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The proponents of topical
preaching, such as Dr. Hyles, were not against other styles of preaching. He nor do fight exposition or textual treatments of a subject. I know many men, who
early in their ministries, preached only expository sermons because that is all
they knew. I still love and respect them. 

Unfortunately, those who promote
expository preaching, most often are critical of topical preaching, in spite of
the fact that some of the greatest works of God were done by men who were topical
preachers. They are intolerant of topical preaching and even excoriate it as
almost some kind of evil. That in itself reveals something to me. Why do they
hate it so? I think it is because they have to attempt to demonize it in order
to defend their position. That is foolish. I am not here to argue style. I am
here to preach the gospel and help people. 

I am for the man who uses his King
James Bible and does a straightforward exposition of it. Jack Hyles loved men
like Oliver B. Greene, who utilized expository preaching. Dr. Hyles, however,
preached topically and taught his preacher boys to do the same. He was an
amazing communicator and no one could honestly accuse him of not being a Bible
preacher. Dr. Hyles had better things to do than to fight those good men who
preached expository sermons.
In talking to Dr. Hyles and in listening to him discuss the subject of
topical preaching; I learned the reasons why he chose to be a topical preacher.
It was not because he could not have done differently; it was simply the method
he chose to preach.

1. Dr. Hyles knew that most
men are not capable of successfully building a church and preaching expository
sermons – I did not say that it cannot be done, but for the
most part it is difficult. Dr. Hyles studied all the time, but the duties of a
pastor of a small country church are demanding. Most men have little or no
staff and they are left to do almost all of the pastoral work.
When you listen to the proponents of expository preaching, you will soon
discover that they put a huge emphasis on study. Let me say this. Dr. Hyles
believed that a man who did not study and properly prepare for his messages was
not worth his salt. It bothered him that men would throw together a warmed over
“repeat” sermon simply because they did not make the time to study. That said
the job of a pastor is to do more than just study and pray.
In the book of Acts we see that the church was exploding in growth. Up to
that point the pastors were busy and involved in all the work of the church.
They did not pawn it off, but eventually it was just too much. There were so
many new converts who needed to be taught the Bible that there was a need to
have others who could help with the work of ministering to the widows. Thus,
deacons were chosen for that task.
What then were the pastors left to do? They were left to do two things; first,
they were left to pray. Secondly, they were left to the ministry of the Word.
Now, the Word ministry is not the same as the Word study. They were not locking
themselves up in their studies so they could prepare their Sunday exposition of
the Bible. They were instead leading in the ministry of the Word. When
considering the ministry of the Word, we need to understand it means, “The administering
of the Word.”
Now it seems a bit pretentious for any man to think that learning the
Bible is dependant on their three sermons a week. Truthfully, that is not going
to cut it. What then is the ministry of the Word? Well, in our day it could
include several things:
Organizing and
administering the Sunday school.
Organizing and
administering the Training Union.
Finding and training
others to preach and teach.
Organizing ministries
where the Word is taught.
Anything that was a part of getting out the Word would have been a part
of their duty. In fact, the only thing we see taken from them was waiting
tables in the ministry to the widows. Dr. Hyles never believed that the
ministry of the Word was all about HIM preaching. Was that a part of it? Of
course it was, but so were all of the other programs and ministries that taught
the Word. Here are some thoughts on this that he believed.
You grew out of certain duties. You did not just pass them off. Dr. Hyles
never quit doing anything entirely. He never stopped visiting the hospital
entirely. However, he did have to pick and choose whom he visited. He stayed
active in every aspect of the church because all of it was the ministry of the
The pastor was still commanded to be the overseer of the entire church.
Pastors who think they can hire an executive to run the business of the church
are mistaken. You are still responsible and there is no place in the Bible
where we find this concept.
Training lay people is far more important than hiring staff members in
the work of the church. A great church has a multitude of lay leaders
throughout. Eventually, there is a need to hire someone to assist in carrying
the pastoral load but not just to allow the pastor to stop training lay
leaders. Dr. Hyles believed that the day the pastor has staff leading more
things in the church then they do lay people, their church is on the decline.
Allow me to show you the hypocrisy of those who use Acts 6 as some kind
of edict on preaching or studying. If you are going to use that, then you should
also make certain your deacons are doing only what they have been chosen to do,
which is to wait on tables and care for the widows. That appears to be the only
responsibility given to deacons in the Bible. That still leaves a lot of things
for the pastor.
There is NO PLACE in the Bible where pastors were commanded to turn completely over
the administrative duties of the church so that they could study and pray all
the time. Dr. Hyles taught me that a man who builds a great church increases
his capacity not relinquishes it. He taught me that a man who ministers enough would
eventually need to administer. Administration is the expansion of ministering.
Ministering the Word is more than preaching, or it would have said preaching.
We have too many clerical preachers, but not many administers. The
difference is this: Clerical work is serving the widows. Ministering is
reaching and teaching them. Administering is organizing and teaching others to
reach and teach them as well.

