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I have been a fan of Dietrich Bonhoeffer since I was a student at Bethel College in St. Paul, MN back in 1970s. Over the years, the person and works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer have been embraced by evangelicals, liberals, Jews and Catholics. He is also the champion of both the right and the left. He has been described as a “flamingly gay“.

No matter the issue, people from both sides of the issue look to Bonhoeffer for wisdom and guidance. The issue may be same-sex marriage, gun control, abortion, immigration, politics and politicians.

If Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived today, let’s say in America, what side would he take? Back in 2016, would he vote for Hillary or Trump? Voters for both candidates would build a case that Bonhoeffer would certainly see their point of view.

My thesis for my Doctor of Ministry degree focused on the impact of Dietrich Bonhoeffer on twenty-first century preachers, but I am far from being an expert on Bonhoeffer. But I did do enough research then and since then to say that Dietrich Bonhoeffer cannot be boxed in.

He was only 39 years old when he was hung. Imagine if he lived another thirty or forty years and was able to develop his ideas and theology further.

What side would he take? My take is this: Dietrich Bonhoeffer would teach us to pray, read the Bible and meditate on God’s Word. He would also not to place our trust in people (like Presidents) but in God alone. He would tell us to love others who are vastly different than us. I think he would say that even though, we live is an age of outrage, Christians, are to be at their very best and represent Jesus.


Chris Brauns 
May 15, 2018

I am again privileged to be part of the Haddon Robinson Study Retreat. This year we are studying the Gospel of Mark and our guest lecturer is Mark Strauss of Bethel seminary. 

Each year a group of pastors gather for a week of intense study Covenant Harbor Camp near Lake Geneva, WI . Our format is simple. We invite a world-class scholar to teach us on one or more books of the Bible. As we are taught on a technical level, we collaborate to envision how to preach the Scripture we are studying to our congregations.

We were inspired by Dr. Haddon Robinson to begin this retreat. Haddon is one of the most influential teachers of homiletics (preaching) in the English speaking world in the last 100 years. Most of us who are part of this retreat studied under Haddon. All share a commitment to the clear proclamation of God’s Word.

For the entire post…

Haddon Robinson grabbed an ice pick and headed out the door to join his gang. They were intent on avenging the murders of three of their members.

Association with a gang was a matter of survival for a young man growing up in the Mousetown section of Harlem in the 1940s. Haddon’s mother had died when he was a boy, and his father worked a 2 to 11 p.m. shift, so no one was home to stop him.

As the gang members emerged from an alley, a policeman apprehended them. For whatever reason, the officer singled out Haddon, searched him, and found his ice pick. “What do you plan to do with this?” the officer asked. “Chop ice,” Haddon replied. At that, the officer kicked him to the ground, swore at him, and made him return home. That night, several of Haddon’s fellow gang members would lose their lives in a brutal brawl. As he later reflected, “The foot of that policeman was the hand of God in my life.”

Life Devoted to Preaching

God’s hand continued to work in Haddon’s life, shaping him into a devoted follower of Jesus who eventually became a dean of evangelical preaching. He is best known for his book Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages—first published it in 1980 and currently in its third edition. I once asked Haddon how he was able to make his book “sing.” He told me he delivered the first draft orally to his secretary while pacing back and forth in his office.

On July 22, 2017, Haddon entered the presence of the Lord. He died in his sleep almost three years after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s. I am one of his many former students who will be forever grateful for his imprint on our lives. This self-described “latchkey kid” from a vicious, violent district in New York City taught us grace, godliness, and how to preach the Scriptures.

Haddon’s interest in preaching began shortly after his conversion to Christ when Harry Ironside, the renowned pastor of Chicago’s Moody Church, visited New York City. Of Ironside’s preaching, Haddon wrote in his diary: “He preached for an hour and it seemed like 20 minutes; others preach for 20 minutes and it seems like an hour. I wonder what the difference is.” A few years ago, Haddon said: “I have devoted my life to answering that question.”

