John Wylie is a pastor in Oklahoma and a frequent commenter here. 

There is an ongoing debate in the SBC and in fact, many evangelical circles concerning the the superiority of expository sermons over topical messages.  There are a number of things to take into consideration, in my opinion, if one wants to have a productive discussion on this topic.

1.)  It’s Important to have a cogent definition of the various classifications of sermons.

The reason I say this is because you can look in various texts on homiletics and each one will vary slightly in its definition of the classes of sermons.  We used Braga’s book when I took homiletics in Bible college and quite frankly, his distinction between a textual sermon and an expository sermon always confused me.  So we must agree on these definitions or else we can have no basis for a productive discussion.  Since we are only discussing expository versus topical sermons we need only define these two classifications.

I’m not saying that we must follow my definitions for topical and expository, but I wanted to submit them for your correction. Who knows, I might actually get it right.  As the old saying goes, even a blind hog still finds an acorn every now and then.

To me an expository message in its most basic meaning is a sermon that seeks to draw out the meaning of a particular passage in the Bible.  Things like context, word definitions, tense, mood and voice are all brought to bear in order to get at the meaning and message of that particular text.  We look at such things as authorial intent, the meaning to the intended audience, and then we extract an application for us today.  In expository sermons all points are derived from the text in question, but at least in my mind cross references do not disqualify a sermon from being considered expository.

A topical sermon is a homily that follows a specific topic through the scriptures.  Sometimes the topic is extracted from a single verse or passage, and sometimes it is chain referenced throughout the Bible.  In such a sermon the key concern is more about addressing the  topic than it is about exhaustively explaining the verse or passage.

2)  It’s important to take a look at sermons recorded in the Bible as at least for some sort of model.

What types of sermons do we find preached in the scriptures?  What bearing does this have on preaching today?  How does preaching today differ from preaching in the Bible? These are all valid and essential questions in getting to the bottom of a discussion on this.  I will not answer all these question in this article, but we can discuss this in the comment section.

I personally see topical and expository teaching/preaching in the Bible.  It appears that Ezra and the Levites taught in at least semi-expository manner in Nehemiah 8.  But then, all the sermons of the book of Acts were topical flowing narratives.  Our Lord’s sermons were in category all their own because in some instances new precepts were being introduced that had not been broached before. 

3) It’s important to recognize that there legitimate differences of opinion on this matter.

If you engage in this debate in order to win an argument this will be a waste of time.  It is my opinion that both types of messages have their place and neither one should be exclusively used.  I think that there are inherent strengths and weaknesses to both expository and topical sermons.  We can debate the merits of each others arguments, but what we must not do is marginalize one another.


  1. David (NAS) Rogers says

    Here’s how I differentiated the categories of sermons in a class I taught to my local Baptist association.

    Expository: Syntactical-Discursive – setting forth an explanation of a Scripture section in terms of its communication in its original literary context and in its teaching for an audience contemporary to the preacher

    Syntax – (arrangement; ordering together) the order or relationships in a sentence
    Discourse – (running to and fro; literary unit) the sequence and progress of sentences, paragraphs, literary units that communicate ideas in a literary or speech act

    Topical: Keyword/Concept – Expository – using a Scripture section as a foundational base to convey the explanation of a theological concept or as an example of said concept

    Topical: Keyword/Concept – Springboard – using a Scripture section as a rhetorical means of introducing (“springboarding into”) concepts developed by and from other philosophies, reasonings, speculations, etc.

    • David (NAS) Rogers says

      The Topical: Springboard is a favorite of politicians’ use of Scripture and many prosperity preachers. The text is used as a mere rhetorical (persuasive) device with much of the rest of the concepts in the sermon developed more or less apart from strong exposition of the Scripture texts and more from other sources or foundations.

      It should be distinguished from the Topical: Expository which is a sermon which collects and summarizes several Scriptures on a theological topic but intends the topic to have its base in what those Scriptures teach. Preaching on a particular doctrine is a topical kind of sermon, but it is hopefully rooted in and flows from exposition of several Scriptures.

  2. says

    John Wylie,
    I agree. Good article.

    To repeat what I said in a previous thread:
    How many Expository, Verse By Verse, Sermons do you find in the Bible?

    I am for Expository Preaching.
    I am also for Topical Preaching.
    If the sermon is biblical, based on the inerrant Word of God, and interesting, I’m for it.
    I would agree, however, that it is best if the majority of our preaching is Expository Preaching.
    David R. Brumbelow

    • volfan007 says

      As usual, i agree with my friend, David B., on this issue.

      99% of the time I preach verse by verse thru books of the Bible. I will preach a topical message every now and then. But, I want my people to hear the whole counsel of God, and not just bits and pieces. And, I feel very convinced by the Lord to preach all of the Bible….that it’s the best way.


  3. says

    I’ve had older pastors I respect greatly tell me that it is only through topical sermons that you can truly teach a congregation what they need at that moment. Have had other older pastors tell me that if I stick to exposition over the course of time that congregation will be forever changed. Best advice I got was if I’m going to preach exposition, mix in a topical series here and there, as most people can get “full” of the word and become unresponsive at a certain point. I preach expository messages because from the very beginning of my call that is what I felt led to do. It keeps me out of the flesh the best. I may have had a bad week, had someone seek to harm, and I’ll be preaching on forgiveness. Or I may have had something happen that challenged my walk, and the next message is on temptation. I’ve had many friends confide in me regularly on a Friday they have no idea what they are preaching on Sunday. I never face that, as it’s usually the next set of verses(topical series are planned ahead of time as well). For me, it challenges me to preach on everything, as when you start it, you are simply moving through a text. You can’t leave anything out. I’m regularly challenged in study. Have I changed a message, sure. When you feel God’s leading, you listen. But for the most part, working verse by verse, chapter by chapter fits me best. I’d say we need both types in the church

  4. Chris Johnson says

    Thanks for the Article John Wylie, good stuff! Helps put more definition to the random hyperbole.

  5. John Wylie says

    Thank you Dave for posting this. Thanks David Brumbelow and Chris Johnson.

  6. Mark Mitchell says

    There is no model in scripture. Models of preaching were never in view throughout scripture.

