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A Prof Like No Other

by Karen G. Giesen and Sandra L. Glahn on April 1, 2010 in Profiles

Most likely to end up in prison.” That was the assessment of Miss Simon, the fifth-grade teacher, about a troublemaker in her urban Philadelphia classroom. Once she even tied him to his seat with a rope and taped his mouth shut. Yet everything changed for that boy when he met his sixth-grade teacher. He introduced himself to Miss Noe, and she told him, “I’ve heard a lot about you. But I don’t believe a word of it.”

That boy was Howard Hendricks—the same Howard G. Hendricks who became a beloved professor with a sixty-year teaching career at Dallas Seminary. That boy who could have been nicknamed “jailbird,” eventually met Christ, poured his life into students, and earned himself a one-word nickname: Prof. 

His career at the Seminary started when Hendricks graduated from DTS in 1950. After planting a church in Fort Worth, Texas, he also 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, the newly appointed president Walvoord implored Hendricks to fill the full-time teaching vacancy. Prof accepted on one condition: a Christian education course had to be included in his teaching load. He was twenty-eight years old with a passion for teaching and mentoring students. And since then not much has changed.

In the days before air-conditioning, a certain long seat between Stearns Hall and Mosher Library became known as “Prof’s bench.” Hendricks kept “office hours” there, and students could stop by to draw on his wisdom. Today many remember his availability even more than his answers.

Eventually bench time gave way to early-morning-discipleship time. Tuesdays and Thursdays at six a.m. brought two groups of twelve men and women each semester. And whether one-on-one or in a classroom, Prof has taught. He has been known to stand on a chair while teaching if that’s what it takes to captivate a bored-looking student. Before those in his classes, he has served as “stand-up comic, cheerleader, personal trainer, encourager, and super teacher,” observes a student who cringes at the recollection of 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, and sniffing. Students too young to remember Magoo consider the gestures “pure Hendricks.” But his creativity has an end—that students might center their lives in Jesus Christ and live according to His Word. Hendricks has been known to say that if he had his way, every student would memorize one thousand Bible verses before graduating. 

DTS chancellor Dr. Charles Swindoll says of him, “He is the one man who has had the greatest impact on my entire life. And there is no doubt in my mind that since the late 1950s to the present day, no other teacher at DTS has been more influential to more of our graduates, or more magnetic to more potential students than Dr. Hendricks.” 

“Few have marked as many lives or have multiplied ministry passions like our beloved Prof,” says DTS president Dr. Mark L. Bailey.

When Don Regier said, “I can’t preach. I don’t know what I am going to do,” Prof convinced him that he had creative gifts. Regier has now invested those gifts for more than four decades of service at DTS. Retired professor Dr. Eddie Lane remembers when he and now Dr. Tony Evans were the first African-American students on campus. “Dr. Hendricks made it clear that he was glad to have us in his classroom. As a student, I majored in Howard Hendricks.” DTS’s first women students echo the same sentiments. 

In 1986, at the request of then 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.

Hendricks’s influence extends far beyond the Seminary campus through its graduates as well as through his books, tapes, and a public-speaking ministry. Prof served as chaplain to the Dallas Cowboys football team from 1976 to 1984, years that included two Super Bowls. The death of Coach Tom Landry, at whose funeral Prof presided, provided a reunion for Prof and his wife, Jeanne, with those forty players and wives with whom they had met week after week. 

The sixty years spent mentoring students have held their share of pain. For example, fourteen years ago, Prof reported to the doctor’s office for removal of a small skin cancer. Eight hours later  more cancer cells remained. Eventually invasive surgery into his skull endangered Prof’s ears, eyes, and brain. Holding Jeanne’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.” The mail brought a stack of cards six feet high from people around the world whose lives he had touched.

Recently Prof added to his long list of honors the National Religious Broadcasters’ (NRB) Board of Directors Award, given to a Christian who demonstrates integrity, displays creativity, and makes a significant impact on society. While he appreciates such accolades, for Prof the greatest reward has come in mentoring. “For me, it’s very important because I think it’s really my fulfillment,” he says. “I tell people, ‘You’re looking at a completely fulfilled human being.’ If I died today having produced some of the people God has  given me the privilege of shaping, it will have been worth showing up on the planet.”

Though Hendricks believes there’s no such thing as retirement from service in the body of Christ, He does believe in making room for the next generation. So this spring, in his sixtieth year of teaching at Dallas Seminary, he is retiring from faculty responsibilities and formal classroom ministry. But those closest to him don’t expect him to stop teaching anytime soon. They just expect he’ll be doing a lot more bench time.

Prof-isms

  • You are able to do do many things. But be sure you find the one thing you must do.
  • There’s no one without significant creative potential.
  • You never graduate from the school of discipleship.
  • If God had said to me, “I’ll give you another course,’ I would have said, “Let’s make it an elective.”
  • Heaven is a person: Jesus.
  • If you’re just like someone else, we don’t need you.
  • How big is your God? The size of your God determines the size of everything.
  • There’s no such thing as faith apart from risk-taking. Creativity takes risk. The people who are most secure in Jesus Christ shouldn’t be scared to try new things.
  • You cannot impart what you do not possess.
  • The teacher has not taught until the student has learned.
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