Haddon’s call to preach was solidified while a student at Bob Jones University. There, he heard leading preachers in chapel and often spent Friday nights in the library reading sermons and books about preaching. When he enrolled at Dallas Theological Seminary, the school didn’t offer classes in preaching. During his senior year, a few classmates asked him to teach them how to preach. This eventually led to an invitation for Haddon to return from an assistant pastorate in Medford, Oregon, to teach homiletics at DTS. “I went back because they needed a ‘low-dollar person,’” he recalled. “They hired me on the basis of gift, not education.” Haddon often quipped that friends would marvel at how he didn’t become an atheist after listening to so many student sermons.

When I reflect on how Haddon shaped evangelical preaching, I think of three particular convictions he taught and modeled.

1. Need for a Big Idea

Haddon wrote his classic preaching textbook in an era when expository preaching was often reduced to an exegetical lecture. He was concerned that listeners would walk away from a sermon “with a basketful of fragments but not an adequate sense of the whole.” One of his witticisms (which his students called “Haddonisms”) expressed his concern: “A mist in the pulpit is a fog in the pew.”

The hallmark of Haddon’s approach to exposition lies in identifying and communicating a biblical text’s “big idea.” Some have questioned this approach, arguing that it’s artificial and works better in some passages than in others. They’re concerned about reducing the richness of a text to a single idea. Yet Haddon saw the “big idea” approach as a way of communicating a biblical text precisely so that listeners could access its riches. He observed: “Sermons seldom fail because they have too many ideas; more often they fail because they deal with unrelated ideas.”

Haddon believed preachers are not ready to preach a text until, in the words of John Henry Jowett, the big idea “has emerged, clear and lucid as a cloudless moon.”

2. Need to Exegete Both Text and Listener

Robinson insisted his students work hard to understand both the text and the listeners to whom we preach. I remember him grilling me in class over my exegesis of a passage in the Gospel of Mark. My fellow students and I had to exegete a particular text and then discuss how we would preach it. I remember saying, “This is how I plan to preach this text.” Haddon replied, “No you won’t. Try it again.” So I tried it again, and he said: “That won’t do. Try it again.” By the end of my presentation, I was frustrated. Yet Haddon approached me after class and told me how glad he was to have me in his DMin program in preaching. I realized he was pushing us to understand deeply the author’s intended meaning.

Haddon also insisted that we exegete our listeners. What do they value? What are their needs? What do they need explained, validated (proved), or applied when they hear a biblical text proclaimed? He had no patience with the “stained-glass voice” and “three points and a poem” approach of many pastors. He believed it dulled the senses of listeners. I remember Haddon interrupting a sermon one of my classmates was preaching in class. He suddenly started waving his arms and said, “Stop right there! Stop. Do you use that kind of a voice when you order a meal at McDonalds? Then don’t use it when preaching.” He chided the sermon outline of a friend of mine, saying: “That sounds like it came out of a book called Simple Sermons for Sunday Evening.”

3. Need for Godliness

Haddon admonished his students with Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 4:16: “Watch your life and doctrine closely.” He warned us: “When you fail to walk with God, you walk on the edge of an abyss.” This is something he modeled well. Haddon was a man of God before he was a spokesman for God. He was a man of godly integrity, a man of tenderness as well as toughness. I never once heard him criticize his critics, though I remember the opening to one of his prayers: “Lord, I am a sinful man in need of your grace.”

Though brilliant and full of insight, Haddon was not full of himself. In 1996 a Baylor University poll named him one of “The 12 Most Effective Preachers in the English-Speaking World.” Once, when asked about the honor, Haddon shook his head: “How in the world do you come up with a conclusion like that?” As he has famously said: “There are no great preachers, only a great Christ.”

