by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
April 6, 2003

I heard it again not long ago at a preachers' meeting - "expository preaching is the answer to our problems." You hear that constantly today. It's in the air - everywhere! I never hear anyone of stature talk about preaching without saying that expository, verse-by-verse preaching is what we need. It is the conventional belief of the majority in this age.

Who disagrees? I do! So did Dr. John R. Rice. He said, "Expository preaching, as it is done in most Bible-believing pulpits, does not grow soul-winning churches" (Why Our Churches Do Not Win Souls, Sword of the Lord, 1966, p. 74). What I am going to tell you is controversial - because it tips over so many contemporary sacred cows and the false ideas of today's teachers.

Don't get me wrong. I do not doubt for one minute that the Bible needs to be taught verse-by-verse. Of course it should be taught that way! But where and when should this method be employed? I say it should be done on Wednesday nights or in Sunday School. In our church we teach straight through the Bible during our Saturday night evangelism meeting. Virtually every member of our church attends this meeting. We go through the entire Bible, chapter by chapter, every five years.

Verse-by-verse teaching should not be done on Sunday morning or evening most of the time. Why do I say that? Because I believe that an overuse of verse-by-verse "expository" preaching has done more to harm the cause of Christ in the past 100 years than anything else beside the false view of salvation presented by "decisionism" (for an in-depth discussion of "decisionism" read Today's Apostasy by Dr. Hymers and Dr. Cagan. Order by phoning (818)352-0452. Or send a check for $15.95 and order it by name, to P.O. Box 15308, Los Angeles, CA 90015).

Here are five reasons I think we should not do verse-by-verse expositions in the Sunday morning or evening services:

(1) Verse-by-verse preaching tends to be too shallow and scattered to truly present people with much information on any given subject. In a verse-by-verse study, the mind is carried from one subject to the other in rapid succession. There is not enough time to go deeply enough into any given subject.

For instance, I have recently preached three sermons on evolution, titled, "Evolution is a Hoax," "P. T. Barnum, the Feejee Mermaid, and the Missing Link," and "Imperialism, Racism, and Darwinism." All three of these sermons are expositional applications of II Timothy 4:4. After hearing them, a person will know that verse - and will know the answers to the great error of evolution. That kind of information, and even the knowledge of that key verse, could not possibly be given in a superficial verse-by-verse rambling commentary.

Baptist people are made shallow and uninformed by Bible "rambles" that are a mile long and a quarter-inch deep. If you are covering eight to ten verses, you are forced to be very superficial - and this does not give the people in our pews the meat they need! Only expositions on one or two verses can go deep enough to give the people meat instead of pablum!

I believe in exposition, but it should be confined to one or two verses only - or even a phrase - certainly not to eight or ten verses - or more - as is so often the case today.

(2) Verse-by-verse preaching is, of necessity, not only too shallow, it is also, of necessity, too scattered to be motivational. The greatest preachers of the past, like Whitefield, Wesley, Edwards, and Spurgeon, knew that. They knew that if you want to motivate people to a given course of action, then you must not get bogged down in a prolonged series of comments on an extended passage of Scripture. Whitefield and Wesley changed the direction of a civilization! You can't do that with a rambling commentary! Great sermons move people to action! Today's insipid "expositions" move people to sleep - mentally and spiritually and, yes, emotionally as well.

(3) Verse-by-verse preaching does not lend itself to evangelism. That is why none of the apostles preached verse-by-verse sermons in the book of Acts! Their sermons were evangelistic - and therefore not merely comments on passages of Scripture.

A Southern Baptist pastor, who is in his late sixties, recently told me, "You know, Southern Baptists aren't really doing much evangelism any more. The emphasis just isn't on evangelism like it used to be." I know that he is right - and I know the reason - expository teaching instead of evangelistic preaching! That's true in churches outside the Southern Baptist Convention as well. You just can't tack an evangelistic end onto a dry-as-dust exposition! It won't work! "Expository" preaching doesn't bring in the lost or get them converted! Verse-by-verse preaching kills evangelism.

(4) Verse-by-verse preaching has never been used in revival. No preacher in any of the three great awakenings did verse-by-verse teaching, including great Spurgeon, one of the leaders of the 1859 revival.

A modern-day teacher of expository ramblings tells us that Spurgeon is a "bad homiletical model" (Don Kistler, editor, Feed My Sheep, Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2002, pp. 74, 78). The author says that he is dismayed at Spurgeon's handling of the text: "Spurgeon's invariable style was textual [Hogwash! It was always expository - on one or two verses!]" (ibid., p. 78). Then he criticizes Spurgeon's use of only four words as his text in the sermon "Until He Find It," on Luke 15:4. I just read that sermon and his modern critic is dead wrong! In fact, he is so wrong that I'm going to preach Spurgeon's sermon with modern wording next Sunday! Look for it on this website! Failed pastors teaching in seminaries cannot match the "Prince of Preachers" - and cannot help us by telling us to do dry-as-dust "expositions" of long passages in the Bible.

(5) Verse-by-verse preaching does not require the leadership of the Holy Spirit - or a pastor's heart. I know that Martyn Lloyd-Jones preached through Romans slowly, verse-by-verse. But when he started doing that, he never again had revival in his church, as he had earlier before he adopted this method. Once he started this verse-by-verse method on Sunday mornings, he never again saw revival. It should also be noted that Dr. Lloyd-Jones preached evangelistically every Sunday night, throughout his ministry. This largely accounts, in my judgment, for any growth his congregation had.

But, in the main, a man who preaches through books of the Bible needs no leadership from God regarding what his people should hear. Such a man needs no spiritual discernment. In fact, he doesn't even need to be called as a pastor. All he needs to do is start "teaching" - at the next verse of Scripture!

May God deliver us from this modern-day, dead way of preaching. We need to go back to the method of Whitefield, Wesley, Edwards, Spurgeon, Nettleton, and those men who roused the churches, got the lost converted, and saw the three greatest revivals in the history of the modern world!


Dr. Hymers' Note:  Having stated my case for preaching on one or two verses, I will back off a little and say that there is a place for expository preaching.  I simply think that we have too much of it, and too little evangelistic preaching, which is quite different.  For an example of an expository sermon that I have given recently, click on, "The Gospel of Christ - An Easter Sermon."