Still Changing Lives: A Tribute to a Wheaton Graduate, Dr. Howard Hendricks

It was one of those books that had you at “hello.” The first line of the preface read, “With the kind of start I had in life, I’m sure I could have soon died and gone to hell and nobody would have particularly cared.” With that beginning, you might think this was a self-help book telling you how to turn your life of lemons into lemonade.  But this was not a book about making your life better. It was a book about pouring your life out for others. It was a book about teaching.

The title was more than appropriate: Teaching to Change Lives. It was written by a professor named Howard Hendricks, affectionately known as “Prof.” I first picked up this little book as a college student when I was just beginning to teach the Bible. Howard HendricksTwenty years later, it still sits on my shelf, its pages saturated with highlighter ink and exclamation points. Its truths, however, have not remained on the shelf; they are ingrained in my heart and mind. The book ignited in me a passion for communicating Scripture, and the principles within shaped me as a teacher. Without ever stepping into his classroom, he taught me how to teach. His principles were simple yet so profound that they became the foundation for the way I trained others to teach. I bought a case of those books, and everyone I trained had a copy in their hands. He was my pedagogical hero.

Last Wednesday, I received a text message telling me that Hendricks had passed away. It read, “The great teacher has gone to sit under the master teacher himself.” Yes, indeed. I immediately went online and found the site with his tribute page. I read about his life and his legacy of ministry, along with story after story of how he had impacted the lives of others. Here was a life well spent.

Hendricks was a Wheaton grad, having earned his undergraduate degree here in 1946. He was also awarded an honorary doctorate from the college in 1967. He taught at Dallas Theological Seminary for many years but also taught many students outside the walls of the seminary. I was privileged to be one of them. One summer I took a course with him as a Campus Crusade (Cru) staff member. Although his book had made a lasting impression on me, his presence in the classroom was even more powerful. His words flowed in harmony with his warm smile and infectious laugh. His love for students and for teaching was palpable; his wisdom and insight were profound. He had a gift.

Ringing in all of our minds during that course was his famous mantra, “It is a crime to bore people with the Bible.” His conviction on the power of Scripture to transform lives ran deep. One of my favorite quotes from his book aptly characterizes this passion. He wrote, “Our land is covered over today with young people—and adults as well—who are broken at the wheel, who have no clue why Jesus Christ came to visit our planet, who don’t know the Bible has answers for their problems. Their screaming need is to see men and women who know the living word of God, who are constant students of that Book, and who allow it to grip them so they grow to hate what God hates and to love what God loves. And as that truth—personally embraced—begins to transform them . . . they make an impact.”  Transforming the lives of others was what Hendricks was all about, and this passion permeated his teaching.

It is so easy as teachers to get caught up with ourselves— the amount of knowledge we have or don’t have, our performance in the classroom, what our students think of us—the list goes on. And for those of us who couple writing with teaching, we add to these concerns how our writing compares to that of others or when and where our name gets in print. But Howard Hendricks seemed to know these things were not what truly mattered. He knew that on the day he stood before the Lord, his true professional accomplishments would be the people whose lives he touched.

Thank you, Prof, for pouring your life into so many by being a teacher. Through those of us whom you inspired to follow in your footsteps, your legacy lives on. And through us, you are still doing what you always loved to do; you are still teaching. And as a result, lives are still being changed, as you always wanted them to be.

To read more on Howard Hendricks visit his tribute site,  http://www.dts.edu/howard-hendricks-tribute/

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About Susan Rieske

I am in my fourth year of doctoral work at Wheaton College studying under Nicholas Perrin. My dissertation focuses on the concept of "generation" in the book of Matthew. Before pursuing a doctorate, I spent several years in ministry serving on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru), in various leadership roles in the local church, teaching as an adjunct professor at Moody Theological Seminary, Michigan, and as a writer and speaker with Shepherd Project Ministries. I live in Wheaton with my husband and four children, who I'm training to be amazing research assistants.
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