2. Topical and
shallow were not synonymous terms to Dr. Hyles – This was a pet peeve of his. If pride is a bad thing, then a man who
shows some type of pride in his style of preaching is sinning. Yet, those who
criticize topical preaching do so with a prideful spirit that somehow suggests you
are a simpleton if you preach topically. It is sad, but true, that many
expositors have pastored big churches, but not many of them have built big

3. Dr. Hyles believed the
main purpose of the local church was to equip people to reach and win the lost – Now, my brethren, hear me out on this point. The greatest soul winning
church America had seen, in at least a century, was the First Baptist Church of
Hammond, Indiana. It remained a soul winning church and duplicated itself
worldwide for the entire 42 years Dr. Hyles was pastor, and even now the church
continues to see multitudes saved. A topical preacher built it. 

Be very careful
when you point out works where the converts meet in room 200. Be careful when
their own version of praise and worship teams take the place of choirs. Be
careful when their songbooks are slowly giving way to choruses on a big screen.
Be careful when folks like this are proponents of anti-topical preaching. When
these men name-drop, evangelicals in their books, take their church staff to
the Crystal Cathedral and Calvary Chapel ministries in order to glean the
so-called “good” there will be trouble in river city before it is all
over. There is much to be concerned about with what is accompanying the
anti-topical preachers.
4. Dr. Hyles believed
topical preachers typically built great churches and colleges, while expositors
come in and eventually kill them – Study as Dr.
Hyles did the great soul winning churches in history and you will discover that
very few great soul-winning churches were built by expositors. They were built,
for the most part, by topical preachers. What happens is that a great soul
winning pastor passes off the scene or resigns, and the church seeks a man to
come in who has a reputation for preaching, not necessarily soul winning. He
comes in and maintains the church, but the great days of seeing masses of
people saved and baptized are gone.
Let’s use the huge Southern Baptist Churches as an example. There are
basically two types of large Southern Baptist Churches. The first type is churches
that were built in another era and now maintain their size because of their
prestige. The second types are those, which are exploding in growth today. Most
of the big older churches are pastored by expositors, but were built by soul
winners. The Lindsay’s, who were soul-winning giants and topical preachers,
built First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida. The next pastor maintained
some of the soul winning, but was more of an expositor. Today the church is a
shadow of the soul winning station it used to be. They still have big crowds,
but the emphasis is no longer on soul winning. That is just one example. Churches
where soul winning is the main emphasis are the ones with new growth. 
I am in no way endorsing the Southern Baptist Convention. I consequently
see the same thing happening in Independent Baptist churches. Look what
happened at the old Highland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. and Tennessee
Temple University. The man that followed Dr. Lee Roberson was not a bad man,
but he destroyed what Dr. Roberson had built. 