  7. Adam G. in NC says

    I am very close with a self-described atheist that I’ve got attending church for the first time in her life. She has been largely suspicious about preachers and their methods of using topical preaching to “make the Bible say whatever they want it to.” Her main reason for remaining a believer was to point to the churches and ask “do they really believe all that the Bible says?”
    My pastor has been preaching through Leviticus for the last few months and she has attended all but just a couple of the services. She says for the first time she can trust the preacher and that the Bible is being taught…even the hard scriptures. She’s not a believer yet, but she’s no longer a cynic.

    With that said, topical preaching definitely has it’s place. I don’t think it is the best way to preach week-to-week, but the Spirit can move in those words just the same.

  8. Stuart says

    These labels don’t mean as much to me as they probably did in times past, provided that the point of the message, and the points of the sermon, come from the primary text (be it a verse, paragraph, pericope, or entire chapter). If the primary text in view is just a jumping off point, then it isn’t exposition, regardless of what label it’s given or whether or not it comes from the same book as the previous week’s message.

  9. John Wylie says

    I am going to be out for about another hour but I will be responding to some of the comments in a bit.

  10. says


    I am in agreement with you. I might add to your list of messages in the Bible, Paul’s use of the statue to the Unknown God… CLEARLY topical.

    I think the perception with respect to “topical” is the misuse of the Scriptures in a sermon. I do not believe it is wise to throw out a method because some misuse it. If we threw out everything that was misused then we would be in horrible shape.

    One other reminder; our messages ought to be “Divinely inspired” and if they are not then I do not believe it matters much whether it is topical or expository and the same it certainly true if they are inspired. Fortunately God can use our pitiful efforts to touch people’s hearts and make a difference in their lives whether we deliver a topical or expository sermon.

    • Andy Williams says

      Bob, could you explain what you mean when you say our messages need to be “Divinely Inspired”?


      • John Wylie says

        I hesitate to speak for Bob, but I am sure what he meant was that a sermon must be directed and initiated by God’s Spirit.

        • Dave Miller says

          I assumed that was what he meant. But to use the word “inspired” is theologically messy and it is not a minor point.

          • says

            So are you saying the messages you preach are your own and are not inspired by the Holy Spirit? I would argue that is theologically messy and not a minor point.

          • Dave Miller says

            Bob, I would encourage you to read some systematic theologies – the section on the doctrine of scripture.

            Scripture is inspired, therefore inerrant.

            We are led and guided of the Spirit (a process often called illumination). But no human being ought to claim inspiration for his own words. We are explaining the inspired words of God. We are guided and led by the Spirit, but inspiration belongs to the Word, not to the preacher.

          • Dave Miller says

            I would assert, with just about every conservative biblical scholar ever, that neither of us is inspired as we preach.

            You are taking an attribute of the Scriptures and applying it to your sermons.

            If your sermons are truly inspired, then they must also be inerrant, since we agree that inspiration produces inerrancy. Are you claiming your sermons to be inerrant?

            Bob, again, I’d encourage you to read some systematic theologies. You would find that what I am saying is pretty standard in evangelical and Baptist theology.

            Claiming inspiration for your messages is quite startling.

          • says

            I sure hate to do it but I must disagree. Certainly scripture is inspired and inerrant. However it is not inspiration that makes scripture inerrant. It is the nature of Revelation. God has revealed himself through scripture. God is perfect and is not capable of mistakes. Hence because of His perfect nature His revelation is therefore inerrant. God could not because of His nature reveal a lie. Anything He reveals in scripture will be truth and inerrant. Yes God inspired (God breathed) the authors, but it is inerrant because of the nature of God and the resulting nature of His Revelation. This is also why scripture IS the word of God rather than merely containing the word of God.

            Therefore our sermons can be inspired. The messiness comes when we misunderstand what God is saying to us. Personally I think it is foolish and arrogant for any preacher to say every sermon he preached is inspired or from God. We are much to imperfect for that to be so.

            Wow! Have i opened a can of worms.

          • Dave Miller says

            DL. The word “inspired” in 2 Tim 3 is “God-breathed.” It is the fact that Scripture comes from God that gives it its perfection.

            If I preach a sermon, it is not perfection. Insofar as I accurately proclaim God’s word, it is true, but since I am imperfect and I am not under the inspiration of God’s Spirit in my sermon, it is an imperfect attempt to proclaim perfect and eternal truth.

          • Dave Miller says

            God’s Word is inspired.

            Neither my sermons or yours are.

            Our sermons are an attempt to proclaim the perfect Word of God.

            I am befuddled that Baptist preachers are claiming inspiration for their messages. I’m not sure whether this is a lack of understanding of the theology of the Word or a heightened sense of self-importance in preaching.

            But God’s Word is inspired and inerrant. I’m not and you aren’t.

          • says

            that is my point. It is not inerrant because it is inspired, it is inerrant because of the nature of the Revelator and His Revelation. God cannot reveal a lie because of His nature. His nature does not permit a lie. It permits only truth or that which has no error i. e. inerrant. Inspiration is the method by which he revealed his inerrant body of material. His nature made it inerrant. Because His perfect nature was revealed in written form the Bible IS the word of God rather than contain the word. The same with the incarnation, Jesus did not speak the words of or for God, Jesus is God.

            I am truly open, where am i wrong?

          • says

            I read your reply again and a little more closely. You said “it is the fact that scripture comes from God that gives it perfection. That is exactly right, it COMES from God and is perfect. Inspiration is the METHOD by which that truth came from God. God breathed (inspired) that truth in them. In a metaphysical way it was perfect BEFORE he inbreathed it.

          • says

            For the record I believe Spirit led and inspired are synonymous… and I do believe the Holy Spirit leads men in their sermon preparation and presentation and my point was if He does not then it does not matter what kind of sermon type we preach.

            To attempt to argue that inspired is infallible is theologically errant. I agree with DL.. the Scriptures are inerrant because God gave them to us and it is the revelatory aspect that gives them their inerrancy and not the inspiration itself.

            I think there is an over-sensitivity to certain words and most certainly that seems to be the case where “inspiration” is concerned in this conversation. And no one is saying every sermon they preach is everything it ought to be either.. but I was simply saying SOME of what we preach had better be inspired or it will be completely useless.

