Matthew R. Perry

“Biblical Preaching” by Haddon Robinson (Book Review)

In Book Review, Preaching on July 14, 2007 at 12:28 pm

bibprerob1.jpgRobinson, Haddon W. Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages, Second Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001. 256 pp. $19.99.


“In this book, I pass on a method to those learning to preach or to experienced people who want to brush up on the basics” (14). So says Dr. Haddon Robinson as he offers this second edition of this classic volume known as Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages. Though first published in 1980, this work is still a staple in homiletics departments and pastors’ studies across the world.

Robinson received his Ph.D. at the University of Illinois and serves as the Harold John Ockenga Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Prior to this position, he served as president and professor of homiletics at Denver Seminary after teaching homiletics at Dallas Theological Seminary for nineteen years.


Chapter One, entitled “The Case for Expository Preaching,” Robinson begins by saying, “This is a book about expository preaching, but it may have been written for a depressed market.” In this chapter, Robinson shows the lack of regard for expository preaching in evangelical circles, then outlines the church’s need for this manner of preaching and exactly what expository preaching is. Chapter Two, entitled “What’s the Big Idea?” displays the importance of an expositor to mine out one main concept or idea. He defines an idea as something which “enables us to see what was previously unclear” (39). He also notes that “an idea begins in the mind when things ordinarily separated come together to form unity that either did not exist before or was not recognized previously” (39).

In Chapter Three, entitled “Tools of the Trade,” Robinson introduces three stages in preparing expository sermons: “choosing the passage to be preached” (53), studying the passage and gathering the notes (58), then proceeding to “relate the parts to each other to determine the exegetical idea and its development” (66). Chapter Four, entitled “The Road from Text to Sermon,” includes stage four which is “analyzing the exegetical idea” (75).

In Chapter Five, entitled “The Arrow and the Target,” Robinson covers stages five and six in the development of expository preaching: “Formulating the Homiletical Idea” in which he encourages preachers to state their exegetical idea in “the most exact, memorable sentence possible” (103); and determining the purpose for the sermon. “A purpose differs from a sermon idea, therefore, in the same way that a target differs from the arrow; as taking a trip differs from studying a map; as baking a pie differs from reading a recipe” (107).

In Chapter Six, entitled, “The Shapes Sermons Take,” Robinson helps the preacher decide how to accomplish the purpose of the sermon as well as outlining the sermon (stages seven and eight, respectively). Chapter Seven addresses filling in the sermon outline and, as Robinson states in his title, “making dry bones live” (139). Chapter Eight has the provocative title, “Start with a Band and Quit All Over,” which deals with the preparation of introductions and conclusions.

Chapter Nine, entitled, “The Dress of Thought,” Robinson notes, “Gift or not, we must use words, and the only question is whether we will use them poorly or well” (184). He helps the preacher in areas such as transitions, clarity of thought, developing a personal style, and the use of metaphors. The last chapter, “How to Preach So People Will Listen,” deals with the delivery of the sermon itself. Robinson says that sermons “live only when they are preached. A sermon ineptly delivered arrives stillborn” (201).

Critical Analysis

With engaging writing and timely humor, Robinson seeks to communicate one prominent theme: “expository preaching is the communication of a biblical concept” (35). Even though one would be more persuaded by his thoughts had he served more in the preaching ministry of a local church (he served at Dallas Youth for Christ from 1952-55, then as Associate Pastor at the First Baptist Church of Medford, Oregon from 1956-19581), his principles of preparing and preaching expository sermons are tremendous and will serve the Church of Jesus Christ and his ministers very well indeed.

