Topical or Expository?

I hear this question all the time, particularly when I talk to guests who visit our church. "Do you preach expository messages (passage-by-passage through books of the Bible) or topical messages?"

The answer is, "yes."

Here's my thinking on preaching: whatever the message is, it has to be straight from the Bible. We don't preach out of Newsweek or Time Magazine or our own opinions and crazy hairs. Beyond that, we've got some flexibility.

There are several benefits of going passage-by-passage through a book: It's much more difficult to take a passage out of context, much more difficult to avoid hard passages, and people gain confidence being able to put the pieces of Scripture together. They're less likely to say "my pastor says..." and more likely to say "the book of Romans says..." That's a win for any pastor whether he knows it or not.

There are some liabilities of expository messages: Who wants to go passage-by-passage through 2 Chronicles for 6 years? Also, it's much harder to address specific needs relevant to your congregation and culture if you don't happen to be preaching through a Text that specifically addresses those issues.

There are also several benefits of preaching topical messages: you are able to get a more comprehensive view of what the Bible says about a specific topic (ie. "marriage" or "God's attributes") You are able to explain the forest, not just the trees. The metanarrative of Scripture becomes more clear through topical messages done well. One of my pastor friends is fond of reminding me that Scripture never records Jesus preaching an expository sermon. That's probably a stretch (Luke 4:21 is a 8 word exposition of Isaiah 61), but he has a fairly good point: Jesus preached a lot of topical messages.

However, there are some liabilities there too. It's easy to force Scripture into your point. It's easy for people to remember your point but not the Scripture. And, it can lead people towards a mentality of worship in which they rely on the pastor to interpret the Scripture and tell them what to do. The Reformers fought pretty hard to ensure that wasn't necessary.

So, which do I preach? I preach both. I probably lean towards exposition because I feel like it fits my gift-mix and because I feel like more than people need to be told what to do, they need to learn how to figure out what to do from the Scriptures on their own. My method of preaching is an attempt to help people study the Bible for themselves, and that's more simple with exposition. But that's a personal preference based on my individual giftedness and strengths; not a conviction that everyone else needs to hold to.

There's room for a lot of styles, so long as all the styles are faithful to the Text.


Anonymous said...

How about telling people you prefer Topository preaching.