08 May 2010

Haddon W Robinson

A post by a Dr. Mike, that I found on his blog eternalperspectives.com relating the wisdom of one of my most favourite preachers Haddon W Robinson, my favourite part being, ofcourse, "We're done here, aren't we?" ~Absolute classic!

If there is one person, more than any other, who has had a determinative effect on my Christian life, that man would be Haddon Robinson. This is remarkable since he has no idea who I am or the effect he has had on my life. He probably would not be surprised by my statement – he has impacted and changed the course of many a life – but perhaps he would be curious that he had done so with me.

For those of you who are not familiar with Haddon W. Robinson, I will attempt to provide a brief introduction to this truly unique man. Others who know him better could say much more; I offer only what I think significant for the purposes of this post.

Haddon was voted one of the most influential Christians of the 20th Century, due no doubt to his impact upon generations of preachers who came under his tutelage during his 40+ years of teaching homiletics. He earned a Ph.D. in Speech Communication from the University of Illinois, ostensibly in order to be able to communicate more effectively the word of God to believers and unbelievers alike. He taught preaching at Dallas Theological Seminary for almost 20 years and was president of Denver Seminary from 1979 until 1991. He then became the Harold John Ockenga Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, a position in which he now continues.

It was at Denver Seminary that I met Dr. Robinson – as I referred to him in my pre-50 years. In fact, I had gone to Denver for my Masters Degree primarily because he was there: I had heard him preach many times (through the tape ministry of Believers Chapel in Dallas) and had concluded that he knew God in ways that I did not know God. So I went to Denver to study counseling, but also to be influenced by him.

During my three years at the seminary, I had only one conversation with Dr. Robinson. This is how it came about:

I was a first-year student (a tipoff for anyone who’s ever been or had to deal with a seminary student) and was frustrated with my professor of New Testament. Actually, I was indignant with him, feeling that he was not giving my particular doctrinal position a fair play in his presentations to the class. (If you own an NIV Study Bible, flip to the opening pages sometime and note the editors listed there. One of the three general editors is Dr. Donald Burdick, perhaps an unknown name to most but well known to the evangelical, scholarly community. This same Donald Burdick, who probably had been teaching New Testament longer than I had been walking the planet, was the professor whom I regarded with arrogant disgust and disdain.)

So I did what any grandiose, first-year seminarian would do. I made an appointment with the president of the seminary, Dr. Robinson.

As I look back on it, I am amazed by Dr. Robinson’s grace and patience. First of all, I am amazed that I was able to get an appointment with him. Although oblivious at the time, I now understand the demands upon his time and the humility it required for him to give an audience to – not just a virtual but – an actual nobody. Second, he listened to me carefully as I laid out my complaint about his colleague and friend, Dr. Burdick. What followed was, I believe, classic Haddon Robinson.

Dr. Robinson never addressed my complaint or concerns. Instead, he told me a story. This (or something very much like it) is what he said:

“I’m sure you know that Dr. Burdick’s wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s some years ago [Actually, being totally self-absorbed, I had no idea]. Despite his continuing commitment to his ministry here at the seminary, and despite maintaining a full load of teaching, he has refused to put his wife in a nursing home. He gets up in the morning and cares for her: feeding, cleaning, dressing, combing her hair, brushing her teeth. She can do nothing for herself. Nothing. Then he leaves for the seminary, teaches a class, and immediately goes home between classes to care for her again. Then he comes back to teach. The following day, he does it again. He will not allow a nurse or anyone else to do for his wife what he himself can do. He has been doing this for years now.

“I was talking to Donald one day and, knowing the load he was under, said to him, ‘How do you do it? How do you so faithfully attend to your ministry and, at the same time, give your wife the love and care and attention she needs?

“Donald looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, ‘Haddon, it’s the greatest privilege I’ve ever had in my life.’”

As if scripted, his phone rang even as his words were still hanging pregnant in the air. He listened for a few seconds, covered the receiver and, turning to me, said, “We’re done here, aren’t we?”

We were done. I nodded a stunned reply, rose quietly, and left Dr. Robinson’s office. My life had just been changed in ways I was only later to appreciate. What was important in the Christian life, my view of people, my relationship with my wife – it all began to shift at that moment. It continues to change more than 20 years later.

Dr. Burdick looked different to me when I next went to my New Testament class. He looked human. Or, more accurately, I saw that he was human: loving, tender, frightened, caring, weak, and struggling. At the end of the quarter, he gave me a C+ for the class. It was the only grade lower than a B that I ever got in grad school, either at the masters or doctoral level. But Dr. Burdick provided the platform and much of the substance for the best education I got at either Denver or Trinity.

What Haddon had done was to see through my indignation to the root of my problem: I was unloving, and I was unloving because I did not see Dr. Burdick as a fellow human being, an alien in the world, a struggler trying to be faithful to the God we both claimed to love and serve. I was unloving because I did not see him as a brother in Christ who needed my compassion and encouragement, not my scorn and criticism.

Haddon cut through the fluff and opened my eyes and heart. Those fifteen minutes were worth all the thousands of dollars (of debt) spent earning my degree. For the remainder of my seminary career, I studied my lessons carefully but I studied my professors much more closely. I looked for the hearts of these professors, trying to understand the motivation within them. Whether it was Bruce Demarest, James Beck, Vernon Grounds, or Robert Alden, I tried desperately to look inside them in order to get a glimpse of Jesus Christ. I was not disappointed.

But even more than before, I began to study Haddon. I devoured his books, read articles by and about him, listened to interviews and radio shows he did, and studied whatever sermons of his that I could find. I still do.

I am aware that he is not perfect – he, too, has feet of clay – so this is not a case of idealization or idolization. Haddon is quick to admit to his own struggles and missteps. But I do appreciate him as someone who has so committed himself to serving Christ and educating men and women in preparation for ministry. And I am admittedly still in awe of his insight, intelligence, and wisdom.

I will probably never have the opportunity to talk to Haddon and tell him of the impact he has had – and continues to have – on my life. But were such a time to become available to me once again, I would seize the chance to simply tell him thanks.

Thanks, Haddon, for teaching me how to think about God, about His word, and about His people. For continually and faithfully demonstrating a commitment to the Bible and people, borne out in your writings and sermons. Thanks for providing a living example of how great genius and tenderness can be melded together.

And thanks especially for teaching me that Christianity is not primarily about ideas, concepts, and truths, but is truly about loving relationships with God and people, about grace and compassion, about being and not just thinking.

I forget these lessons sometimes and, when I do, I slip a tape or cd into the player and listen to Haddon one more time. And I am the better for it.

2 Cor 1:13.