A leading member of my congregation raised with me the subject matter of my preaching. He wondered whether more preaching on topical subjects would be more relevant than expounding the meaning of Bible passages. Topical preaching can be most effective for special occasions, e.g. Christmas and Easter, or for pastoral crises, e.g. tragedy, natural disasters etc. and for an audience that has no church affiliation or Christian background, e.g. evangelistic or public occasions such as a Baccalaureate, wedding or funeral. All these should have a biblical text to give it authority and content. I have just prepared a message for Thanksgiving which, by its very nature, is topical. However, I usually prefer on Sundays to preach on a passage from the Bible within the context of a series of messages covering a portion of the Bible or a whole book. That is because I believe in the supreme authority and divine inspiration of the Scriptures.
Tim Keller, in his book on Preaching: Communicating the Faith in an Age of Skepticism, addresses this issue.
“If you, the Christian communicator, know and believe this doctrine of the Bible, it will have a profound influence on how you preach. If you believe only that the Spirit may, in some general way, attend to the preaching of the Bible under some circumstances, then you are likely to undermine its power and authority as you preach by overemphasizing your own experiences or by locating the authority in your church’s tradition and beliefs rather than in the Bible itself. Or you may use the Bible as a set of assorted wise remedies for contemporary social and personal problems.” (p.34f.)
This is why I react against preachers who set themselves up as experts in giving advice on marriage, family, psychological health, and other issues using the Scriptures as proof texts for their arguments or outline. As an old adage puts it: they take texts out of context and use them as pretexts!
Tim Keller goes on to make his case.
“So the primary reason we should normally do expository preaching is that it expresses and unleashes our belief in the whole Bible as God’s authoritative, living and active Word. The other reasons to make expository preaching a church’s main diet are more practical but no less important. One is that a careful expository sermon makes it easier for the hearers to recognize that the authority rests not in the speaker’s opinions or reasoning but in God, in his revelation through the text itself. This is unclear in sermons that touch lightly on Scripture and spend most of the time in stories, lengthy arguments, or thoughtful musings. The listener might easily wiggle out from under the uncomfortable message by thinking, Well, that’s just your interpretation. Clear and solid exposition, however, takes pains to show what the passage means – and better attests that what is being said is not the product of the speaker’s views or prejudices but has come from this authoritative text. Expository preaching enables God to set the agenda for your Christian community.” (p.35f.)
How does this view of preaching compare with what you hear from the pulpit in your congregation?