The same is true for Dr. Dallas
Billington and the great Akron Baptist Temple, Akron, OH. I could relate many
more instances, such as the First Baptist Church of Fort Worth, TX, built under
the topical preaching of J. Frank Norris. She is a shadow of what she used to
be, and the old church building is now a Rock and Roll museum.
Look at D.L. Moody. He was a great topical preacher and built a great
soul winning church. However, as the church moved into the educational arena,
they brought in men who were expositors and the great days of soul winning were
over. The Moody Church in Chicago, IL., still attracts a crowd and is a
“prestigious” church, but check the number of people walking the aisle and
being baptized and you will be disappointed.

5. Dr. Hyles believed there
was a big difference in a great church and a big church – Do not study how big a church is without studying how they became big.
If soul winning was not a huge part of the growth of the church, then it was a
big church but not a great church. For example, if a church grew a thousand,
the next thing you should examine is how many converts they baptized. 

One of my older brothers was a deacon in a famous church in Little Rock, Arkansas. Across town a
brand-new church built on the outskirts of Little Rock, with a young pastor.
Soon, people began to leave the downtown churches for the new church outside of
town. This new church was proclaimed to be the fastest growing church in the Southern
Baptist Convention. However, it was built on transfers. 

The church baptized only
100 converts and yet grew to running thousands. There is a big difference in a
great church and a big church. There is rejoicing in Heaven in the presence of
the angels over one sinner that repents. That, my friend, is what brings joy in
Heaven. – Luke 15:7, 10
6. Dr. Hyles believed some
men killed their own soul winning by being pressured into changing the way they
preach – Churches often begin to die before the pastor who
built it is even gone. He starts a college and begins to get acclaim from the
academic world. The pressure to change is enormous. Eventually, he succumbs and
though the church glides on, its great days of soul winning begin to subside.
Keeping the orchard healthy is critical. 

Bob Jones Sr. said of Billy Graham
that certainly he was getting fruit, but at the same time he was ruining the
orchard. Dr. Hyles was insistent upon meeting the needs of his people and his
best tool was the preaching behind his pulpit.  He knew his people’s needs and he spent time preparing helps to meet those needs.  This is not like medicine in the medicine cabinet where we go from one bottle of medicine to the next hoping to meet the spiritual needs.  The medicine is specifically created to meet a specific medical need.  You could almost call it “topical medicine.”
Dr. Hyles used to say that he studied the young Jack Hyles. Why? He did
so because the young Jack Hyles was a soul-winning preacher. The young Jack
Hyles was a fireball preacher who challenged people to reach the lost. He did
not want to change. He did not want to accept fewer people getting saved. He
was unwilling to let the world go to Hell just so theologians would respect him.
When young men become proponents of anti-topical preaching in order to
placate theologians, it will cause them to be afraid to say “No” simply because
they want to be accepted. They may consider us to be obstructionists, but I
would rather believe that which produced the salvation of souls than the
applause of the theologians and their dry church baptistries.
7. Dr. Hyles knew that many
of his former people would eventually attend a church where expository sermons
were preached – This is a very
important point. Where do your old soul winners go when they backslide? Many of
them go to a church where soul winning is not preached and there is no emphasis
on getting out and reaching lost souls. 

The pastor “feeds” them but does not
rebuke or exhort them much. They enjoy having the pressure off. He knew that
someone had to feed those churches. I often say, “Thank God for dead
Baptist churches! Otherwise, there would be no place for my converts to go who
don’t like standards.”  To “rebuke” does not exist in most of the expository world.
I will never forget the time I heard him explain that he was the feeder
of churches all over the Chicagoland area and Calumet Region. People were saved
at First Baptist, but many ended up in non-soul winning churches all over the
area. Did it bother him? He was fine with it. He was glad there was a place for
them. He felt the tragedy was the fact that the churches that received them
criticized the church that reached them, but he wasn’t going to let it affect
his spirit. 

In my thirty-three years of pastoring, I found this to be true
whether up north or down south. The aggressive soul winning church may work
hard at spreading the Gospel, winning the unsaved, baptizing them, and teaching
them, but all of a sudden the converts who were reached with the Gospel will up
and leave for various reasons. Generally because of preaching “holiness” and “righteousness.” 

