Haddon Robinson died this summer. The church will forever be grateful for his influence on preaching and preachers. His book Biblical Preaching has been used as a text in many institutions for the past thirty seven years (it is being used at my alma mater Ohio Christian University this fall). The fact it was updated as recently as 2014 suggests his influence will continue to last a long while.
He wrote this book in part because of concerns about the state of preaching. “This is a book about expository preaching, but it may have been written for a depressed market. Not everyone agrees that expository preaching—or any sort of preaching, for that matter—is an urgent need of the church. The word is out in some circles that preaching should be abandoned. The moving finger has passed it by and now points to other methods and ministries that are more “effective” and in tune with the times.”
“The number of preachers who really begin with the text and let it govern the sermon is relatively small,” laments Robinson. “Today, the danger is that some preachers will read the latest psychology book into the text. They’re not driven by a great theology but, instead, by the social sciences.” We could add “or political ideologies or any number of ideas that promote trendy pragmatism.”
Robinson would not want us to forget it is possible to distract congregations with ideas that do not come from the text. I think of a comment from Tony Evans who is reported to have said “I am but a small part of the great cloud of witnesses that can testify to the eternal impact Dr. Haddon Robinson has made in keeping preachers like me from the sinful extremes of either boring people with the Word of God or exciting them with the words of men.”
But perhaps the thing he will be remembered most for is what he called the “Big Idea.” He might define this as “the major idea of the sermon.” He believed all ideas in the sermon should grow from one major idea. The rest of the sermon is important. It is like scaffolding that supports a major idea sharp enough to get under your skin and into your soul. The chance that listeners will be impacted by a sermon increases if we can stamp the big idea on their minds.
He would ask “I listen to some preachers who preach for an hour and it seems like 20 minutes. I listen to others who preach for 20 minutes and it seems like an hour. I wonder what makes the difference?” He believed the answer was in the single big idea of a text of scripture. A volume was written to honor his work titled The Big Idea of Biblical Preaching: Connecting the Bible to People. No surprise, the first section in that volume was titled “Why a Single Idea Lands the Best Punch.”
Many of us are likely influenced by Robinson in one way or another. We might be tempted to call him a great preacher. But we can be sure of his response. Robinson has given preachers much to think about over the years. But my favorite line of his is one I hope we never forget. “There are no great preachers, only a great Christ.”