What has been said so far about expository preaching is not to suggest that there is no place for a topical message or that topical preaching cannot have an expositional element to it. Topical preaching can be effective when it collates all the relevant biblical texts into a coherent message. The onus for the preacher is to make sure that his use of those biblical texts do not violate their intended meaning in the contexts from which they originate.
For example, doctrinal messages like those on the attributes and nature of God, the nature of man, the effects of sin, acceptable worship or messages on biblical eschatology could all be good biblical, accurate and applicable topical messages. Topical preaching reflect the idea that Scripture is its own best interpreter and that it never contradicts itself.
Topical preaching can be helpful to an expository ministry by expanding on an issue touched on in a previously exposited text. For example, I paused my series in the book of Revelation after preaching chapters four and five to speak about how heaven could help corporate worship. Topical preaching can provide a helpful segue between expository series or even within a series on a biblical book. I preached a few topical messages on Christian cooperation after my series on the book of Jude in order to give some further practical implications of the content of Jude.
Yet, troublesome waters abound if topical preaching is the norm for a pastor’s pulpit ministry. The purely deductive approach to preaching provides problems when the preacher is tempted to emphasize his own ideas and preferences than the ideas and principles of the biblical text. Topical preaching can lead a congregation to the point where they demand that only their own personal interests be discussed on Sunday rather than a thirst to know the very mind of God (2 Timothy 4:2-5).
Topical preaching, if it is a preacher’s normal approach, can have the tendency to pull verses out of their original context, thus missing God’s point in order to make the preacher’s point. Topical preaching also has the tendency to make the Bible simply another good source among many other sources of truth including modern psychology and secular business manuals. Thus, the Bible ceases to be the authority and simply becomes an authority. A congregation is not exposed to the full counsel of God when texts are approached in a purely topical manner. How can people to prepare in advance to listen well to sermons if they are unaware of the passage to be addressed?
In essence, topical preaching can place more emphasis on the ingenuity of the preacher to come up with good points and interesting issues rather than exposing the congregation to what God intended for them to understand about a given passage in the Bible. For a good evaluation of topical preaching and some of the potential benefits and approaches see Dr. Irvin A. Busenitz’s article: Must Expository Preaching Always Be Book Studies?
Personally, I do not enjoy a regular diet of topical preaching as a listener and even more as a preacher. In my estimation, developing topical messages is too reflective of a homiletical one-night-stand. For the congregation, there is little continuity to such preaching. The same can be said for the preacher. Trying to come up with a year’s worth of topical messages is more frustration than it is worth and the benefit for God’s people is short-lived. The spiritual nourishment of an annual diet of topical preaching is tantamount to sitting down to a regular dinner of little more than cotton candy with an occasional bologna sandwich stuffed in on occasion.
I more enjoy the process of interacting with an author, a context, an identifiable pattern of thought and a logical flow of material that has been divinely orchestrated by the Creator of our lives and the author of our salvation. Knowing by default where my next sermon is coming from is a stability to my study life as well as for the anticipations of my flock as well. A heavy schedule of topical preaching, in my estimation, is a sure way to develop a biblically illiterate congregation and ultimately a biblically lifeless body.