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The following is a thoughtful response by Brad Bigney (pastor of fast growing Grace Fellowship in Florence, KY) to the exegetical dogmatism of many Reformed Christians who think exegetical preaching is the kind of preaching that is most faithful to the Bible itself (e.g. Mark Dever includes exegetical preaching as one of the marks of a healthy church and trains other pastors after this standard). After sitting under Brad’s preaching for 3 months, I’m starting to think that a good measure of topical preaching is actually a mark of a healthy church.
Why Do You Preach More Topical Sermons than Exegetical (Verse by verse through books of the Bible)?
From time to time people will ask me why I do so many topical sermon series instead of picking a book of the Bible and preaching through it verse by verse.
Here are some of the reasons why I preach the way I do here at Grace Fellowship:
1. Jesus preached topical sermons – if Jesus thought it was effective… so do I! Seriously… when you read through the Gospels you don’t see Jesus gathering a crowd and then starting to preach or teach verse by verse through one of the Old Testament books of the Bible they had at that time. He used visual illustrations, and He met the people right where they were and taught using just a verse or two for the basis of His teaching. It was hard hitting, and did not compromise God’s truth, but it was not an in depth explanation verse by verse through a book of the Bible.
2. There is no biblical record of the Apostle Paul or any other disciples ever preaching exegetically, verse by verse, sermons from a book of the Bible. You can see examples of this with Paul’s sermons in the book of Acts (on Mars Hill and other places).
3. There is no command in the New Testament instructing pastors to preach or teach verse by verse through books of the Bible. In Paul’s letters to Timothy, he doesn’t take time to exhort him to preach in a certain manner. He simply says to preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2).
4. Many times the emphasis on preaching verse by verse through books of the Bible is driven by a belief that Bible information is the key to changing lives. Paul tells us that knowledge alone puffs up, but love edifies (cf. 1 Cor. 8:1). Not always, but many times the preachers and churches that are characterized by verse by verse preaching through books of the Bible are heavy on information or Bible facts, and much lighter on how those Bible truths apply to your life. I think that Bible application is the key to changing lives. Sheer volume of Bible information is not what changes lives. In-depth Greek or Hebrew word studies is not what changes lives. Understanding how to apply God’s Word practically in our everyday lives is what produces a love and passion for changing & growing.
Too often the goal of exegetical preaching is simply “What?” “What does the Bible say?” Our goal at Grace Fellowship is not just “What?” but “So what?” and “How?” “How does that apply to your life today?” “How would you start doing what God’s Word says to do in that verse?” “What needs to happen for you to start obeying what is being taught there?”
The clear and practical application of God’s Word to a person’s life, in the power of the Holy Spirit, is what changes lives. As a communicator I certainly benefit from word studies, but I rarely choose to pass all the details of my study on to my listeners. Believe it or not… my goal is not the preaching or teaching itself… my goal is changed lives. I want to connect real people to a real God, through His life-changing Word.
5. Be sure you understand what I’m not saying. I’m not saying it’s wrong to preach verse by verse through books of the Bible, but I am saying if you choose to do that, be careful. Make sure you don’t get caught up in your exegesis, and the details of your word studies, and lose sight of the main thing… communicating for changed lives.
6. There seems to be an arrogance among Christians who prefer exegetical verse by verse teaching of the Bible… as if they’ve got the corner on the market… they love God more… and they honor God’s Word more. This isn’t true of everyone, but I run into it frequently when this question of preaching style comes up. I rarely hear any topical preachers criticizing exegetical preachers, but I do hear quite a bit of criticism from exegetical preachers, and Christians who prefer that format, towards preachers who preach more topical or expositional sermons.
7. Look at the end result. I can’t speak for every other pastor who’s chosen to preach topical sermon series, but God has been very good to us here at Grace Fellowship. People are changing and growing because of what they’re learning from God’s Word. So if changed lives for the glory of God is the final goal, then look at the fruit of our ministry. Are people being saved? Is the Gospel being preached? Is Christ being exalted? Is the cross central in the preaching and teaching? Rather than backing away or watering it down, do we preach and teach the whole counsel of God’s Word – even the hard places? Are believers being fed and grounded in God’s Word to know how to handle life effectively by handling God’s Word accurately? Are people more devoted followers of Christ? Is the Bible our source of authority for making decisions and setting direction in our church? Is sin being exposed?