            In all fairness, that ought to have been obvious even to an a average uneducated non-theologian.

          • Dave Miller says

            Bob, your argument is circular and specious.

            You say, “the Scriptures are inerrant because God gave them to us and it is the revelatory aspect that gives them their inerrancy and not the inspiration itself.”

            That is an incredible argument. Inspiration is the description of God revelatory work in giving us the Scriptures. God reveals by inspiration. They are not different but the same.

          • says


            Just because you believe the words are synonymous doesn’t mean they are. The word inspired is a hapax legomenon. The word in question is theopneustos. It means God-breathed, nothing else.

            Thomas A. Magers, II

          • Dave Miller says

            I don’t so much disagree with Bob’s point about seeking God’s guidance in preparation and preaching.

            But the use of the term inspiration is wrong here. I guess Bob can make up his own terms, but conservative systematic theologies are in basic agreement here and the general use of the term ought to be followed.

            The standard definition of inspiration does matter. It was one of the problems in the pre-CR days. People would make up their own definitions of “inspired” (as Bob has done) and then would use the term in wrong ways.

            I know Bob’s misuse of the term is not meant to deceive and that he is conservative. But the correct use of the term inspiration is not unimportant.

            My point is not so much against Bob’s point, but against the sloppy way he uses the term inspiration, in contradiction to general theological usage. Inspiration is an important doctrine and we ought to be careful with how terms related to the inspiration and authority of the Bible are used.

          • says

            Spirit-led is an activity of the Holy Spirit. The object of that activity is a believer. Inspired is an activity of the Father. The object of that activity is the Word. (Stay calm, I’m not a modalist.)

            Again, I will state “inspired” is the Greek word theopneustos, it is a hapax legomenon, meaning it is found only once in the NT. It is speaking of scriptures. In the simplistic and strictest sense it can only mean the scriptures.

            Thomas A. Magers, II

          • says

            I am aware of the greek word we translate inspired. Yes it is used only once. Yes it refers to scripture. However, to make the jump that it can apply only to scripture is not defendable. It is eisegesis. You have taken a preconceived concept and read it into the text.

            F.F. Bruce says (stay calm, I am not neo-orthodox :-)) that the most obvious explanation of scripture is usually the correct one. The Timothy text says “all scripture is inspired or god breathed and is profitable. The obvious meaning is that God has “inspired” the text. He does not say here it is inerrant. I know that it is inerrant not because it is inspired but because of the nature of the Revelator, God who is perfect and is incapable of revealing error. It is totally impossible that God can reveal anything that is not perfect. He revealed Himself in the perfect sinless Son. He revealed His word in a perfect inerrant Bible. To repeat a previous post this tells us also that the Bible does not merely contain the Word of God, it IS the word of God.

            I am sure you are not a modalist, however your distinction between the work of the Godhead is a little to wide for me.

          • says


            The argument you employ is that “inspiration” appears in 2 Timothy 3:16 and your argument is that this is the ONLY application. I believe that argument to be in error. The transliteration of “God breathed” is accurate but it is also a work attributed to the Holy Spirit. Breath is symbolic of the presence of the Spirit especially where the Word is concerned. It is the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of men who wrote the Word and it is the work of the Holy Spirit that writes that Word in our hearts.

            Both I believe are essential in the effectual working of the Word in our lives. The use of inspiration in both applications seems to me to be applicable.

          • says


            Thank you once again; we were writing the same thing at the same time but your wording was clearer than mine:

            I am aware of the greek word we translate inspired. Yes it is used only once. Yes it refers to scripture. However, to make the jump that it can apply only to scripture is not defendable.

            Agreed once again.

          • says

            D. L.,

            The burden of proof lies upon you. Show me in the bible where something else besides the scripture is “inspired, theopneustos”.

            By the way, since your sermons are “inspired,” I will begin to call you Apostle D. L. 😀 (Just joking)

            Thomas A. Magers, II

          • says

            Oh no my friend. The burden of proof in on YOU. You are the one saying that inspiration equals inerrant. The Bible does not say that. It is my belief it is inerrant because God is the one doing the inspiring. You are the one saying because inspiration is found only once in scripture that it can refer only to scripture. The Bible does not say that. You have offered no proof for you assertion.

            I realize, at least I hope that you are joking about the Apostle. But to be sure i never claimed that my sermons are inerrant. In fact I am honest enough to admit that there are times that my sermons have not come from God. I am flesh. That is why I need God’s anointing and leadership and guidance in preparing and delivering sermons.

          • says


            You wrote, The burden of proof lies upon you. Show me in the bible where something else besides the scripture is “inspired, theopneustos”.

            Actually that is NOT true. The fact that the term is used in 2 Timothy as it is, does not itself limit its use in other areas. I think the following statement that I made earlier explains from my perspective your question.

            The transliteration of “God breathed” is accurate but it is also a work attributed to the Holy Spirit. Breath is symbolic of the presence of the Spirit especially where the Word is concerned. It is the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of men who wrote the Word and it is the work of the Holy Spirit that writes that Word in our hearts.
            Both I believe are essential in the effectual working of the Word in our lives. The use of inspiration in both applications seems to me to be applicable.
            – See more at: http://sbcvoices.com/expository-versus-topical-preaching-by-john-wylie/#comment-248177

          • says

            Since Les is not in this discussion i assume that we are all
            Baptist. I have an idea. Lets be good Baptist and VOTE on it and then go eat fried chicken. :-)

          • says

            D. L. and Bob,

            Here is my last post on the subject. If you do not listen to a conservative theologian such as Wayne Grudem, you will not listen to me. I am not qualified to unloose his sandals.

            A term referring to the fact that the words of Scripture are spoken by God. Because of the weak sense of this word in ordinary usage, this text prefers the term “God-breathed” to indicate that the words of Scripture are spoken by God.
            Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 81.

            Thomas A. Magers, II

          • says

            Gruden is absolutely correct. No one is denying that. He is consistent with Lenski, A.T. Robertson, and W.T.Conner. All I am saying is that the word inspiration is not relegated only to scripture. Gruden is not saying that.

