The Value of Exposition Analysis of Olford

The Value of Exposition

An Analysis of: Anointed Expository Preaching By Dr. Stephen & David Olford

Speaking of the life of Christ, the Apostle John wrote:  “There are many other things Jesus did. If every one of them were written down, I suppose the whole world would not be big enough for all the books that would be written”, (Jn 21:25), New Century Bible, 1981[1].  Since then, many have attempted to complete this odious task by filling the world with books about Christ, faith and the Christian religion.  This has included a broad and varied collection of eclectic works covering a gamut of topics.

Stephen Olford, Founder and Senior Lecturer of The Institute for Biblical Preaching, has attempted to add one more variation of inquiry to the field of expositional preaching with his excellent entry: Anointed Expository Preaching[2].  In this fine example of homiletic excellence, Olford succeeds in his attempt to add a meaningful addition to a crowded field that is dominated by some of the finest minds in Christendom.  Anointed Preaching could be considered the primer for the modern preacher as it helps establish long needed standards of excellence in communication that transcends the standard rules that govern form. By taking this approach, Olford emphasizes function over form in an artful fashion.

The field of study that relates to the fine art of expositing Scripture has witnessed an inordinately high number of entries that focus on hermeneutical principles of interpretation.  These books include Bernard Ramm’s classic Protestant Biblical Interpretation[3], Milton Terry’s Biblical Hermeneutics[4], Merrill Unger’s’ Principles of Expository Preaching[5], or Douglas White’s obscure but valuable The Excellence of Exposition,[6] to note just a few of the more esteemed variations that have approached the level of directly influencing the general community of modern evangelical preachers. Henry Virkler’s Hermeneutics:  Principles and Processes of Biblical Interpretation, (1981, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI)[7], is also worthy of note here, as Dr. Virkler attempts a unique and somewhat novel approach to the practice of exposition through the use of brain teasers (BT’s). These BT’s consist of practical exercises designed to draw out thoughtful analysis of the hermeneutical rules with the intent of eliciting careful responses that highlight the personal impact of proper exegesis, or conversely, the danger of improper exegesis.

Of the entries cited above, all of them possess a seemingly common weakness:  they tend to emphasize the governing rules of research over the practical implementation in a homiletic format. Olford attempts to correct this inherent discrepancy in Anointed Expository Preaching with a great degree of success. Utilizing a tripartite model for sermon construction, Olford draws on his vast career of teaching and preaching to create a succinct overview of the unique task of sermonizing.

Stephen Olford holds an earned Doctorate and is formerly from the UK, as a resident and as a student, although he was born in Africa to missionary parents.  As the founder and senior lecturer of the StephenOlfordCenter for Biblical Preaching, he continues an illustrious career that began in 1953 at DukeStreetBaptistChurch in Richmond, SurreyEngland (1953-1959).  Following his service there, he followed the Lord’s leading to the FamedCalvaryBaptistChurch in New York City (1959-1973).  His current ministry focuses on the practical implementation of ministry tools for the pastor’s who seek out his help.  The text, Anointed Expository Preaching, is divided into three sections: The Walk to Pursue; The Work to Perform; and third: The Word to Proclaim.  The emphasis that is placed on the call and qualifications of the exegete is thought-provoking, and his challenge concerning the use of sound principles, held in balance with the emphasis of effective communication, helps the expositor to understand the need of alleviating the dangerous practice of allegorical exegesis, or deeper meanings of interpretation that the original author never intended.  Olford also introduces the readers to the essential tools for the trade:  word studies, lexicons, dictionaries, commentaries, etc., thus helping the novice with the need of appropriating proper tools of the business of preaching sound messages that will be invaluable in assisting the preacher in the area of thorough research on a personal level and in assessing the composite works of those who have undergone the challenge of expositing Scripture previously.

In the conclusion, Olford summarily encapsulates the purpose of this book as he states: “The chapters of this book contain nothing new, but they do offer fresh insights… that would be profitable to the young preacher,”[8] in order to make known the mysteries of God in a relevant and comprehensible fashion.  This is the genius of his viewpoints challenge: what good is well-documented research and sound principles if the content does not connect with the intended target audience? This dynamic could be equated to an attempted cross-country trip from San Francisco to ThomasRoadBaptistChurch in Lynchburg, VA, driving an Audi A6 on one tank of gas. The trips purpose may be valid, the mechanisms and mechanical apparatus sound, but if the essential element that fuels the trip is lacking or in short supply, the travelers may only reach the Rockies, if that.  Rather than achieving the objective, those participating or observing are simply left with questions as to why the attempted trip was made in the first place. Sermons, to be effective, must connect with the people they are presented to.

