When pastors do topical series, I suspect they will not choose passages that they find theologically difficult or problematic. For example, how many pastors ignore passages that deal with the doctrine of election? If we preach lectio continua, we must deal with whatever doctrines the text presents. We don’t have time for hobbyhorses, unless of course we’re ignoring the text. By preaching the text, it keeps us balanced. Sure, who wouldn’t want to hear about the love of God, but sometimes the text speaks about God’s wrath and justice and we need to hear about it.
During the sixteenth-century Reformation one of the standard practices for pastors was to preach lectio continua, chapter-by-chapter, verse-by-verse, through books of the Bible. At Geneva, for example, John Calvin preached from the New Testament in the morning and the Old Testament in the evening. Despite its common use during the Reformation there are many Reformed ministers who don’t preach lectio continua—they preach small topical series on this or that, or perhaps sections of books, such as sermons on the life of David or Abraham.
On the one hand, it’s definitely good and important that ministers preach the word of God. As simple as it may seem, there are too many ministers who ascend the pulpit each Sunday morning and do not preach the word—a sad but true fact. On the other hand, I think that some pastors are afraid to preach lectio continua for various reasons. But over the years I found a number of benefits to this method of preaching that, I believe, commend its use over other practices.
First, by preaching through books of the Bible you teach yourself and your congregation about whole portions of Scripture. Far too many people in the church, pastors included, do not know their Bibles. They have favorite verses or chapters, perhaps, but seldom are they familiar with entire books. What better way can there be to learn about Scripture than to preach through Romans, verse-by-verse? A side benefit of this is that the more you preach through books of the Bible, the better you will know it. Like compounding interest, your familiarity with the Bible will accrue. You will be better equipped for ministry, counseling, teaching, and preaching.