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Haddon Robinson on Expository Preaching and Modern Listeners

by Joe Pursch on July 27th, 2010

Virtually every graduate of any leading evangelical seminary over the last thirty years has benefited from the “go to” textbook on preaching entitled Biblical Preaching, written by Haddon Robinson. Dr. Robinson put the meat on the bones of the idea of expository preaching for many pastors, and made it possible for us to build a form for teaching a passage that hopefully, over the years, we made our own.

I had the joy of spending an evening with Haddon last year during his latest visit to my city, and it was memorable. I asked him everything I could about the challenge of preaching expositionally to modern ears, got some great insights, and came away with some priceless stories too (Ask me sometime about Haddon’s first “paid” sermon. It’s a hoot!).

Recently I came upon this interview of Haddon by preaching guru Michael Duduit in which Robinson’s ideas on reaching the Postmodern listener are brought out. Below are a few of what I would call the “money quotes” from the interview. The entire piece is linked for you here.

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I’ve come clearer to seeing that when you talk about expository preaching, you’re not primarily talking about the form of the sermon. You are really talking about a philosophy. Do you bend your thought to the text or do you bend the text to fit your thought? How a person in all honesty answers that would say a lot about whether or not that person really is an expository preacher.

I don’t think you really understand truth unless you can experience it. I think truth in the Bible is never like mathematical theory — something that you can put up on a blackboard and analyze. I think that truth in the Bible always intersects life. Therefore, while I have to think in order to understand, I also have to experience in order for that truth to really make a difference. I’m not saying that I have got to move people’s emotions by some tricks, but I am convinced that the Bible is never given in order to simply satisfy our curiosity.

I think that it can be a great satisfaction in having a curiosity met. I think that there are people who enjoy Bible study the same way that other people enjoy filling out crossword puzzles. Get all the parts and get the thing completed — they find satisfaction. I think there are people that study the Bible that way. They can see how it relates to its context and how its details work to get across the concept. But if it never gets into your life, if it never really touches your experience, I doubt seriously that you can call it a study of biblical truth, because I think God’s truth is always designed to challenge us and change us.

I think a second thing that’s going on in preaching is that there is more self-revelation. We don’t, I hope, preach our experiences, but we have to experience what we preach, or at least see how this truth intersects with our lives. It doesn’t necessarily mean at all that I have a catharsis experience with the congregation to talk about my deepest strivings. But there is in the audience today — especially the younger audiences — a desire to know who you are personally.

In fact I’d put it the other way: I don’t think you can connect with audiences under 50 unless they relate to you. I don’t think today you can listen to an effective preacher six weeks and not know quite a bit about him. I think in the past — in my growing up years — you could listen to somebody for six years and not necessarily know anything about him. I think it’s healthy, provided the preacher does not use himself as the best example or even the worst example. I want to sense that he or she has struggled with life. I also want to believe that they have won some victories.


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