4 Reasons to Preach Through Whole Books of the Bible

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 Practicethey 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)

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  • http://www.praybuddy.com/blog Chris Gagner

    Similar to what you’ve already said, Preaching verse-by-verse through the bible also forces pastors to explore difficult to understand or controversial portions of scripture.

    My church recently spent 1 1/2 years in Luke. There are several passages that record tough teachings from Jesus that are often avoided. For example,  Jesus teaching that anyone who doesn’t hate is father, mother, spouse, etc is not worthy to be called His disciple. Preaching verse-by-verse doesn’t allow a congregation to glaze over such a passage or skip it altogether. 

  • http://www.theo-enthumology.com/ William Dicks

    You get preaching through the books of the Bible like John Piper and John MacArthur do, but then there is a totally new breed of preachers that also claim to preach through books of the Bible, but instead of using the verses of the sections they preach from as the main points of their sermons, they treat those sections topically. What they do is look for the main idea from the section, and then preach typical topical sermons from them, without letting the context or the verses speak into the sermon at all. I find this real sad!

  • http://twitter.com/gregdutcher Greg Dutcher

    Thanks for posting this, Aaron. Prompted me to order the book. And the best kind of topical messages are always textual. That’s the hardest part for me when preparing a topical message.

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      Agreed; so far, all my preaching has been the topical-but-textual model—which probably explains why the bulk of last year was spent in the Psalms :)

      Dever & Gilbert do a great job pointing out that topical isn’t bad as long as it’s done in this fashion (particularly since some books don’t require sequential teaching)

  • http://twitter.com/WScottCochrane Scott Cochrane

    Your second point alone is compelling enough to preach the entire bible. There can be a lot of ‘cherry picking’ when it comes to preaching scripture, and sometimes we need the pulpit to convey the less comfortable portions of God’s Word.

  • http://newlifemedina.org/ Ted Hall

    Preaching through books of the Bible can also help to create continuity from week to week. People know where they have been and can have a sense of where they are heading.  

  • David Mende

    Dear Brother Aaron, I’ve been contemplating of starting a series of messages on the four gospels. Since there are few parallel passages in these four gospels, I was wondering whether I can skip those passages which I’ve already preached in the other gospels. What is your advice on this? 

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      I’d think it’s fine to skip but reference them (bringing in little details that help bring the fuller picture of the passage). Great question!

      • David Mende

        Thanks for your prompt reply. I believe that Pastor John MacArthur has preached on all the four gospels and looking at his sermons on his website, it seems that he has preached different messages on these parallel passages mentioned in the four gospels. I was wondering whether you had an opportunity to preach through the gospels. If so, what was your approach  in dealing with the parallel passages? Your feedback would be of much help to me. Thank you! ~ Pastor David Mende, India

        • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

          I’ve not had the opportunity to do this (I’m not in full-time pastoral ministry, so the most I’ve been able to do is a 2-part series at this point). However, my approach would be as follows:

          1. If I’m doing a broad overview of the four gospels together—part of the goal being to show how they work together to tell one story—then I’d use a parallel passage for additional details that one might not include, but I wouldn’t preach all of them.

          2. If I were doing a comprehensive series on each of the four gospels, then I’d preach every passage, as MacArthur has done.

  • David Mende

    Thank you for your insights dear brother Aaron. Keep our ministry in your prayers.

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