Topical Preaching Isn’t Satan, I Promise

I recently worked through our 11-week preaching series for the fall semester. For you Chapelites, be warned: it is topical. In fact, a lot of our preaching for the next 15 months will likely be topical. (I can hear the stampede of congregants preparing to check out other churches as we speak.)

Hey, sweet wig!

It made me realize that, among many evangelicals (that hip group of Christians of which I am a part that prides itself in everything it does), there is often frustration (should I say disdain) for topical preaching. As if God created Adam, created Eve, and then created verse-by verse preaching. Then Chick-fil-A.

I disagree. (Well, not about the Chick-fil-A part.)

Topical preaching is often pitted against expositional preaching in the same way that WalMart is pitted against Whole Foods. (It’s cheaper, OK!?!?!) The problem is we misunderstand expositional preaching as solely being verse-by-verse preaching through an entire book of the Bible. You read some of the text, preach on it, read some more, preach some more, etc. (I can hear my expositional apologists saying “amen” right now.) It’s John Piper preaching over 200 messages on Romans, and it’s John MacArthur taking 42 years to preach through the New Testament (wait a second, maybe your name has to be John for this to happen).

Hear me: I love expository preaching. I even love verse-by-verse. I went to a school where everyone who gets the Th.M degree has to take a minimum of two courses on expository preaching, four courses of Hebrew, and five courses of Greek. Wow. Did I really take those classes? I think I blocked it out. By the end of the summer, I will have preached roughly forty sermons on Acts. But topical preaching isn’t Satan. A few things to consider:

  • Topical preaching can also be expositional: Mark Dever defines expositional preaching in layman’s terms: the point of the text becomes the point of the sermon. That doesn’t require going through an entire book, but it requires preaching the text accurately–whether through a book, a topic, or a stand-alone sermon. Jesus is still the hero of the text, regardless of your method of preaching it.
  • Some of your favorite preachers were topical: People my age herald folks like Jonathan Edwards and Charles Spurgeon. Both those guys mainly preached topically. In fact, only Edwards’ series on Charity and Its Fruits was what we’d call expositional…at least that’s what I can recall from my Edwards seminar in school (had to keep myself from saying “seminar in seminary”).
  • They help speak to specific issues: If you want to preach on sexuality, abortion, laziness, fasting, or something like that, what are you going to do? Are you to preach through all of Romans because you want to address human sexuality and idolatry in Chapter 1? Are you going to preach through Proverbs because you want to speak on laziness? How about Isaiah so you can preach one sermon on fasting? I hope not.
  • Jesus did it: Can you help me here? Can you point me to a spot in the Gospels where Jesus, the best preacher and communicator to walk the earth, walked through a passage? Jesus taught the Kingdom and heralded salvation–and He did it in many different ways. And He never compromised the Scriptures by doing it.

I don’t want my topical preaching to be devoid of Jesus. Nor do I want it to misconstrue the text. Nor do I want to frustrate the verse-by-versers. I simply want to recognize that the goal of preaching is to see the Spirit of Jesus transform people through the power of His Word. Whether you do that topically or you do that book-by-book or you do both, do it for Him.

I’ll see you in 42 years. . .

I'd love to hear your thoughts . . .