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.]