I am convinced that topical Bible study is needed at times to help Christians in their growth. For instance, I believe biblical stewardship is an essential topic about which disciples need to learn. There are many other topics about which individuals and the church need to have biblically addressed, such as parenting, the Holy Spirit, salvation, and more.
While an exegetical examination of a section of scripture in context is the best way to understand a passage, the best way to understand a topic as a whole is to study what more of scripture has to say about that topic. For instance, a stewardship understanding from Malachi can be strengthened with the addition of the teachings of Jesus and of Paul.
I am not suggesting that the best way to plan preaching is to plan a topical series. I will, however, remind pastors that you are the lead discipler and your examination of key topics has great influence. A well-chosen topical series to address key doctrinal or practical issues can bring great attention.
Dangers of Topical Bible Study
At the same time, utilizing topical Bible study can present risks. I want to raise some yellow flags as caution signs as you approach a topical study as a Sunday School teacher, a small group leader, member, or a pastor. Consider these potential dangers:
- taking one or more passage out of context (this is huge and happens too easily and too often)
- including too many passages with too little preparation time to understand the context of each
- a broad but shallow understanding of aspects of a topic
- assuming everyone understands the context of one or more passage correctly and not establishing the appropriate understanding
- including passages that prove your point when your understanding is not correct (finding our own blindspots and biases is challenging)
- rushing preparation will risk errors and misstatements creeping in
- rushing presentation will risk over or under-reaction by the hearers based on what they believe or disagree about.
What is your response to these dangers of topical Bible study? The bottom line is to spend enough time in God’s Word to understand the context of anything before you teach or preach. And don’t be afraid to do personal study of a topic as long as you allow yourself the time to investigate well. Work to allow God to form your opinions rather than jumping to your own. Study God’s Word. Make disciples!