Selfless Servant

Part of Haddon’s godly grace was his expression of love and care to others. I’ll never forget how he encouraged and prayed for a struggling yogurt shop owner near Gordon-Conwell’s campus. She had come to faith in Christ through his radio ministry and couldn’t believe he was “that Haddon Robinson.” He gently insisted that we, his students, give her our business to help her pay her bills.

When I had to miss my graduation ceremony at Gordon-Conwell due to a family member’s illness, Haddon called the day after to tell me how sorry he was and to inquire about my family member. By the end of the phone call, he agreed to fly to Montana—where I was pastoring at the time—to present me with my hood and diploma. This seems rather remarkable, but it was a rather typical act of kindness for Haddon.

For the rest of the post…

Early this morning, on July 22 2017, Dr. Haddon Robinson departed this world and went home to heaven!

The Ongoing Legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

December 05, 2012

Bryan Galloway is Senior Pastor at Harvey Oaks Baptist Church in Omaha, Nebraska. Bryan graduated from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in May 2009 with a Doctor of Ministry. His thesis-project was on the difference that Dietrich Bonhoeffer makes in twenty-first century preaching.

I’m grateful that Bryan was willing to answer some questions about Bonhoeffer and his ongoing legacy.

How did you get interested in Dietrich Bonhoeffer?

I became interested with Dietrich Bonhoeffer when I was a college student at Bethel College in St. Paul, MN. Dr. Al Glenn introduced me to Life Together and The Cost of Discipleship. I was fascinated by Bonhoeffer’s blunt approach to discipleship and fellowship; and by his story of a pastor who stood up to Hitler and Nazi polices.

For the rest of the interview…

On October 14 and 15, I will be in Manhattan, KS for the Sixth Annual Western Professors and Scholars. It is sponsored by Manhattan Christian College. I was there two years ago and presented my Doctor of Ministry Thesis on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This year’s conference is focused on Bonhoeffer. I was asked to present a research paper how the pastoral side of Bonhoeffer can be seen in his circular letters to his former Finkenwalde students.

The Preacher’s Seminary of Finkenwalde was one of the five Confessing Church seminaries.[1] Bonhoeffer was the director of the Finkenwalde seminary from 1935 to 1937.[2] In September of 1937, all the Confessing Church seminaries were closed by the Gestapo.[3] Bonhoeffer continued to correspond with his students through these circular letters. The pastoral heart of Bonhoeffer is seen in these letters.

This was especially evident when he wrote of former students who were killed in battle. His August 15, 1941 circular letter is an example of this. He gave the names of four former students who were killed on the eastern front: Konrad Bojack, F.A. Preub, Ulruch Nithack, and Gerhard Schulze.[4] Bonhoeffer then went into great detail about their faith and ministries:

Konrad Bojack was with us in the summer of 1935. He became a pastor in Lyck (East Prussia), where he leaves behind his wife and two small children. With the earnestness and joy of Christianity, his sermons emerging completely from the Word of God, and his love for the church, the ministry, and the congregation, he was a fine witness of Jesus Christ for us all. As a native of Silesia who chose to make his home his home in East Prussia, he had allowed the questions and needs of the German border region to grow dear to his heart. He proved his love for this new homeland as a faithful pastor of his congregation. He found his mission and his congregation’s salvation in the authentic preaching of Jesus Christ. He was killed on June 22 close to the East Prussian border. We grieve the loss of this quiet, honest brother. In this life, he trusted in Word and sacrament. Now he may behold in which believed.

F.A. Preub was with us the same time as Konrad Bojack. He became a pastor in Landsberger Hollander in Neumark, where he leaves behind his wife and two children. In him we had a brother who was always friendly and joyful, whose faith in Jesus Christ was secure, who attended faithfully to the office entrusted to him even under difficult conditions, and who served his congregation with great love and devotion. Now Christ has called him to his own heavenly congregation.

