Biblical Preaching, A Book Review

Robinson, Haddon W. Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001. 256 pp. $21.99.

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In Biblical Preaching, Haddon Robinson (Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) lays out a process to assist preachers in the development of their sermons. Even at the time of it’s original publication, Robinson recognized a trend moving away from the importance of the sermon in the life of the church. Despite this trend, he states that, “no one who takes the Bible seriously should count preaching out” (19).

In light of this conviction, Robinson begins by presenting a case for expository preaching, defining this as:

“the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, then through the preacher, applies to the hearers” (21).

Within the first few chapters, the reader quickly dicerns that Robinson is significantly less interested in the actual words of the text, but is rather infatuated instead with concepts and ideas. He infers as much early in the first chapter, writing, “Some conservative preachers have been led astray by their doctrine of inspiration,” which results in an overemphasis in the words, which, “are stupid things until linked with other words to convey meaning” (23). Robinson prefers sermons that convey a Biblical idea or concept derived from the text of Scripture, rather than sermons that teach the text itself. (This objection will be further developed in the following section.)

His entire approach to the preparation and delivery of a sermon is built upon the notion of a central idea or concept. Once the preacher secures a text to preach from, they are to discover the central concept of the text through study. Robinson teaches the major components of the text in terms of subject-complement. A subject is, “the complete, definite answer to the question, ‘What am I talking about?’” (41). The complement, “completes the subject by answering the question, ‘What am I saying about what I am talking about?’” (41). This construction presents a complete idea, and each supporting point provides a sub-point for the preacher’s outline.

With an outline in place, Robinson recommends that preachers either prepare a thorough manuscript for each sermon, or in the least write out the introduction, conclusion, and transitions between major sermon points. Robinson is emphatic, however, that preachers should not read these manuscripts. The purpose of manuscripting is to force the preacher to think through these pivotal moments in the sermon, searching for the ideal turn of phrase, rather than preaching disjointedly from an outline (185-186).

Critique

As noted at the onset, Robinson’s application of the doctrine of inspiration leaves much to be desired by those who value the words of Scripture. Robinson, himself, appears to waffle throughout the book, attesting to the authority of the Scriptures, then denying the importance of the very words breathed-out by the Holy Spirit. He goes so far as to state, “While an orthodox doctrine of inspiration may be a necessary plank in the evangelical platform on biblical authority, this sometimes gets in the way of expository preaching” (23). One can only pray that the casual manner in which Robinson treats the Scripture in his approach to preaching should be avoided by his students and readers.

Another point of concern arose in the preface to the second addition, where he writes, “I’ve also changed my language to reflect my theology. God doesn’t distribute his gifts by gender” (10). While his statement is true enough on the surface, the context in which he makes it can only mean that he has abandoned the conservative, Biblical teaching that preaching is the responsibility of qualified men as taught in 1 Timothy 2-3. However, this actually follows his earlier reasoning, for he clearly believes preachers should be qualified, but abandons the words of the text in search for the specific qualifications themselves.

Finally, one must note the audience that Robinson envisions for his students as they preach. For Robinson’s purposes, they are dull, uneducated, and disinterested in God’s Words or actions on behalf of fallen humanity. Therefore, the preacher must avoid using examples from Scripture to illustrate a biblical concept for fear that it they would not be understood by the congregation (155), and to always preach in such a way as to “secure some moral action,” (107) rather than declare to them what God has done on their behalf. The reader is left to ponder how different this book may have been written were Robinson to anticipate his students’ congregations to actually be regenerate.

Robinson’s book on expository preaching, titled, Biblical Preaching, fails to deliver on either point. Upon further examination, it teaches preaching that is neither biblical, nor expository.

Haddon W. Robinson, Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages

  2 comments for “Biblical Preaching, A Book Review

  1. Vern Charette
    16 January 2013 at 9:19 am

    Fantastic review David! Perhaps a little strong on that last point, but nevertheless right on target!

    • 16 January 2013 at 9:26 am

      Vern,
      Thanks for the kind comment. To which point are you referring? The point regarding his envisioned audience?

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