By Pastor Bruce K. Oyen
While expository preaching and verse-by-verse Bible teaching yield rich rewards for both the preacher and his congregation, consider some things in support of topical preaching, which has fallen on hard times in some Bible-believing circles.
But, first, think about the fact that topical preaching has fallen on hard times for, perhaps, one primary reason: it might too often have been shallow in content. This is not the fault of the method, but the fault of the preacher. Topical preaching will be as shallow or as deep as one makes it. It might have been A. W. Tozer who made the wise comment that one can’t preach from an empty head. Those who try to do so preach shallow sermons.
Some great preachers of the past mostly used the topical method, but their sermons were not shallow. Examples are C. H. Spurgeon, and R. A. Torrey. These men were topical and doctrinal preachers with some real substance to their sermons. Both men were intellectuals, and it was evident in their sermons.
It is an interesting fact that Spurgeon’s topical sermons are still popular, in contrast to the expository sermons of his contemporary, Alexander MacLaren.
MacLaren was a pulpit giant in his own right, and his sermons are still worthy to be read. He was an excellent expositor. But MacLaren’s sermons are seldom republished. They collect dust on the shelves of libraries, while Spurgeon’s sermons get republished all over the world year after year in many languages, even though he died in 1892.
Another person who preached topical sermons with Biblical meat in them was J. Vernon McGee, as his excellent book of sermons, “DOCTRINE FOR DIFFICULT DAYS” proves. These sermons were preached to his own congregation at The Church Of The Open Door.
Not only did these men preach topical sermons. So also did most of the preachers in the Bible itself. Their examples, too, should give us reason to consider doing so ourselves.
So, what is the value of topical preaching? For one thing, our listeners think topically. And because they think topically, we can apply the Word of God to what they think about. They have many subjects go through their minds that can be addressed by this method of preaching the Word of God. They think about marriage, divorce, remarriage, money, sex, child rearing, prayer, God, the Bible, heaven, hell, the world’s many religions versus Christianity, the numerous divisions in what is called “Christendom,” cults, and many other matters.
If the preacher were to address these matters only as they come up as he goes through the Bible book-by-book and verse-by-verse, it would take years to do so. Therefore, he needs to apply the Bible to what he thinks his listeners need to know at a given time.
Another value of topical preaching is that it gives the preacher a good means of exposing his listeners to the great doctrines of the Christian faith in a systematic way.
He can do a series on the inspiration of the Bible, the deity of Christ, the Trinity, the person and work of Christ and of the Holy Spirit, heaven, hell, the resurrection of the dead, salvation by grace through faith, the rapture, the second coming of Christ, and many other topics.
McGee’s sermons in his book referred to above book are an example of such preaching. His topics were these:
1) What Is Doctrine?
2) The Bible.
4) The Doctrine of Origins.
5) The Purpose And Nature Of Man.
7) Satan: Who Is He?
8) Salvation: Part 1:
9) Salvation: Part 2:
10) Eternal Security and Assurance.
12) Heaven and Hell
Each one of these topics can easily require two or more sermons. However, it is best to not preach too many sermons in a row on one topic. The average person wants it to be obvious that the preacher is making progress with his topic.
So, if he preaches five sermons on five consecutive Sundays on, say, “The Second Coming Of Christ,” the congregation will become weary of the topic unless he is an unusually gifted speaker. Therefore, it would be better to preach two sermons on the subject, and then move on to a few new subjects and then return to preach more on the second coming of Christ.
There are different methods of preaching topical sermons. One can be called “the topical-expository method.” The distinctive feature of this method is that, though it is a topical sermon, its main points are derived from one passage of Scripture, instead of deriving them from verses scattered throughout the Bible. This passage can be made up of several verses, not just one.
Consider an example of this method. While working on this article, I preached a sermon from 2 Timothy 3:14 – 17. To get the congregation’s attention, the sermon was titled, “What Makes The Bible A Special Book?” My 5 main points were derived right from the verses themselves. The points were:
1) The Bible is a protective Book, if we continue in its teachings, vs. 14.
2) It is a child’s Book, because it can be learned in childhood, just as it was by Timothy, vs. 15.
3) It is an evangelistic Book, because it can make us wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus, vs. 15.
4) It is an inspired Book, having come from God, vs. 16.
5) It is a profitable Book for 5 reasons, verses. 16 & 17.
Of course, each main point was expanded on and applied.
A second method of topical preaching is the most common one: A Biblical topic is preached on, with the sermon’s main points being derived from verses found in, perhaps, a number of places in the Bible. This method might be called “the scattered-verses method” because sermons are built on verses scattered throughout the Bible.
I preached this kind of sermon while this article was being written. My subject was, “Eight Characteristics Of Biblical Churches,” also known as “The Biblical distinctive of Baptists.” The main points have been preached in Baptist churches for many years:
1) A Biblical church believes in the authority of the Bible.
2) A Biblical church believes in the autonomy of the local church.
3) A Biblical church believes in the priesthood of all believers.
4) A Biblical church believes in two church ordinances: baptism and the Lord’s supper.
5) A Biblical church believes in individual soul liberty.
6) A Biblical church believes in saved church members.
7) A Biblical church believes in two church officers: the pastor-bishop-elder and deacons.
8) A Biblical church believes in the separation of church and state.
Each main point was supported from two or more Bible verses which were found in different parts of the Bible.
Another method of topical preaching could be called “a topic in a Biblical book method.” When this method is used, the preacher expounds on what a given book of the Bible says on a specific topic.
So, to give some examples, one could preach on what Philippians says about joy and rejoicing in the Lord. One could preaching on what First Peter says about suffering. One could preach on what the Thessalonian epistles say about prophetic subjects. One could preach on what James says about temptation or prayer or faith and works. This method is both interesting and beneficial.
Topical preaching is valuable, too, because by it the preacher can apply the Word of God to matters that are of present interest to his listeners. For instance, when it is time to vote for a president of the USA, the pastor can preach a message from Romans 13 what is our responsibility to human government. Or if a church member has died, he can preach a message about the blessing of departing this life to be with Christ, which is far better. Or if someone makes a profession of faith in Christ, he can preach a message on baptism and one on the importance of teaching new converts what they should believe and how they should behave.
CONCLUSIONExpository preaching and verse-by-verse commentating are valuable means of feeding the Word of God to others. But don’t underestimate the value of preaching on the topics spoken of in the Bible. Both the preacher and his listeners will benefit considerably when this method is used. The wise preacher will use both methods as he preaches the Word of God.