December 13, 2017

A. T. Robertson and Preaching

Wally Morris

I grew up going to Southern Baptist churches. The church I went to for most of my childhood and teenage years was established in 1937. I have distinct, good memories of that church and its people. The red brick church with its white columns and large, brick steps, located in coastal Georgia not far from the river and ocean, gave me my first introduction to the Bible, the gospel, and preaching. We moved to a different part of the county when I was a senior in high school and began attending a smaller church. When I went to college in 1975, I began attending a Bible study and became aware of theological problems in the SBC. I am the type of person who likes to find out the facts for myself, so I started asking SBC pastors I knew some questions. I could tell they were being evasive with their answers, which made me suspicious. I won’t go into everything I did to get answers to my questions, but the final result was that I ended my association with the SBC. Today, the SBC has a much more theologically conservative belief and practice than the SBC I grew up with. However, the roots of a return to a less conservative position are still within the SBC. But that would be another story.

Having said that, I have never lost my appreciation for the significant people in SBC history who helped shaped its beliefs and practice.

For example, the men who helped form Southern Seminary (first in Greenville, SC, then in Louisville, KY) were pioneers in education for Baptist pastors. John Broadus’ book on preaching is still a classic (There is still a “Broadus Avenue” in Greenville). I collect early copies of this book, owning about 20 different editions, including a 2nd printing (1871) of the first edition. Broadus’ son-in-law, A. T. Robertson is well-known for his Greek scholarship. But he was also concerned about preaching. When he became Professor of Greek and Homiletics in 1890, he gave an inaugural address entitled “Preaching and Scholarship”. Robertson was a demanding teacher and detailed scholar. But he did not believe that the purpose of seminary education was to produce only scholars. Below are some quotes from his inaugural address which may challenge and encourage those in the ministry, whatever your ministry may be.

“Reading Greek and preaching are often supposed to be uncongenial companions.”

“There is still such a thing as reverent scholarship.”

“If an education gives a man the swell head, he must have a very soft head.”

“There are many men who never went to school who can be as dry as the most learned.”

“We know that he [God] has no use for the pride of learning, but neither does he care for the arrogance of ignorance.”

“Do not expect any amount of training to take the place of brains, work, and the grace of God.”

“If a numbskull comes to the seminary and goes away a numbskull, do not blame the seminary.”

“A seminary can only work with the material that the churches send, good, bad, and indifferent.”

“Never say you are losing time by going to school. You are saving time, buying it up for the future and storing it away.”

“… one rarely rises above the standards around him.”

“The German idea is to make scholars first and preachers incidentally. But ours is to make preachers, and scholars only as a means to that end.”

“But my plea is for a scholarship that helps men to preach.”

“Give us men in the pulpit today above all things that fear God and think the gospel good enough for anybody and make no apology for preaching it.”

“… all preachers cannot become scholars. … They cannot become learned, yet they have so learned Christ and have such deep spiritual knowledge that they can preach gloriously.”

“If you are to have any power as a minister, people must have confidence in your character.”

“Let a man acquire scholarly methods and apply them to his work. And that work will be less slipshod in style and more effective in results.”

“A true education is never finished, and a finished education is of little use.”

“He alone has fresh power who does fresh work.”

“This then is true; not all scholars can preach, and not all preachers can become scholars.”

“For each man wants to do the most that is in him for the glory of God.”

“… the highest excellence is where reverent learning is united with great pulpit ability and deep piety.”

“For if a man is to preach, he must be able to think.”

“You will never become a preacher worth listening to without travail of soul. There has to be some severe thinking and suffering before you will command the ears and hearts of men. Mere dabbling in books will not make you a deeper man.”

“May the chilling pall of godless learning never fall upon our schools!”

“Dislike to theological study is often the expression of laziness.”

“If you cannot take the best, take the best you can.”

“The educated preacher had overcome the prejudice of the farmer by doing the one thing, which is the end of all theological education. He could preach.”


Wally Morris is pastor of Charity Baptist Church in Huntington, IN. The church blogsite is amomentofcharity.blogspot.com. He has also published A Time To Die: A Biblical Look At End-Of-Life Issues by Ambassador International.

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