Died: Haddon Robinson, Champion of Biblical Preaching

The seminarian who taught and inspired decades of expositors ‘goes home to God.’

Haddon Robinson, the respected author and seminary president who set the standard for expositional preaching, died Saturday. He was 86.

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where Robinson served as an interim president and professor of preaching, broke the news of his passing and posted a tribute this weekend. Robinson also taught at Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) and was president of Denver Seminary.

In his books, classes, and radio instruction, Robinson taught that sermons should be guided by the biblical text and focus on one idea or theme.

Christianity Today featured Robinson—formerly the senior editor of a fellow CT site, PreachingToday.com—in a 2002 article on the neglected craft of expository preaching:

Robinson has been teaching students about expository preaching for decades. His classic (and recently updated) tome Biblical Preaching, which is used in more than 150 seminaries and Bible colleges, has become the go-to text for aspiring expositors.

“The number of preachers who really begin with the text and let it govern the sermon is relatively small,” laments Robinson. “Today, the danger is that some preachers will read the latest psychology book into the text. They’re not driven by a great theology but, instead, by the social sciences.”

In addition to Biblical Preaching, Robinson wrote more than a dozen books on the topic and regularly taught through radio ministries Discover the Word and Our Daily Bread. He warned preachers about veering into heresy with biblical application; distracting the congregation with sermon illustrations; or ostracizing parts of the audience with tone.

Among many striking quotes about preaching, Robinson had said, “There are no great preachers, …

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Cultural Self-Awareness: A Missing Element in Intercultural Service?

Professor uses Dr. Seuss as a case study.

There are a lot of books and articles that help prepare God’s people for working in other cultures. Most of the material provides insights into cultural difference and for understanding how to adapt to, interact with, and share the gospel with those from another culture. The perspective is usually that of understanding the cultural other. In this article, I am turning the reflection back on self and one’s own culture.

For years, a major company promoted its products with the tagline, “Don’t leave home without it.” The goal of the propaganda was to convince the consumer that the best way to deal with money while traveling was by using their products, originally traveler’s checks and then a credit card.

With their products you could go anywhere. I am paraphrasing their tagline to “Culture: You can’t leave home without!” The lesson that I want you to remember is that no matter where you go, your culture goes with you—for good or bad. The goal is to enable you—whether as a short-term or career missionary or as a church member connecting with a different culture at work or across the street—to use culture for good rather than having culture become a barrier in God’s service.

The starting point is to recognize that we all have a culture. One common tendency is to think that others have culture (usually seen as exotic) and we don’t. Another perception is that culture refers to particular aspects of life, usually the arts. I recently drove by a sign for a city’s “cultural district” probably referring to aspects of art, music, museums, and theater. In this mindset, a cultured person is focused on the arts of say NYC, or better yet, …

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Rural Matters: Placing Rural Church Planting Back on the Map

Small town pastors are doing big things for God’s Kingdom.

I recently introduced my daughter to the 2006 Pixar movie Cars. Sorry, if I’m ruining the movie for anyone, but it has been out since 2006, so tough. The movie follows a race car named Lightning McQueen who ends up stranded in a small town off Route 66 called Radiator Springs. It wasn’t until I was watching the movie, for what seemed like the thousandth time, that I noticed the great work Pixar put into showing how society sees these towns and how special these rural towns once were and can still be today.

The town of Radiator Springs represents the state of many rural towns today – on the verge of being a forgotten ghost town. Once a booming stop along a famous highway that connected the east to the west, now very little traffic drives through these towns due to new interstates that bypass the town or big industries moving out to larger, more central, cities.

The main character in the movie, while stuck in the small town performing community service, spends half the movie complaining about his talents being wasted working in the town, while neglecting to see the importance of doing anything to transform or restore the small, rural community.

I believe this has been the attitude of many pursuing vocational ministry. We treat rural areas like a place to get gas as we drive through, rather than a place to call home. Growing up outside Tulsa, Oklahoma, I spent most of my life church planting in smaller rural communities with my family. I can remember driving the old Route 66 highway between Tulsa and Oklahoma City, passing through run-down forgotten downtowns where people use to gather, seeing collapsing houses that once brought life into the community, and stopping at the few remaining gas stations that have survived …

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How God Sent His Word to An Iraqi Interpreter

I saw an American soldier reading his Bible, and I wanted to know more.

I grew up in Iraq as the third oldest of eight siblings. My family was untraditional. My mom was Muslim, and my dad was Catholic. They didn’t force any religion on their children, in part because they didn’t take religion very seriously themselves. My father was a wealthy businessman, so we lived comfortably in a large house, blessed with several vehicles, a housekeeper, and more than 250 sheep.

When I was around eight years old, my father’s business began to struggle. The stress from his work made it unpleasant to be around him. He started drinking and hanging out with people who were a bad influence. About a year later, he was getting into trouble with the police on a regular basis. He would end up going to jail roughly 20 times.

