by David A. Currie, author of The Big Idea of Biblical Worship
Last night (9/7/17) I sat in a packed chapel at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, joined by thousands online (https://www.facebook.com/pg/GordonConwell/videos/?ref=page_internal), for a memorial service for Haddon Robinson. Since Haddon’s death, I’ve been reflecting upon his life and ministry and how they came to influence me.
HADDON THE AUTHOR
I first “met” Haddon through the first edition of his seminal book, Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages. As a recent seminary graduate, I had learned a lot about exegesis and a bit about preaching, but I was struggling to connect these two in my early sermons. A faculty mentor, Richard Lovelace, had given me a copy of Haddon’s book, but since it wasn’t required for any of my courses, I hadn’t read it. In my desperation to connect the people of God with the Word of God through my preaching, I pulled it off my bookshelf. As I poured over it, I rejoiced to discover that here was a clear, simple, process to guide me from text to sermon in a way that I could never quite pull off on my own.
I’m not ashamed to admit that in those early years I kept Biblical Preaching open on my desk next to my open Bible and worked through Haddon’s steps one-by-one until I came to know them by heart. I’d encourage others who like me didn’t have the privilege of studying under Haddon to do the same. As I made his process my own, I discovered that simple didn’t mean easy. Haddon taught me that the simplest, clearest “big ideas” for sermons usually took the longest to come up with, but they were well worth the effort. Later, I learned the same was true for books as I strove to write a similar book for worship.
HADDON THE SCHOLAR
I first met Haddon in person in 1997 at the inaugural meeting of the Evangelical Homiletics Society (EHS), an organization that he helped bring into being “for the exchange of ideas related to the instruction of biblical preaching.”
I was a bit apprehensive about how he might react to a paper I presented, “Preaching the Lectionary: An Evangelical and Expository Approach,” since I pointed out that he didn’t provide a lot of detail in Biblical Preaching about how to “Select the Passage,” the first step in his process. He graciously affirmed my suggestions in that paper, which have been incorporated in chapter 2 of my book, The Big Idea of Biblical Worship. Through the EHS and in other venues, Haddon encouraged and challenged those of us interested in scholarship related to preaching to follow his lead in continuing to do research and writing to undergird our field with academic rigor. He practiced what he preached not only through his own books and articles, but by contributing to shared projects such as Interpretation and Application, Volume 3 in The Preacher’s Toolbox by Hendrickson.
HADDON THE EDUCATOR
In 2005 I became Haddon’s colleague on the faculty at Gordon-Conwell and was entrusted with overseeing the Doctor of Ministry Program that he had taken under his wing and hatched into an innovative and model program. (http://www.gordonconwell.edu/doctor-ministry/index.cfm)
Working with his long-time collaborator, Alice Mathews, Haddon reconfigured the program from being course-based with a student taking various courses with various professors—what I call “masters on steroids”—to cohort-based with specialized tracks. This approach creates a mentored learning community, focusing on a shared passion for a particular area of ministry among the same group of students and faculty over the course of three years. Students learn with and from one another, sharing life as well as learning. As hundreds of Haddon’s D.Min. students would attest, the result has lit fires in the spirit of learners ever since, fulfilling his own favorite definition: “Education isn’t filling a pail with information; it’s lighting a fire in the spirit of a learner.” D.Min. programs around the world increasingly have adopted this cohort model that Haddon helped to pioneer, often consulting with Gordon-Conwell in the process.
HADDON THE MENTOR
Haddon was serving as Senior Director of the D.Min. Program when I became Director, and continued teaching and mentoring until his retirement. Although I was wise enough to say “It ain’t broke, and stop me if I try to fix it!” when I came, I was still a little apprehensive about working with a “big name.” However, I quickly discovered that Haddon’s heart was far bigger than his name. He never told me what to do, but he was always available for me to talk and pray through decisions, saving me from many missteps. I’m reminded of his legacy each day as I sit at what was his desk in what was his office, knowing that I can never fill his shoes, but hoping that I can continue to guide the program on the path that he laid out.
As we shared teaching responsibilities for one D.Min track, Haddon modeled how to teach preaching to people who were already preaching, a delicate task. He showed me how to push the proud who thought they had nothing to learn with comments such as, “You’re not going to actually preach that, are you?” when they presented a half-thought big idea or a slipshod outline. Nonetheless, Haddon was equally gentle with intimidated students who thought they had nothing to give, helping them discover their strengths and overcome their weaknesses.
Haddon provided me with gentle encouragement to put into print what I was teaching our preaching students about how to adapt his preaching process to worship. As the full title of my book, The Big Idea of Biblical Worship: The Development and Leadership of Expository Services, suggests my approach is unashamedly derivative. As I assert in my introduction: “The ‘Big Idea’ of this book is that biblical worship should flow out of the central idea of a Scripture passage in a similar way to how biblical preaching does.” While I wish I had followed Haddon’s counsel to publish sooner, I am deeply thankful that the book came out soon enough before he died so that he could see a copy.
While Haddon Robinson will be missed by me and many others as author, scholar, educator, and mentor, he will not be forgotten. His death is a great loss, but his hope in Christ is even greater, as he is now experiencing even more fully. We celebrate his life as we seek to serve Christ as he did, by faithfully preaching, teaching, worshiping, and living out the Word of God.
David A. Currie is associate professor of pastoral theology and Dean of the Doctor of Ministry Program and the Ockenga Institute at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
To learn more about The Big Idea of Biblical Worship, visit our website.