Ulrich Nithack was with us in the summer of 1938. No one who met him could have failed to experience his radiant happiness and inner confidence, rooted his faith in Christ. His never-failing readiness to serve other members of the community and his thankfulness for the smallest things brought him the love of all the brothers. His pursuit of a personal life of sanctification through Jesus Christ emerged from a faith that was in the best sense childlike. For him, prayer was at the center. In a certitude that strengthened all of us, he saw his path and calling to be entirely within the Confessing Church, which he loved with all his heart. He gave himself completely to every task assigned to him. With his death some of the light of Jesus Christ, which we are given to glimpse here and there through one another, has gone out for us—but only so as to shine all the more brightly in the eternal sun of Jesus Christ.

Like Ulrich Nithack, Gerhard Schulze was with us in the summer of 1938. He came from a conflict-ridden congregational post in which he represented the concerns of a church bravely and clearly. With his lively, cheerful, winning manner he quickly found friends and community wherever he went. He desired to devote his life completely to the Confessing Church’s struggle. God led him in a special way through depths and heights; he was allowed to experience the power of the grace of God in his life more powerfully than others. He wished to proceed in his future ministry from within this experience. His death affects many friends who accompanied him through his life. Yet a life so rich in grace fills us anew with the certainty that the mercy of God has no end.[5]

Bonhoeffer must have spent significant time with his students to know their backgrounds and families. His relationship with his students also went beyond their years together at Finkenwalde since he also was aware of certain details of their lives after the seminary was closed. In an era long before e-mail, Facebook, Skype, cell phones and text-messaging, Bonhoeffer invested the time through good-old-fashioned face-to-face conversations and letter writing in order to get to know his students

[1] Mark S. Brocker, ed., Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 16; Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Conspiracy and Imprisonment, 1940-1945 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006), 4.

[2] Brocker, ed., Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 16; Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Conspiracy and Imprisonment, 1940-1945, 4.

[3] Brocker, ed., Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 16; Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Conspiracy and Imprisonment, 1940-1945, 4.

[4] Brocker, ed., Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 16; Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Conspiracy and Imprisonment, 1940-1945, 44.

[5] Brocker, ed., Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 16; Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Conspiracy and Imprisonment, 1940-1945, 206.


I am still in Lake Geneva, WI this week for a study retreat. This retreat is for anyone who graduated from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with a Doctor of Ministry degree with The Preacher & The Message under Dr. Haddon Robinson.

One of my cohorts, Darryl Dash is also here this week. I sat with him during lunch today and we were discussing how I was allowed to set up this blog site to help me with my writing project for this DMin degree. Darryl said…

“You blogged your way to a doctorate!” 


I arrived in Lake Geneva, WI on Monday afternoon  for a study retreat for those who graduated from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with a Doctor of Ministry degree with The Preacher & The Message. It was good to see Dr. Haddon Robinson again. The last time I saw him was when I graduated 2 years ago. 

Most of the people I do not know, but I am already am having a great time. I guess it is a tradition for those who can to go out to a movie on the first night. We saw Thor. It was a wonderful Norwegian documentary. 

We are staying at the Covenant Harbor Geneva Bay Center in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

 Dr. George Guthrie, who is the Benjamin W. Perry Professor of Bible, Theology & Missions at Union University will be the teacher, and the focus will be the book of Hebrews. 

On Monday morning, I head out to Lake Geneva, WI this week for a study retreat. This retreat is for anyone who graduated from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with a Doctor of Ministry degree with The Preacher & The Message under Dr. Haddon Robinson. As you may or may not know, this blog was created to help me with my writing project for this DMin degree. There is more information below…

It’s time once again to get the word out about the upcoming Gordon-Conwell study week. The 2011 Gordon-Conwell Retreat will be May 9-13, 2011, at the Covenant Harbor Geneva Bay Center in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Dr. George Guthrie, who is the Benjamin W. Perry Professor of Bible, Theology & Missions at Union University will be the teacher, and the focus will be the book of Hebrews. He is considered to be one of the premier authorities in the United States on the book of Hebrews.

March 2019
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