[K:JNWTS 20/1 (May 2005) 66-67]

Book Review

Haddon W. Robinson & Torrey W. Robinson, It's All In How You Tell It. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003. 143pp. Paper. ISBN: 0-8010-9150-0. $12.99.

Dr. Haddon W. Robinson is the dean of homileticians. He has taught the subject at Dallas Theological Seminary and Denver Seminary. He is now the Harold John Ockenga Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. Dr. Robinson has written many volumes on preaching. The most famous is Biblical Preaching, The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages, which has sold over 100,000 copies. Torrey, his son, is an ordained Baptist minister.

In this latest work, Dr. Robinson describes a minister who came to him for help. He had been in the ministry for forty-five years and was the pastor of a large and successful church with a staff of seven persons, but found his own sermons boring. He was not bored with studying the Scriptures or with the repetitiveness of preparing a sermon each week. What bothered him was the result of his study: the sermon he preached. Dr. Robinson came to the conclusion that the minister's problem was the form of sermon making he had learned in seminary: "Find a key word, arrange the points around that word, if possible alliterate them, review the points at the conclusion, toss in some application and pray. The only variety was the central word he used to hold his sermons together" (p.10).

Dr. Robinson proposes that the solution to this problem is to find other forms to use. And since the Bible does not dictate any particular forms, then a minister should choose one from the many possibilities. And since Jesus was so successful in his preaching ministry by telling stories, Dr. Robinson recommends narrative preaching. And, if narrative preaching, then why not first person preaching, since one of the best ways to develop a story is by representing a person at the scene. From this point, Dr. Robinson instructs his readers in the technique of developing such sermons and preaching them. He follows this instruction with a discussion of solutions to problems that may arise.

This book concludes with seven sermons that were preached illustrating this method. They are most intriguing. The first is by a minister in a Montana Bible Church. He assumes the identity of an elder in Bethlehem at the time of Naomi and tells the story of Ruth, as if he observed her at that time. We are told, in a summary printed above the sermon, that the purpose of preaching the story is "to enable ordinary people, especially mothers, to see how God can make a difference in them and through them" (p. 79).

We go to the second sermon in the hopes that moralism and humanism might be avoided. But what do we find? A sermon delivered by a professor at Gordon-Conwell Seminary at a chapel service where he assumes the role of Eliab, David's oldest brother, and describes the battle with Goliath, as he saw it (1 Samuel 16-17). Once more, the story is told in an interesting manner, but for what purpose? "For potential leaders to recognize how courageous they can be when they trust themselves to God" (p. 88).

There is no question that many sermons are boring. It must also be admitted that the form in which they are preached can add to that boredom. However, is the answer to the problem, the use of a narrative form, especially in the first person? I think not. The problem with the narrative form is that it only reiterates the story. When we do that, we emphasize the human side and place the divine dimension in the background. This is giving a moral lesson, but it is not preaching. Preaching, according to the Biblical definition, is bringing the good news of God's work of salvation which culminates in Jesus Christ (euangelizo). Preaching is also described as heralding the coming of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom (kerusso). It is God's victory over sin, death and hell that must be the center of every sermon. All passages of Scripture must be read in their redemptive-historical setting to be properly understood and preached. Instead of using a new and intriguing form of preaching, we should draw our people back into the text to see what God is doing there to lead us to Christ. Such sermons, prepared and preached properly, are never boring.

J. Peter Vosteen