Stephen Olford makes a compelling case for simplicity, coupled with soundness of principle, as he attempts to balance the focus of the biblical text, the audience intended and the expositor’s unique task of reaching equilibrium in his methodology and understanding in a riveting fashion and format.  The underlying theme and attitude toward the gilded halls of preaching are readily seen in the following statement: “Our own definition [of exposition] reads: “Expository preaching is the Spirit empowered explanation and proclamation of the text of God’s 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.”[9]  In this light, Olford brings the reader to the cardinal rule of exposition:  context and context alone rules. The case Olford makes is profound in its simplicity: let the Word of God dictate the message’s content, not preconceived ideas or theological suppositions brought by the preacher to the task in a preordained way.

He further elicits considerations in this vein as he forces the reader to examine the usage of language in a way that links conceptual truths with lifestyle and practicality in personal expression.  In this, Olford agrees with Haddon Robinson who surmises that: “Words are stupid things until linked with other words to convey meaning.”[10]  The challenge to be accurate in the use of words as a ‘big idea’[11] that are forced to be dealt within the context of the and the historical milieu, is a striking statement against kabalistic tendencies of excessive word valuations and illegitimate transference of identity in the exclusive word study methodological approach to exposition.  Individual words must not be isolated or divorced from the author’s originally intended thoughts as inspired by God.  To do so devalues both the words and the concepts that the words combined convey to the audience.  Let the Word of God dictate the usage of the words God has chosen to convey His thoughts to the race that was created in His image.

A point of interest in this issue would be research and evaluation of the possible re-emergence of letterism in evangelical schools of thought.  Is the emphasis on word studies a redeployment of this ancient, excessive, enumeration making a comeback?  It appears that the over-emphasis of word (singular) value lends itself to the inherent problems associated with Jewish letterism. Is there a surfacing danger that equates philosophical, economic, political and cultural overlays within Protestant Biblical interpretations, thus creating a type of illegitimate cultural transference? If so, the guilt would be in transposing modern values and systems into the ancient text and practices in a way never intended by either the original authors or He who inspired them.

Olford’s inclusion of his methodological approach to preaching is helpful to the basic construction of his thoughts.  The use of effective outlining bleeds through the text and speaks in very loud manner to those who would just listen.  Olford’s homiletic focus lends itself to the practical form of exposition as he identifies and reinforces the salient necessity of purpose in the sermon. With this in mind, Professor Olford makes the most of the standard hermeneutical principles as simple tools necessary for sound exegesis that is practical in its ability to be both understood and comprehended by the listener. These tools exist only as aids to the expositors main task of communicating God’s Holy Word with power and accessibility. Thus, the rules and conditions are viewed as means to the end, with the end result being found in the impartation of truth.

With the force and speed of a Bantamweight prizefighter, Olford drives home the importance of the sermons basic construct in chapters 6-11. He deals effective blows that stress the main events emphasis, the very reason and rational for a strong outline, decisive points and sub-points, powerful themes and quick, piercing introductions and conclusions. The arguments presented are thoughtful and concise, as the text follows the theme of simplicity: it is an easy read that flows with a prompt style, which smoothly transitions from one thought to the next. The book is a must read for any who aspire to the noble task of becoming a proficient expositor of Scripture.

The ninth chapter is particularly compelling, as it illustrates the practical ingredients of the sermon. Olford’s brief treatment of the art of restatement, explanation and definitions is masterful in its beauty and construction. His coupling of the use of facts and quotations with the important topics of narration and illustrations serve as stark reminders for the effective expositor in the need to properly utilize every available resource in the fine art of bringing life to the text and thoughts that the preacher turns attentively to.

By implying simplicity as a rule of profound importance, Olford preaches through his text on the importance of communications main purpose and goal: simplify to identify. Skillful exposition isn’t found in the excessive use of scholarly language, it is found in the ability to be understood. His challenge to make: “Application of the truth-regularly, personally, practically, and specifically-keeps the preacher in touch with his audience and calls for attention,”[12]is a succinct thought that seems to call for a distinct paradigm shift in approaching the transmission of Gods Word for the erstwhile theologian who attempts to open audiences to the depth and intricacies of Holy Writ. The continuous need for direct and personal style coupled with his conviction of the importance of vividness in any form of elucidation is dually appealing and comforting to those who desire to taste the fruit of effective communication.

