. i had a pastor tell me i wasn't expositing because i went to hebrews 4 while preaching part of joshua 1. i don't think you want to find yourself in that guys camp.

You superimposed questions onto the text of Numbers 1. The irreducible fact is that the passage was written as a historical census, with an authorial intent that did not consider those questions you believe can be raised. When considering authorial intent, i think we must consider the two authors. yes, we should ask, "why did moses record this with these very words?" but we also should be asking, "why would God want this recorded in His Eternal Word?" both authors must be considered, and then we know this is not "just" a census.

which I think Moses had no clue was inspired for our use today. i just about guess the opposite. they had plenty of other statistic and record books that aren't the inspired Word of God. perhaps Moses had no idea WHY he was recording these things for us, but he MAY have known they were more for our benefit than his! (1 peter 1:12) i guess since you and i have no idea what it feels like to be carried along by the Holy Spirit while writing the Text, we don't know of the prophets could tell when it was happening or not. pretty much speculation, i guess.

I would disagree that you could say you are expositing Numbers again, i'm not sure how you are defining exposition. read the text. explain the text. part of explaining the text naturally involves explaining its place in redemptive history. to ask questions that are in the text (but the answers may not be) is not betraying exposition.

BOTH pastors are led by God, obviously. perhaps this is the purpose for the heat. i'm not suggesting the Spirit is not using you. i was speaking from personal experience, but shouldn't have projected that on others. fine, i'll cry uncle on this one. it was not my personal experience, but i'll grant it could be someone else's.

Are there any disadvantages to sequential exposition? this just seems silly to me. of course their are disadvantages! however, the post is called "advantages of sequential exposition." i prefer driving my car to work because i get their faster than riding my bike. that statement immediately presents a disadvantage to bike riding (time) without the need to give an equal disadvantage to driving.

Darby Livingston said...


Your question won't take long to answer. Really, the whole Christ from every text issue comes down to this:

whether one sees the Bible as a collection of loosely connected religious writings from a bunch of disjointed writers, or

an organically connected revelation of redemptive history with one and only one central point - the gospel.

Until we can agree that Scripture is the second option, we cannot see eye to eye on this issue. Any attempt that Danny or I make about Christ from Old Testament texts is going to sound forced to you.

If you agree that Scripture is nothing but an organic revelation of redemptive history, then you'll be able to figure out how every verse of the Bible points to Christ, and it's just a matter of making the connection.

Read anything by Graeme Goldsworthy (such as "Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture" and "Gospel Centered Hermeneutics") or Geerhardus Vos (like his collection of sermons titled, "Grace & Glory" or "Biblical Theology") or Hermann Ridderbos (like "Paul: An Outline of His Theology") or "Him We Proclaim" by Dennis Johnson or "Preaching Christ in All of Scripture" by Edmund Clowney for the rationale behind my point.

Brad said...

Now look what you've done. I was just getting up to get a drink.

These connections which one might make between any and every text and the gospel of Christ, do you believe all such connections to be equally proper? And if not, how are the proper to be distinguished from the improper?

Darby Livingston said...


All such connections are not equally proper. However, I'd rather see someone floundering trying to make the connections, making poor ones, than not even know that's what he should be doing. At least the gospel is given logical primacy.

Again, any of those books would be helpful and it would take more than this comment stream to lay out the arguments, let alone the proper methods of doing redemptive historical hermeneutics.

Another good book on the subject is "The Ancient Love Song" by Charles D. Drew.

David Mohler said...

...you ... completely misunderstanding what is meant by sequential exposition.No, I do not misunderstand. What I am failing to communicate is that you are taking sequential exposition is to an inappropriate extreme when you say something like, "God will do a better job of deciding what the sheep need to hear". Your implication is that God Himself prefers sequential exposition for the sheep, and that God is hampered by topical exposition. You imply that the people-in-the-pew get less of the Word, or a lesser-quality exposition, when the sermon is developed topically. That is baseless. It's as baseless as saying a Mac is better than a PC or vice versa.

