Haddon Robinson 1931-2017

In 1960, during my senior year of college when I was accepted by Dallas Seminary, I saw a picture of Haddon Robinson and thought, “What can a guy that young teach me about preaching?’ He looked the same age as some of my classmates, and all the professors I ever had looked like professors, like in their forties and fifties. During my first two years in seminary Dr. Robinson earned his PhD from the University of Illinois, so I did not have any courses from him until my third year when I gave my first sermon to him. I had taken preaching courses already, preached several times, usually did well, and felt pretty good about myself as a preacher. A couple of days after class I made the breath-taking climb up four steep flights of stairs to the fourth floor and Dr. Robinson’s isolated office. I entered his office and took my seat next to his desk face-to-face with him. He took little time to tell me what he thought of my sermon—and it didn’t quite match what I thought of it.


“The introduction didn’t introduce the sermon. (“Huh,“ I thought, “Really?”) “The body didn’t develop the text.” (“Is that what the body does?” I asked myself). “And the conclusion didn’t complete the sermon.” (“Well, what do you know about that!” I said to myself). “But at least you had style so I gave you a B+.”


In those twenty seconds I learned more about preaching than I had in six years of study before. And I learned what Dr. Haddon Robinson could teach me about preaching. Everything. Certainly I needed to learn from him.


That began six years of study with him. How many times did I climb up those four steep flights of stairs to his office? How many times did I gain new and deeper insights into what it means to preach? How many times did Dr. Robinson spend two, or more hours with me in his office as we talked about preaching and more—about life, about seminary, about dating, about growing up in a large city—he in Hell’s Kitchen in New York and I in an unknown factory neighborhood in Philadelphia. He who had a father who formed him and I who had a father who determined that I would go to college.


We went to Dr. Robinson’s home for many courses, and from those times I learned a way to teach when I joined the faculty at Dallas Seminary fifteen years later. That was how I met Bonnie, his wife, a gracious, loving, warm, gentle woman who welcomed fifteen seminary guys into her home. It was also there that I met ten-year old Vickie, their daughter, and her younger brother, Torrey. Years later Vickie became our friend when we moved to Dallas.


For fifteen years I taught a Sunday school class here in Dallas, and Vickie was a faithful attender. Two or three times a year Dr. Robinson would visit her and attend the class, usually sitting on one of the last rows, not wanting to attract attention to himself. Many times at the end of the class he would come up to me to ask how I was doing and also to answer any questions I had concerning him. Those were mini-echoes of our old days when I sat face-to-face with him to learn about preaching or education or girls or life or even some difficulty he had faced and how the Lord had stood with Him.


Now Dr. Robinson is gone, taken from us by a devastating form of Parkinson’s Disease. He is now in the Lord’s presence reunited with his precious father but missed desperately by Bonnie, Vickie, and Torrey and the many communicators he formed. Few men have impacted preachers more effectively than he has. Few men have affected the church more completely than he has. Few men have influenced pastors more fully than he has. Few men have faced the struggles of life, the devastation of the body, and the loss of gifts more than he has either. Further no man has taught me and scores of others to preach as much as Dr. Robinson.


You notice that I constantly call him Dr. Robinson. Later, after I was no longer a student, I called him Haddon at times, but he will always be Dr. Robinson to me. After all, what could a man who looked like one of my college classmates teach me about preaching? Everything. That’s all.


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Bill Lawrence is the President of Leader Formation International, Senior Professor Emeritus of Pastoral Ministries and Adjunct Professor of DMin Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary where he served full-time for twenty-four years (1981-2005). During this time he also was the Executive Director of the Center for Christian Leadership for twelve years.