Immaculate Word Choices: Lessons from Robinson & Lewis

Last week, Moody Bible Institute hosted its annual Founder’s Week.  The conference, held on the week of D.L. Moody’s birthday each year, promises dynamic Bible teaching from some of the country’s finest expositors.  And, let’s be honest, there are some duds too.

On Thursday night, Haddon Robinson preached a sermon from the first three chapters of Hosea.  Dr. Robinson is considered one of the foremost authorities on expository preaching, and his exposition on Thursday confirmed that for me.  I had never heard him preach before.

What struck me most was Robinson’s word choice.  Every word seemed to have been forged and chiseled before he said it – perfectly chosen for the context and meaning of each sentence.  This was remarkable.  He was a humble speaker in countenance and delivery.  He did not speak very loud, but his words demanded attentive silence from the audience (or maybe people were bored and sleepy – I’m not sure).

In preaching through the narrative portion of Hosea, Dr. Robinson displayed an expert understanding of literary exposition.  Many preachers confuse exposition so thoroughly that the sermon becomes eisegetical; it becomes total misinterpretation.  I hear this often.  In an attempt to make a biblical text relatable, the preacher actually only succeeds in inserting their own uninspired ideas into the text.  This ruins the theological implications and practical applications of the text.  On a more heinous level, that kind of preaching undermines the Word of God.  It assumes that Man’s ideas are inspired over the Bible.  By making the passage “relatable” or lyrical, the preacher misses the whole point!

But Robinson was able to make his exposition robust with lyrical wording and profound imagery without undermining the text.  Indeed many of the details he gave from the story are not in the text, but the sermon remained loyal to the Scripture because his word choice was so intentional.

I was reminded of the importance of our word choice.  Words do matter.  They matter in general storytelling.  They matter more in preaching, which is often storytelling of the most important kind.

In The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis opens with a criticism of an elementary-level English text book.  The book’s authors, whom Lewis nicknames Gaius and Titius, claim that when a person attributes description to an object, that person is not actually revealing something about the object  but about themselves.  For instance, when a man calls a waterfall sublime he is not actually saying “This waterfall is sublime”, but “I have sublime feelings regarding this waterfall.”

Lewis then pictures a schoolboy reading and consuming this teaching and says,

The very power of Gaius and Titius depends on the fact that they are dealing with a boy: a boy who thinks he is ‘doing’ his ‘English prep’ and has no notion that ethics, theology, and politics are all at stake.  It is not a theory they put into his mind, but an assumption which ten years hence, its origin forgotten and its presence unconscious, will condition him to take one side in a controversy which he has never recognized as a controversy at all.  The authors themselves, I suspect, hardly know what they are doing to the boy, and he cannot know what is being done to him.  (The Abolition of Man, p. 5.)

Lewis’ argument concludes that words are not merely subjective; we cannot insert our fickle notions into them.  Words must have objective meaning, or else we lose meaning.  We lose truth and the ability to articulate truth.  Preaching, then, must include the intentional and prayerful use of words because biblical preaching is the proclamation of truth.

I am thankful for Dr. Robinson’s sermon, which is still on my mind, and for his example.  His sermon last week reminds me to be thankful for all the preachers who speak well – not necessarily at the oratorial level (though that certainly helps) but at the word level.  And his example reminds all of us in the family of God to craft our words with carefulness and intentionality.

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About Collin Damon Welch
Collin worked in the film/TV industry for a while. Now he's pursuing ministry. He and his incomparably beautiful wife Nicole live in Chicago.

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