I support sequential exposition, but not as a SUPERIOR approach. It's just another valid expositional approach. It does not uniquely offer the advantages you have asserted. I already mentioned Spurgeon, who preached volumes topically. In John MacArthur's book on preaching, I cannot find one mention of "sequential" exposition. It is entirely focused on "biblical exposition". As Irv Busenitz says,

"Just as verse-by-verse preaching is not necessarily expository, preaching that is not verse-by-verse is not necessarily non-expository. Granted, some topical approaches are not expository, but such need not and certainly should not be the case. No book deals with topics that directly impact daily life more than the Bible. ... Jesus expounded Scriptures powerfully (Mark 1:22), but not always verse-by-verse."He continues,

"Contrary to what is frequently thought...topical preaching is not always the easiest. In many respects, it is the most difficult when done with correctness and accuracy."Again, not one single advantage in your lists (or those you have linked to) applies uniquely to SEQUENTIAL exposition. Your advantage #7, in particular, applies to a man who is not a Spirit-filled preacher. I think you misunderstand what is meant by topical exposition. I think you would classify the "decade-pastor" as an example of failed topical exposition. But I say it isn't exposition at all, and therefore is not even "failed" exposition. It's a homily. If you said that sequential exposition is superior to a homily, I would agree.

Continuing with Busenitz on INCORRECT topical preaching:

"First, the biblical text often used for topical homilies is merely a springboard for launching a selected topic and has no inherent relationship to the topic of the message. When this happens, the preacher draws from his own personal perspectives, ideas, principles, and world view to develop the subject. This is not expository preaching. The preacher's proper task is to deliver the goods, not manufacture them."Again he continues,

"Second, the Scriptures garnered to support the emphasis of a topical message are many times wrested from their context and forced to teach something they do not espouse."All of what Busenitz says is what you, Danny, are trying to say is avoided by SEQUENTIAL exposition. Where topical homilies are concerned, you are correct. But topical, biblical exposition also avoids erroneous "homily preaching". Sure there are those who choose a topic and throw some scripture at it, but I have also listened to sequential expositors that miss the entire passage they are in. That is not the fault of the method, that is the fault of the preacher. I have turned off the recordings of sequential exposition more than once because it is simply not Spirit-filled preaching, or it is as dry as a bone. SEQUENTIAL exposition does not have the built-in safeguards you are presently claiming that it does. It does have its own problems.

At first, I would assert that sequential exposition is prone to increasingly academic delivery. The preacher, including you, risks becoming more academic the more fixated he is on the method, and the congregation will suffer from lack of a robust diet of true biblical exposition. In the end, you risk manufacturing the goods, sequentially, not delivering them. It is entirely possible that you will preach sequentially through Numbers when the congregation needs a topical lesson on the subject of sanctification. There will be a time that your people will fail to understand important biblical doctrines because you are fixated on sequential exposition.

A concentrated dose of a various topics is often - not sometimes - necessary. My point in commenting in this space is to assert that there is nothing inferior about grasping a topic and expositing scripture to address some issue of theology or moral question or anything the shepherd determines his congregation needs to hear, for the sake of their soul.

Busenitz goes on to make a third point about the error of "problem preaching" and "life-situation preaching". I agree with that; topical expository preaching is not reaching into the newspaper and finding the latest fad to preach on.

Again, for the nth time, I point out that you said that SEQUENTIAL exposition allows God to "do a better job of deciding what the sheep need to hear". You think that my pressing of the issue is "getting laughable", and you think it is "silly" that I should ask you what the disadvantages are. Nonetheless, I put it to you again: what are the disadvantages, if there are some?

You evaded the answer thus: i prefer driving my car to work because i get their faster than riding my bike. that statement immediately presents a disadvantage to bike riding (time) without the need to give an equal disadvantage to driving.But that is not the question I asked. I did not ask why there is an advantage to driving a car and what is the disadvantage of riding a bike. I am asking you directly what are the DISadvantages to driving a car? Does it consume gas and produce pollution? In your car/bike analogy there may not be any inherent reason to express possible disadvantages as far as the nature of speedy transit goes, but there are disadvantages we can express when the question is asked directly. It does consume gas, and it does produce pollution. Upon conviction, one may determine that it is worth the effort to get up early to ride the bike to work; one may also find that he has gotten much needed exercise that he would not have gotten by driving a car. But in any case, with proper execution, he does arrive at the same workplace on-time. One method provides something that the other method does not.

And yet again, I ask this because I assert that there is nothing SUPERIOR about SEQUENTIAL exposition. I think the disadvantages will show that SEQUENTIAL and TOPICAL exposition, when led by the Holy Spirit, are equally effective and "true" methods. In either case, just as a man can butcher the text to fit his topic, or preach soapbox topics, he can also ruin the hearer by "Roaming thru Romans" or "Revving thru Revelation" or "Hopping thru Hebrews" every 24 months. I have been in a church where Romans was sequentially exposited too often.

Avoiding those kinds of pitfalls are matters of discipline, not methodology.

