A Tribute to Haddon W. Robinson
A Tribute to Haddon W. Robinson
March 21, 1931 – July 22, 2017
There is a plaque on my wall that was given to me when I was a first year teacher that reads, “There is at least one great teacher in every child’s life. Let it be you.” No teacher has had a greater impact on me than Dr. Haddon Robinson. On Saturday, July 22, Dr. Robinson, went to be with the Lord.
Born in 1931, Dr. Robinson grew up in a section of Harlem nicknamed Mousetown. This area was the second poorest zip code in the country. Robinson left New York to study at Bob Jones University, Dallas Theological Seminary, Southern Methodist University and finally the University of Illinois. He returned to Dallas to chair the preaching department before becoming the president of Denver Seminary and then Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary while continuing to teach the subject of homiletics.
Shortly following his conversion, he went to hear Harry Ironside preach in New York City. Following the message, Robinson wrote in his diary: “He preached for an hour and it seemed like 20 minutes; others preach for 20 minutes and it seems like an hour. I wonder what the difference is.” Dr. Robinson would repeatedly tell us: “I have devoted my life to answering that question.”
I first became aware of Dr. Robinson in early 2000’s. I began to notice that most of the great preachers I admired had something similar in common. Haddon Robinson either directly, or indirectly, taught the preachers. His method and work entitled the “Big Idea” of preaching has been the standard of expository preaching for the past half-century.
In 2008, I enrolled in the doctoral program at Gordon-Conwell seminary where Dr. Robinson was not only serving as the president, but would be my mentor. I made a commitment that I was going to spend those next three years learning absolutely everything I could from this man. I read every single word of the required reading as well as every single word of the “recommended” reading. I wasn’t the smartest student in the class. I certainly wasn’t the best preacher. But I doubt anyone else squeezed as much from this learning opportunity as I did.
The most vivid memory I have from the class was, at the time, the most painful. During our first residency, I was asked to preach on the passage of the Parable of the Sower. It was probably my worst sermon I have ever preached. I knew I preached poorly, but I didn’t understand why. Robinson walked down from the top of the classroom, turned to the class and pronounced the following:
“There is nothing more frustrating for a student that to have his/her instructor spend all their time talking about what is obvious to everyone about a subject while completely ignoring the questions that people are really asking.”
He was candid, direct and absolutely right. I was bored with my own message. Dr. Robinson would often share that one of the occupational hazards of his profession was having to listen to a lot bad sermons. I wounded him that day with mine, and he wounded me afterward. His wounding made me better and I am grateful for it.
In 2012, I invited Dr. Robinson to preach at Hope Church. I was humbled not only that he accepted, but that I got to spend the greater part of that weekend with him. While introducing Dr. Robinson to our congregation, I shared not only a portion of his story, but also his impact upon my life. Following this introduction, Dr. Robinson humorously prayed, “Father, forgive Jason for exaggerating so much about my ability and character…and forgive me for enjoying it so much.”
It was that weekend that I first saw Dr. Robinson use a cane and I remember thinking that something about Dr. Robinson just didn’t seem right. It was shortly after that it was announced that he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease.
In 1996, a Baylor University poll recognized him as one of the “Twelve Most Effective Preachers in the English Speaking World.” Christianity Today recognized him as one of the “Twenty Five Most Influential Preachers of the Past 50 Years.”
Reluctant to receive praise, Robinson would often say, “There are no great preachers, only a great Christ.” I have learned that if Dr. Robinson said it, it was true. Obviously, we have a great Christ. But if, as Dr. Robinson said, there are no great preachers, he was as close to great as preachers come. There may not be great preachers, but there are great teachers. I have a plaque that says it on my wall. And none was better than Haddon W. Robinson.