What Kind of Preaching?

Hughes Oliphant Old, in volume 1 of his history on preaching, gives us five kinds of preaching that have been more or less dominant in the history of the church: expository preaching, evangelistic preaching, catechetical preaching, festal preaching, and prophetic preaching.

The definitions of these different types of preaching are helpful. Expository preaching is “the systematic explanation of Scripture done on a week-by-week, or even day-by-day, basis at the regular meeting of the congregation” (9). He argues that the lectio continua method (picking up the next week where the previous week left off) is the purest form (10), but there have been other methods, such as Spurgeon.

The second kind of preaching is evangelistic, which, “in its more proper sense announces that the time is fulfilled; the time has come. Much of the preaching of the prophets was the preaching of repentance” (11). This kind of preaching does not usually focus on a particular text. He argues that Jesus models both of the first two kinds of preaching (11).

The third kind is catechetical, which “is by its very nature systematic,” and “assumes that those to whom the preaching is addressed have made the basic commitment to follow Christ and the Christian way of life. Catechetical preaching therefore outlines basic Christian teaching, often by explaining the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the sacraments” (13).

Festal preaching is preaching based on the feast days of the church. The Reformed church mostly abandoned this form of preaching.

Prophetic preaching assumes that “God often has a particular word for a particular time and a particular place” (16). Of course, we do not wish to state that God is continuing His revelation. Think of this kind of preaching as reacting to the current situation in the world or in the community.

I believe the minister of the Word needs to be fundamentally an expository preacher with elements of most of the other kinds thrown in regularly and in some ways constantly. For example, in the weekly exposition, he will need to evangelize and to say that the time for salvation is now. Old did a great job of delineating the various kinds of preaching. However, he forgot to mention that these categories can be somewhat fluid. The expository preacher also needs to explain Christian doctrine regularly in his preaching, and also needs to address the current needs of the community and the world (which are always based on their need for the Gospel). This is not to take away from Old’s excellent taxonomy. However, we do need to realize the importance of elements from various kinds of preaching, and use everything at our disposal to preach Christ, and Him crucified.

The Holy Spirit is not limited to any one of these methods. However, we do usually tie the Holy Spirit to the Word most often in Reformed circles, and rightly so. It would therefore seem to me that the preaching of books of the Bible would be the most effective way of ministering to God’s people, recognizing that we need some of those other things also.



  1. Gil Garcia said,

    May 5, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    Rev. Lane,

    What are your thoughts on Historical Redemptive Preaching or what they like to call “Christ-centered preaching,” which seems to be dominating as off lately in the Reformed community?

  2. greenbaggins said,

    May 5, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    Gil, my short answer right now is that there are two methods that are similar in one way, but very different in other ways. If by the Redemptive-Historical Preaching, you mean a preaching that sees Christ in the Bible, but does not really ever get to application, then I would reject it. If, however, you mean a Redemptive-Historical preaching that sees Christ in all the Scripture, and then proceeds to application, then I’m in favor of it. Ken Pierce and Andrew Barnes and I have been going around a bit on that somewhat recently. It has a great deal to do with how you define the terms. There’s a right way and a wrong way to go about this. If a preacher doesn’t preach Christ from all the Scriptures, then he’s in trouble. But he can’t preach Christ to the exclusion of application, or he’s not actually preaching.

  3. Tim Keller said,

    May 5, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    Preaching Christ from all the Scriptures is not a type of preaching. It should be the way you do all the other kinds of preaching.

  4. Gil Garcia said,

    May 5, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    With all due respect,

    According to Louis Berkhof, Calvin:

    “believed in the typical significance of much that is found in the OT, but did not share the opinion of Luther that Christ SHOULD BE FOUND EVERYWHERE IN SCRIPTURE. Moreover, he reduced the number of Psalms that could be recognized as Messianic. He insisted on it that the prophets should be interpreted in the light of historical circumstances.”

    Berkhof goes on to say that Calvin:

    “regarded it as “the first business of an interpretation to let his author say what he does say, instead of attributing to him what WE THINK HE OUGHT TO SAY.” (“Principles of Biblical Interpretation” p. 27).

    What do we do with comments like these?



  5. Matt Beatty said,

    May 5, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    Pastor Keller,

    Is there an essay, book chapter, audio – something relatively succinct – where the idea in #3 is defended… either by you or someone else?

    Thank you.

  6. May 5, 2010 at 9:35 pm


    I am not Tim Keller, but there seems to be a lot of stuff on this and pretty broad agreement on keeping Christ and the Gospel central in every sermon from Keller to Chapell to Ligon Duncan to Michael Horton to DA Carson to Mark Dever to T. David Gordon, etc. A few friends of mine think it is imbalanced, that some sermons can be mostly application, or law only, if the Gospel is elsewhere in the service, but the host of names above would support what Tim is saying, it seems to me…. anyway, a quick google brought this article by Horton up:

    FWIW, Chris Hutchinson
    Blacksburg, VA

  7. Tim Keller said,

    May 5, 2010 at 10:00 pm

    Gil —

    I would suggest reading this short piece by Sinclair Ferguson on preaching Christ from the Old Testament. It’s superb. Here’s the address for it.


