God Called Him to Preach with a Broken Heart

Preaching legend and longtime professor Robert Smith Jr. is retiring after years of scholarship, accolades, and personal loss.

A student at Beeson Divinity School once came to preaching professor Robert Smith Jr. in tears. The young man’s fiancée had returned the ring to him and called off their engagement. Smith cried with him. Then he made the student preach his scheduled sermon that day in class.

“I told him ministry is like that,” Smith said. “You can’t cancel a sermon” and say, “I won’t preach today because my heart is broken.”

It’s a lesson Smith has learned well through his own tragedies. He has performed the funerals of one wife and two sons, yet he keeps preaching.

Over his decades in ministry, the 74-year-old has trained classroom after classroom of aspiring pastors to proclaim the Word and earned acclaim for his powerful example. He preaches in the traditional African American exhortation style with a rich array of theological and cultural references sprinkled in. His sermons always center on a biblical text.

Beeson’s founding dean Timothy George said Smith “once wanted to become a professional baseball player, and he preaches like a great shortstop: agile, athletic … musical, and strategic, poetry in motion.” He recalled seeing him “stride an entire pulpit in an exuberant pulpit moment.”

Smith serves as the Beeson’s Charles T. Carter Baptist Chair of Divinity, and the school named its preaching institute for him.

He has spoken at 135 colleges, universities, and seminaries worldwide along with churches from a slew of major US denominations. His book Doctrine That Dances was named the 2009 Preaching Book of the Year by CT’s Preaching Today. Smith received a living legend award in 2017 from the E. K. Bailey Expository Preaching …

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