Arminian Today

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What Many Topical Sermons Are Like (And How They Develop)

Expository preaching is the art of taking a text of Scripture and working through the text, allowing the text to develop itself, and to show the hearers how to study the Bible through proper exegesis.  What expository preaching excels at is teaching people how to interpret Scripture by allowing Scripture to speak for itself.  It takes the text of Scripture and from that text, shows the hearers the proper way to allow the context to determine the interpretation of the text as well as showing how this text may relate to other texts of Scripture.  Expository preaching has one goal in mind: the text of Scripture with proper exegesis.

Topical preaching is the art of taking a topic and from the Bible find texts that speak to that topic.  Topical preaching is not always wrong of course.  There is a time for studying a topic that is important such as abortion, adultery, sin, gifts of the Spirit, etc.  There are an unending amount of subjects one can study in topical preaching.

By far, topical preaching is the dominant form of preaching today.  It is far easier to study a topic and develop points around that topic than to study Scripture itself in a given text.  Further, with the age of entertainment all around us, topical preaching often facilitates that need by each week speaking on topics that the culture might enjoy.  Seeker churches regularly do series preaching.  You can even purchase sermons from various websites.  For example, check out these titles:

  • How To Deepen Your Marriage
  • How To Divorce Proof Your Marriage
  • How To Spell L.O.V.E
  • How To Satisfy Your Lover
  • The Four Sides of God’s Love

Entire websites are devoted to purchasing whole topical sermons series with titles such as “The Bible Miniseries,”  “The Thorn Risen,” and “I Am Second” as well as many other titles.  By the way, you can purchase “The Bible Miniseries” for only $60 and with it comes invites for neighbors, a Bible viewing party kit, topical sermons, and a guide to the campaign launch.

My reply would be, why not take the $60 and give it to missions and you, Bible teacher, get alone with God and His Word and you study the text and you allow the text to speak for itself.  Teach the Bible!  That is your purpose.  It is not to entertain the masses.  It is be faithful before God in teaching His Word.

Yet what does an average topical sermon look like?  How does the speaker prepare topical sermons?  The usual method is to:

1) Pick out the topic you want to teach.  Here is the key: try to be relevant.  Take a popular TV series such as Desperate House Wives and do a topical teaching called Desperate Sex Lives.  Using popular culture works well.  You can, however, teach on anything when it comes to topical preaching.  Anything!

2) Develop the topical sermon by finding a text that deals with your subject.  For instance, if you are teaching on money then ask the audience to turn in their Bible to 1 Timothy 6:10 and read the text.  It is not unusual for the topical sermon to just read Bible texts without dealing with them.  This is called proof texts.  The exegesis of the text is not usually done.  You read the text and perhaps highlight something from the text without showing the text in its context, without any working through the text.  A topical sermon usually will have several points and each point will have a different proof text.  I have seen topical sermons where each point would have several proof texts next to it but usually only one is needed and only one is usually read.

3)  Illustrations!  This is the heart of topical preaching.  The point of topical preaching is the topic so spend time on the topic.  Proof text the sermon but the focus should be the topic at hand.  Illustrations are vital to topical preaching because they often are attention getters.  They keep the focus on the topic.  You can purchase books with various illustrations but “good” topical preaching uses everything from personal stories to media to pictures to drama.

4)  Content Is Key, Not Context Per Se.  The focus, again, in topical preaching is the topic.  Therefore, the content of what you say is more important than the exegesis of Scripture.  People will forgive you of bad theology so long as it is said well.  The content is what matters.  Give the people good content.

5)  You Are What You Read.  Leonard Ravenhill said once, “Preaching today is not born of the Spirit but from books.  You give me a few minutes of listening to a speaker and I can tell you if his sermon was born from anguish or from his own reading of others men works.”  Topical preaching, in some cases, comes when a speaker reads a good book and he develops his topical sermon based on that book.  While he might not give credit the book, the book is the gem that gave him his series.


I noted in a pervious post that this type of preaching is bad for the Church.  I stand behind that.  A steady diet of this is not teaching people how to study the Bible but instead is teaching them to be passive, to be listeners but not doers.  Expository preaching teaches people how to read the Bible, how to study the Bible, and, as Dr. John MacArthur stated, it will be applied as people realize the implications of their own theology.  Expository preaching forces the Bible teacher to work through the text week after week.  They don’t spend time looking for the coolest sermon series or copying sermons from a book but they deal with their text week after week after week.  It is a steady diet of God’s Word (Matthew 4:4; 1 Peter 2:1-3).  Our duty before God is to explain Scripture just as Ezra did long ago (Nehemiah 8:8).

Again, I note that not all topical preaching is as I have defined above.  At times, even the expositor of God’s Word will need to take a topic and dive into it but the norm should be expository preaching.

For more information, I recommend the following books on expository preaching:

Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon by Bryan Chapell

The Supremacy of God in Preaching by John Piper

Preaching: How To Preach Biblically by John MacArthur

Preaching: Maybe It Is Rocket Science by James Bradford

Written by The Seeking Disciple

02/12/2013 at 10:33 AM

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