Maybe I Do Want Topical Preaching?


Dear Mr. Young Expositional Preacher. I am a member of your church. Call me Johnny Average Church Member.

First of all, I am very grateful for your commitment to expositional preaching. Don’t lose the commitment. I know a guy named Leeman who wrote a book on the supernatural power of expositional preaching, which I read, and, on the whole, think I would affirm.

But I need your help. I’m trying really hard to be a better husband, and worker, and citizen, and parent, and to wear all the other hats I have to wear. I need to know how to be a man, how to fight stress, how to have a better prayer life, how to make a difference in my neighborhood. I mean, Greek verb tenses and Old Testament typological structures are sort of interesting to me, at least if it’s one of those Sunday mornings when I’m pepped up on several cups of Joe.

Yet I’m trying to figure out what those things have to do with how I go to work on Monday, and how I speak to my little girl, and what I do with my money. These are the decisions that face me as soon as I walk out of your building.  And I have to be honest with you, this is why those big mega-church guys and their topical sermons are appealing to me. They give it to me straight.

Now I know what you’re thinking, because I’ve picked up some of your lingo on The Gospel Coalition website. You’re thinking, “Johnny Average Church Member, it sounds like you’re looking for ‘how-to’ moralism. I preach Christ-centered sermons!”

Yes, thank you, give me Christ-centered sermons. But if Jesus is Lord, shouldn’t that fact affect how I go to work on Monday, and speak to my little girl, and spend my money? What does the gospel have to say to me in all those places? What does the gospel say to me about stress, and retirement, and serving in government, and talking to my friend with a gambling addiction?

It seems to me that your gospel-centered expositional sermons should get to all the stuff that topical preachers preach about, right?  Your preaching should be giving people all that and more. I think you call it sermon “application.” Shouldn’t your applications make expositional sermons topical, so to speak? Shouldn’t they, over time, cover all the topics of people’s lives? Shouldn’t the members in your church feel like they’re not missing anything?

 Okay, okay, I know there’s still a huge difference between your average topical sermon and your average expositional sermon, which is crucial. The Bible doesn’t exist, and church gatherings don’t happen, and sermons aren’t preached, simply to help people like me do this or that better. And a steady diet of topical preaching can make it seem that way—like the point of the whole church exercise is to improve my daily life. When really, the whole point of gathering and listening to preaching is to behold God, and to hear whatever he wants to say. I know that. I know I need his Word exposed, no matter what it says. I know I need to hear all of it, even the parts that seem obscure and irrelevant.

I’m just saying that I need you to show me how those obscure bits are relevant, even if those Hebrew chiasms are as naturally fascinating to you as they are to my Sunday School teacher who doesn’t get out much. I need you to show me how those chiasms help me to trust more, hope more, love more, and what that faith, hope, and love look like in the different areas of my life. Make sense?

Connect the dots for me. How do I get from justification by faith alone to being a manly man who cares well for his aging parents?

Okay, I admit, I don’t really want you to give up the expositional thing. I just want more from you. I want to have my cake and to eat it, too. Call me biblically greedy. I want you to apply your sermon in my life so that I’m learning all the helpful stuff they’re learning over at Topical Tommy’s church.  Okay?

Thanks for listening, Mr. Young Expositional Preacher. For real, I thank God for you, and the fact that you’ve chosen the harder, more faithful path.

Jonathan Leeman

Jonathan (@JonathanLeeman) edits the 9Marks series of books as well as the 9Marks Journal. He is also the author of several books on the church. Since his call to ministry, Jonathan has earned a master of divinity from Southern Seminary and a Ph.D. in Ecclesiology from the University of Wales. He lives with his wife and four daughters in Cheverly, Maryland, where he is an elder at Cheverly Baptist Church.

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