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An Interview with Dr. David L. Olford
 
By: Gary D. Lee

Dr. David Olford is president of Olford Ministries International and Director of the Institute for Biblical Preaching program. He co-authored, with his late father, the acclaimed book Anointed Expository Preaching and also compiled a series of powerful essays by Christian leaders in the book A Passion for Preaching. After earning undergraduate and masterís degrees from Wheaton College, Dr. Olford earned his Ph.D in Biblical Studies from Sheffield University in England. He and his wife Ellen have two daughters, Lindsey and Stephanie.

TP: There are several definitions of expository preaching. What is your definition of expository preaching and please briefly break down its particulars?

The definition my father presented in the book Anointed Expository Preaching is as follows:
Expository Preaching is the Spirit empowered explanation and proclamation of the text of Godís Word, with due regard to the historical, contextual, grammatical, and doctrinal significance of the given passage, with the specific object of invoking a Christ-transforming response, (p. 69).

To break that down, a good sermon needs to have a spiritual dimension, a textual dimension, a doctrinal dimension and a purposeful dimension. An important aspect of a good sermon is the dependence of the preacher upon the Holy Spirit, and the work of the Holy Spirit in the preaching event. The New Testament bears witness to the central role of the Holy Spirit both in the life of the preacher and in the lives of the listeners. When I speak of the textual dimension, I am referring to the nature of the preaching event as an event in which the text of Godís Word is explained and declared, the words of God are authoritative and central to the message preached. A good message will clearly present the truth of the doctrine that is expressed in the words of the text under consideration. Therefore, a message must present truth accurately and clearly. Lastly, a message needs to purposefully present and apply the truth of the text in the power of the Holy Spirit in order to call people to hear and respond to Godís Word. The preacher has a purpose Ė yes, to bring glory to God, yes Ė to honor the Word of God, but also Ė to seed for the appropriate response from the people to the Word of God.

TP: Based on that definition, do you believe that it is possible to preach devotionally, evangelistically, etc?

Yes, you can preach with a devotional thrust or an evangelistic thrust. But, the obligation of the preacher is to be faithful to the Word of God. In either case, you still want to preach what the Word of God in fact affirms. One way to do this is to focus on texts that lend themselves to a devotional thrust or to focus on a text that lends itself to an evangelistic thrust, so your text selection makes an impact.

TP: Some believe that expository preaching is dead because of the postmodern mindset of pluralism, pragmatism, relativism and inclusivism, obviously, you are not among them. How do you believe expository preaching fits into this current cultural environment?

Regardless of whether or not people believe in ultimate truth, it is the truth of God that sets people free. It is Godís Word that leads people to faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. It is Godís Word that helps to mature people in the faith. Expository preaching just seeks to expose, set forth, to declare, and explain what God has said in His Word in a way that accurately reflects the meaning of Scripture, and is understandable and appropriate to the audience that is being addressed. So, despite the atmosphere around us, the Word of God is needed as much as ever. And the preaching of that Word is still our obligation and our privilege.

TP: While we are on this subject, do you believe postmodernism is a plus or minus to evangelistic preaching?

The Scriptures teach that people are dead in trespasses and sins. At the same time, people are blinded to the truth and these are the spiritual realities at work when we preach. So, we do not need to get preoccupied with any specific philosophy or Ďismí that seems to be in vogue. Having said that, I do believe that the challenge of postmodernism is real. Therefore, there needs to be an authenticity to our preaching; there needs to be a genuineness to our preaching; there needs to be a humility to our preaching and there needs to be a sense of confidence in the Word and in the truth we are declaring. Even if we are in settings where that truth will be questioned or relativised. So, itís hard to say whether postmodernism is a plus or a minus. I think, like the apostle Paul, we need to have clear understanding of the mindset of the people to whom we minister, and seek to communicate without compromising the truth of God in ways that relate to, but, also confront the mindset and spiritual darkness of our day.

