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ETC: Expository Preaching by Haddon W. Robinson – Chapters 4-6

Expository Preaching by Haddon W. RobinsonThis is part two of my Every Third Chapter treatment of 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). Part one is here. Chapters 4 to 6 begin the “Road from Text to Sermon” and take us from stages 4 to 8 in Robinson’s stages of sermon development. The Exegetical Idea (the “Big Idea” we’ve taken from a study of the selected Scripture) is subjected to three questions which help determine what it is that needs to be said about this text in a sermon:

  1. What does this mean?
  2. Is it true?
  3. What difference does it make?

Important questions. If we can’t explain our big idea, we shouldn’t preach it. If it’s not true, of course we shouldn’t preach it and we’ve misunderstood the text. If it makes no difference to the lives of people then our big idea is not worth preaching. Depending on the text one of these questions will be bigger than the others and will determine the form of the sermon we need to preach. One might spend more time explaining one text and more time proving the truth of another, while another may be plainly true but the modern application in the daily lives of Christians will take up most of the sermon. The next chapter is called “The Arrow and the Target” and it’s a great title — a brilliant analogy for the Homiletical Idea and the purpose of the sermon, which is what this chapter covers. The Homiletical Idea is related to the Exegetical Idea and is the fruit of probing that idea with the three questions of chapter 4. The Homiletical Idea states the Exegetical Idea in terms relevant, understandable and memorable to the audience in one clear sentence. In other words the Exegetical Idea is the short and preachy (in a good way) version of the big idea of the text. That’s the arrow, it’s what the preacher fires (again with the weaponry Mr. Robinson?). The purpose of the sermon is the target. What is the preacher aiming for? “Why are you preaching this?” is a great question to ask as I prepare a sermon. What exactly do I want to happen as a result of my preaching? Why am I telling them this? Chapter 6 covers the shapes of a sermon, i.e. the form it will take. Will the sermon be a deductive sermon or an inductive sermon, or something in-between? To be honest I have never really stopped to think of what shape my sermon should take before and I think this chapter could make a big difference to my preaching. Once the best sermon shape is determined, the outline can be developed. One immediate correction I will make to my sermon preparation is in my development of the outline. I use mind-mapping software called XMind  to develop my sermon outlines and I’ve found it extremely helpful, but I have been using little phrases or subtitles to mark the outline of my sermon. These can be kind of vague. Robinson has reminded me that “each point of the outline represents an idea and thus should be a grammatically complete sentence”I think my sermons would benefit by me clarifying each idea more before I decide to work it into the sermon outline. By spending more time developing clearer ideas in the outline I think I’d make writing the text of the sermon much easier. So far so helpful. One thing I’ve been struck with while reading this book is how great Haddon W. Robinson is at explaining his points. I can’t even provide an example because throughout the book I notice what a good communicator the author is and I’m very grateful for his contribution to the church.


ETC: Expository Preaching by Haddon W. Robinson – Chapters 1-3

Expository Preaching by Haddon W. RobinsonThe 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”.

(pp. 18,19)

“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.

(p. 31)

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.

“Introverts in the Church” by Adam S. McHugh

"Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture" by Adam S. McHughI finished reading Introverts in the Church just after midnight. This will be a short review because I’ve already written about this book as I read it and it has also kicked off a couple of posts on the topic of introversion.

Adam S. McHugh is an ordained Presbyterian minister and a hospice chaplain (he’s also an excellent writer), he blogs at Introverted Church (unfortunately he’s just about to stop posting there to focus on his next book) and he’s also been published by several journals, magazines and newspapers as well as a guest blog on iMonk. Adam’s, first book “Introverts in the Church: Finding Our place in an Extroverted Culture” was published in 2009. He has two more books on the way with “The Listening Life” due to be published by IVP next year.

“Introverts in the Church” is brilliant and I feel very blessed and refreshed after reading it. This is a well put together, well researched and well written book. As an introvert, I felt identified with and defended, but not coddled. McHugh was also very encouraging in practical ways regarding day-to-day spirituality as well as evangelism, an area of dread and even guilt for many introverts.

The book is quite packed, which is understandable – “church” encompasses many topics and areas. I did not, however, find it heavy or hard-going. Some of the chapters could be expanded into whole books, I particularly would like to see more from Adam on the topic of Introverted Spirituality and Introverted Evangelism.

I would recommend this book to every introverted Christian I know, to my extroverted loved ones and especially to everyone working in, or thinking of, ordained ministry.

An Introverted Pastor

This started as a paragraph for my review of Adam S. McHugh’s “Introverts in the Church”, but I’ve taken it out and given it its own post.

As an introvert, a preacher and a candidate for ordained ministry people sometimes bring up my introversion in relation to my ministry. It has always  been brought up as a problem. They wonder how I’ll survive as a pastor when I eventually do have my own church to pastor. During the interviews for the candidacy at Presby HQ in Belfast, I had to defend my introversion. I recently preached as a guest preacher at a church where, while I was introducing myself and sharing some thoughts on the subject of prayer, I mentioned that I was an introvert. After the service I stood at the door (which is a thing that preachers are expected to do) and a nice lady came up to me smiling and telling me that my sermon was very good. What she said was “I’m not so sure you’re an introvert – that was very good!” I’ve even had a dear friend say to me once that they didn’t think that I was actually an introvert because I “really love people”. The assumption is that it is an unfortunate thing to be an introvert, especially in ministry.