His final stint in prison came after the government found out he hadn’t completed his three years of required service in the Iraqi army. He had joined the army for a year during the Iran-Iraq War, but then he ran away.

As punishment, he was sentenced to one year in an underground prison, where he endured complete darkness, except for two minutes above ground each day. There was no shower, and food and water were scarce. Broken from suffering, he grew desperate and cried out to God.

And sure enough, God began profoundly changing my father’s heart. My family noticed a huge difference when he returned from prison. He became a hard worker, less selfish and an overall happier man who always had a smile on his face. As an example, one week after his release, my father and I went shopping for clothes. We ran into a man wearing tattered clothing who was obviously homeless. My father had compassion for this man and, stripping down to his underwear, gave away the clothes he was …

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Spiritual Longing on the Silver Screen

How the makers (and watchers) of movies are engaged in a kind of prayer.

We had been married only a month the first time I showed my wife Vertigo, Alfred Hitchcock’s psycho-drama about a man so obsessed with a dead woman that he remakes another woman in the dead woman’s image. This was perhaps the wrong film to show my new bride. “That’s one of your favorite movies?” she asked as the movie ended. “That’s very disturbing.” I figured she was talking about the movie itself—which is disturbing—but she might also have been thinking of my esteem for it.

I had loved Vertigo since I first saw it at age 11. My parents, huge Hitchcock fans, showed it to me and my siblings one Sunday afternoon after church. Though I had watched it many times since then, I had never given much thought to why I liked it. Marriage has a way of prompting you to reconsider things you once took for granted.

Over the next two years, I continued watching Vertigo regularly. I read every bit of critical scholarship I could find. I used all my powers as a film scholar to better understand how it works. I appealed to my seminary training to plumb my own heart and fathom why it makes such an impression on me.

What I discovered about myself is complicated. But what I discovered about Vertigo I can state simply: Vertigo is a film about a man’s obsession with achieving his ideal and his willingness to take advantage of others to achieve it. It is also—thanks to its clever twist and Kim Novak’s pathos-filled performance—a film about how, in pursuing our ideals, we allow others to take advantage of us. Vertigo is about the horrors wrought by selfishness on the individual and the community. It is disturbing because it is so candid about how selfish we can be. …

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Miscarriage Changed Me

How trauma and loss deepened my understanding of God’s love.

It took us an eternity to become pregnant again—or at least, that’s how it felt. Years of tests, treatments, specialists, and disappointment seemed to bog down my soul as we waited. I wrestled with God constantly, wanting to trust him and yet aching for another child.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Survey of Family Growth, 1 million married women in the United States struggle with infertility (defined as the inability to become pregnant after 12 consecutive months of unprotected sex) and 7.5 million women experience an impaired difficulty to conceive and carry a baby to term. My husband and I struggled to conceive our first child, so this journey wasn’t new to us, but we had hoped it wouldn’t be so painful the second time around. As we wrestled for over two years with secondary infertility, it profoundly affected both my mental health and our marriage.

When we finally found out I was pregnant last winter, I was overcome with joy. But as I prepared for the first ultrasound at seven weeks, something felt off. I prayed it was just my own doubts, but with approximately ten percent of known pregnancies ending in miscarriage and our history of infertility, I knew these early weeks of gestation were particularly vulnerable.

Even now, when I think about the darkened room, waiting for the ultrasound tech to say something, my body seeming to sense an impending loss, I feel grief. “Where’s the heartbeat?” I asked. But it couldn’t be found.

The baby seemed to have stopped developing, but the tech didn’t want to misspeak. We were hastily taken to a sterile room to be debriefed by a specialist. She explained there was a high chance our baby …

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5 Passages Your Pastor Wishes You’d Stop Taking Out of Context

How we get them wrong and what church leaders can do about it.

Chris Maxwell, director of spiritual life and campus pastor at Emmanuel College in Franklin Springs, Georgia, recalls a troubling episode during his pastoral tenure in Orlando: “In March 1996 I almost died of encephalitis. A group of people came to visit me and read Matthew 7:17–18: ‘Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.’ For them, admitting I had brain damage and needed medicine was lack of faith. This was the reason I became sick and wasn’t being healed. I told them, ‘If that caused my sickness I would’ve been sick long before.’”

John Koessler, professor and chair of pastoral studies at Moody Bible Institute, is all too familiar with scenarios like this. “I find that people tend to be one-sided in their handling of the Bible. They ‘lean into’ certain texts or truths to the exclusion of others. Some focus only on a portion of a verse. Others use one text to cancel out another.”

This isn’t surprising to most church leaders, who often see verses plucked from their homes to serve other purposes. To better understand these tricky situations, I asked several pastors to share the misused passages that make their skin crawl and how people in ministry can model healthy biblical interpretation.