TP: What role does expository preaching play in the spiritual development of believers?

A large role. The whole nature of expository preaching is that of explaining the text of Godís Word. It is in the nature of scripture to be profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, instruction in righteousness in order to mature people and to help them to be fruitful in their lives and service. So, the explanation of that word and the teaching of that word is fundamental to Christian maturity and activity. So, I would see expository preaching having an incredibly important role in the life of the church especially, in the spiritual development of believers.

After the day of Pentecost, the believers continued steadfastly in the apostleís doctrine. Yes, there were other facets of church life and fellowship, but there was the need for the explaining and the presentation of good solid teaching and that can come through an expository preaching ministry.

TP: If this is the case, why has expository preaching declined among our churches and to what do you think is the cause of this decline?

I cannot give percentages concerning the rise or decline of expository preaching. This question is presupposing that there is a decline. I see a great interest in expository preaching and there are many who are involved in that type of preaching ministry. There are a number of factors that may cause expository preaching not to be emphasized at large. First of all, bad expository preaching may have given expository preaching a bad name in some circles. I would just call that bad preaching. Secondly, expository preaching takes a lot of hard study and preparation. This is difficult for the busy pastor, and therefore it is a challenge in terms of the commitment of time and energy for preparation. Thirdly, we do have to think through how people listen in our day, and that we have in a sense an 'attention deficit generation'. People pick up sound bites and they may struggle to concentrate on the serious logical presentation of truth. This certainly is not the case across the board, but people are use to an entertainment model of communication and the media, especially television, has influenced the way people listen. So, some people may struggle when an expository message calls for some serious thought and engagement with the text of Godís Word. But, I would contend that a good and faithful expository preacher is able to adapt to his audience, and should take them through a growing process where they learn to study the Word as you preach and to grow in their appreciation of such ministry. I sense that there is great interest in good faithful expository preaching, even though there are other models and other emphasis in preaching at large today.

I would add that in certain circles where there is a decline, it might be due to a loss of confidence in the written Word of God itself. Also, in certain circles there is a loss of confidence or interest in the proclamation of the Word of God as a means of bringing people to saving faith or personal growth. Other methods of ministry are preferred. It is sad when confidence in the Word of God and the Spirit of God declines. That is serious!

TP: How can pastors educate their congregations regarding the richness and benefits of expository preaching?

It may be wise to take a special session once or twice a year to talk about the nature of good Biblical teaching or preaching, what is involved in preparation, and how to listen to sermons. I know that my father sought to do this with his congregation at Calvary Baptist Church in New York City. You may want to take a time when the core group of the church is meeting. Such as a Sunday night or a Wednesday evening, and just talk through how the word of God should be handled, why exposition can be beneficial and fruitful. Invite questions, comments and feedback in that regard. I think the idea of educating your people concerning the richness and benefits of expository preaching is a good one. It may be that we havenít thought about doing that. It would seem to be a very important thing to do in light of the spiritual climate of our day and the various options concerning the preaching ministry.

TP: Finally, what are some key resources to have in regards to developing a philosophy of expository preaching?

There are many good books on expository preaching and a resource list can be obtained through, Olford Ministries International. Our own book Anointed Expository Preaching presents a whole perspective on preaching itself. I would recommend also Biblical Preaching by Haddon Robinson, Rediscovering Expository Preaching by John MacArthur, Jr., & the Masterís Seminary Faculty, Between Two Worlds by John R. W. Scott, Power in the Pulpit by Jerry Vines & Jim Shaddix, Christ Centered Preaching by Brian Chappell. Also, a good statement on the philosophy of preaching is The Passion Driven Sermon by Shaddix.

Olford Ministries International is committed to anointed expository preaching, and we desire to be a resource to anyone seeking to ďrightly divideĒ the word of truth in the power of the Holy Spirit. So, besides these books I have mentioned we have many of my fatherís books and an ongoing training program in expository preaching to help someone develop an expository ministry.



 

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