The death of a mentor, Howard Hendricks (1924-2013)

It’s difficult to describe the sense of loss at the news today of Howard Hendricks’ death. He leaves behind an enormous footprint—a legacy of teaching and ministry that looms large over the landscape of American evangelicalism. As one of his former students, I can attest that his legacy still looms large over my own life. If I could sum up that legacy in a phrase, it would be this: He loved the Bible, and he gave his life sowing that love into the hearts of his students. He sowed it into me.

On campus, “Prof” was a term of endearment for Professor Hendricks. There was only one “Prof,” and it was him. I first encountered Prof where nearly every other student did—in the course “Bible Study Methods and Hermeneutics.” This was a class that every student at DTS was required to take, but it was probably the only course on campus that every student wanted to take. And it wasn’t because of the course content. It was because of him.

Prof was a master teacher. There simply was no one else like him in the classroom. He was a fount of joy in his teaching of the Bible, and it was infectious. I learned about basic Bible Study Methods from him, but more importantly I learned to love the Bible from him. He used to tell us that the difference between a good Bible teacher and a bad one is how much one can see in “a cubic foot of space” (Psalm 119:18). And so his famous first assignment for that class was “25 observations on Acts 1:8.” He required us to read the verse without consulting any commentaries and to come up with 25 observations on this single text. We all thought that it couldn’t be done. After all, how much can you say about a single verse? The next day, we came back to class, and he walked us through his observations. After hearing his passionate exposition of Acts 1:8, we realized that there was more there than any of us had ever seen. He sent us out again to come up with 25 more observations from the same verse, and we repeated this process for several days. He was teaching us how to read and to love the Bible all at once.

Prof was a master discipler. He believed in 2 Timothy 2:2, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” The truth is that he was discipling all of his students. But Prof believed that discipleship required more than a monologue; it required life-on-life interaction. As he put it, “You impress people from a distance, but you impact them up close.” Thus every Fall, Prof would gather together a small group of male students to meet with weekly for discipleship. I was privileged to be a part of that group during the Fall of 1998. Prof turned out to be up close exactly what he appeared to be from afar. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Prof was his 66 years of faithful marriage to Jeanne. That relationship alone may be the greatest testimony to the integrity of this great man.

Prof was a master communicator. He had a way with words and was very quotable. We were all in rapt attention during his lectures, which were full of punch-you-in-the-gut nuggets of truth and wisdom. I can still remember things that he said in class nearly 18 years ago. Here are a handful as I remember them:

“People tell me they want to make the Bible relevant. Nonsense. The Bible’s already relevant. You’re the one that’s irrelevant!” [I remember that he thundered that last line.]

“It ought to be a crime to bore people with the Bible.” [On passion-less, colorless preaching.]

“How many of you have ever heard a sermon that left you feeling like your feet were planted firmly in mid-air?” [On sermons that ignore the proper interpretation of scripture.]

“If you don’t have a wife, get one!” [Advice to us single guys.]

“Get your ball out of the weeds!” [That one had multiple applications.]

Here are some others that I’ve been gathering today from other former students:

“How many of you men feel that your wife has changed since you married her?” After students raised their hands, Prof said, “Whatever that change is, it is a direct result of your leadership.”

“How big is your God? The size of your God determines the size of everything.”

“I hope your study of the Bible is so infectious that you never recover from it!”

“Get them laughing, and then shove one right down their throats.” [On the use of humor in preaching. He was a master at this. His humor was always in the service of gravity.]

“You impress people from a distance, but you impact them up close.”

“Some people say, ‘You can lead them to water, but you can’t make them drink.’ It’s not true. You can feed them salt.”

“The Bible is an organism, when you cut a verse out of it, it bleeds…you lose the essence of what the text is saying.”

“If I don’t hear a ‘hell’ and a ‘damn’ every once in a while, I will begin to think that everyone talks like me.” [On the necessity of engaging the lost.]

“Put the cookies on the bottom shelf so everyone can reach them.” [This was not a lesson on dumbing-down but on clear, accessible communication.]

“Many Christians are like a bad photo—overexposed and underdeveloped.”

“Don’t major in a subject, major in a man.” [On choosing a major at seminary.]

“The art of communication is elimination.”

There are many more where these came from. Former students have been sharing them with one another all morning, and I hope I get to read all of them. They remind me of the charisma and passion that Prof brought to the classroom. They also remind me of what God has called me to bring to my own classroom today. I pour almost all of my energy into one thing—to get my student to love their Bibles. I guess I’m still trying to imitate Prof.

I am grieved about the news of Prof’s passing. I am grieved for his family, especially his wife Jeanne. But this is one of those rare occasions that I have a smile on my face and a tear in my eye all at the same time. For I am filled with a sense of gratitude and joy for the life and ministry of this great man. We’ve lost a great treasure today, but Prof hasn’t lost anything. He has gone to his reward.

[Me, Prof and our wives at La Madeleine in Dallas, Texas in May 2005.]

 

26 Responses to The death of a mentor, Howard Hendricks (1924-2013)

  1. Christopher Skinner February 20, 2013 at 2:27 pm #

    Denny,

    I was very saddened to hear this news today. He was a genuinely great man. I agree with your sentiments here. His legacy is great and is still being written. Thanks for your reflections.

    Chris Skinner

    • Denny Burk February 20, 2013 at 2:31 pm #

      Great to hear from you, brother Chris! If you’ve got any quotes to share, please do. Blessings!