My friend that is no reason to change the menu,
for it is God’s menu not mine.  Our church in Texas was called a “mega-church” by the press.  She was not built on hit and miss preaching and teaching.  This stylistic criticism of topical preaching is a dangerous thing of our day.  As long as it is “Biblical” preaching it should be fine.
Pastor, you will lose people who once were your best soul winners. They
get tired, or bent out of shape, over something and they leave. They go to a more
“Bible teaching” church and criticize you for how little you taught them. What
they are saying is that they want knowledge over action. They were better
Christians when they were with you, but now they are learning more and that
soothes their conscience from not winning souls any more. Two suggestions:
NOT BECOME BITTER. Do not fight to keep
them and do not criticize the other church in an attempt to change their mind.
Be glad there was some place they could go rather than die completely.
2) DO NOT CHANGE. You did not lose them because you were not a good enough expositor. You
lost them because they got a little “backslidden.”
8. Dr. Hyles grew up under
the influence of the great preachers of his day and they were generally topical preachers – Dr. Hyles was a student of soul winning churches, NOT just big churches.
There have been many churches in history that became large by being worldly and
preaching compromising error. His heroes were the great church builders. Check
out the men he admired and you will discover that they were great Bible
students, who for the most part preached topically.
He also did not study them at the end of their ministries. He studied
them at the zenith of their ministries. Some changed and he knew that, but he still
loved and admired them. He did not check to see what they did after they
succeeded, but rather what they did on their way to success. He saw men change who
had once built great soul winning churches, but he did not study their change.
He studied their success.
9. Dr. Hyles recognized
that people in churches that had expository preaching were no more “mature”
than churches with topical preaching – What is
maturity? Well, if you listen to the critics of topical preaching, it is Bible
knowledge. That is insane. The person who I want operating on me is not the
professor who could recite the medical book backwards and forwards. I want the
guy who may not know the book inside and out, but who has performed thousands
of successful surgeries. Great doctors are not the ones who know the most. Great
doctors are the ones who know how to DO the most.
Great Christians are not the ones with the most knowledge. They are the
ones with the most wisdom. Some of the best Bible students I have ever pastored
were some of the laziest troublemakers I have ever pastored. Some of the greatest
servants of God were not well-educated, but they loved the Lord and loved
reaching and helping people.
Do not get caught up in this deeper life myth that says that the more
Bible you know the greater Christian you will be. Truth be known, the greater
soul winner you become the more you will want to know the Bible in an intimate
way. Expository preachers do not create great soul winning Christians. Often,
what they create is fat, lazy ones who are filled with pride for how much Bible
they know.
10. Dr. Hyles knew topical
preaching worked best to build a great local church – Again, in studying the great churches he learned how to build a New
Testament church. To build a soul winning church was best done through topical
preaching. It was the freshness of the topics that were of concern to the
members, which led to proper decision making to rectify the wrongs and address
the weaknesses. Counseling sessions revealed much to Brother Hyles, and his
answers often became subject matter for sermons and Wednesday night Bible

A series on Wednesday night was like taking a bottle of medicine, one
pill at a time, or one Wednesday night at a time. Some issues cannot be answered
with one sermon and require extensive attention. To take a whole bottle of
medicine at one time would kill the patient, but to take one pill at a time,
will cure the patient. I looked forward to the Wednesday night Bible study. It
was one of the highlights of my week. The topics were relevant and revealing
and all wrapped in doctrine.
11. Dr. Hyles saw the pride
that often came to those who became expositors – Even worse, Dr. Hyles watched them change. He told me once that he could
name pastor after pastor who at one time had a thriving soul winning church
when they were topical, but who after they changed the way they preached the
entire ministry changed. The church still maintained some status and size, but
the baptistery waters were no longer stirred with converts like they once were.
Success is more dangerous than failure. Paul mentioned he knew both how to be
abased and how to abound. Many a great church builder became a spokesman for
that which he did not do because of intimidation. Peer pressure from the
brethren is a killer. Brother Hyles was comfortable in his own skin and would
not experiment on his people in order to please the brethren.
12. Dr. Hyles believed a
topical preacher could build greater faithfulness and diversity than could an
expositor – The greatness of
First Baptist Church was so diverse that most men missed it. For example, there
were hundreds and hundreds of laymen teaching Sunday school. On Sunday nights,
the church was packed to hear more preaching. 

