ETC: Expository Preaching by Haddon W. Robinson – Chapters 1-3
The first book to get my ETC treatment is Haddon W. Robinson’s “Expository Preaching”, or “Biblical Preaching” as it’s called in the USA (you’ll find more stuff at that second link, including the ability to search the book).
In many ways this book had been part of my life for a number of years. Not because I’ve actually read it, though I confess it has been on my bookshelf for some time. Expository Preaching has been part of my life for so long because it’s a modern classic and as a novice preacher it seems every conference I’ve gone to and every class or work-group I’ve attended has been based in some part on this book. I have in fact been using a check-list of stages that I go through every time I prepare a sermon that I’ve found come from this book.
After an encouraging foreword from J. A. Motyer, Robinson begins in chapter one by making the case for preaching in general and expository preaching in particular. Robinson addresses the problems of an unfavourable public opinion of preachers, the noise-saturated society we live in (considerably more noisy nowadays than when the book was written), and those who favour activism instead of preaching, which brings me to this brilliant quote:
Some people with this mind-set judge that the apostles had things turned around when they decided, “It is not right that that we should forsake the Word of God to serve tables” (Acts 6:2 ASV). In a day of activism, it is more relevant to declare instead “It is not right that we should forsake the service of tables to preach the Word of God”.
“In spite of all the bad-mouthing of preachers and preaching” Robinson stands in its defence because it is through the faithful preaching of the gospel that God redeems His people. This is a big responsibility for the preachers, hence the need for us to preach what God says and not what we say, to draw attention to God’s word and not our own. This is why expository preaching is so important.
Robinson defines expository preaching 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.
I like that he gave special mention to the need for a preacher to first allow the text to do its work on herself or himself, before the message of the passage is communicated to their hearers.
Robinson’s big contribution to the field of homiletics is his concept of the Big Idea, and that’s what chapter two is about. A preacher must determine what a passage is about (subject) and what it says about that (complement). I have heard sermons criticised by saying that they are too packed with ideas. The problem is not the amount of ideas, but the fact that they don’t seem to relate to each other, there seems to be no great unifying idea – no big idea. To borrow Robinson’s terminology, sermons should be more bullet than buckshot. I feel the need to point out that when I preach I don’t like to imagine I’m using either bullets or buckshot, trying to be a peacemaker and all that, but it is a good analogy. A listener of a sermon must be able to say what the sermon they have heard is about and what it says about that.
In chapter three Robinson gets down to the nitty-gritty of sermon development, acknowledging the difficulties in describing how a sermon is to be prepared. This chapter deals with the first three stages of development:
- Selecting the Passage
- Studying the Passage
- Discovering the Exegetical Idea
By the end of these stages a preacher should have determined what the Big Idea of the passage is and to do that requires hard work. As Robinson writes, “This is sweaty, difficult work, but it has to be done”.
Preachers don’t just work for an hour on Sundays… not the good ones anyway. For me, preaching is hard work with tremendous pressure, but also great joy and the great assurance that the God who called me to preach is also the God who will turn me into His preacher.
Finally, one of my favourite features of this book is how well it has been put together for students of preaching – chapters end with a recap of new concepts, terminology, suggested material and exercises, which makes learning and revision much easier. I’m looking forward to the rest of the book and the ways I expect it will help my own preaching to develop.