Preaching the Topical Sermon

Grant Lovejoy  |  Southwestern Journal of Theology Vol. 36 - Fall 1993

Preaching the Topical Sermon. By Ronald J. Allen. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992.164 pages. Paper, $11.99.  

Topical preaching too often has been thin biblically and bankrupt theologically. Ronald J. Allen has set out to correct that failing.  

Allen, who teaches at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, readily affirms that “the expository sermon is the lifeblood of weekly parish preaching” (p. 4). He argues, though, that some issues must be interpreted in light of the gospel as a whole rather than by reference to a single biblical text or texts. The Bible certainly informs the topical sermon, but no single text serves as the basis for the message.  

Allen hopes to improve topical preaching by building systematic analysis and theological rigor into his method. He prescribes an eighteen-step process that includes analyzing the issue, the hearers, the preacher’s own biases, the witness of Scripture, Christian tradition, and the like. Fortunately, the eighteen steps are not as overwhelming as one might think. They do give topical preaching the discipline it has often lacked.  

Allen gives wise counsel about sermon structures and dealing with controversial issues. He includes five sample sermons that illustrate his approach very well, though at times their theology will likely be hard for conservative evangelicals to swallow. Allen’s own statement that “Occasionally the Bible is not the best guide [for the Christian life] and, in some few instances, the Bible is actually an unreliable guide” (p. 4) also raises immediate objections.  

Expository preaching should predominate in the life of the church. On those few occasions when a topical approach seems necessary, Allen’s methodology for preparation can provide a useful framework even for those who do not share his theology.

Category: Journal Article

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