            I do agree we have beat this horse about as much as we can. I have enjoyed the dialogue. You have a sharp mind and a sweet spirit. God’s blessings as you continue your studies.

        • says

          Please give a reference to the nearly every theologian you are talking about who support your view that Inspiration equals inerrant and that we cannot be inspired.

          • says

            Well it seems to me that some men were going about talking about the Gospel with the intent to cause paul, who was imprisoned, more trouble, and his response was that he praised God that for whatever reason, the Gospel was getting preached.

            Now that makes it seem to me that the it was the truth of the Gospel that was being used by the Spirit, and that the motives of the speaker pales in comparison.

            Thus the Word of God spoken, whether by God-hater, donkey, or beloved preacher, is what is inspired.

            But when Bob says this:
            ” It is the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of men who wrote the Word and it is the work of the Holy Spirit that writes that Word in our hearts.”

            It makes me think Bob and Dave are talking past each other.

            He also said that “SOME of what they preach ought to be inspired.”

            That SOME that every preacher should preach is the Word of God, which of course is inspired.

            But to think that every sermon by every God=fearing born again preacher is inspired is to declare confusion since one preacher preaches one end times scenario and the other preaches something much different.

          • Adam Blosser says

            Grudem has a footnote on page 75 of his systematic theology that says, “Older systematic theologies used the words ‘inspired’ and ‘inspiration’ to speak of the fact that the words of Scripture are spoken by God. This terminology was based especially on an older translation of 2 Tim. 3:16, which said, ‘All Scripture is given by inspiration of God…’ (KJV). However, the word ‘inspiration’ has such a weak sense in ordinary usage today (every poet or songwriter claims to be ‘inspired’ to write, and even athletes are said to give ‘inspired’ performances) that I have not used it in this text. I have preferred the NIV rendering of 2 Tim. 3:16, ‘God-breathed,’ and have used other expressions to say that the words of Scripture are God’s very words. The older phrase ‘plenary inspiration’ meant that all the words of Scripture are God’s words (the word ‘plenary’ means ‘full’), a fact that I affirm in this chapter without using the phrase.”

            As has been evidenced in this thread, the use of the term ‘inspiration’ is more problematic than I realized. Grudem is saying that the term has been watered down so much in contemporary usage that he doesn’t use it anymore. I assume Bob and D.L. are using the term, when talking about sermons being inspired, to refer to a level of inspiration somewhere between that of a song and the Scriptures.

            I think it is clear that the term inspired has other uses in contemporary speech than only referring to the Scriptures. Bob and D.L., if we were to discard the term ‘inspired’, would you say that our sermons can be ‘God-breathed’? If so, I find that very problematic.

            D.L., you have attempted to say in this thread that it is the fact that God is the Revelator not the fact that Scripture is inspired by God that makes it inerrant. You are making a false distinction in my observation. Inspiration (or breathing out) is the way God revealed His Word to the human authors according to 2 Tim. 3:16. It is in fact the Scripture’s ‘God-breathed’ nature that makes it inerrant. You can substitute ‘inspired by God’ for ‘God-breathed’ in the previous sentence and it says the same thing per the KJV translation of 2 Timothy 3:16.

          • says

            If i understand properly what you are saying int he last paragraph I am saying the same thing. I am saying that the fact that it is *GOD* breathed is what makes it inerrant because He can “breath” no lie. If you or I “breathed” it it would not be inerrant because you and I by nature are sinners thus capable of lie and deception. I am not saying what you say I am saying because the word “not” places your two concept in juxtaposition to each other. I contend (1) God revealed himself in scripture, He is the Revelator (not Moses, Isaiah, Joshua etc. They were His instrument) (2) They were inspired, God breathed, when they wrote. Because God inspired them the text is a perfect treasure, infallible, and inerrant. Among other things that means that, God created in 6 literal days (morning to evening), the Red Sea literally opened (not theReed Sea), Jesus literally bodily rose from the grave (not the rise of the easter faith i.e. Bultmann), and that Julius Wellhausen needs to go back to seminary and study the origin of the first five books a little closer.

            HOWEVER, if I believed that God did not lay on my heart, or give me a sermon I would quit preaching immediately. I cannot imagine going into the pulpit with a man conceived sermon. Even with God’s leading i still misunderstand and lay an egg at times.

          • Adam Blosser says

            I really don’t think the disagreement is in the substance of what we believe. I think the disagreement is with the precision of speech. “Inspired” is a biblical term per the KJV and creates immediate confusion when used to refer to our own sermons, especially when it is preceded by the word “Divinely”. I would urge you and Bob to be more precise in your language. As has been evidenced in this thread, referring to your sermons as “Divinely inspired” creates immediate confusion. There are better ways to communicate what you are trying to communicate.

            I would still like for you to answer this question: “if we were to discard the term ‘inspired’, would you say that our sermons can be ‘God-breathed’?”

          • says

            Define please “God breathed”. This question is not a ploy. If I am understanding correctly I agree there is no difference in substance. The discussion has moved to what you have termed “precise” language. Hence the need for the quest to define “breathed” How do you precisely understand that.

          • Adam Blosser says

            No, you need to answer the question based on your understanding of the term. Would you be comfortable saying that a sermon you preach could be ‘God-breathed’. If I give you my definition you may say, “Well, I wouldn’t use it to mean that. I would use it to mean this.” I need to know if you would use the term to refer to a sermon you or someone else preaches.

          • says

            I sincerely do not wish to introduce a discordant note in this discussion. I abhor that about blogs. However with respect (and i mean that sincerely), I do not have to answer your question at all. I have been around the block too many times to be set up with a question when i do not know what the man is asking. So again i need definition.

            Now having said that, my initial answer, based on how I THINK you are using the term God breathed, I would say absolutely not! My sermons are far from inerrant. However, I still need definition before i give “my final answer”. By the way what do i win if I answer correctly. :-)

          • says

            It is time for me to say my last word on this subject. The concept of the breath of God is not found only in the Timothy passage. Other passages talk about the breath of God and it means several different things based on the context. None of these usages diminish in any way the inerrancy of scripture. Note Jn. 20:21,22….Ps.33:6….Job 33″4….Job3:8….II Sam 22:6….Ps.18:15….Job4:9….Job 15:30….Is.11:4….Is. 40:24….Ez. 21:31….Gen.2:7. The meaning are varied but the common denominator is that God provides guidance and is control an is sovereign over all things. Yes God breathed out scripture. But the breath of God is used elsewhere to accomplish His purpose. Agin the multiple uses of the word with different meanings does not in any way negate the inerrancy of scripture.

