I would venture to say that every preacher-teacher will preach a topical message at different times throughout his preaching-teaching experience.
Now there are different kinds of topical preaching, and the term “topical” has undergone some revision in recent years.
One Kind Of Topical Preaching: Spring-Boarding
Now “topical” to some means taking a word or a phrase and “spring-boarding” off of that and ignoring the actual meaning of the word or the phrase in context. . . .
i.e. “Genesis 22:13 — “And Abraham lifted up his eyes” — we need to lift up our eyes in life.
I. We need to lift up our eyes when facing troubles.
II. We need to lift up our eyes when disappointed in others.
III. We need to lift up our eyes, as we look for our Saviour’s return.
That is “spring-boarding” off of a phrase and is an improper and spurious handling of the Scriptures. The proof is found in that one can fill in the end of “We need to lift up our eyes” with whatever they would like to say.
It should be pointed out, that it is not that the speaker-preacher is saying something unbiblical. What is being taught or preached may well be true according to the Scriptures. The Scriptures may well teach this-or-that. However, that is not the intent or import of what is found in the passage.
Obviously, the danger is that what the preacher-teacher is saying may not be biblical since there are no sure parameters guiding the content outside of the mind and thinking of the one who invents the main points.*
Another Kind Of Topical Preaching: Mixed Exposition
A second understanding of the word “topical” is that the preacher-teacher is calling up points which can be rightly identified at different places in the Bible. Each passage which is used is properly exposited. The passage cited does teach this-or-that.
For instance, a message could be constructed from three passages which lay out what a particular Bible character did when facing an impossible situation.
I. Stand Still & Wait (Exodus 14:13): Moses At The Red Sea
II. Pray & Fast (Esther 4:16): Esther
III. Call Up God’s Deliverance In The Past (I Samuel 17:34): David
A Third Kind Of Topical Preaching: Enumeration & Explanation
The third kind of a topical message revolves around taking a single term and approaching it from different facets. This approach is probably used by every pastor who deals with a biblical passage which lists various elements within the same passage.
For instance . . . .
“But the fruit of the Spirit is . . . .love,joy,peace,longsuffering,gentleness,goodness,faith,meekness,temperanceagainst such there is no law.” — Galatians 5:22-23
. . . . the meaning and application of the word.
He is basically preaching a topical message, founded in the exposition of various passages which address that word-concept — “kindness.”
Rhetorical Technique: You will notice that he sets us “categories” for examining the fruit.
The What of Kindness: What is kindness
The Why of Kindness: Three reasons we ought to be kind
The When of Kindness: When we ought to be kind
The Where of Kindness: Where should we be kind
Other Lists: Here are some other examples of a single biblical passage which contain a series of terms.
3. Mighty God
4. Everlasting Father
5. Prince of Peace
1. Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:3)
2. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. (Matt 5:4)
3. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. (Matt 5:5)
4. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. (Matt 5:6)
5. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. (Matt 5:7)
6. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. (Matt 5:8)
7. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. (Matt 5:9)
8. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:10)
The Twelve Apostles (Matthew 10:2 or Acts 1:13 )
1. Simon Peter
2. Andrew (Peter’s brother)
3. James (son of Zebedee)
4. John (James’ brother)
8. Matthew (the tax collector)
9. James (son of Alphaeus)
11. Simon, the Zealot
12. Judas Iscariot
A Fourth Kind Of Topical Preaching: Variations On A Theme
The fourth kind of a topical message revolves around a single repetitious term or word as found in different passages.
The Seven “I AM” Statements of Jesus
I AM the bread of life. (John 6:35, 48)
I AM the light of the world. (Jn 8:12, 9:5)
I AM the door. (John 10:7)
I AM the good shepherd. (John 10:11-14)
I AM the resurrection and the life. (John 11:25)
I AM the way, the truth, and the life. (John 14:6)
I AM the true vine. (John 15:1,5)
The Crowns Of Reward
Crown of Life, Martyrs (James 1:12; Rev 2:10)
Crown of Glory, Elders or Pastors (1 Pet 5:2-4)
Crown of Rejoicing, Soul-Winners (1 Thess 2:19,20; Phil_4:1)
Crown of Righteousness, for those who love his appearing (2 Tim 4:8)
Crown Incorruptible, Victor’s Crown (1 Cor 9:25-27)
*Note: Some messages end up being a variation of “spring-boarding” because of an attempt to be either alliterative or anachronistic. When a speaker tries to make all of the points “alliterative” or fit an anachronism, the result is a potential leaning towards the same dangers that spring-boarders face, injecting their own ideas into the passage.
Here is a link to a message by Adrian Rodgers which attempts to use the word “Peace” as an anacronym for his main points. See if you do not think that it is a “strained” attempt to fit the passage into his anacronym.