  8. May 5, 2010 at 10:15 pm

    Preaching must always be from Scripture itself, never from a man-made secondary standard. So, Old’s category of “catechetical preaching,” while historical (which is why he listed it) is not a legitimate form of preaching. Awhile back, on the Puritan Board, there was a thread on the subject of the legitimacy of catechetical preaching. I was gratified to see that, almost to a man, posters to that thread rejected catechetical preaching as a legitimate category. All preaching must be done from Scripture. Surely, that’s part of what “sola Scriptura” means.

  9. May 6, 2010 at 5:56 am

    To me good expository preaching is lacking but is needed. You can leave a service on Sunday and still have no idea what the passage of Scripture is about and how it fits within its immediate context or the context of Scripture as a whole. I would like to see more expository preaching with a covenant theology hermeneutic. That is just my two cents.

  10. Paige Britton said,

    May 6, 2010 at 6:26 am

    Question (for anybody) re. redemptive-historical preaching that lacks “application”:

    What kind of “application” should be the goal? Isn’t there a range of possibilities, a range of forms of application? Would it be enough to direct the people to praise God for, or live in light of, the character of God revealed in his sovereign plan of salvation, as seen from the beginning of the OT?

    IOW, by “application” do we exclusively mean, “telling the people how to behave,” or could it also include sometimes “telling the people what to believe”?

  11. Paige Britton said,

    May 6, 2010 at 6:33 am

    Matt #5 —
    This isn’t article length, but it’s very readable: Ed Clowney’s Preaching Christ in All of Scripture (Crossway, 2003)

    Three other books I have liked (I’m not a preacher, BTW, I just read this stuff):

    Charles Drew’s The Ancient Love Song (P&R, 2000)
    Clowney’s The Unfolding Mystery (P&R, 1988)
    Christopher Wright’s Knowing Jesus Thru the OT (IVP, 1992)


  12. Paige Britton said,

    May 6, 2010 at 6:53 am

    Matt again:
    I forgot, there is an article I wrote for the World Reformed Fellowship website that you might take a look at. Go to http://www.wrfnet.org and type “Reaping” into the Search bar. This wasn’t written for preachers, per se, but for Bible teachers. (And any feedback on this thing from anybody is welcome — paige dot britton, it’s a gmail address.)


  13. jeffhutchinson said,

    May 6, 2010 at 7:08 am

    That Sinclair Ferguson article is wonderful! I had never seen it before, but it is just what I need today. Thank you!

  14. greenbaggins said,

    May 6, 2010 at 10:23 am

    I have some thoughts on application here:


  15. Paige Britton said,

    May 6, 2010 at 11:41 am

    Great thoughts, Lane, thanks. It was good to read that (again!). :)

  16. Gil Garcia said,

    May 6, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    I would like to share a comment that Sinclair Ferguson recently made during his visit to Westminster Seminary California, which goes something like this:

    “Remember that Historical Redemptive Preaching did not died on the cross for you, but Jesus Christ”

  17. tim prussic said,

    May 6, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    Old’s work looks VERY impressive. I looked slowly through the table of contents to the sixth volume (on the modern times). Wow… must… buy… book.

  18. Reformed Sinner said,

    May 10, 2010 at 8:19 am

    Gil #4,

    Berkhof was responding to Luther’s tendency to be allegorical when he tries to force a literal Christ everywhere he sees, and thus rejecting a few books in the process that he tried desperately but cannot find Christ (Esther for example.)

    What Berkhof (and Calvin) are talking about is interpretation, that we should not force Christ in every passage allegorically as others have done, however, that is different than what is being discuss here, where “Christ-centered” means how Christ has fulfilled the prophecy, shadows, teachings of the OT. Or how these teachings are basically meaningless without Christ’s fulfillment, and draw connections from that. After all, we would all agree the Bible is Christo-centric no?

  19. Reformed Sinner said,

    May 10, 2010 at 8:23 am

    I have been trained at WTS that indicative must have imperative, and that concept has been reinforced in Gaffin’s Pauline Epistle’s class, how Paul is not just talking about “praise the LORD, Christ saved us, and in Him we are justified!”, but also, “Do not gossip, do not give in to sexual immorality, do not…”, hence the Indicative-Imperative relationship.

    However, as I graduate and serve in the church for the last 7 years, I realized there are “different takes” to preaching evidenced in this forum. Some people are saying in essence, the Indicative IS the Imperative, and trying to force Imperatives (or applications) into every sermon is look down on as moralism. Very interesting…

    I always though preaching should reflect the Grace-Work paradigm the Bible teaches. Now that you have been saved (indicative), how will you response to your salvation in your lives (imperative), and how can the Church/pastor help you with facing your life’s struggles (challenges.)

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