            Bottom line, I would not be comfortable saying my sermons are God breathed for a variety of reasons, However I must maintain that I ask God to direct me in every word I say in the pulpit, that it is true and honoring to him and can be used for the salvation of souls. I ask God every Sunday to strip from my memory that which I plan to say if it is wrong. I have done that all of my life and I am too old to compromise now. If you are of a mind you can decide if that is inspiration, the leading of the Spirit, the direction of God, or bad chili. If you are of a mind you can decide if that is heresy. I must do other things for awhile. Thanks for the dialogue. I need such to keep the edge fro0m getting dull.

      • Christiane says

        “Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”

        (from the Gospel of St. Luke 24:45)

    • Dave Miller says

      Yes, Andy, I think that is a problematic use of the term inspired. The Word is inspired, not our sermons about it.

    • dr. james willingham says

      Ah! Bob, we are in agreement, at least, on the topic of the topical sermon, and I do appreciate your use of Paul’s topical message re: the altar to the unknown God. Can’t say as I go along the matter of inspiration. After all, none of my messages, etc., reach the level of being considered the word of God written, sayings to be quoted, interpreted, and explained as authoritative words from Heaven itself. However, I do hope they are inspiring enough to evoke and provoke a response from the listeners that is worthy of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. What most folks do, Bob, is reserve inspiration for the written word and illuminating for our presentation of the understanding of the word which God has given us, generally, such must be in agreement to some degree due to the meaning of the sacred written word, However, care must be taken as the problem of the depths of the written word in their clarity must be taken into account. Anyway, Greetings to you Bob. Hadn’t seen your reflections in the SBC Voices columns in awhile.

      • says

        Dr. W.

        I certainly understand the use of inspiration… and its special relationship to the Word of God. However, I believe the Holy Spirit “inspires men” to do a number of things… such as witnessing to a lost person… I believe it applies to the Holy Spirit’s interaction in sermon preparation and presentation. For ANYONE to attempt to argue that the word’s single use is related to the Scripture is I believe way too narrow AND when it is used in a clear non-Scriptural reference the context ought to give meaning to that use and that ought to be allowed.

        No one is arguing that their sermons are on any par with the Scripture.

      • says

        To anybody
        Jerry Vines (He and AR are my two favorite preachers) preached a sermon a few years ago at the Pastor’s conference. He started by saying “God has given me a message that He wants me to preach” What did he mean by that?

        • Tarheel says

          I don’t know what he meant. But, I’ll say this – God has given all preachers of the word the same message to preach – His word in context and as written.

          I hear that phrase a lot and in the past I’ve used it….but I don’t anymore.

          Every time almost without exception that I’ve heard that phrase used – the preacher then preaches some version of a hobby horse.

          I’m also skeptical of conversational phrases like “The Lord told me to tell you” or “God sent this message to you by way of me”….often them it’s someone trying to add weight to what they say by invoking the unassailable “God said so” phrase.

          • Adam Blosser says

            Are you especially skeptical when the word from the Lord came on the flight over? Why in the world did a sovereign God give you one word to preach before you left home and then another word to preach on the flight over?

          • Adam Blosser says

            God is just as present in my office M-F when I prepare my sermon as He is on Saturday night as I lay in bed or 30 min before I get up to preach on Sunday morning.

          • says

            Scripture is inerrant. When I read scripture I know exactly what to say. My problem is what do I say after I read what is inerrant. How do you (anybody) decide what to say in a sermon? How do you decide what your points are going to be, especially if there are several and you can use only 3 or 4? When you pray over your sermon what do you pray for? Have you ever believed that God has laid something on your heart, a prophetic word, for your people? How do you decide what book to preach through, what subject, what passage (whatever you process book by book, topical etc.)?

    • says

      Great observation re Topical sermons. They get a bad rap because many are so light in nature. However one of the greatest sermons I have ever heard was “The Doctrine of Justification”, clearly a topical sermon totally filled with scripture. It was preached by Dr. Herschel Hobbs one of the greatest expositors in history.

      Re. Divinely Inspired…Amen!

    • says

      I think I have stumbled onto the reason there is a lack of power in our pulpits. If our sermons and preaching is not inspired by God, then no wonder there is no power. If we are not inspired by God in what we say then we are preaching the concepts of man and that does not lead people who are dying and going to hell, to the cross.

      • Dave Miller says

        Or perhaps it could be preachers who fail to understand that the Word, not they, is inspired?

        • Adam Blosser says

          I promise to never joke about my sermons being inspired after this conversation. Wow!

          • Dave Miller says

            It boggles my mind that SBC pastors would claim inspiration for their sermons.

          • says

            I think there is a difference in claiming inspiration for the sermon and claiming inspiration in the preparation and proclamation of that message.

            I am equally appalled in the denial of the need for inspiration in the preparation and delivery of a sermon. You stick to your method of no assistance and I will stick to my need for that assistance.

          • says

            My Brother, me thinks you are trying to win a debate rather than trying to understand viewpoints. The way you understand inspiration I would agree with you, it would boggle my mind also. However your understanding is different than mine and i think you realize that. I have already indicated that your position is indefensible, so i will not repeat that.

            I still would like to know who those myriad of conservative scholars who agree with you are. It is not John R. Rice. It is not B.B. Warfield.

        • says

          Could there be different levels of ~inspiration~?
          I do not think Bob and D.L. think their inspired sermons are on par with the Scriptures. But certainly God moves in the hearts and minds of His under-shepherds to get His Word to His people. My pastor prays and studies hard while trusting God to use him as a vessel to communicate what God wants the people to hear.
          And i would think that the more he opens himself before God, the more God can inspire him to preach powerfully and correctly, using man’s voice and the Spirit to speak to man His Word.