  2. Bob February 20, 2013 at 4:05 pm #

    Denny, this story about Acts 1:8 has echos of the 19th century essay that IVCF used to use in Bible & Life conferences entitled, “Agassiz, the Student, and the Fish” where Louis Agassiz set a young student to work observing all he could about a particular fish. Terrific essay, and served as the core of some terrific instruction about the how and why of inductive Bible study.

  3. Judd Rumley February 20, 2013 at 4:50 pm #

    Denny

    I met Ashlea in his class on the 1st day of seminary 1998. I still remember him saying, “If you don’t have a wife, get a wife!” The Lord provided much insight into the study of His Word and a godly wife. He will be missed.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Judd

  4. Bruce Jacobsen February 20, 2013 at 5:01 pm #

    A couple quotesI heard from Dr. Hendricks at MBI’s Pastor’s Conference, “You cannot build a castle out of mud and manure”, “Is the Lord well pleased? Is the work well done? Is the Word well used?” “The service that counts is the service that costs.”

  5. Mike Wagner February 20, 2013 at 5:02 pm #

    Denny,

    Thanks for sharing this meaningful tribute to Professor Hendricks.

    I’m a 81′ Th.M. grad from DTS serving in the marketplace with a brand building firm I formed 10 years ago.

    I especially related to this line of yours, “We were all in rapt attention during his lectures, which were full of punch-you-in-the-gut nuggets of truth and wisdom.”

    That captures exactly how I felt. Prof’s course on creativity shaped me in ways I am still discovering 32 years later.

  6. Jason Allen February 20, 2013 at 6:54 pm #

    Denny, I graduated from DTS in 2009 and am too saddened by today’s news. I’ve often wished I could read my friend’s observations from the Acts 1:8 exercise and don’t know why I never thought to ask them…guess we had plenty to read back then without anything added on.

  7. Doug Shepler February 20, 2013 at 7:13 pm #

    Professor Hendricks’ ministry extended far greater than just DTS students – we are all better pastors and disciplers because of his influential writing and teaching. May he rest in peace in the perpetual light of Christ’s glorious presence. Amen.

  8. Jeff Kisiah February 20, 2013 at 7:17 pm #

    Thanks for sharing your first-hand observations…for those of us who only experienced him in conference settings, we can only imagine what it must have been like in the classroom environment…thanks for letting us into that realm with you tribute (among others)…at our National Leadership Summit in Orlando next week, we will honor his legacy…

  9. Bobby February 20, 2013 at 11:07 pm #

    Don’t forget, “A mist in the pulpit is a fog in the pew!” Will miss Prof dearly.

  10. Adam Cavalier February 20, 2013 at 11:20 pm #

    Prof. Hendricks was my very first seminary professor. What a true blessing. He will certainly be missed for his humor and passion. I would also point people to the tribute page that you linked. There are so many testimonies of how he deeply touched lives.

  11. Zachary February 21, 2013 at 2:46 am #

    Does anyone know where I could get hold of the full interview that is used in that video? I would really love to watch it. Amazing.

    • Jason Allen February 23, 2013 at 2:51 am #

      Zachary, to my knowledge that’s it. It was a packaged video DTS did to honor an anniversary. You might try contacting Jon Dyer at DTS

  12. Ed Choy February 21, 2013 at 10:41 am #

    Thank you for this thoughtful and thorough post about prof Hendricks. I graduated with my ThM from Capital Bible Seminary, trained under men who were trained by prof. Of course I read his books and heard all the axioms. Now I’m finishing my DMin at DTS and so honored to have been part of this kind of legacy. Thanks again!

  13. Paul Jacobs February 21, 2013 at 12:29 pm #

    A true Christian gentlemen who taught even those of us who did not attend DTS through his power writings.

  14. Michael Karpf March 8, 2013 at 1:32 am #

    I have been thinking of the pastors whose ministry I sat under, and many of my former seminary professors and they were all products of Prof’s ministry at the seminary (and he did say ‘at the cemetery’ the first day of class, I remember). Prof had a passion for his Savior and His word.
    His response to a student who said he was taking 301 to become a better communicator of God’s word was, “This course is not intended to make you a better communicator of God’s word. It is to make you a better student of God’s word.”
    Prof always began his class with, “For the next hour.” One time he said, “For the next hour, you have nothing to do.” The class cheered. Another time he said we will only have one more assignment. The class cheered. His response was, “You sure know how to make an old man feel good.”
    His response to a woman who said (and he imitated it wiping his sleeve on his nose), “Brother Hendricks, I’ve been through the Bible 17 times.” Prof’s response, “Good. How many times has the Bible been through you?”
    Over 10000 alumni are the products of Prof’s ministry. His presence on campus and in our presence will be missed. But his impact will have eternal fruits. I wouldn’t be surprised if right now he is teaching Hermeneutics and Bible Study Methods in heaven!

  15. Mark Stewart May 21, 2013 at 9:33 am #

    I am a junior at Northwest Nazarene University (NNU) studying for the ministry. I never new Prof Hendricks, but I have heard his name through others on the radio and TV. On a CD set I enjoy listening to from Chip Ingram, he quotes Prof saying “God will never love you more than He does right now, but His blessing, His blessing, in dependent on your obedience” I think this is a tremendous quote and I keep it forefront in my personal armor. I would love to have studied under him, but his legacy will live on in the fine teachers, preachers and scholars he leaves in his wake. Grace and Peace to all..

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