What I wonder is this: when we see the sermons in the Bible (Peter, Stephen, Paul – all in Acts) do we not see topical sermons using scripture from various areas? Is not the very point made – that Paul’s letters have a clear message and should not be broken down into single verses – show that he has a topic, a theme in his writing of that letter? And could not the same imagery be applied in this instance – using certain threads of scripture to knit a complete message?
He also goes on to say that he had been taught that topical preaching was “wrong.” These are issues that I’ve discussed with others over the years of my ministry. Let me offer some observations:
- I don’t think that topical preaching is wrong. However, I read the other day where a brother said that he typically uses 70 or more verses in every sermon he preaches. It’s hard for me to see how any concept of context can be given around that many verses, though I haven’t actually heard this man preach. Topical preaching has a place, a valid place, in our preaching. In fact, I think churches need a mix of topical and expository preaching. (Apparently expository preaching is playing the bad guy role in contemporary preacher training, much as topical preaching did in my day)
- I think that topical preaching can be done contextually, sort of a combination of topical and expository. That is, when I’m asked to speak on a topic, I always try to hang that topic on two or three passages that can be looked at in depth.
- As for the New Testament writers, I believe that they enjoyed a guidance from the Holy Spirit that we don’t. When we start playing cut and paste with what they’ve written, it’s almost like saying that we know better than the Holy Spirit how to address certain topics. To me, an excellent example is Titus chapters 2 and 3. In those chapters, the point is driven home that to spur people on to good works, you need to teach about grace. I don’t know that you arrive at that conclusion by doing a piece by piece study of the text; you’ve got to grab the large chunks.
Before asking for your opinion, I wanted to share one last context story that I happened to remember yesterday. Years ago, I was at a church service where an older brother got up to lead the closing prayer. During the prayer, he said, “As Peter said on the Mount of Transfiguration, ‘It is good that we were here.’” Nothing like quoting something that earned someone a healthy rebuke.
Now I’ll ask. How does topical teaching fit in with the idea of context? Is it legitimate, as Scott says, to take threads from many different places and sew them into one garment?