Why I believe in preaching through whole books of the Bible

The other day, I wrote about how we engage with theology in the local church.  In the current debate about this, some people are setting up the practice of systematic expository preaching in opposition to engaging with theology.  In fact, the idea that we should preach through a whole book of the Bible has long been set in opposition to covering relevant topics whether that’s practical application on subjects such as work and relationships or Biblical and Systematic Theological themes.

In fact, I’ve seen it suggested that preaching through a whole book suits only the preacher’s interests.  To quote St Paul in Romans “By no means”, or in fact, quite the opposite.  You see, the easiest thing for a preacher to do, if its about their own self interest is to pick 4 or 5 chapters from a book of the Bible and preach through them. That way you get to shape the preaching series to your priorities and avoid the difficult bits.  Preaching chapter by chapter through a book, all the way to the end forces the preacher to really focus in and see what God is saying.

The reasons why I encourage whole book preaching are as follows.  First, because it pushes us to let God drive the preaching/teaching agenda of the church. It minimises the opportunities for us as preachers to select content and topics that fit around our own agendas and to avoid the bits that might challenge. 

Secondly, we preach through whole books because, to state the obvious, they were given to us as whole books.  We are meant to read Romans 14-16 following on from Romans 9-11 and building on from Romans 1-8.  The authors are seeking to communicate an overarching message and paint a compelling picture.  Everything is meant to hang together. 

Thirdly, I favour whole book preaching because in fact, it helps us to do the whole theological engagement thing.  Read through Romans (sticking with one example) and you’ll actually engage with the big systematic themes of Creation and Fall, Incarnation and Atonement, Justification and Sanctification.  Now, Romans might seem like a specific and unique example but I’d argue that this is true of other, longer books too. An in depth study of Deuteronomy, Isaiah or Matthew will be theologically rich if done right.

And, working through a whole book will be pastorally rich too.  You know, if you attempt topical preaching, there comes a point when you discover that you are cycling around the same themes again and again.  Wonder why your kids get bored of youth group? It’s because they are certain that they completed the course and got it first time round.  Yet, when we work through big books, we get to cover all the big issues affecting people’s lives.  We see how our answers to such challenges are all found in doctrinally rich, gospel deep exposition. 

So, if you are putting together the teaching programme for your church, don’t be afraid to go long and deep.  Don’t be scared of taking on whole books.

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