Expository vs. Topical Preaching

John Tancock is tackling what he calls “Christian Myths” on his blog. The first “myth” is the cry for expository preaching over and against topical preaching. He says in part:

Apart from scattered comments on the Old testament text Jesus didn’t provide expository preaching on it. Paul homes in on specific words or phrases and spends some time dealing with OT ideas and passages, however there is no evidence that I can see that ‘expository’ strategy was employed. To the contrary there are teaching patterns adopted as in the ‘foundations’ of Heb 6 which are ‘subject based’ (shock horror!)  Repentance, Faith, Baptisms, Laying on of Hands, Eternal Judgement and Resurrection of the dead. You will look in vain for Paul’s exposition of Deuteronomy in Romans or elsewhere, because it isn’t there!

Now I would argue that a great deal of 1 Corinthians actually presents Paul’s exposition on Deuteronomy and Exodus. It doesn’t present itself in a 3 point sermon, but it’s expository preaching/teaching nonetheless. Anyway…

My major problem with topical preaching is that it’s very often done poorly. A preacher will often decide what they want to talk about beforehand and then cherry pick verses that seemingly have to do with the particular topic. Problems often arise when you start to look at those particular verses in context and see that they don’t really fit the point of the sermon. What you’ve just heard ends up being a speech that could have been given without reference to Scripture, but to bolster its claims, it gets peppered with a verse here and a verse there. That’s poor topical preaching.

But what John suggests isn’t a bad idea, and when done well, it’s very helpful. If I wanted to preach on the topic of Resurrection then I would do well to examine all that the Bible has to say on the subject and present that to the audience. Same with baptism, or with marriage, or whatever. It’s good to preach on topics that are informed by the text rather than just talking about whatever and then inserting biblical passages as an afterthought.

I’d also make the case that all expository preaching should be topical since every text addresses a certain topic. Even if the topic is a boring genealogy or list of land inheritance, it’s still a topic derived from the text. Some kind of point can be made from it (God help the preacher who has to make the point!). So that’s my two cents worth. Topical is cool when done right; not so much when done wrong. And I suppose the same can be said for expository preaching, which quite often, is done poorly as well.



One thought on “Expository vs. Topical Preaching

  1. Thanks. Helps clarify some of my thoughts. I’ve heard pastors who insist that expository preaching is THE only right way. Yet when I listen to their sermons, it fails to expose the passage. If the passage focuses on a topic, it is given superficial treatment because of the limited scope of the given passage. Some read into the text what is not there in an attempt to expose it. In the end, it fails its objective. I’ve heard very few preachers that do expository preaching well – Don Carson, Piper, Lloyd Jones are a few that I like personally. One thing many preachers forget is that they need the unction of the Holy Spirit, and not rely on another ‘technique’ they learnt from man.

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