          • says

            As I understand it the discussion is not about inerrancy. We all believe the Bible is inerrant. The discussion is on the word inspired. Some say inspired only applies to the scripture. Others say the Holy Spirit can inspire us as we preach. 11 Peter 1:21 discusses the origin of the prophecy scripture. It says “For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. Peter says scripture is from God with no mention of the word inspired. If inspired is what makes the scripture inerrant then surly Peter would have mentioned it.

  11. John Wylie says

    Here’s my opinion about the issue of topical versus expository preaching, there shouldn’t be a versus. I personally believe after over 20 years of preaching that all classifications of preaching are necessary for a balanced preaching ministry.

    Let’s talk topical for a moment. Due to people’s questions about certain themes it is necessary from time to time to tackle topics. There are two ways to do this: 1.) Search for a text that you can exposit that adequately deals with the theme or 2.) Look at a number of texts and follow that theme throughout the Bible. The problem is that often there is not a single passage that can adequately deal with the topic. For instance, if a church member asks a question concerning divorce and remarriage, I can’t think of a single passage that deals with this subject adequately. Off the top of my head I can think of at least three or four places in the Bible that I would teach from in order to adequately deal with the subject. Now, I personally don’t believe in proof texting so it is important to explain the contexts of each of those texts, but you are still following a topic through the Bible. I think that there is a major difference between a solid topical message and just using a passage for a spring board in order to ride a hobby horse.

    One other advantage to a topical sermon is the expediency of it. We as pastors are sometimes faced with issues in the church, community, denomination or nation that necessity demands to addressed immediately from the pulpit. A biblical topical approach can facilitate that in a way that exposition cannot.

    I will comment on the advantage of expositional preaching in a bit.

    • says

      You are correct. Topical sermons can and should be packed with scripture. We have the same problem here that we have elsewhere…terms mean different things to different people. Basically I contend that all Doctrinal sermons are Topical. that is they start with a Topic rather than a body of scripture. A sermon on the Doctrine of God is a topical sermon. Should we not preach on the great doctrines of the Bible?

  12. andy says

    Thanks for the post, John…do I get credit for starting this line of debate?

    …and how did you get Dave’s secret email? ????

    • John Wylie says

      LOL. Yes you get credit for starting this line of debate. I really appreciate it because talking about preaching is one of my favorite subjects.

      Dave’s secret email was a bit of a problem, but I have some friends in the NSA and they gave me the hook up. 😉

  13. Wm. Dwight McKissic, Sr. says

    Brother John,

    I wondered how long it would be before you displayed your incredible gifts and skills as a writer, thinker, and student of preaching here. Great article!!!

    Often what’s missing from our debates/discussions here are definitions. You have defined very well the meaning of the terms that are under discussion here. That certainly helps to facilitate discussion.

    I found this post extremely helpful. Thanks for your contribution here. I agree with all that you’ve written here.

  14. William Thornton says

    Very good, John. I do both but came more after time to use a series of sermons for a month or two but generally was preaching through a book at the same time.

    When it comes to special Sundays like Mothers/Fathers Day’ Labor Day, etc. I usually just steal Dave Miller’s syrupy homilies because he puts so much effort into them. No need I both of us working so hard.

  15. says

    For what it’s worth . . .

    I agree that it really isn’t to be “topical” verses “expository”, because even a “topical” sermon must be exposited, in order for the preacher to say what the Bible says to say, in the context it says to say it in.

    I understand what we mean, when we speak of a sermon being “Bible-based;” however it has always bothered me a little bit, because I’ve always believed that sermons aren’t “based” on scripture; they “come from” scripture. That isn’t a thrown stone, as much as my understanding of Biblical preaching.

    Many things that come from the mind of man can be “based on” or “rested on” scripture, that do not rise to level of the Word of God doing the speaking. (Don’t mean to split hairs) I have always understood that there is a difference in something being “Bible based” and “Bible directed.” Preaching is never, as I understand preaching, to come from the mind of a well-meaning man, but to let the Word of God do the talking, even when having to address a particular topic for a particular occasion.
    My understanding of Biblical preaching, may be flawed, but that’s it in a thumbnail sketch.

  16. John Wylie says

    Are there any commenters here who believe that topical is absolutely not an acceptable form of preaching? What do you think about some of the arguments that have been made in defense of topical preaching.

  17. says


    You wrote:

    “A topical sermon is a homily that follows a specific topic through the scriptures.”

    My understanding of homily is different that what you presented here. I believe that you are using homily synonymously with sermon. However, I believe them to be different. A homily is a theological commentary without divisions and structure. Therefore, it would not have introduction, major divisions, and conclusion.

    As far as my preaching, I preach expository messages. I will preach a topical sermon occasionally to keep them guessing. 😀 In my opinion, a topical sermon can be just as biblical and authoritative as an exegetical sermon.

    Thomas A. Magers, II

    • John Wylie says


      Thank you for your comment. As far as the term homily, I’m using it in its broader sense. I just looked the word up and these are some of the definitions that were given:

      1. a sermon typically on a scriptural topic.
      2. an admonitory or moralizing discourse.
      3. an inspirational saying or cliché.
      (Random House Kernerman Webster’s College Dictionary, © 2010)

      1. (Ecclesiastical Terms) a sermon or discourse on a moral or religious topic
      2. moralizing talk or writing
      (Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged)

      Also, I took the idea from the fact that homiletics is the study of the art of preaching. But thank you for your comment Brother.

      • says

        Sorry for the slow response. I’m not making this up, I promise. I’m a M. Div student specializing in Expository Preaching at NOBTS. I knew I read it before so here is an excerpt from the book. Also, one of my favorite professors at New Orleans uses this definition for homily. Additionally, Origen, a long time ago, distinguished the homily from the sermon.

        Homily. Also called the running commentary, this approach is similar to the Bible reading approach except that the preacher explains, illustrates, and applies as he moves word by word, phrase by phrase, and/or verse by verse through the passage. This approach has no discernable design, although the preacher usually identifies some benchmarks for his own aid in presentation. . . .”
        Vines and Shaddix, Power in the Pulpit, 153.

