I have always preached textually. I have never been a guy who liked topical sermons, and have only done them out of necessity on certain topics (like divorce and remarriage). Rather than taking sections of texts and preaching on them, I have just completed preaching through Hebrews and First Peter. I have enjoyed doing this more than any preaching I have done in the past. I believe there are a number of reasons that this has been superior to me.
First, it is a lot easier to find the theme of the book and stay in the context of the theme. Preaching on Ephesians 2 will not help one see the overall theme of the book, nor cause one to ask why Paul preaches so adamantly about being saved by grace. We easily miss these important connections. I truly found this at 1 Peter 5:1-4. This passage is easily lifted out of context and one has a great textual sermon on shepherds and godly leadership. But how does this passage fit in with Peter’s theme of suffering? Preaching through a book helps seek greater depth from the text.
Second, preaching through the book ensures that the whole counsel of God is preached. Preaching through the book is like a large net catching every important detail and teaching and handing it to the congregation. There are some topics I have addressed that I would not have considering speaking on if it was not for the text requiring such a discussion.
Finally, preaching through a book in the Bible forces us to teach on texts that are difficult and controversial. We may want to shy away from certain texts because of their level of difficulty. Preaching through the book requires us to grapple with those difficult passages.
I am not sure why more preachers do not preach through a book in the Bible. I have been disappointed that I cannot find many preachers who preach through a book on the podcasts. I am sure that there are many preachers who do preach through a book but are not podcasting, so I cannot follow them. But most preaching that I find on the internet is topical and I think there is much that can be missed by preaching this way. There are a few reasons that I think hinder preachers from preaching through a book.
1. Preaching through a book means that it will be a long series. I am finishing First Peter this Sunday. It took me 15 lessons to get through the book. First Peter is only five chapters long, a relatively short book. Preaching through larger books like First Corinthians or Romans would probably take a year or more. This can be looked upon as a negative, especially if the congregation feels like they are dragging through the book.
2. Preaching through a book is hard. See point number one above. You must make sure that you are not dragging through the book. The text must be fresh and exciting every week. The worst thing a preacher can do is have a congregation dreading another lesson from First Peter. Preaching through a book is also hard because preachers will be tempted to sound like a commentary. Great care must be given to use the studied information and teach in a relevant way to people’s lives and not simply regurgitate the commentary (which all will admit is terribly boring to read or listen to).
But I have really enjoyed doing this and I look forward to diving into Second Peter in a couple weeks. I would like to challenge other preachers out there to take a small book and preach through it. The benefits to yourself will be great and I think the congregation will be richly fed from the effort. Textual and topical preaching have their place and need. But I would like to see more preachers add to their skills true expository preaching through a whole book in the scriptures.