By: Dr. Scott Wenig, Haddon Robinson Chair of Biblical Preaching, Denver Seminary
“What’s the Big Idea?” This question, in many ways, helped to identify the life and ministry of Dr. Haddon W. Robinson, who served as the third President of Denver Seminary from 1979 to 1991. Dr. Robinson, or Haddon as he liked to be called by his friends and colleagues, passed into the Savior’s presence this past Saturday, July 22 at the age of 86. His impact as preacher, professor, model, and mentor for hundreds of men and women spanned more than six decades and sealed a legacy of work for Christ’s Kingdom that will be felt for years to come.
Haddon was no stranger to difficult times. He grew up in Mousetown, a notoriously poor section of Harlem, New York and lost his mother at a young age. Eventually, he came to faith in Christ and transitioned from high school to college, earning his undergraduate degree from Bob Jones University. Haddon then went on to earn a ThM from Dallas Seminary, an MA from Southern Methodist University and his PhD from the University of Illinois. He served as a pastor at First Baptist Church of Medford, Oregon in the 1950s but his professional career centered on teaching at Dallas Seminary (1960-79), Denver Seminary (1979-91) and Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary where he served as the Harold John Ockenga Distinguished Professor of Preaching.
It was during Haddon’s tenure as President of Denver Seminary that his book, Biblical Preaching, was first published. It created something of a revolution in the practice of expository preaching by emphasizing the clear presentation of a single idea rooted in the biblical text. The book demonstrated Haddon’s skill as a writer as well as a preacher and went on to sell over 200,000 copies. Moreover, it’s still used in numerous seminaries and bible colleges as the standard “go-to” work for homiletics, moving Preaching Magazine to name it the top-rated homiletics text of the past three decades.
Yet most who knew of Haddon will remember him for the power of his preaching. His pulpit oratory mesmerized audiences for decades and set the standard for homiletical excellence within the broader evangelical community. In 1996, he was named in a Baylor University poll as one of the “12 Most Effective Preachers in the English Speaking World.” That was followed in 2006 when Christianity Today placed him in the top 10 of its “25 Most Influential Preachers of the Past 50 Years.” And in 2010 Preaching Magazine named him among the “25 Most Influential Preachers of the Past 25 Years.”
Haddon’s impact for Christ went beyond his presence in the pulpit and classroom. He was an early advocate for racial reconciliation in both church and society and pushed hard for women to become preachers and teachers of God’s word, remarking on many occasions that “God does not distribute His gifts by gender.” For 20 years he helped host “Discover the Word” with Dr. Alice Mathews and Mart De Hann, a radio program which broadcast daily to two million listeners throughout North America and other English speaking countries. And those who knew Haddon as a personal friend and mentor were forever touched by his love for Christ, his towering intellect and his gracious spirit.
In light of his many accomplishments and awards as well as in his service to the church and academy, Haddon most often found his greatest joy in his family. He is survived by his devoted wife of 66 years, Bonnie; his daughter, Vicki Hitzges, a motivational speaker; his son Torrey Robinson, Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Tarrytown, NY, Torrey’s wife, Sue, and two grandsons.
During his lifetime Haddon always strove to be the best preacher possible and motivated innumerable others to do the same. But as he often noted, “There are no great preachers, only a great Christ who does startling things when preachers place themselves and their preaching in His hands.” Haddon has now passed into the hands of that Christ, Who most certainly welcomed him home with the words “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Learn more about Dr. Haddon W. Robinson.