Preaching Today: We know you're a huge fan of expository sermons, but let's begin with a nod towards the topical sermon series. What percentage of your sermon series are topical? What are two of your favorite topical series?
Hershael York: I don't preach a topical series often, and when I do, they are still textual and expository. I confess that sometimes I need to preach something from the Bible's metanarrative and let my church see threads of connection and commonality that intersect across books and testaments. I probably do one topical series for every two book studies. Topical series are always shorter, normally six to twelve weeks, and my book series can go for a year, so it probably is only about 10 percent of the time. I recently completed a series called "A Man Like Us" about the life of Elijah, using James' statement about the prophet as the entry point to then walk through the different narratives about Elijah's life. Elijah did great things for God, but he was a man like us. He grew weary and despaired of life—because he was a man like us. He was a great man who needed God's grace and mercy—because he was a man like us.
I'm also excited about a series on what it means to call on the Lord in faith. Evangelicals have been debating what it means to call upon the name of the Lord. Everyone is either for or against "the sinner's prayer" and concerned about defining that initial act of faith. I plan to survey biblical professions of faith and what they teach us about the nature of faith, it's necessity and expression. I'm convinced God sees faith many times where we would not see it, or even discount it. Rahab's first act of faith was to tell a lie, and then profess to the spies simply, "Your God is God." Ruth grounded her faith in a human relationship: "Your God will be my God." The thief on the cross simply asked to be remembered, but he acknowledged that Jesus was a King who was going to inherit a kingdom even after his death. Though a fictional character, the prodigal's statement "I am not worthy …" shows a beautiful picture of genuine repentance.
Give us one reason why a preacher should (every once in a while) use a topical series.
A topical series that is still textual and expository can give a congregation the 40,000 foot view of the Bible, reminding them that it's really one story of redemption, not 66 unrelated books that say something nice about God. We can only understand the parts of the Bible in light of the whole, so we need to change lenses often enough to help us hone in on meaning because the part informs the whole even as the whole reveals the meaning of the parts.
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