Here we step firmly into the realm of opinion. I believe in preaching through books of the Bible. I firmly believe that is the healthiest form of preaching for churches. I know that there are lots of other styles that are favored by other preachers. Let me tell you why I think this form is the healthiest.
When I was growing up, I thought the New Testament epistles were something like the book of Proverbs, a series of generally unrelated statements that were placed together. I would hear a verse quoted from this book, then one from that book, then this verse from another. I had no idea that the letters had a flow to them, that arguments were being created by the author, building on ideas presented earlier. Context was a foreign concept to me.
Those were the days of the slide rule Bible verse tools for personal workers. Want to talk about infant baptism? Here are some verses. Need to explain why we meet on Sunday? Here are the verses. Naturally, when I went to prepare my first sermon, I turned to a concordance. How else could I find all the verses that talk about a certain subject?
That’s part of the reason I feel the real need to model something different from the pulpit. To say, “This is the text that we’re going to wrestle with today, not to get my thoughts, but to try and hear God’s voice.” People need to see that the Bible isn’t a reference book where we go to find information on this subject or that subject; the Bible defines the subject, then gives us the information.
I believe that preaching through an entire book of the Bible forces the preacher to address subjects he wouldn’t have touched on otherwise. In the same way, I believe such preaching gives the Holy Spirit more freedom to speak to the needs of the congregation. I’ve seen time and again the situation where the preacher is merely dealing with the next part of the book being presented, yet the subject matter is exactly what was needed at that moment in time. This also gives the preacher the freedom to present that word without charges of subjectivity; the topic hasn’t been chosen because of any one person or situation. No one is asking, “I wonder what happened this week to make him feel like he needed to talk about that?”
We also find that the Holy Spirit knows how to arrange things better than we do. He will lead us, as we work our way through Titus, to teach grace in order to produce works; my human wisdom would have never thought to do so. He will balance the story of the Good Samaritan with the story of Mary and Martha, showing us that piety without service is inadequate, but so is service without piety. If we preach our way through biblical books, we will hear more of God’s voice and less of man’s.
On a personal level, I think the preacher is forced to grapple with God’s Word in ways that he wouldn’t otherwise. How does this passage relate to what’s been said before? How does it fit into the overall themes of the book? I was vividly reminded of that the last few weeks as I was working through Hebrews for the radio program I do. I’ve preached Hebrews 10:19-25 numerous times, yet never had the force of the text been made so clear to me as it was last week. Because I was thoroughly immersed in the previous chapters, I could present that passage with the message it was meant to convey.
I’m not convinced that the preacher can do that when dealing with multiple passages in a given lesson. And I’m afraid people come away more of the preacher’s thoughts and ideas than the Word of God.
There’s lots more that could be said, but it’s time for me to be quiet and listen a bit. I’m looking forward to hearing different perspectives on this subject.