Prof, n.: The Story of Howard Hendricks
[Colloq.] Howard G. Hendricks, distinguished professor, scholar, and author; b. 1924; known for his ability to inspire and encourage; began teaching at Dallas Theological Seminary in 1950.
Prof-ism, n. 1. a truth which, when started by one, can accurately be completed by another. 2. a well-known saying of Dr. Howard G. Hendricks.
“Like Solomon, Churchill, Elvis, Madonna, and Hillary, Howard G. Hendricks has reached the status of being recognized by a one-word name. In this case it’s ‘Prof.’ He oozes excellence and grace,” according to Dallas Seminary president Charles R. Swindoll. “He is the one man who has had the greatest impact on my entire life.”
“You are able to do many things. But be sure you find the one thing you must do.” Heeding his own advice, Howard Hendricks teaches. Before students he becomes “stand-up comic, cheerleader, personal trainer, encourager, and super teacher,” observes a student who cringes at her professor’s favorite gesture, wiping his sleeve across his nose. Hendricks often mimics the nearsighted cartoon character Mr. Magoo, scrunching his face, squinting his eyes. Students too young to remember Magoo consider the gestures “pure Hendricks.”
Upon graduation from DTS in 1950, Hendricks started a church in Fort Worth, Texas, and within the first year he joined the seminary faculty part-time at the invitation of then theology department chairman, Dr. John Walvoord. A year later, when president Lewis Sperry Chafer died, newly appointed president Walvoord implored Hendricks to fill the full-time teaching vacancy. Hendricks accepted, provided a Christian education course be added to his teaching load. That agreement established the seminary’s commitment to Christian education and Hendricks’s influence on DTS. He was twenty-eight years old. A passion for teaching and love for students still energize him. Holding large audiences enthralled at venues such as Billy Graham’s conference center or Promise Keepers stadium rallies, he confides, “It’s wonderful to be here with you, but I have a group of delicious students waiting for me back at the seminary.”
“You never graduate from the school of discipleship.” In the days before air-conditioning, a certain campus bench between Stearns Hall and Mosher Library was known as “Prof’s bench.” He kept “office hours” there; students could stop by. Their questions drew on Prof’s wisdom. What the students remember is not so much his answers but his availability to listen to their questions. In recent years bench time has given way to early morning groups. Tuesday and Thursday mornings find Mentor guiding young men and women. Two groups of twelve each promise to be present at six A.M. They join him as “morning people” for a semester. His mentoring, however, reaches well beyond the younger students. Professor Jim Slaughter describes co-teaching with Hendricks. “Whenever it was my turn to teach, he would be there in class and would even take notes. He made me feel that I was important and had something valuable to contribute.” Slaughter speaks for many.
In 1986, at the request of seminary president Dr. Donald Campbell, Hendricks founded the Center for Christian Leadership. Its first program, Spiritual Formation, builds Christian identity, community, integrity, and diversity in seminary students through weekly small-group meetings. The program presents a model of discipleship intended for replication.
“If you are just like someone else, we don’t need you!” Encouragement to be the way God made them has been a lifeline. When Don Regier said, “I can’t preach. I don’t know what I am going to do,” Hendricks convinced him that he had creative gifts. Regier has now directed the DTS audiovisual department for three decades. Professor Eddie Lane remembers when he and Tony Evans were the first African-American students on campus. “When my wife and I would go to meetings, it was Dr. and Mrs. Hendricks who made us feel at home and comfortable,” says Lane. “Dr. Hendricks made it clear that he was glad to have us in his classroom. As a student, I majored in Howard Hendricks.”
Bruce Wilkinson echoes these sentiments. “Frankly, I majored in Howard Hendricks! Why? Because he cared about each one of us as individuals and as future communicators. He was not so much teaching a course as he was ministering to his students.”
Wilkinson’s Walk Thru the Bible joins a list of hundreds of Christian organizations spawned by Hendricks’s ministry to his students. “I think the reason God has used me is that, by His grace, the Holy Spirit has developed in me an incurable confidence in His ability to transform people,” answers the venerable Prof. Somehow, he not only communicates what they should do, but also convinces them that they can.
“Get a wife!” What greater tribute to Jeanne Hendricks than her husband’s adamant entreaty, “If you don’t have a wife, get one!” They met in Philadelphia, attended Wheaton College as undergraduates, and have now been married 104 years, “her 52 to me and me 52 to her.” Jeanne left school to move to Dallas with her new husband. She later graduated from Southern Methodist University. Her own writing and speaking career, always significant, has flourished since their four children reached adulthood. She cherishes her roles of wife, mother, and grandmother.
“How big is your God? The size of your God determines the size of everything.” In January 1996, Hendricks reported to the doctor’s office for removal of a small skin cancer. Eight hours later, there was still more to remove. After more surgeries, with a large hole in his head and facing invasive surgery into his skull, Hendricks received warning of danger to his ears, eyes, and brain. Holding his wife’s hand he said, “Either God is sovereign or He is not. And, if He’s not, we’re in deep trouble. But I’m coming down on the side that He is.”
After the operation, the doctor reported, “It’s obvious God is at work in your life. This cancer went as far as it could go toward your ear without affecting your hearing, as far as it could go toward your eye without affecting your eyesight, and as far as it could go toward your brain without affecting your mind.”
“If God had said to me, ‘I’ll give you another course,’” quips Prof, “I would have said, ‘Let’s make it an elective.’”
Hendricks’s inspiration radiates far beyond DTS. At off-campus gatherings, he regularly hears comments such as, “You don’t know me, but I want to thank you for twenty years of ministry to me through your books and tapes.” That life-threatening surgery four years ago brought a stack of cards six feet high, “from people around the world I didn’t even know.”
When Hendricks was chaplain of the Dallas Cowboys from 1976 to 1984, they went to the Super Bowl twice. The death of Coach Tom Landry provided a reunion for Dr. and Mrs. Hendricks with those forty players and wives who had met week after week. “Doc” Hendricks presided at Coach Landry’s private funeral. The players insisted that their chaplain sit with them on the platform at the public memorial service too.
Dr. Hendricks, a man who epitomizes Dallas Seminary, improves virtually every life he touches in the name of Christ.
Read Dr. Howard Hendricks’s four-part series, “On the Edge of Eternity—A Conversation about Aging,” which is appearing in each issue of Bibliotheca Sacra in 2000. To order, call 800-DTS-WORD or go to www.dts.edu/bibsac/
Karen Giesen (MABS, 1998) served in the Hendricks Center for Christian Leadership as coordinator of the DTS 75th Anniversary Leadership Conference.