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What Does It Actually Mean To Just Preach the Bible?

When it comes to topical or thematic preaching, it is absolutely possible for a preacher to find a theme, lay out two to four points, and find a few verses to support those predetermined points, regardless of the authorial intent of the passages they select. Do some preachers default to this approach to preparing for a sermon? Maybe. But I’d like to err on the side of assuming a preacher bears the weight of the call to teach the word of God as they are preparing.

Topical preaching, done well, requires a lot of work. A preacher might labor over a section of scripture for hours, only to find that the message is not about the set theme at all. Then that preacher would need to study a different section of scripture that more accurately speaks to the topic at hand (or change the topic of their sermon, if their marketing team will allow it).

The amount of effort required to fully understand the context and central theme of multiple passages is extensive, but it’s necessary when it comes to preaching on a set theme. Due to the amount of study it takes to properly prepare for a topical/themed message, I can understand how others might assume that the default way to prepare is to arrive at what you want to say first and then shoehorn Bible verses in. And I agree—that is not preaching the Bible.

Topical preaching, in and of itself, is not anti-biblical or anti-expository. If a pastor is willing to put in the work, abandon their original ideas as they study scripture, and preach what the Bible really says on a topic, then this can be a great style of teaching.

Narrative Preaching

This style of preaching is not as common, but is believed to become more well-known in the coming years. Narrative preaching presents the teaching of scripture through a story. This style has a way of weaving the biblical text in the form of a story. It’s not based on points or distinct sections that have become typical in a sermon.

This is the style of preaching Jesus modeled in the parables. He taught people through stories. The goal of narrative preaching is to bring about the central truth of a section in scripture through story. Of all the styles, this one requires not only the work of studying the text and understanding it personally, but also the additional work of crafting the delivery of the central truth in story form.

There’s no denying that stories have great power. The concept of using story to teach has been around for millennia. We still use it today for children. They often remember a lesson when it’s told through the form of a story. Essentially, narrative preaching is trying to lean into this style of learning and use it to teach biblical truth.

Narrative preaching requires someone to be good at not just explaining, but storytelling. It’s a skill that many preachers have not needed to develop. And, similar to topical preaching, it’s possible for a preacher to tell a compelling story yet never actually explain or uncover what scripture is saying and thus fail to preach the Bible.

Verse-By-Verse Preaching

This style of preaching is probably the most well-known. A preacher will start at the beginning of a book in the Bible and move through it verse-by-verse. Week after week, the pastor will systematically read and explain the text.

To some, this style has become the holy grail of expository preaching. In fact, some use “verse-by-verse preaching” and “expository preaching” as synonyms. But they aren’t. Verse-by-verse or book-by-book is a style of preaching. Expository preaching is the content within the preaching.

Just as with all preaching styles, there are great benefits to verse-by-verse. For one, the work of the pastor builds on itself week after week. Further, books of the Bible are intentional units of thought. To see the full scope of a book from beginning to end is a great way to teach what the author is seeking to convey, rather than what the teacher is trying to convey.

Is it possible for a preacher to teach verse-by-verse incorrectly? Yes. The downfall to verse-by-verse is that a preacher can become so entrenched in each detail of one verse or one word that they lose the forest for the trees. Yes, even in a verse-by-verse approach, a preacher can pull a verse out of context and fail to preach the Bible. They might go so far down the rabbit hole of the original language that now the intended truth of that passage is lost.