I do really love people (I’m a total softy and therefore a terrible book critic) and I am a capable preacher. This is not in spite of my introversion. God has used my introversion and has led me to be more contemplative, which has made me a better preacher and has given me a greater love for my neighbour. I have been blessed to be someone that people come to when they have deep questions and really want someone to listen to them and give them a thoughtful answer one-to-one. In quiet I have prayed with and counselled those who are hurting and confused. God has used my quietness to be a blessing to other people.

On Sundays I stand up and give my carefully prepared sermon, my thoughts on what God is saying and what that means for people today. I write it all out, I wrestle with the text, I pray and I think long and hard over what to say because I handle the word of God. Because I put so much into preparing the words that I will speak I can tell you the approximate speed of my preaching – about 150 words per minute.

My preaching and my pastoring is not hindered by my introversion, it is helped by it. What has hindered me is attitudes to introversion within a church that does not always seem to value listening and stillness as much as it values speaking and busyness. Dear church, please encourage and use your introverts as introverts, not as poor excuses for extroverts.

Hope in the Slums

The World Health Organisation offices in New Delhi, India

This is the office of the World Health Organisation on Mahatma Gandhi Road in New Delhi, India. A close look at this picture will show you the security man behind the window gesticulating to my friend, Lydia, who borrowed my camera, that she is not to take photographs.

Behind the WHO office is a foul-smelling, milky white, polluted river. A little further down the road, as you cross this river on the footbridge you enter the Anna Nagar slum. You may see one of the big pigs rooting among the garbage on the banks of the river. You’ll probably also see small children among the garbage and the pigs.

The Asha BuildingGo further into Anna Nagar and you’ll come to the Asha building. Asha is the Hindi word for hope. Asha works to bring hope to the lives of people living in the slums of Delhi. Asha works to empower people, build up community in the slums and helps the community to help itself.

Dr. Kiran Martin, a paediatrician at the time, began the work of Asha fighting against a cholera outbreak in 1989 at a borrowed table in the shade of a tree. Today Asha works in 50 slums in Delhi, helping to bring hope to the lives of over 350,000 people from different backgrounds, castes and religions. Asha seek to live out the Christian values of faith, hope and love, honouring the God-given dignity of every human being.

Sarah and I went to visit Asha in November last year. We were part of a team from Northern Ireland and the Republic led by my friend and pastor Monty and his wife Gwen.

We worked in the Anna Nagar slum. We painted the Asha Centre. We entertained the children’s group and joined in worship with the women’s group. We visited homes and met people that Asha was helping to keep their children healthy, checking them and monitoring for diseases like tuberculosis. We met the students that Asha was helping to go to college. We met vendors that Asha helped to get loans so they can earn a living with their own business. We prayed for those who asked. Before we left we had a party and danced in the Asha centre.

It was an unforgettable experience that I can’t capture in a blog post. My reason for posting here is not to tell you about my adventure in India. I want you to know about the work of Asha – they’re still out there working in the slums, please consider helping them. I wanted to tell you that, in a slum behind the WHO, across a dirty river, hope lives. Jesus lives.

Currently Reading: Introverts in the Church

"Introverts in the Church" by Adam S. McHughI’m currently reading “Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture” by Adam S. McHugh. Here’s how it’s going so far.

I heard about “Introverts in the Church” last year and it’s been one of those books that I had been meaning to get around to reading for a while. Downloading the sample on my Kindle settled it for me, as soon as I finished reading the sample I clicked “Buy Now” and continued reading. So, yes, it’s good. I usually read a few books simultaneously, but when one of those books really grabs my attention I end up “pausing” the other books and focussing on that one. That’s what happened with “Introverts in the Church”.

Adam S. McHugh says that evangelical churches in particular can be difficult places for introverts. As an introvert, I agree. As someone who has been in leadership and pastoral roles in the church and is now on the road to becoming an ordained Presbyterian minister, I strongly agree with Adam.

McHugh writes that, in evangelical church culture, activity can be viewed as a sign of spiritual maturity and the silence of introverts and their need to withdraw from activities in order to rest and refresh can be seen as a lack of commitment and even a symptom of spiritual problems. I think he’s right: we do sometimes (often even) gauge someone’s level of commitment to the church and their growth in Christ by how much they do and say. I have been questioned regarding my silence at Bible studies and even prodded to speak up by well-meaning extroverts. There’s nothing wrong; I don’t have a problem; I’m just being me. I’m thinking, reflecting, listening and waiting until I have something of value to contribute, something I want to share with the group.

This book, so far, has been very refreshing. I feel identified with and understood. There are parts that read like I could have written them myself if I were more articulate (or maybe had a good editor). There are parts that challenged me not to use my introversion as a crutch, which I’m aware I sometimes do. There is also some great advice on how to live and grow spiritually as an introverted Christian.

There’ll be more on this book and more on my experiences as an introvert later, when I finish the book. For now (if anyone is reading this) I want to ask what do you think? Do introverts have a hard time in evangelical churches?

… and goes to school.


Today I spoke at my first primary school assembly. This was a special harvest assembly at the school where my wife Sarah teaches. I got to sit in on Sarah’s class for half an hour, meet the children and then speak to the whole school about harvest and giving thanks to God. I used Augustus Gloop from Charlie and the Chocolate factory and Jesus’ Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:16-21) to illustrate how greed and selfishness can make us deaf to others and to God. So we must remember to thank God for his gracious blessings and remember to be gracious and generous to others.

Seeing Sarah with her class reminded me what a gifted and loving teacher she is and I thank God for her.