If all of that is happening effectively, I see no reason for alarm or concern. The comment I hear more than any other at our church from new people is “I’ve never grown this much in my life at any other church.” If changing and growing more and more into the image of Christ is the goal (see Roman 8:29) then it appears that God in His mercy has been pleased to use both topical and exegetical sermons to get us there.
8. It could be that this question regarding the style or format of preaching is centered around a personal preference more than it is the issue of “right” or “wrong.” It is the same as people who want to argue hymns versus choruses. I’m aware of people that leave our church for this and other matters of personal preference, and they are not wrong to do so. However, God has been using the topical or expositional style of preaching here at Grace Fellowship to bring people to Christ and root them in His Word and His grace.
9. Preaching and teaching topical messages does not mean it’s lighter in theology or preparation time. My first priority is the sermon preparation; I spend more time each week preparing my sermon than anything else I do. Preaching a topical message does not mean that it was just thrown together at the last minute. Also, preachers who preach topical sermons are not more liberal in their theology, and they are not less committed to the authority of God’s Word. God has graciously used people to communicate His Word who have been more topical or expositional rather than exegetical. Charles Spurgeon was certainly not liberal in his theology or uncommitted to God’s Word, yet he rarely preached an exegetical sermon. However, he always preached a biblical sermon that was anchored by a verse or verses that he was driving home to the hearts of the people. He preached for changed lives, and God blessed.
10. Format or style of preaching is no indication of the level of love for God’s Word. I hope that my love for God’s Word and my submission to its authority is equal to any exegetical preacher. While my messages are not usually rooted in one passage that is being unpacked verse by verse they are rooted in the truth of God’s Word, and each point is anchored by a biblical truth or verse that from Scripture.
HT :: Grace Fellowship Sermons
As I was cleaning my room today I listened to a lecture by Mark Dever, who did his Ph.D. at Cambridge on the Puritan Richard Sibbes. Richard was not like the other Puritans in that he did not ultimately break with the Church of England during the time of the great Exodus of Puritan preachers. Why? Because he believed that unity in the gospel was more important than correctness in the secondary matters. I was actually surprised to hear Mark Dever approve of Sibbes’ perspective, and challenge young evangelical ministers to recover the distinction between the essential (the gospel) and the non-essential. I agree with the spirit of Dever’s understanding as expressed in this lecture, only I wouldn’t confuse the basic gospel message with the doctrine of justification the way he does (see below). I believe Eastern Orthodox Christians and Catholic Christians believe in the redemptive death, burial and resurrection and lordship of Jesus Christ regardless of what their doctrine of justification might be.
“We must be united, Sibbes taught, and we must be united around the gospel.” – Mark Dever
“In Sibbes’ hand, the centrality of preaching was a force for unity, not for dissent. … And it did so exactly because whatever other problems the church might have had, it was a church committed to the Protestant—that is to say the Biblical—gospel, the good news of justification by faith alone in Christ alone. And to leave such a church, would be tantamount to rending Christ’s body.” – Mark Dever
“Sibbes knew that the main point is the reconciliation of man to God, which is accomplished by the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. So, preaching is more fundamental than polity. I could be convinced of congregationalism biblically, and convinced that the gospel is more important. One of the things that we as evangelicals must do is recover that territory in between essential and unimportant. … It’s a vast tract that we must recover for faithfulness to scripture. There could be many things that are important that are not essential. There could be things that are important that are not essential. And there could be things that are kind of important that are not essential. … But simply because something is not essential does not therefore mean it is unimportant. We need to recover this in our own reflection on our lives, reflection on scripture, and in our preaching in our churches. If we do we’ll easily understand how preaching is more fundamental to polity, and yet polity is not a matter to be disregarded.” – Mark Dever
—————————————HT: Good Soldiers
I reject the argument put forth by those who say we should now just step back and accept legal abortion on demand as a permanent reality and move on.
My friend Mark Dever put that argument in its place in his comments included in the article:
“It’s like saying, ‘Let’s work to make sure they kill fewer Jews in the concentration camps this year,”‘ said the Rev. Mark Dever, a pastor in Washington D.C.
——————————————who am i?——————————————-