Jeremiah 29:11

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

An entire cottage industry has developed around this decontextualized verse. It adorns t-shirts, knickknacks, and the walls of our churches, written in graceful, soothing script. “Having …

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Immigrants Are Reshaping American Missions

Latino congregations are launching their own international partnerships to support ministries and churches in their homelands.

The knocking roused Valentin Salamanca from bed around 4 a.m. He was not sleeping anyway. He feared they would come, and now they had.

Valentin walked a few steps from his bedroom and opened the front door to a man in a black ski mask holding an assault rifle, demanding he come with him. Though the man appeared alone, Valentin could hear other voices in the dark.

The 60-something pastor was overseeing a growing ministry in western El Salvador; he had planted 26 churches with a combined attendance of more than 900 worshipers. The congregation Valentin led personally, a Pentecostal group 130 strong, was finishing a new building and planning another to house a sponsorship program for around 75 local children.

In many ways, he was a victim of his own success, a pastor on the frontlines of a flourishing international partnership between a church of immigrants in the United States and an ambitious mission effort in El Salvador. It had been years in the making.

Valentin had met Jesus after he came to America in 1988 and eventually opened a church in downtown Los Angeles. He worked in construction until an injury took him out of commission. When he returned with his wife to El Salvador in 1995, their son, Mario, took over the Los Angeles church.

In El Salvador, Valentin planted a new church near the city of Santa Ana, setting his sights on the crowds of youth who were being drawn into the violent gangs overtaking his country. Mario and his US congregation began investing heavily in Valentin’s church, pioneers in what missiologists call “transnational ministry.”

By 2010, the father and son had a thriving if humble partnership. “We’re a single body,” Valentin said. The church in Los Angeles, a blue-collar …

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Seven Myths Perpetuated by Missions People

Like being one degree off course, the negative outcomes increase in severity.

Over the past thirty years I have noticed that many of us have a tendency to inadvertently promote half-truths that we think advance the cause of world missions. By half-truths, I mean concepts that are partially true or seem true on the surface, but in fact are myths.

At times, I have inadvertently perpetuated these false beliefs myself, for which I wholeheartedly repent. I offer this short article as part of my restitution. I believe that when we participate in spreading these myths, we unintentionally hinder the spread of God’s kingdom. While the myths may seem miniscule and inconsequential, over time, like being one degree off course at the start of a long journey, the negative outcomes increase in severity. Here are seven common myths perpetuated by missions people.

Frontlines

We frequently talk about the frontlines of spiritual warfare as if they are geographically defined (i.e., the mission field). As followers of Jesus, we are called to simultaneously participate in both the seen and unseen world. We are always on a potential frontline. When people use the word “frontline,” they imply there is a safer place, a place less dangerous.

Sure, some places can be darker, more evil, and more dangerous than other places, but let’s not falsely assume that the mission field is a frontline while your home church neighborhood is not. Let’s be prudent; spiritual frontlines cannot be defined geographically or by outward appearance. Scripture seems to imply that everywhere is a potential frontline (see 1 Peter 5:8-9).

Calling

What do we mean by calling? Many missions people think it means having a strong conviction or foreknowledge in regard to a specific place, people, path, or purpose God has for us. Our …

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In ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming,’ Greatness Starts with Becoming a Servant

Peter Parker has finally entered the Marvel Cinematic Universe—but he can’t join the Avengers until he practices the heroic discipline of humility.

The latest superhero movie can sometimes feel like the last one, with over-quippy dialogue and shallow themes—especially if it’s one of a few recent Marvel Cinematic Universe films. Not so, however, with Spider-Man: Homecoming. This film marks a happy return for Marvel’s popular yet humble hero, and to Spider-Man’s classic themes of power and responsibility.

Newer Marvel stories occupy amazing fantasy settings (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) or offer up wish-fulfillment glamour (Iron Man). Homecoming, however, returns to basics by counterintuitively skipping Peter Parker’s spider-bite origin and sharing a new perspective on his familiar challenges: Now that Peter can join the broader Avengers universe, he must learn how to become great like the A-list superheroes—by first learning to serve his own people.

A quick recap: To date, this is the third cinematic version of Spider-Man. Sony Pictures licensed the Marvel hero for the first 2002–2007 Spider-Man trilogy starring Tobey Maguire. Then, Sony rebooted the series in 2012 with The Amazing Spider-Man, which starred the earnest Andrew Garfield. But the rebooted series didn’t work well, partly because Sony engineers wanted both a cool, merchandisable story-world and a humble Spider-Man at once, and partly because Iron Man (2008) had kicked off the idea of a shared hero universe, motivating fans to expect a broader story palette. Meanwhile, growing special-effects resources helped push superhero films out of the standard “secret identity” plotlines, which had helped balance epic fantasy battles with the more budget-conscious civilian lives of Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man.

Sony executives thus chose to reboot Spider-Man …

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