Why A Steady Diet of Topical Preaching Is Unhelpful
Topical preaching dominates the Church in the United States. Granted, I have not visited every church in the United States but according to one poll I read, the number of churches that preach expository sermons has dropped significantly over the past several years as the culture moves more and more toward a narcissistic focus. Bible teachers are simply trying to keep people in the churches and so they have embraced the desire to entertain the crowds rather than teach them the Bible.
The Bible teacher is to do one thing: teach the Bible. 1 Timothy 3:2 says that the elders must be able to teach. Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2 to teach other faithful men so that they in turn can teach others. Discipleship is to be a teacher teaching a student who in turn learns from the teacher and teaches others the doctrines of the faith as well as how to live the life of a disciple of Jesus (Matthew 28:19-20). The Bible teachers job is not to entertain but to explain Scripture. We are to take the Word of God and seek to exegete it accurately so that the original teaching is given as best we can before God. Our job is not to make people laugh with our stories or jokes or to move them with our illustrations. Our job is to teach the Bible and to feed them the Word of God (Hebrews 6:1-3). Babies need milk (1 Peter 2:1-3) but the mature need meat (Hebrews 5:11-14).
Topical preaching is more like a steady diet of fast food. It takes great but is not good for you. McDonald’s will make you happy and it does taste good but a steady flow of McDonald’s is not good for you. You need healthy substance to survive. Fast food makes one fat and lazy. Granted, there is nothing wrong with a hamburger from McDonald’s from time to time but it should not be our diet. Yet this is just what the modern church seems to be doing. A steady diet of fast food Christianity that tastes good but is not producing healthy disciples. Fast food Christianity produces shallow, self-focused people who want their felt needs met and view God as an end to their own problems. Lost is the holiness of God, the hatred for sin, the passion for God in prayer, the hunger for the Word of God, a zeal for evangelism, a passion to have a biblical worldview and to be as godly as one can be in a sinful world. Instead, fast food churches produce people who believe being a Christian simply involves saying a “sinner’s prayer” and then their life consists of man-centered, man-focused routines that have little to do with the Lord Jesus. They join a club, not a kingdom.
Expository preaching produces strong disciples. How so you ask?
1. Expository preaching teaches people how to study the Bible.
2. Expository preaching teaches people how to study and then apply doctrine to their lives (1 Timothy 4:16).
3. Expository preaching focuses on the Word of God and not the opinions of men.
4. Expository preaching forces the Bible teacher to teach the text rather than just proof text.
5. Expository preaching doesn’t avoid controversial aspects of our society or theology.
6. Expository preaching unites the doctrines of Scripture together to show how they relate and exalt Christ.
7. Expository preaching focuses the attention in the Church upon Christ and not people.
8. Expository preaching requires the Bible teacher to spend much time reading and praying over the text.
9. Expository preaching will elevate the thinking of the people unlike topical preaching which just reinforces views.
So why do most churches avoid expository preaching? I would answer that by saying that 1) many churches want to entertain to draw crowds which equals money and success in their view and 2) the preacher is simply spiritually lazy and will not take time to study the Word of God to teach the Word as it should be honored and taught. In turn, topical preaching doesn’t teach the Word of God but is simply the preacher picking what he wants to say, makes his points, and then proof texts his points. That is not teaching the Bible. That is your teaching backed up by proof texts from the Bible. Expository preaching preaches the Bible and allows the text to speak for itself.
I pray earnestly for a return to expository preaching! Even among house churches, expository teaching should be the norm.