I’ve been exposed to a variety of preaching, from the very topical where a new subject is introduced each week, to series on a topic or on a series of going through an entire book of the bible. I’m sure every pastor has their preference but if the goal is to equip the body for the work of ministry, I think going through whole books of the bible is the best way. I’m sure there are other lists out there, but here are my reasons;
1) It connects the narrative or letter to the whole meta-narrative of scripture from Genesis to Revelation. This is really what we should want people to understand anyway. No matter what book it is, the pastor will be forced to make correlations to give a fair and honest treatment to the book. A good systematized topical study may be able provide this treatment, when done thoughtfully and that does require several sessions regardless of the topic. It would be most difficult to do this in a topical, week-by-week sermon.
2) It anchors the congregation in one theme of thought for an extended period of time. The biblical writers had a particular theme when writing in a particular genre to a particular audience. Going from start to finish through one book is able to better capture the author’s purpose and give an appreciation for a fuller development of understanding. As stated, in #1, making to connections to the biblical meta-narrative is key and necessary. This is in contrast to the new-topic-every-week. A steady diet of this keeps people bouncing around and grasping for whatever they can to help them out, and ultimately does a disservice.
3) It treats the bible as it should be treated as a complete revelation of God instead of a self-help guide or manual for living. In this day and age, where contemporary Evangelicalism has been drawn to pragmatism with instantaneous results, people are already prone to grab for verses that will help out their life concerns. Application is important, but not without an understanding of the foundation.
4) It teaches people how to approach scripture on their own. It’s a case of monkey-see-monkey-do. When people are exposed to methodically going through a whole book, this is what they will most likely emulate. If they are exposed to explanation of what the author is communicating and how that connects to the complete meta-narrative, it will influence how they approach scripture. On the other hand, if people are exposed to finding a topic, then finding supporting passages, it teaches them to go home and do the same, most likely ignoring the context.
5) It keeps the pastor from focusing on pet agendas. Of course, this depends on the person and their agenda. It is possible that one can find a pet agenda in a book, but I think made a little more difficult than just giving a topical treatment to a subject.
6) It keeps the pastor grounded in their task to connect people to God’s word in ways that are interesting. I recall one pastor telling me that going through books of the bible bores people and doesn’t require much work. On the contrary, it requires a tremendous amount of work to study the background, in some cases the original language, the complete theme of the book and how to divide it up into a series. The really thoughtful pastor will ascribe an interesting name to the series that is in line with the theme of the books. This should keep the pastor humble and thoughtful in the care of the congregation as well as reliant on the Holy Spirit.
7) It confronts everyone with hard truths. Let’s be honest, there are parts of the bible that we would rather avoid. But when going through the bible a book at a time, that is hard to avoid.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not opposed to topical teaching. But in the grand scheme of things, if people are to learn about God on his terms, preaching through books at a time is the best way to go.