Is Application Necessary in the Expository Sermon? -- By: Hershael W. York

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 03:2 (Summer 1999)
Article: Is Application Necessary in the Expository Sermon?
Author: Hershael W. York

Is Application Necessary in the Expository Sermon?

Hershael W. York

Scott A. Blue

Hershael W. York is Associate Professor of Preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and has been elected to the Victor and Louise Lester Chair of Christian Preaching. He served as senior pastor of Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky for seven years, and has three forthcoming books including Preaching with Bold Assurance (Broadman and Holman).

Scott A. Blue is a Ph.D. student in The Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Church Growth at Southern Seminary. As a M.Div. student he received the Franscisco Preaching Award at Southern Seminary.


Expository preaching today enjoys a prominence and a practice more widespread than ever before. Several evangelical seminaries are committed exclusively to an expository model. Many pastors purport to practice exposition from their pulpits, unabashedly holding the conviction that their parishioners need to hear the Word of God more than they need social commentary or positive thinking. Many pastors and churches report the experience of spiritual and numerical growth as a result of solid biblical exposition from the pulpit.

Though some disagreement exists about the precise definition of expository preaching, no dissension stands sharper nor has greater consequences than the current discussion regarding the necessity or even the appropriateness of the role of application in an expository sermon. While those committed to an expository model are convinced of the truth and the power of the biblical text, many are unclear as to the role of the preacher. Is he responsible only to explain the meaning of the text, or is he also responsible to show his hearers how the passage applies in their lives?

Objections to Application in Preaching

Contemporary evangelicals are not the only ones to struggle with this question. Karl Barth, reflective of his transcendent view of God and theology of revelation, questioned whether it was possible for any human being to apply Scripture. He insisted that being faithful to the text and also true to life in this age is “a serious difficulty” that has “no solution.”1 Rather, the task of bridging the gap between the Bible and life today remains in the hands of God alone. For Barth, application in preaching is merely talking about the text and contemporary life, while insisting that God must bridge the gap between the two. Application is inferential, not direct. An individual’s response results from an encounter with God Himself, regardless of the preacher’s work. Any attempt by the preacher at direct ap...

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