The following is written by guest blogger Reagan Jones. Reagan is a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina and a student pastor at The Summit Church in Raleigh.
Last week, rapper Kanye West appeared on the Joe Rogan Podcast to talk about everything from music to politics and, surprisingly, expository preaching. Yes, you read that right. As a result, hearing Kanye West passionately and accurately advocate for expository preaching was not on my 2020 bingo card.
However, there was one phrase that stood out to me. Kanye said, “Expositors go line for line. And for me it’s like, I come from entertainment, I got so much sauce. I don’t need no sauce on the Word. I need the Word to be solid food.”
Over the last week, the words “I don’t need no sauce on the Word” have become a rallying cry for champions of expository preaching, and rightly so.
In the wake of Kanye’s comments, my fear is that the Evangelical community will conflate Kanye’s words as a reason to not give any attention to rhetoric in our preaching, saying, in essence, that oratory prowess and rhetorical skill are not compatible with expository preaching. I believe that assumption is outrightly false and creates a generation of preachers with correct hermeneutics but little to no ability to convey it to their audiences.
Dr. Danny Akin is the President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. He is also my preaching professor who has said this repeatedly to our class:
“What you say matters more than how you say it, but how you say it has never been more important than it is today.”
In other words, sauce matters.
So, what is expository preaching? F.B. Meyer said, “Expository preaching is the consecutive treatment of some book or extended portion of Scripture on which the preacher has concentrated head and heart, brain and brawn, over which he has thought and wept and prayed, until it has yielded up its inner secret, and the spirit of it has passed into his spirit.”
In other words, the power of expository preaching comes from the Scripture text not from the thoughts of the preacher. A misunderstanding of expository preaching says that it is just walking through the Word with little care as to how it is presented.
Above all, expository preaching must be centered on and derived from the text. But expository preaching apart from any attempt at rhetorical skill isn’t expository preaching, in the same way a car without a side mirror shouldn’t be put on the highway. Side mirrors are not necessary for the car to run, but it’s a lot harder to get where you’re going without them. Similarly, the word is the most important thing about expository preaching, but the way you present it matters, too.
I understand that all preachers are at different levels of rhetorical skill. God has gifted us in different ways and that’s a good thing! We see this in the examples of Paul and Apollos. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he outlines a conflict among the people between which preacher is their favorite. Some followed Paul while others followed Apollos (1 Corinthians 3:4). What Paul makes clear is that it’s foolish to ask what preacher you follow when both are following Jesus.
Paul and Apollos had very different rhetorical styles. Paul was logistical, straight to the point. By his own admission, he was not an “eloquent” man. In 1 Corinthians 2:1, Paul says, “I did not proclaim to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.” In other words, I just preach the text and nothing else. This verse has been a banner for some who say eloquence has no place in preaching.
On the contrary, eloquence has a place in preaching; it just didn’t have a place in Paul’s preaching. However, rhetoric is different from eloquence. Eloquence is a form of rhetoric in the same way that a Granny Smith is a type of apple. So yes, Paul spoke in a logistical and direct rhetorical style. He just wasn’t eloquent in the way he presented. That’s okay because God still used him to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
The other popular preacher of the day was a man named Apollos who preached with eloquence. Acts 18:24 describes Apollos as an “eloquent man, competent in the scriptures.”
Together, what Paul and Apollos show us is that you don’t have to be a good orator to be a faithful preacher. Paul is the greatest missionary and theologian ever. From all accounts, Apollos was also a successful and faithful preacher. One was eloquent while the other one was not. Both preached the Word and made disciples while utilizing different rhetorical styles.
As a result, how we communicate the Gospel matters. Work within the gifts God has given you. If you have the ability to be eloquent, be eloquent! If you’re not eloquent like Paul, be sound in your argument. The point is to work on your craft. Always take the task of expositing the text of Scripture as a first priority, but do not neglect the art of communicating to your audience in the best rhetorical manner God has gifted you to deliver.
Kanye was right. We don’t need any extra sauce for the Word. The Word of God is sufficient and of first priority. But how we communicate matters as well.
I’m encouraged to see a generation of preachers like myself coming back to expository preaching. I’m encouraged to see people longing for the solid food of the Word. I’m encouraged to see the conversations in the SBC seminaries about the homiletics of preaching. But just like hermeneutics, homiletics is a craft and a tool to be learned and sharpened. Let us never step into a pulpit without being under the authority of the Word with both a sharpened hermeneutic and homiletic.