I just saw a post that told us that Dr. Howard Hendricks has passed away.
I have never had a significant conversation with Dr. Hendricks, but he changed my life. At Dallas Seminary – back in the old days, anyway – one of your first year classes was his “Inductive Bible Study Methods” class. After that class, you proceeded, over your four year course of studies, to do an inductive study of every book of the Bible.
Dr. Hendricks emphasized a four-step process. Observation. Interpretation. Application. Correlation.
I had been a preacher’s kid with a lot of knowledge of the Bible that I had absorbed through sitting in pews in sanctuaries and folding chairs in Sunday School classrooms. But I had never really learned to study the Bible for myself. Dr. Hendricks changed that.
He hammered us on observation. Look at what the text actually says before you start figuring out the meaning of the text. He demanded that we get a modern language Bible (I was still trapped by old King Jimmy at the time!) that had paragraph divisions. Language is not conveyed in verses and chapters, he said, but in clauses, sentences and paragraphs. We were not allowed to use study Bibles (I still don’t) or any kind of commentaries. We had to simply observe the text first.
I will never forget his line (he was the king of the Bible-study one-liners):
It is amazing how much light the Bible shines on commentaries.
It all changed for me the day Dr. Hendricks gave us an assignment. “Make 25 observations about Acts 1:8.” An observation is just that – an observation about the text. It cannot be an interpretation, an explanation of the meaning, or an application. Just an observation about the text.
25 observations? Are you kidding me. There are barely that many WORDS in the verse. I struggled and strained and engaged in some “creative observation” (there is another name for it, having to do with bovine waste matter, but I’m a preacher, so I have to have a euphemism) and I came up with exactly 25 observations.
I came into class a little frustrated at how hard that assignment had been, but ready to turn the paper in. He did not collect the papers. He looked at us and said, “Go home and make 25 more observations. AARRGGHHH! I’d had enough trouble with the first 25. How was I to make 25 more?
So I went home and stared at the verse for a while. All I can tell you is that at some point it clicked. As I stared at the page, it suddenly began to open up for me. Clauses. Sentences. Word meanings. I ended up with somewhere around 85 observations. And my Bible study life was never the same again.
He also emphasized correlation – getting the big picture of any book before you try to deal with any particular passage. If you just wander from passage to passage without an understanding of overall argument and structure of the book, you will, as he used to say, “have your ball lost in the weeds.“
He had us study the book of Habakkuk and try to discern the overall structure. Again, it was like a 3-D stereograph to me. At first, it was a jumbled conglomeration of verses. Then, as I stared at it, the pattern slowly formed.
He also emphasized that the purpose of Bible study was not theological knowledge – an important lesson at a seminary that prized systematic theology. Another one of his famous lines:
Observation plus interpretation without application is abortion.
The purpose of preaching was not to just give a theological discourse or an exegetical presentation, but to teach God’s people how to live in obedience to God. That was a good reminder to me.
He was also a great proponent of creativity in presentation. A couple of other one-liners from Dr. Hendricks.
It is a sin to bore people with the Word of God.
The Bible is exciting. It takes a preacher to make it boring.
He was passionate about ministry mentoring. When he went to preach at a church, he would call the pastor aside and say to him, “Show me your men.” It’s not about what a great pulpiteer you are, or how great an administrator. It’s not about buildings and budgets. It is about building your life into the life of other men who will carry on after you are gone.
Dr. Hendricks practiced what he preached. He always had a small group of men with whom he would meet on a regular basis (6 AM breakfast meetings) and disciple them throughout their years at Dallas. I was, unfortunately, not one of those men, but it was a focus of Dr. Hendricks’ ministry.
Howard Hendricks is dead, but his ministry will not die. He built into the lives of pastors and church leaders who will carry on even though he is gone. I am not sure I ever had a conversation with him. I probably exchanged a word or two, I just don’t remember. But today, in Sioux City, Iowa, I will teach a Bible study in the book of Nehemiah, using the principles I learned from Dr. Hendricks. Thousands of men can say that their lives were changed by his life and ministry.
A lot of people have affected my ministry and blessed my life. Three men have shaped me dramatically. Of course, the first is Lew Miller, my dad and my pastor all the years I was growing up. The second is Henry Blackaby. The third is Dr. Howard Hendricks, who taught me to study the Bible inductively.
Thank you, Lord, for a faithful servant.