I have been summarizing the types of sermons in Alfred P. Gibbs’ The Preacher and His Preaching for some of the posts on this month’s topic of preaching. In my first installment, I gave his description of expositional and textual sermons. The next installment summarized the biographical sermon and the historical incident sermon. This week I introduce the topical sermon. You’ll have to wait one more week to see how I believe this all fits together.
The Topical Sermon
This sermon is built by choosing a particular topic and then searching through Scripture to see what the Bible says about the subject. The topic can be compared to a river with all the Scripture passages that are related to it compared to the tributaries and streams that feed the river. Each subtopic or division of the subject must be clearly related to the topic. Good topical sermons possess unity, coherence, and emphasis.
There are five advantages of topical sermons:
- It enables both preacher and hearer to grasp a subject of the Bible as a whole.
- It affords ample opportunity for a thorough discussion of the subject.
- It impresses an audience with the unity of holy Scripture.
- The great doctrines of the Bible can best be studied by this method.
- It makes for variety of presentation.
There are disadvantages of topical sermons. If the preacher tries to continually preach topical messages, he will necessarily run out of topics on which to speak. It must also be considered that there are only a certain number of topics that can be studied in this way. The Bible is not necessarily a topical textbook. There is more to preach in the Bible than just topics.
When preparing a topical sermon, you should read all that the Bible has to say about the topic again and again. You should then ask your seven interrogative friends to help you.
I have seven faithful serving men,
Who taught me all I ken;
Their names are What, Why, How and Who,
And Where, When, and What-then.
I must point out that all these questions are asked of the Scriptures. For many, the meaning of topical sermon has morphed into something other than preaching what the Bible has to say about a topic into preaching what they believe about a topic and throwing some verses at the major headings. The latter is not a biblical topical sermon.
Next week I will demonstrate how all these sermon types may work together to preach the whole counsel of God to His people. You might want to do a little exercise on this matter ahead of time. If you are a preacher, as you read the Bible, consider what type of sermon the text suggests.