Preaching methods are a big topic right now in certain corners of evangelicalism. Should we preach through books of the Bible? Is topical okay? How should we approach topical sermons if we do them at all? These are questions that many of us have to deal wrestle with.
Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert are both strong advocates for the practice of preaching through entire books of the Bible. In their new book, Preach: Theology Meets Practice, they offer a number of practical considerations as to why our preaching ministries would benefit from taking up this practice. Here are four that I found particularly helpful:
1. Preaching through books helps you see the beauty of Scripture.
Many Christians—and those who preach to them—treat the Bible as if it’s a collection of wise sayings, the order of which doesn’t matter very much. It’s as if all of Scripture is the book of Proverbs or the sayings of Confucius. But most of the Bible isn’t like that at all. God inspired each of the books of the Bible with a certain internal logic and order. He inspired narrative and argumentation and prophetic cases against His people. The books build to climaxes, and they have elegant twists embedded here and there within them. Part of our job as preachers, therefore, is to help our people see the beauty of Scripture. We’re not just looking for “nuggets of wisdom” buried in useless iron ore; we want our people to see the majesty of the whole, and preaching through entire books helps us open their eyes to Scripture’s beauty. (Kindle location 1032)
2. Preaching through books forces you to preach uncomfortable portions of Scripture.
Few of us relish the thought of preaching on the Bible’s texts about divorce. It’s a touchy subject with multiple twists and turns in the teaching that are hard to get skeptical listeners to follow, and it’s frankly easier just to go to John 3:16 again than to plant yourself for a few weeks in Matthew 19! And yet it is in Scripture, and we are called to preach the whole counsel of God to our people. That’s where preaching entire books helps. After Matthew 18 comes Matthew 19. After 1 Corinthians 5 comes 1 Corinthians 6, and if you’ve established a pattern of preaching straight through books, you can’t avoid them. (Kindle location 1054)
3. Preaching through books confronts our fear of saying hard things.
One of the most crippling diseases for a preacher of God’s Word is a fear of saying hard things from the pulpit—a blanching at the thought of preaching something that might offend and a resulting tendency to stay away from hard passages of the Bible. Preaching through entire books works against that fear and tendency because it forces us to preach those hard passages when they appear. In fact, it can help turn our sinful fear of man against itself—think ju jitsu!—because we won’t want to face questions about our lack of courage if we skip from Matthew 18 to Matthew 20! . . . [P]reaching through those books also protects us from being “blamed” for preaching hard passages at particular times. (Kindle locations 1062, 1066)
4. Preaching through books encourages your growth as a preacher and a Christian.
Preaching through books forces you as a preacher—and therefore your church as well—to grapple with passages of Scripture with which you’re not already familiar. As a result, you learn new things; you grow in your knowledge of God and His Word; and you mature as a Christian and as a pastor. If you skip around the Bible in your preaching, you will likely gravitate toward passages you already have thought long and hard about, passages you know a lot about already. . . . Preaching our favorite passages, or the texts with which we’re most familiar, means that our growth as preachers and even as Christians will be stunted. There are treasures unknown in the text we encounter as we preach through books. (Kindle locations 1074, 1080)