The passing of a great one: Haddon Robinson influenced many Canadian preachers

Years ago, I sat in a small room at the old campus of Tyndale University College & Seminary in Toronto and interviewed Haddon Robinson, who died last week. The scholar most recently from Gordon Conwell Seminary, known far and wide as one of the greatest living preachers, was in Toronto to speak at Tyndale’s President’s Dinner. I had already met Haddon because my husband was enrolled in a DMin program, with  Haddon as his supervisor. The one moment I remember clearly from the interview was Haddon growling, in his distinctive New York accent, that when he reads theology that is dense and incomprehensible, he just wants to “throw it against the wall.” That’s because he was a master of communication, and that’s what he expected from his students.

Like many, many Canadian preachers and church leaders over the years, Brent made a yearly trek to Boston to study under one of the greats. I would hazard to guess that this unassuming American preacher from a hardscrabble childhood influenced more Canadian preachers over the years than one could easily count. The Canadians in the program tended to drift toward each other, and that was no different in my husband’s group. Toronto church planter and writer Darryl Dash became a friend. I asked him, on behalf of the Canadian preachers who studied under Haddon, to share some thoughts.

Here’s Darryl:

I first met Haddon when I was assigned the task of driving him back to the airport in Toronto. His full name: Haddon Robinson, author of Biblical Preaching, renowned professor of preaching, named one of “The 12 Most Effective Preachers in the English-Speaking World” by Baylor University.

Haddon Robinson influenced many Canadians through his preaching ministry. Photo by Darryl Dash.

I remember only two things from that drive. First: that I didn’t want to crash with an esteemed passenger on board. Second: that Haddon was down to earth. He found out that I had young children, and reminisced by how hard it was to cultivate romance in marriage with young children in the house. I dropped Haddon off, and hoped that it wouldn’t be the last time I spent time with him.

Haddon Robinson was born in 1931 in Mousetown, an impoverished section of Harlem. He was on his way with a gang to avenge the murders of three of his fellow gang members when stopped by the police. The officer searched Haddon, found an ice pick, kicked him to the ground, and made him return home. Several of Haddon’s friends lost their lives that night in the brawl. “The foot of that policeman was the hand of God in my life,” Haddon later said.

Haddon came to Christ. Shortly after becoming a Christian, he heard Harry Ironside, pastor of Moody Church, preach in New York City. “He preached for an hour and it seemed like 20 minutes,” he wrote in his diary. “Others preach for 20 minutes and it seems like an hour. I wonder what the difference is.” He spent the rest of his life answering this question.

While studying at Dallas Theological Seminary, Haddon taught himself the art of preaching. Dallas didn’t offer classes on preaching, but his fellow classmates asked him to teach them. This led to the seminary asking Haddon to begin its first class in homiletics. Haddon became known as one of the foremost teachers of preaching in his tenures at Dallas Theological Seminary, Denver Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

After driving Haddon to the airport, I decided to enlist in a three-year Doctor of Ministry class with Haddon. I remember the first week of class. As we projected our sermon outlines on the screen, Haddon looked at them with a scowl. Haddon cared too much about preaching to lie. “I can’t work with this,” I remember him saying to one student. Some students quit the class at the end of the first week. He recounted one student complaining to him about this C mark. “Because you complained, I’ll give you an A,” Haddon said. “But don’t forget: you’re still a C preacher.”

Haddon knew that we couldn’t learn until we got over ourselves. He encouraged us, too, and I could see his eyes twinkle. When I arrived a little late because I didn’t have the right paperwork to travel, Haddon made a comment about the “porous borders” that would allow someone like me in.

Most of my fellow students have similar stories about Haddon’s honesty and wit — but also how he cared. When a student missed graduation because of a family health emergency, Haddon flew to the student with the hood and diploma. When he came across someone who was struggling, he went out of his way to help.

After graduating, I joined a group of fellow graduates who meet each May in Wisconsin with Haddon for a study week. You’d always know when Haddon spoke: the clickety-clack of keyboards trying to keep up with this words filled the room. We’d study together, eat together, and walk to Starbucks in the evening.

In 2015, Haddon was too unwell to attend our annual gathering. I last saw Haddon in December of last year in Pennsylvania. His energy was low. His words were few. I left that time knowing that it would probably be the last time I saw him before he died.

“For the believer in Jesus Christ, for the righteous person, we do not go out into death and into darkness,” he wrote in 2000. “Instead, we go home to God.”

On July 22, 2017, Haddon went home to God.

I’m grateful for his life and legacy. I have a feeling that when I meet him in glory he’ll say something about he porous borders that would allow someone like me in. I’m looking forward to that day.

Darryl Dash is a Toronto church planter and a writer. You can read his most recent Faith Today article, on how to create a rule of life.

One thought on “The passing of a great one: Haddon Robinson influenced many Canadian preachers”

  1. How wonderful it would have been to know Haddon Robinson personally! I remember enjoying his radio messages many years ago. Thanks for your stories about him, Darryl.

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