On this day as we remember the life of Ron Dunn and celebrate his home going, it is with deep regret that I cannot be present in person. I was on the last leg of my flight to Manila somewhere between Japan and the Philippines when Ron went home to be with the Lord. I would like to pay tribute to one of God’s gifted preachers and a man who it has been my privilege to be his pastor for the past 18 months.
I suppose the preacher in me will not permit my sharing without first taking a text of Scripture. I choose Philippians 3:10: “that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings.” I choose this verse for several reasons. In the last year of his life, Ron was enamored with the book of Philippians. He fed on it regularly during the hard times of this past year. In the last Bible Conference he preached, appropriately and by God’s sovereignty in his home church of MacArthur Blvd., all six of his sermons were taken from this book. I predict these sermons will become treasured classics and will be sought by hundreds of preachers.
But this verse is also auto biographical for Ron. During his lifetime, God had given him not only to know about Christ, but to know Him in an intimate way. He also knew of the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings.
For almost 30 years, Ron Dunn was involved in an itinerant preaching and writing ministry. When I first moved to Dallas in 1975 to attend college, I quickly learned about Ron Dunn and the amazing revival that had swept through MacArthur Blvd. Baptist Church. Twenty-five years later, I had become his pastor. Although I had heard him speak a couple of times and had read most of his books, he was unknown to me personally until 18 months ago.
During the latter 2/3 of these 18 months, Ron was very ill. I visited him in the hospital and at his home. We talked on the phone several times. Strange as it seemed to me, I was now the pastor of a man who was looked upon by many young preachers as their pastor. Though I was his pastor, I felt much like Timothy in the presence of Paul. I left those meetings feeling very much like the one who had been ministered to rather
than the one who came to minister. I came to discover first hand what I had been told…Ron Dunn loved pastors.
Ron’s life points us to the God he knew so well, the Savior he loved so well, and the Bible he preached so well. In a culture where many of our preachers preach horizontally, that is preaching to felt needs-cotton candy, 5 ways to be happy sermons-Ron Dunn preached vertically – extolling and exalting God before the people as the only one who could meet their needs. While other preachers served up junk food, to dine at “Dunn’s Place” was to enjoy a full-course meal.
His preaching was intensely spiritual, but always perfectly Biblical and thoroughly practical. Like Ezra before him, “he blessed the Lord God” in his preaching and “all the people answered, Amen, Amen…and they worshipped.” (Nehemiah 8:6)
Unlike many modern preachers, Ron Dunn never endured the disgrace of having his sermon received with blank stares and feelings of boredom. Whereas, some listeners wait for the end of the sermon as if it were a relief after a root canal, people listened to a Ron Dunn sermon, however long, on the edge of their seats and were disappointed when he decided to say no more.
Eloquent nonsense abounds in pulpits today. Sometimes it is not even eloquent. The eloquence of Ron’s preaching lay in his firm commitment to and exposition of the text when he preached. I admired him for the fact that he always looked at his Greek New Testament when studying a passage to preach. In a day when People’s Magazine provides about as much sermon fodder for some preachers as the Bible, Ron’s paramount commitment to expositional preaching was welcome tonic.
Tapes of Ron’s sermons have traveled around the world. His tape ministry provides a source of encouragement to countless pastors. I smile when I think of how many Ron Dunn points, illustrations, and even entire sermons have been preached by preachers whose inspiration and information came from a Ron Dunn tape.
He was known for his superb ability to take biblical truth and cast it in such a profoundly simply way. He knew so well where we all lived. He was the master illustrator in his preaching. His illustrations, because they were taken from common, everyday experiences of life, adorned his sermons like freshly cut flowers with a pungent fragrance. Last year, at a preaching conference at the Criswell College, the guest speaker, who was from London, England, made reference to the importance of illustrative preaching. He paused and said: “The man who does this better than anyone I know is a fellow named Ron Dunn…who I think lives somewhere in Texas.” From the back of the room I grinned, knowing that he lived not 20 miles away and I was his pastor. The anecdote illustrates the far reach of Ron’s ministry.
Many people, however, know Ron Dunn not as the preacher but as the author of many books. He will be remembered preeminently for his tri-fold focus on prayer, faith, and suffering in his writings. How many thousands of God’s hurting children were, are and will be blessed and uplifted by the potent yet practical words which lept from the page of a Ron Dunn book to their heart. Many are closer to the throne and have had their troubled paths cleared of disappointment and cheered with God’s grace because Ron Dunn, in the midst of a busy preaching schedule, took the time to write. There is an unmistakable wisdom and wit to his books that will live on.
Speaking of wit, Tom Elliff, the pastor of the First Southern Baptist Church in Dell City, Oklahoma, and Ron were good friends for many years. The last sermon Ron preached was on a Sunday in Tom’s church last May. Tom told me several months ago that Ron Dunn was the Columbo of Southern Baptist preachers. He suckered you in to thinking he was a bit bumbling in his way, then, when you least expected it – Wham! He would nail you!
Last year at our Encouraged Conference at MBBC where Ron was preaching, I found out just how true this is. I took on Ron Dunn…and lost. Like the Aggie who bet on the game and lost, then bet on the replay and lost again, this past May I took Ron on a second time…and lost again. They were the most pleasant defeats I have ever received.
Ron Dunn cared about pastors, especially pioneer pastors. That is why in 1975 he began at MBBC an annual conference for pioneer pastors called ”the Encouraged Conference.” Since that time, more than 250 pastors and their wives have been treated to a week of encouragement. Only heaven knows how many ministries were saved as a result of his visionary act. One of the last things Ron said to me a few weeks ago was how he wished some of the larger churches with great resources would catch the vision for ministering to pioneer pastors. Perhaps now that he has gone, his wish will become a reality.
Ron Dunn’s legacy to us all, expressed in his preaching and writing, is his emphasis on walking with God every day. Although some Christians
become so mystical in their approach to the spiritual life that they become wall-eyed and spiritual wall flowers, Ron Dunn’s brand of spirituality had about it the fragrance of the real thing. He was in constant demand as a speaker at the Keswick Conventions in England as well as other conferences focusing on the deeper spiritual life. His deep spirituality always blossomed forth in a concern for lost souls and an evangelistic heart.
From his beloved book of Philippians, Ron could say with Paul, :”For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Were he here today, he would tell us that the Greek word for “gain” which Paul uses is a banking term meaning ”profit one receives from a previous investment.”….Ron invested a lot in his lifetime. Great is his reward.
Ron Dunn’s life and ministry could be summed up in the words of the great reformer Martin Luther: “I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s word…otherwise I did nothing..the Word did it all.
I can almost hear Ron say it today, can’t you? Listen!…”I did nothing…the Word did it all!” To God be the glory, great things He has done!
David L. Allen
Pastor, MacArthur Boulevard Baptist Church
W.A. Criswell Professor of Preaching, The Criswell College