On top of that, the Bible studies
and practical teaching on Wednesday nights drew 5,000 people every week in
attendance. Show me topical preaching and I will show you churches that are not
cancelling Sunday night and Wednesday night church services. In fact, most of
these churches are thriving.
More people will attend more services in a topical church than an
expositional one. Dr. Hyles saw expository teaching best suited to Wednesday
night Bible studies, yet they were topics. People love teaching, yet they
respond to preaching. Teaching appeals to the flesh, but preaching appeals to
the spirit.
13. Dr. Hyles knew that
expository preaching usually accompanied a non-soul-winning church – If you want to hear expository preaching then go to a dead church filled
with dead orthodoxy and you will hear it. Go to a soul winning church and you
will probably hear a man of God preaching the Word of God, addressing the needs
of the people. Do you want to kill a soul winning church? Preach expository
sermons all the time and, for the most part, you will accomplish just that.
14. Dr. Hyles did not want
to be bound by a pre-determined series or study – Many men feel that they can just follow a series and that it will
suffice for their people. Dr. Hyles vehemently disagreed. Let me give you an
example as to why:
A woman considers two things when she prepares meals for her family.
First, she considers what would make a good meal. Secondly, she considers what
her family needs. Now let’s suppose that she bought a cookbook and decided to
just cook her way through the cookbook recipe by recipe. One aspect of her
preparation is now lost. She is following a cookbook, but she is not
considering the needs of the family. Now she has lost one of her motivations
and guides.
Dr. Hyles believed that his job as a shepherd was to know the needs of
the sheep as well as the recipe book, the Bible. He preached what they needed,
not something he had pre-determined thirteen weeks ago as a part of a series.
Series teaching/preaching was reserved for Wednesday nights. Sundays were for meeting
the needs of the people.

This may surprise you, but it takes less work to go verse by verse than
it does to develop a topic for a sermon. The latter is work and most preachers
do not like to work, I’m sorry to say. Most it seems are lazy mentally,
spiritually, and physically.
15. Dr. Hyles believed that
topical preaching best met the needs of the people – He was a shepherd and he believed that his job was to preach sermons
that met the needs of the people.  This will not go over well, but expository preaching is easier in preparation than topical preaching.  Topical preaching takes more work and is need oriented.
16. Dr. Hyles believed he
was there to fix people and not educate people – Whatever happened to personal responsibility? People love to point their
finger at a pastor and blame him because they do not know their Bibles. Well,
guess what? That is their own fault. They have a Bible. Study it. Church is not
where you learn the Bible. Church is where you receive preaching and teaching from the
Bible they have already studied. That is what Dr. Hyles believed. It was not a spur of the moment choice
with him. It was his personal belief. That leads me to the next point.
17. Dr. Hyles realized
people who wanted to learn the Bible would need to study it for themselves – Dr. Hyles did not consider Hyles-Anderson College to be a place to
learn strictly, the Bible. Any one who has surrendered to full-time Christian service,
and is worth their salt, ought to be motivated to study the Scriptures and
learn to rightly divide the Word. The reason there are malcontents from our
Bible Colleges is very simple, they were not sold out to the LORD in the first
place. College is playtime to them. 

I was a part of the first four-year class
at Hyles-Anderson College. I graduated in 1976. There were more married
students than single students and there was a seriousness about the place. It
had not become a baby-sitting service for those who had not a single solitary
thought as to why they were there. Brother Hyles made the Scriptures live and
they were a challenge to our every day lives. Yet, the truth is, we studied the
Scriptures on our own and that made the preaching even more exciting.
18. Dr. Hyles knew that
people live topical lives, with topical problems, with topical struggles, and
that men of God need to address them with Biblical answers – When I sat with my family in the pews of First Baptist Church, I felt as
if Brother Hyles was talking personally to me and my family. Not a week went by
that I did not hear Biblical answers to my topical questions. 

