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Delightful, Dangerous Topical Preaching

July 4, 2007

The shame. Even though a friend suggested that I not make mention of this on my blog, I must come clean. Last Sunday evening I preached a topical sermon. Yes, you heard me right: I delivered an old fashioned ‘doctrinal’ sermon in which I threaded together a series of texts, rather than preach from one passage.

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I cannot shift the blame. It was certainly I who willingly preached the first in a short series of topical sermons entitled “Aspects of Love”, considering the doctrine of “Redemption” with our congregation (the rest of the series covers reconciliation, adoption, justification and glorification).

In my defense, I could say that normal practice at Charlotte Chapel is to preach through biblical books from beginning to end. By the end of this year, for example, we will have preached 32 sermons on all 52 chapters of Jeremiah on Sunday mornings, whilst at the same juncture we will not have completed our 15 month mini-marathon through the gospel of Luke.

However, if truth be told, I found Sunday night’s experience both challenging and rewarding. I hope the congregation did too! During the sermon we considered together 1) A slavery shared (the context of redemption), 2) A price paid (the cost of redemption) and 3) An obligation owed (the implications of redemption). It was a sweeping, and I found satisfying, study.

However, for those who think I may have defected to the ‘dark side’ of the preaching continuum, let me emphasis two things. First, a preliminary point about the unfortunate divergence often made between topical and expository; and secondly -tomorrow – a balanced appraisal of the pros and cons of the topical approach.

To begin with, I can only say that it seems to me a category mistake to think that ‘expository’ and ‘topical’ are two words which can never co-exist. In the purest sense, expository preaching is to ‘lay bare’ or expose the meaning of a given text. But there seems to be – as far as I can tell – no Scriptural bar against us doing this with multiple texts. Admittedly, it is more difficult to do well. But in principle it can be done. Thus, it is not topical sermons that I have a problem with but topical sermons that are not biblically-topical.

No one would disagree with that. Would they?

6 comments

  1. In seminary, my Preaching class told me that the only way to *really* teach the Bible was by verse-by-verse explanation. I then left that class and went to Systematic Thelogy or to Ethics, where we pulled together what various texts said about, um, TOPICS. Anything that *exposes* the meaning and applicability of Scripture is EXPOSitory preaching.


  2. “it seems to me a category mistake to think that ‘expository’ and ‘topical’ are two words which can never co-exist.”

    Great point. I believe our fear of “topical” preaching sometime keeps us from addressing issues such as redemption, justification, etc.

    I am currently planning a series on the sweeping narrative of Scripture. This series will operate under large subheadings; Creation, The Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. Each subhead will have 3-5 weeks worth of sermons that address the given issue.

    The first 2 subheads will basically be an exposition of the first 11 chapters of Genesis, Redemption will walk through sections of Exodus, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the minor prophets, leading up to the Gospels, culminating on the Cross. Restoration will address the church, walking through selected texts of the Epistles and culminating in Revelation.


  3. Really like your blog and am especially grateful for a really good preaching blog! This post, “Delightful, Dangerous Topical Preaching” is a great challenge. I can pretty well count on one hand the times I have dared to anything other than Bible-book exposition for fear of committing some kind of unpardonable preaching sin. I am still fearful! At the same time, however, I believe you are absolutely correct in your assessment. I remember once reading a similar article somewhere (Preaching Magazine?) entitled, “Topositional Preaching.” Thanks for the thought-provoking post.


  4. […] Workman « Delightful, Dangerous Topical Preaching Delightful, Dangerous Topical Preaching (pt 2) July 5th, 2007 Some further thoughts today […]


  5. Topo-sitional Preaching was a term coined in leadership Journal by Tim Witmer, a pastor (PCA and a prof at Westminster Seminary. Preaching was varied in the NT and the early church and we have many rich examples of it. Our preaching needs to teach, exhort, encourgae and lead our congregations to worship and serve and enjoy Our Lord. this can only happen if it is based in god’s word in an expositional fashion or in a systemative theological fashion (this could be topical).


  6. Guy .. Excellent .. Superb .. I’ll bookmark your website and take the feeds additionallyI’m happy to seek out so many helpful information right here within the post, we want work out extra strategies on this regard, thanks for sharing. . . . . .



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