Like many of you, I was saddened to learn that the “Master Expositor” Haddon W. Robinson has passed away. The church (and the world) will greatly miss his consistent example and call to faithful Biblical preaching. Like many of you, I do, however, rejoice that he now knows The Master he so faithfully preached in a way none of us can on this side of that very permeable curtain that separates this world from the next. He is gone … but he is not dead! As The Master says: “I AM the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). Passed through to the other side. But not dead. Thanks be to God!
I thought that as a wholly inadequate tribute to Dr. Robinson, I would simply express my gratitude for what the Spirit enabled him to teach us preachers who had the privilege of learning from him. Although I only met him in person once, when I preached for a conference with him sitting in the front row (yikes!), I have read much of what he wrote, and have for the past decades used his classic book “Biblical Preaching” in the courses I have taught for Regent College and Carey Theological College. I have said to many up and coming preachers, “Before you seek to develop a style of preaching unique to the way the Lord has gifted you, read and re-read Robinson, for he will help you get the basics of expository preaching into your soul.”
Three things stand out to me at this time.
1) Dr. Robinson’s insistence that the sermon have one “core concept,” and that that one “core concept” be the “core concept” of the text being preached. Everything else in the sermon – the illustrations, images, flow – emerges from and takes us back to that one “core concept.” People may walk away from a sermon not able to recall everything that was said (in the nature of the event, this is not possible in any case), but they should walk away having been gripped by “the big idea.” Actually, gripped by The Big Idea Himself.
2) Dr. Robinson’s insistence that the hearers of the sermon walk away with a pretty good idea of how the preacher got the “core concept” from the text being preached, and how the text itself works with that “core concept.” That is, we want people to walk away caught up in the message of the text itself and not in how we preached it. He is a master story teller! But he did not want folks remembering the story at the expense of not knowing the text the story is illustrating or explaining.
3) Dr. Robinson’s working definition of expository preaching. He fully realized that not everyone likes the word “expository,” and that not everyone who thinks they are preaching “expository” sermons actually are! I remember the first time I read his definition; my spirit leapt, and I said to myself, “Yes!” And prayed I would always live it. Here is it: “Expository preaching at its core is more a philosophy than a method. Whether or not we can be called expositors starts with our purpose and with our honest answer to the question: ‘Do you, as a preacher, endeavor to bend your thought to the Scriptures, or do you use the Scriptures to support your thought?” Bingo!
May we who seek to be “expository” preachers (the only form of preaching that carries “divine authority” as Dr. Robinson put it), honour the memory of one of the leading expositors of church history, by doing what he called us to do: bend our thoughts to the text, so that through the text we truly preach the One about Whom all texts speak.
Grace to you, and peace.