At Southbrook Church we teach both topical and expository sermons (sometimes referred to as “verse by verse teaching”). And I have to admit, I’m somewhat perplexed by the virtual Hatfields vs. McCoys type infighting that has resulted from pastors believing vehemently that you can only do one or the other.
On the one hand you have the “Topical Camp.” Those who subscribe to a topical approach to scripture often offer “relevance” as the biggest plus. “There simply is no other way to speak directly to the topics of the day without bringing those same topics and issues to God’s Word and developing messages based on what the Bible has to say about said topic,” they insist. For example, if you want to do a relationship series you could go to Song of Solomon or Ephesians, or Philippians, Proverbs, etc. But most optimal would be to just take the best from all of them. On the other hand, if you are committed at all costs to make it through the book of Lamentations, for example, then you’ll just deal with Lamentations no matter what’s going on in the world around you.
Critics of the above approach will say that the so-called pluses often put forward for topical preaching are really minuses. The “pick and choose” approach to the Bible (one of many alternate names for “Topical Preaching”) allows us to skip over all the difficult passages we’d rather not deal with and causes us to teach only a small portion of the entire counsel of God. This obviously creates difficulties for the minister charged with teaching all of God’s Truth (i.e. ALL ministers). However, preaching verse by verse through books of the Bible may address this and seems to be the most reasonable way to teach the whole counsel of God. If I am obligated to teach the whole new covenant message and all of the mystery unfolded, the only systematic way that I know to teach it all is to take it the way it comes, one book at a time.
Put yet another way, If I were to approach the goal of teaching the whole New Testament in haphazard fashion, it would be a hopeless labyrinth to lead people through. But, if I am committed to teaching the Word of God systematically so that all of the revelation of God is brought before His people, the only reasonable way of doing that is to go through it one book at a time.
Ok, enough of that—turns out there’s a common sense reason that tipped the scales for me. Truth is, I’ve been back and forth throughout the years as lead pastor @ Southbrook Church—teaching seasons almost entirely topical and spending more than three years largely going verse by verse through several books of the Bible. In fact, if there are more argumanets out there for and agsint each method that I haven’t read—I’d be surprised.
Do both. But lean heavily on teaching through books of the Bible. At Southbrook we have taught through the following books:
- Hebrews (“Only God” series)
- John (“Divine” series)
- Galatians (“Losing My Religion” series)
- James (“Moxie)
- Jude (“Hey Jude”)
- Jonah (“The Deep”)
We’re beginning the book of Ecclesiastes this weekend (series title: “Game of Thrones”) and will follow this with a teaching through the gospel of Luke (Title yet to be determined). Now, if you’ve been at Southbrook over the last few years you also know that we have had quite a few “Topical” series—dealing with marriage…
- Heartbreak Warfare
- Better WITH You
- Treasure Principle
- Fist Full of Wisdom
- Diary of a Wimpy Christian
- Impact 2010
- Impact 2011
- Impact 2012
Addiction and sin (Living in Victory)
- Resolution Revolution
And so on… What’s my point? Only this—sometimes what’s going on in the body of believers screams for immediate attention—sometimes major events happen in the world that call for the same (9-11-01 is a powerful example). Other topics are just so huge they bear repeating on a regular basis (i.e. stewardship, marriage / relationships, etc. ). When either of these is the case—we pause in our book study and do a short topical study pulling from all over God’s Word for what it has to say on the subject.
Makes sense, right?
That’s why I’m still stunned to this day how few churches do this. For many, it would seem a blend of each is somehow compromising—for others (many in the “Expository preaching only crowd”) it’s like crossing over to the dark side. This just seems silly—especially in light of the fact that the greatest teachers of God’s Truth who ever walked this earth all taught somewhat topically (I’m referring to the apostle Paul, to James, Peter and John and the best of them all—Jesus). Like it or not, they didn’t teach verse by verse—mainly because the verses weren’t added for over a thousand years after Christ. Even the books in their Canonical order and bound together in the form we have today (the Bible) wasn’t even canonized (declared God’s official, inspired Word) until, following the toleration of the faith by Emperor Constantine, the Council of Rome decreed a 73 book Canon in 382 AD. Of course the Canon was confirmed by subsequent Councils at Hippo, Carthage, Nicaea, Florence, Trent, Vatican I and Vatican II—but my point is, it’s tough to teach book by book and verse by verse when you neither have the books or the verses!
So, for what it’s worth—at Southbrook Church we primarily teach through the Bible book by book, placing the greatest weight on the words of God rather than the opinion of man.
And that’s a wrap.