Olford’s work is a fine book that builds on the long and lengthy history of the genre of exposition and hermeneutics. His use of authorities is lucid and poignant, exemplifying balance in citing others only when needed. Again, this under-girds his focused theme of effective communication when expositing Holy Writ. Faced with the daunting task of a very narrow intended target audience that often values anything other than simplicity, Olford succeeds in forcing a re-examination of effectiveness and ease in communication for those confined to the arena of biblical expositors and teachers.  Anointed Expository Preaching is a work of art that utilizes words as the canvas and the soul as the medium. It is a book that readily serves the student as well as the scholar. Both the novice and the gnarled practitioner of preaching should easily embrace Anointed Expository Preaching as it simplifies and clarifies the task of the communicator. It is a commendable addition to any library and is a Christian classic in the making.

Adrian Rogers, the Senior Pastor of BellevueBaptistChurch in MemphisTennessee addresses the main distinctive and overall contribution of Anointed Expository Preaching as he comments that the focal point of the book is an observation of the nature of preaching by asking a rhetorical question: “Is the ability to preach an art, a science, or a spiritual gift?  The truth is-it is all three of these (because) preaching has always been central in God’s plan to communicate His purposes and will to mankind.”[13] This summarily encapsulates the Olford’s purpose of the book: communicate the message of the Gospel effectively, deliberately, and by all means, passionately.  Furthermore, it is not unreasonable to assume that the Olford’s also desire to see preachers rely on the Spirit of God to anoint the words they convey, by breathing the breath of life into them, thereby incarnating the essence of Jesus into the lives of the listeners.

This is a book that should be on the quick reference shelve of every pastor, evangelist, or other assorted proclaimer’s of the Word of God, as they approach the solemn and sacred task of conveying the truths that are contained in the Holy Text known as the Bible.  The collective wisdom that has been presented in this tome is profound and invaluable.  The simplicity of content grants the reader a vast compendium of information, as this book serves as an encyclopedia of information concerning the task of preaching in an intelligible fashion that is thought provoking and significant.  If the reader were to master just a small amount of the content, the people he serves would benefit tremendously.  This approach to the presentation of material, compilation and dissemination, is most helpful due to the above stated reasons.  When this is connected to the section on: ‘The Work to Perform,’ a benefit is created that extends beyond the value of the book itself, as the authors present a clear and concise methodology for preparing an expository sermon from start to finish.

The overall approach to the expository method of preaching is important, as it should elicit a resoundingly positive response from all who are serious about the fine art of communicating the truths found in Scripture.  The basic premise is proper and the diatribes are lucid concerning the wealth of information the joint authors possess.  However, if there was a point to quibble over, it would be ethereal nature of much of the material.  Inclusion of a similar system such as Henry Virkler’s brain teasers would vastly enhance the reader’s ability to appreciate the text and to master the material that is presented in a more practical means.

This book has had a profound impact in the life of this author, as the guidelines have already produced good fruit in the development and presentation of sermons that are preached on a regular basis in the context of a local congregation. This is why the book Anointed Expository Preaching carries such a high value in this presentation.  It has assisted in the formulation of clearly biblical messages that drive the listener to make a valid response to what they have heard, which seems to be a missing ingredient in much of the modern preaching of the Gospel today.  By all means, make sure this book never departs from the library of the modern exegete of Holy Writ.


[1]New Century Bible, Word Publishing, WacoTX, 1981

[2] Olford, Stephen, Anointed Expository Preaching, Broadman & Holman publishers, NashvilleTN, 1998

[3] Ramm, Bernard, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1970

[4] Terry, Milton, Biblical Hermeneutics, Zondervan Publishing, Grand   Rapids, MI, N.D.

[5] Unger, Merrill, Principles of Expository Preaching, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1955

[6] White, Douglas, The Excellence of Exposition, Loizeaux Brothers, NJ, 1977

[7] Virkler, Henry, Hermeneutics, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 1981, 1985

[8]_____ ibid, Anointed Expository Preaching, p. 305

[9] ___ ibid, Anointed Expository Preaching, p. 69

[10]Robinson, Haddon, Biblical Preaching, Baker Books, Grand RapidsMI, 1980, p.21

[11] ___ibid, Anointed Expository Preaching, p.75

[12] ___ ibid, Anointed Expository Preaching, p. 208

[13] ___ ibid, Anointed Expository Preaching, p. xiii


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.