One more time, I assert that God is not going to do "a better job of deciding what the sheep should hear" simply because His preacher is in the mode of sequentially going through a book verse-by-verse, chasing expositional TOPICS contained in every verse he runs into. The Numbers exercise reveals that a sequential approach is unnecessary to unpacking the content from the passage.

Finally, the truth of my argument is in the inversion of yours: once a preacher knows, from his own study, what can be taught expositionally from a passage, he is duly equipped to prepare topics from that study. Your own exposition of various books has produced numerous topics you could preach independently, and non-sequentially. Those sermons could be more effective as topical sermons in the right place at the right time, than they were when encountered sequentially. You are paid the big bucks, as you have watchcare over the souls of your people, to discern when a topic is more appropriate for your sheep.

This will be my final entry, as I cannot imagine I have anything else to add, and I have already consumed too much time and space here. I will let it stand as it is.

danny2 said...


if you're worried about your time and energy, then i understand if you are done. if you're worried about my time or energy, i'll simply remind you of the phone call to me...trust me that i'm capable of assessing where my time and energy goes.

i don't get what's going on here though. i prefer sequential exposition (or at least what i call it. i guess you don't think i'm doing it, according to your definition). in the past i have stated that almost exclusively. in this post i explain i see advantages, but actually state i have softened on my "exclusive view" toward S.E.

i made a statement that God can decide better than i can. that statement is true. my inference that S.E. is a better way to see that happen was very sufficiently refuted by you. i think you will even find in the comment thread that i backed off of that statement and acknowledged you are right. if that has not been clear, let me state it again: Whatever means God uses to place a text upon a pastor's heart (whether through sequential process or being burdened to a text or topic with a corresponding text...or whatever, as long as he's driven to a text) the Lord will use fully to accomplish His purposes. He is by no means limited to a sequential expositional process.

the words "silly" and "laughable" were not meant for you to take as a personal attack. i found it humorous that a post where i feel i'm softening on S.E. is actually the one that gets the most resistance toward it. that's not just resistance from you, but from darby and brad as well. silly was not marked at you, but does seem to be a distortion of the purpose of a top ten list. the dtmw4i section has several different men encouraging sequential exposition in a top 10 (or 6 or 15) type format. never once has someone asked me, "yeah, but did the author lay out the disadvantages too?" i guess i've just never really seen a top ten list function that way. the car-bike thing was not intended as an evasion, but as an illustration for why i don't think it's necessary for me to state the disadvantages of S.E. in order to prove i do not think S.E. is the exclusive means.

But since you've asked, here are just a few (please don't see this as exhaustive, this is off the top of my head):

the pace will probably be such that you will not preach all of Scripture in your life. i'm 33. i've preached 1,2,3 john, joshua and leviticus to my congregation. this pace means i may not cover all 66 in my lifetime, and certainly those well into the later years will probably not be around for many of the books. (we try to balance this problem with our children's sunday school curriculum, which tries to expose them to more of the Word, as well as usually a preacher a month who is not following in my sequence, as well as some book studies during adult sunday school.)

in the same way, certain topics may not get addressed. (again, we try to balance this with our summer studies, men's studies, women's studies, and sunday school classes).

it can be hard for a person who comes in during the middle of a book study. it was probably harder for someone to catch up with the flow of leviticus when they joined us in chapter 11 rather than joining from day one. (we've tried to counter this by making our resources free and available to all, and try to point people backwards to pick up speed if they want to. i try at the beginning of my messages to bring people up to speed as if it were their first week with us.)

some books are as enjoyable for some. some people grow more out of the gospels, or proverbs, or narratives, etc. it can feel dry for a person who struggles to resinate with a certain genre. (we've tried to emphasize unity for the Body and a willingness to see God work even where you might not expect. our LIFEGroup format also serves as an encouragement, as you see other people are growing and learning in the study).

Darby Livingston said...

Resistance? The first comment was unmitigated support for your softening, my friend. I even threw in a moralistic joke to show how your softening is on the right track. :)

Danny, I for one hope you haven't felt attacked on this comment stream. I'm thankful for men like you who take the time to think through such issues, and those who respond to such thoughts.

My word verification is demenesc. I take that as a sign from God - as in: This post is bringing out some sort of demenesc qualities in us.

danny2 said...

no, not attacked. i'm a big boy, i can handle some push back.

perhaps i sensed wrongly that there was a high level of frustration with me. while i am used to people being frustrated with me, i just couldn't figure out why this post was doing.

perhaps we have not gotten to the bottom of it...my lack of clarity in writing.