I asked
Evangelist Jim Lyons one time what was the difference between Jack Hyles and other
preachers? His response was, “He studies people and knows people.” He
had made a quest of knowing people as to how they thought and responded to
certain stimuli. Our lives are lived from one problem to another problem needing
to be solved. God’s people need men of God who know their members.
19. Dr. Hyles realized
topical preaching was often more confrontational – This was very important to him. I want to be careful about the word
confrontational because it is often misunderstood. Confrontational preaching is
not always meant to be contentious. It is meant to confront people with truth
and cause them to make a decision based upon that truth. It is not mean,
hateful, or designed to purposely make people mad, but at times it will. People
will at times get upset when you tell them something they do not want to hear
or face. Topical preaching confronts people and that is a good thing. 

Edward’s sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” was pretty
confrontational. R. G. Lee’s “Payday Someday” was confrontational. Preaching
has throughout history been confrontational. Most exegetic sermonizing skirts
important issues of the day. The fear of confronting people with the truth has
paralyzed many a preacher. Expository preaching doesn’t expose much sin. It may
delicately say this is a Biblical insight or Biblical principle, but it is
never declarative and dogmatically stated.
20. Dr. Hyles understood
that topical preaching had its inherent risks and weaknesses – People are foolish if they think he was not aware of the risks of
topical preaching. Everything we do has risks and we need to be aware of them.
“Hobby horse”
preaching is a risk.
Opinionated preaching
is a risk.
Out of context
preaching is a risk.
Lazy study habits are
a risk.
diatribes are a risk.
So, we have established the risks, but that does not change the benefits.
That is something we must do to fix our preaching, not change the style of it.
Yes, I have heard some topical sermons that were “out there.” I have also heard
some expository sermons that sounded like they came right out of a liberal
commentary. (They probably did.) 

If a man understands the entire principles of
Dr. Hyles preaching, they would understand that he was not some off-the-wall careless
pulpiteer. NO ONE gave more time and attention to do it right than Dr. Hyles did.
He would spend hours on just one sentence. He labored over his sermons, and the
truth is, it is hard work to preach a good topical sermon. It will take time
and study not unlike the exegetical expository style of preaching.
21. Dr. Hyles’ goal was to
be and remain to be the general practitioner – This was the one thing I heard him say the most about his preaching. Let
someone else be the heart surgeon, the brain surgeon, or the specialist. He
wanted to reach the masses and the way to do that was to be the general
practitioner. The subject matter at hand for those whom he loved was the most
important issue for him. He did not live for himself, but he did live, love,
learn, and lend to those who struggled in life. He literally died of a broken
heart that was worn out from helping others his entire adult life. Their topic
was his topic.
22. Dr. Hyles recognized
that expositors receive more respect and accolades on earth, but Hellfire and
damnation preachers will see more souls in Heaven – This is a very important point. Do you think that he did not hear what
people said? Many preachers turn into expositors because of peer pressure.
They want the respect of the intellectual world. Dr. Hyles could have done
that, but it was not what he was called to do. He was called to a purpose and
the pressure of accolades did not drive him to be what he knew he was not
supposed to be or do. 

I was present at a national convention of fundamental preachers
recently. Do you know what the majority of the sermon topics were about? It was back handed slaps at topical preaching. 

Not until this day and time has anyone classified
styles of preaching. Style rather than substance is being taught in some Bible colleges. They downplay a Jack Hyles’ ministry, where a million souls came to Christ, by attacking his topical preaching to build up there weak altar calls with their expository preaching.  

My heroes either called it Bible preaching or poor
preaching. Some young leaders  have started their 
own class warfare spiritually, and if I have to choose
sides, it will be on the side of topical preaching. I would rather we go back
to the days of either it being called Bible preaching or
non-Bible preaching, but it appears that is not going to happen.

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