        • John Wylie says


          I don’t doubt what you’re saying, but I was just using the term in the broader sense as described in the definitions I cited.

  18. dr. james willingham says

    Very good, Dave, very good, indeed. While expository is our primary means of conveying biblical information to an uninformed and, sadly, biblically illiterate people today, there are other methods, including the topical, that can serve to capture the hearts and minds and imaginations of the crowds. Consider R.G. Lee and his Payday Today as a use of drama in preaching. Think of the converts under that message. As to our expositions of scripture, they are often lacking, because we lack so many perspectives from which to consider what God is saying. Just think of the field which the Lord made the work of my life, namely, that of intellectualism. Have you ever considered the Bible from the angle of the intellect, that is, from the view of ideas and how they affect and effect human behavior. Consider how from the perspective of counseling there is a technique called “Reframing.” If you want to see an example of that consider Genesis 50:20. And then there is the therapeutic paradox. Again, we have an example of a one-shot scientific experiment set forth in Daniel chapter one. It was very interesting to hear a professor in counseling back in the 80s set forth the steps of that exemplification of that particular example of scientific experiment. I have been looking for one that involves the more complex idea of synthetical experimentation. By synthetical I mean an instance where both the thesis and the null hypothesis turn out to be true and how they can be complementary in their apparent opposition to each other. This was an issue which first presented itself to me in the writing of my thesis in American Social & intellectual History in 1971. Counseling ideas and scientific ideas and intellectual ideas are not the only ones involved. We might well consider mathematical, hydrological, tectonic, sociological, philosophical, legal, and judicial, linguisitics, etc. There is more, much more, but I hope this is enough to back up Dave’s defense of topical preaching along with expository preaching.

    • says

      The famous sermon by R. G. Lee is “Payday Someday.”
      He also wrote an autobiography titled, “Payday Everyday.”

      Get all the books you can by Robert G. Lee.
      David R. Brumbelow

      • dr. james willingham says

        I have a biography, the one by Paul Gericke, and I have read the one by E. Schuyler English. But I had not heard of the autobiography, Payday Everyday. I do have a sermon, a take off on Payday Someday, it bears the title, Payday Today. Dr. Lee dealt with the fact that sinners pay some day; I dealt with the subject that believers pay today, i.e., David’s four fold payment for the adultery and the same for the murder. Got to meet with Dr. Lee in a motel for about an hour. Thanks to my ordaining pastor, Dr. Ernest R. Campbell.

  19. Jess says

    Bob Hadley,

    Sir, I happen to be in agreement with you. ALL sermons have to be divinely inspired or else they are not very effective. I believe the Holy Spirit lets us know what to preach at any given time. If we say we are led by the Holy Spirit we must be led in all things or we are not led at all.

    I believe in topical sermons only. Expository teaching, is strictly for Sunday School, and unless the Lord leads, it has no place in a worship service. One day Jesus opened a scroll in the temple and read some Scripture out of Isaiah. Topical only, please!

    I have always been against preaching verse by verse until an entire book is covered. I cannot see how it would be of the Lord, I think it would be great for SS, but not for a worship service. In this day in time man makes up his own sermons, then tries to pray over them and delivers them strictly according to how he has been taught by man. I think that is putting the cart before the horse. Pray first, let God show you what to preach, and all will be well.

    Come on guys, Paul, Peter, James, and John didn’t have outlines as they preached. What did they know, some of them were not even educated, we are much smarter than they ever thought about being. Right?

      • Jess says

        D. L. Payton.

        I really can’t see where I have to use an IMO, when I say I believe.

    • says

      Jesus read from a place in Isaiah, how was that topical?

      But certainly the sermons preached in Acts were not from one book or passage.
      Where did you find sermons preached by James?

      • Jess says


        Book of James is where I can find all the sermons I want.

        I don’t believe the words Topical, or Expository are found in the Bible.
        Gee, wonder where they came from?

      • Dave Miller says

        It is good to keep a foam pad around to cover the keyboard for such necessities.

        • volfan007 says


          Jess, the worship service is exactly the place for expository preaching, Brother. God wants His people to know His whole counsel…not just the Pastors hobby horse. God wants people to know His Word…and, part of being a Pastor is to teach the Bible, as well as preach the Gospel.

          I can’t imagine why you’d be against teaching the Word of God. Good gracious, man…our people need to know MORE of God’s Word.


          • says

            The pastor’s “hobby horse is the scourge of contemporary preaching.
            I have seen many pastors get into trouble because every sunday it is the same subject.

  20. John Wylie says

    I do think that expository sermons should be a large part of any preachers program. I personally am almost always preaching and expository series on Sunday morning. My Wednesday night services although not usually series are at least stand alone expository sermons most of the time.

    Here are just a few very important strengths of expository sermon:

    1.) It is undoubtedly the most accurate means of preaching insofar as authorial intent, the immediate meaning of the text, and its relation to rest of the book or epistle.

    2.) It is not as much preaching ABOUT the bible as it is preaching the bible. It simply allows the text to preach.

    3.) In order to get at the proper meaning of the text the expository sermon focuses on precisely what the text says. So many times I have thought a text said something but when I went back and read it more carefully, I discovered it did say what I had imagined it did. A simple principle that I’ve always found helpful is the premise that you must know what it says before you can possibly know what it means.

    4.) It makes for a more bible literate people who have a good grasp of the panoramic story line of the Bible.

  21. Tarheel says

    The point of the passage should always be the point of the sermon no matter what approach you take as far as preaching topics or preaching through books.

    Our sermons are not divinely inspired the text we use is though. Too many people, and sadly preachers too, think they are inspired when they preach. Musicians and songs aren’t inspired either…

    Inspiration (god breathed) is reserved for scripture. That’s why we have to always stay true to the text.

    The only authority I have as a preacher comes from the text…that’s why I must stick to the text… I’ve got nothing as a preacher to offer people outside of God’s word.

    • John Wylie says

      Good stuff. I have to admit, I have never heard a Christian rapper give props to Brian Chappell and John Piper.

  22. John Wylie says

    OK let’s expand the conversation a bit. Would some of you share briefly the process that you go through in sermon prep? What are some of your favorite resources?