One of the strengths of this work is its pastoral nature. Preachers are not called to be lecturers and are not simply called to preach the Word of God. Preachers are called to preach the Word of God to God’s people. Robinson rightly observes that “we must preach to a world addressed by the TV commentator, the newspaper columnist, and the playwright” (29). In the Preface to the Second Edition, Robinson notes how the culture has changed since 1980 when this work was first published. “Television and the computer have influenced the ways we learn and think. Narrative preaching has come into vogue and reflects the reality that listeners in a television culture think with pictures in their heads” (10). While he may go too far in giving room for narrative preaching, he rightly assesses 21st century culture. This culture is the world in which the expositor preaches. So not only does Robinson note that “as shepherds, we relate to the hurts, cries, and fears of our flocks,” we must also understand the external issues to which our people are exposed every hour of every day.

Along with this area of pastoral ministry in connection with preaching, Robinson also gives more room to the role and responsibility of the listener. He notes:

Expositors may be respected for their exegetical abilities and their diligent preparation, but these qualities do not transform any of them into a Protestant pope who speaks ex cathedra. Listeners also have a responsibility to match the sermon to the biblical text. As Henry David Thoreau wrote, “It takes two to speak the truth — one to speak, and another to hear.” … If a congregation is to grow, it must share the struggle (24).

Robinson notes that the average listener in the pew hopes you will answer this one question: “So what? What difference does it make” (86)? Before this question is in the congregants’ hearts, this question must be answered in the study as he asks, “Exactly what is the biblical writer talking about (66)?” The shared struggle starts with the preacher in the study as he wrestles with God to find out his intended meaning.

Another strength in this work is the engaging humor Robinson employs in this volume. While many would consider reading a book on expositional preaching boring (even some preachers may feel this way!), Robinson’s use of humor helps hook the reader in order that the reader may approach this material with ease. This example, though mentioned earlier, stands as a great example of opening up the very first chapter with humor: “This is a book about preaching, but it may have been written for a depressed market” (17). In the preface to the first edition, he makes this observation:

If I can claim any qualification, it is this: I am a good listener. During two decades in the classroom I have evaluated nearly six thousand student sermons. My friends marvel that after listening to hundreds of fledgling preachers stumble through their first sermons, I am not an atheist (14).

In another example after he acknowledges his debt to all who have influenced his thinking on expositional preaching, he closes the paragraph by noting, “Since all of these and others influenced me deeply, it is only fair that for weaknesses in this volume they should shoulder a large share of the blame” (15)! This brand of humor disarms the critic and relaxes those who initially approach the topic of expository preaching with any misgivings or fears.

One weakness is a quote located in the Preface to the Second Edition about his view of women ministers, a view which has changed since his first edition in 1980. He notes:

I’ve also changed my language to reflect my theology. God doesn’t distribute gifts by gender. Both women and men have the ability and the responsibility to communicate God’s Word. I have always believed that, but the language in my first book reflected a distinct male bias. . . . In this revision I hope I have demonstrated the fruits of my repentance (10).

Robinson’s theology is on display when, in an explanation of how our outlines should have development, he plays the part of a listener who asks of the preacher, “What evidence does she have for that statement” (140)? Here again he opens the door for us to peer into his theological framework which allows for women ministers. If Robinson had titled this book, “Biblical Teaching,” then the reader would understand the necessity for this revision. Many men and women in our churches teach, but the New Testament sets parameters on who teaches whom and where (1 Corinthians 14:33-35, 1 Timothy 2:11-13). For twenty-seven years however, this book has borne the title, “Biblical Preaching.” When Robinson notes that the theology he has is “my theology,” this reviewer is troubled by the use of the ‘my.’ For someone who claims to look to authorial intent, the description of his views seems too self-centered. This reviewer believes that his theology has strayed in this area from Scripture.


Robinson excels in bringing a topic which many would deem dry and gives it life by coupling his extensive homiletical and hermeneutical knowledge with picturesque wit. Aside from the one weakness mentioned above, this book is a must-read for every pastor and aspiring preacher of the Gospel.


Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary Faculty: Haddon W. Robinson, Ph. D.; accessed 10 March 2007; available from; Internet.

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