There is a big discussion going on in the world of preaching right now about how pastors should preach. At one extreme is the die-hard exegetical preachers. These preachers generally preach text by text through sections of scripture and stick almost exclusively to the Bible. Sermons often come in series through Biblical books or passages on particular themes. On the other extreme are topical preachers that use some scripture but are primarily driven by the topic they are discussing. Sermons from these preacher center on themes for applying your faith to your life.
Most pastors are in the middle somewhere or preach a variety, yet there are vocal proponents of both extremes. Exegetical preachers argue that you must be guided the text so that you take ideas out of the text (called exegesis) and you do not read your own ideas into the text (called eisegesis). The topical preacher often counters that preaching needs to connect with the congregation where they are.
There are great examples of both styles of preaching. John Calvin preached verse by verse through almost all of the Bible in Geneva. His commentaries come from his sermons. On the other side, Charles Spurgeon was a topical preacher known as “The Prince of Preacher.” Thought we should also not that Calvin preached with sensitivity to the issues in his world and Spurgeon was very biblical.
So while I think that it is crucial that we as preachers to submit to the authority of scripture and not just give opinion, I also think that both kinds of sermons are necessary. Here is why I don’t always preach exegetically:
1. There is no command to preach exegetically in the Bible. There is not even an example of exegetical preaching in the Bible. Jesus, Peter, and Paul all preach in a way that is soaked in scripture but they do not exegete a text. To define biblical preaching in this way is actually not biblical.
2. Exegetical preaching is a very modern way of preaching. The early church was not exegetical, though they were focused on scripture. They were more focused on metaphor than verse by verse analysis. I do not think we should make a commandment out of something that the church has not done much in its history.
3. Exegetical preaching does not always help preachers preach variety. I have heard many preacher who preach exegetically but still always find their same message in every passage. Isn’t it convenient how people can find their own opinion in every text?
4. The Bible is one book and has lots of themes and topics throughout. I want to preach the fullness of those things. Some of those themes can only be seen by looking at the full testimony of scripture. For example, I once preached a sermon on the theme of water in scripture and found some great insights by not sticking with one particular passage. Most exegetical preachers will miss out on some of those things that the Bible has to teach us.
5. We proclaim Jesus as the Word made flesh. I have heard preachers proclaim the Word (the Bible) as if it saves people. The Bible does not save us. The Bible is not a 4th member of the Trinity.
6. The Bible itself is open to other ways that God is proclaimed and glorified. If the Bible says that mountains and rocks and stars can proclaim God’s glory then why do preachers get in the pulpit and insist that only that Bible can glorify God? Surely our culture also has reflections of God’s glory that can be given voice in sermons.
7. I am not as scared of eisegesis as others are. The Bible talks about how we have the Holy Spirit. Why can’t the Holy Spirit give a preacher a message and then they go and find a text to fit that message? Also, when we go to write a sermon it is not the first time we have ever read the Bible. There is nothing wrong with understanding a biblical principle and then backing into a text.
So in the end I preach both ways. I like to do my work in series. Sometimes I will do a series on a theological topic, a cultural issue, or a theme like prayer. Other times I will preach straight through books of the Bible or important passages. I think that pastors should have some variety.
If you are not an exegetical preacher, make sure you have systems in place to make sure you are not just preaching things people want to hear or things that make you sound impressive. And if you are a die-hard exegetical preacher, I appreciate your discipline, but have some grace for those of us who do things a little differently.
DO YOU PREACH EXEGETICALLY OR TOPICALLY? WHY OR WHY NOT? WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE PLUSES AND MINUSES?