  23. dr. james willingham says

    When I prepare a sermon, I generally depend on having a text seize my attention and affection. Then I gather all of my commentaries on that passage after doing what I can on the exegesis of the passage, especially if it is in the Greek. I take notes on all the commentaries (a lengthy job, if the text is in, say, Romans or I Cors or some other book where the number of commentaries can amount to some 50-60 volumes or more). Then I look at the sermons that I have on the text. If it is a popular text, then I might have 20-30 sermons or more by ministers in the books they have produced. Somewhere along in this process, the outline begins to take shape in my mind, generally, a four point alliterative outline, which makes my son groan in distress. But then it can be nine points of alliteration like Dr. Lee would do. Once in a while, the outline is not alliterative at all. I do tend to stick as close to the text as possible, letting it say all that God is saying in the very words. The idea that the text is God speaking directly to us today came from our Lord in Mt. 22, where he spoke of the words to Moses as words spoken to the Sadducees of His day, “Have you not read that which was spoke to you by God, saying, “(vs.31)…. After I secure the outline and consider illustrative material that might aid in understanding, I began the process of writing out the message. This might involve several rewrites. The final copy opens the way for me to do an outline to take into the pulpit. Of course, there is always those times, when God presses something on one’s heart and mind, like the message I preached on the subject, “In Harm’s Way,” based upon the John Wayne movie of that title. My members talked about that for a long time, saying, “Well, he told us, we were going in harm’s way.” (That very day, after the sermon, we had at least two leading members fall ill).

  24. says

    In the what its worth department I picked up some helpful information that helped me get a handle of the different types of sermons and what I wanted to accomplish in the sermon. It is not technical or academic but for me it was useful to help guide me as i developed sermons and the way i developed sermons. The starting point is that scripture is the basis of all preaching. If it lacks a scriptural basis then it is a religious talk not a sermon.
    The different type of sermons is determined by the place of scripture in preparation. A TOPICAL sermon STARTS with a topic and then seeks relevant scripture to proclaim that topic. An EXPOSITORY sermon STARTS with a body f scripture, explains the meaning and then indicates how that meaning effects the life of the listener. An EXEGETICAL sermon STARTS with a body of scripture, lays open and bare the meaning of the scripture but does not apply it in any way.

    As i said this is not technical at all, but it has been useful to me to understand what i want to accomplish in the sermon. If I wanted to talk about the Christian home or perhaps a doctrine such as Heaven etc. i would use the topical approach. If my interest was to deepen the listeners knowledge and ability to seriously live the Christ like life i would use Expository. If I wanted to explain what was being said in a particular passage I would use the Exegetical format.

    • says

      D. L.,

      By any chance did that information come from a professor at Southwestern? I read a book called A Quest for Reformation in Preaching. It is long out of print, it was first published in 1968. In that book, the author, Henry Brown, makes similar statements.

      It’s a really good book. I’ve thought about trying to write a post about it and seeing if Dave would publish it.

      Thomas A. Magers, II

      • says

        Yes it is from SWBTS. I was there 1966-69. My information came from Dr. Northcutt. I suspect that Drs. Clinard and Brown held similar views. These three published the text book that was used in those days.

    • John Wylie says

      Thanks Brother for the information. How do you define a textual sermon as compared to an expository one?

      • says

        Very simplistically, an Exegetical sermon explains the body of scripture in question but does no application. Much like we exegete the passage for sermon building. The Expository sermon does that but adds application.
        Again these are working definitions not scholastic.

          • says

            From a pragmatic viewpoint I would say yes. While there are some differences it seems that both want to accomplish the same thing. I see that as the bottom line. What do you want to accomplish with a sermon. That most often determines the type of sermon I will preach. If i want my people to understand and live the Sermon on the Mount it would be Expository. If my interest was to teach the folks the great doctrines of the Bible I would chose Topical. The last illustration may seem strange but remember I understand Topical to be that which starts with a topic.

  25. dr. james willingham says

    I have never felt that there was any passage which did not have a purpose in the will of God. Application and purpose are wrapped up together, but some folks need the obvious to be made explicit whereas others are caught on the fly, sort of like trout. The first would be the catfish, of course.

  26. dr. james willingham says

    My brother-in-law is a good preacher. He can hold your interest; D.L. is worth hearing. I like him even if he is only related by marriage. I think the reason he calls me brother has to do with my liking his preaching.

      • dr. james willingham says

        True, D.L. Your wife, in addition to being my sister, is like my wife, women who have supported us through thick and thin across many years. Maybe that is why our sons are our pastors. They are great ladies, and I thank God for them.

  27. says

    John, thanks for initiating a great conversation about preaching. I do primarily consecutive exposition through books of the Bible. I also do topical series from time to time. Even in topical series I prefer an expositional approach that deals with a specific text that touches my topic (Eph. 5:21-33 in a series on marriage for instance).

    One of the reasons I prefer an expository method is that the way we preach models to our people how to read and understand the Bible. One of the dangers of topical preaching is that we declare our conclusions without demonstrating in the text how we arrived at those conclusions. Expository preaching provides the contextually sensitive approach which models how our people can rightly handle the Word of truth. I am not suggesting that topical preaching is necessarily biblically unfaithful, just that exposition more clearly demonstrates how we arrived at the meaning of a passage.

    • John Wylie says

      Thanks Kelly,

      I agree with what you are saying. If a topical sermon can fall into the topical expository class, as David mentioned in the first comment, that is best. However, as I said in an earlier comment, there are certain subjects that require us to look at number of passages in order to fully deal with the topic.

  28. John Wylie says

    Here’s a question, what are you guys preaching on currently? Are you in a series? Is it topical or expository? Are you preaching a specific book?

  29. says

    “I personally see topical and expository teaching/preaching in the Bible…It is my opinion that both types of messages have their place and neither one should be exclusively used.”

    I agree.

    Either one can also be abused by eisegesis. It’s far easier to do using the topical method although it can creep into an expository sermon as well.

      • John Wylie says

        Thanks Jim,

        Yes I think that people who say if it it’s not expository than it isn’t proper preaching are on the wrong track. I feel the same about the topical only guys. I personally practice both pretty much every week.