Living by the Book is designed to teach individuals how to read the Bible, how to interpret the Bible, and how to apply biblical understanding. Hendricks teaches a three step process for working with the Bible, and this includes observation as step one, (Hendricks, 51) interpretation as step two, (Hendricks, 199) and application as step three. (Hendricks, 289)
Hendricks gives credit to Sherlock Holmes for his sharp distinction between seeing and observing, (Hendricks, 51) and Hendricks uses the idea as a foundation for everything else that he will write about in regard to the process of observation. Hendricks thus promotes a wide variety of methods for identifying as many observations in the biblical text as possible, and he even states that, “There’s no limit to observation.” (Hendricks, 65) Hendricks next devotes about 50 pages total to 10 different methods (like styles) for reading the Bible, and after giving so much attention to the methods, he provides six techniques for increasing biblical understanding namely looking for the patterns of those things that are emphasized, (Hendricks, 147) repeated, (Hendricks, 152) related, (Hendricks, 157) unlike or alike, (Hendricks, 162) and authentic to real life. (Hendricks, 169)
In Hendricks step two of working with the Bible he is primarily concerned with building meaning, and in this regard Hendricks sees the first step of working with the Bible as being more like excavating whereas he sees the second step as being more like constructing a building. (Hendricks, 202) For several pages he considers barriers and problems for interpreting the text before he writes about biblical genres; moreover, Hendricks next considers how a reader should categorize their understanding according to content, (Hendricks, 229) context, (Hendricks, 231) comparison, (Hendricks, 236) culture, (Hendricks, 242) and consultation. (Hendricks, 249) These five categories respectively comprise the raw database of content, (Hendricks, 229) the meaning that is found before and after a module of meaning, (Hendricks, 231) comparison of scripture with other scripture, (Hendricks, 237) interpretation of the culture, (Hendricks, 243) and investigation of secondary outside sources. (Hendricks, 249)
In the third step of Hendricks, namely application, he devotes the first ten pages (289-298) to explaining the need for application in light of the consequences of not applying the scripture, and his main concern in doing this appears to be the encouragement of individuals to change their bad habits. Hendricks thus takes up a chapter on transformation, (Hendricks, 299) and a chapter on explaining what transformed people are like (Hendricks, 307) and how transformed people change the world. (Hendricks, 315-317) Hendricks then goes on to make four steps out of application namely knowing the text and yourself, (Hendricks, 319-320) relating biblical truth to personal experience, (Hendricks, 320) meditating on the biblical truth, (Hendricks, 324) and actually practicing biblical truth. (Hendricks, 326) Hendricks lastly devotes about the last forty pages to the technicalities of applying biblical truth to the world and personal life.
Weaknesses and Strengths
Clearly Hendricks book is very well detailed, and it is written in an extremely simple fashion such that the common person that really wants to work with the Bible can do so in a way that promotes sound doctrine. The problem however is that Hendricks takes such a step by step approach while making his book so very exhaustive that a person with a extensive theological education might not see much value in the way that working with the Bible is almost over explained. Hendricks book would be good only for the most eager common church going person that does not know much about how to read, understand, and get value out of the Bible, but most everyone else would likely not see the value in spending the time to read several hundred pages of exhaustive explanation for a process that could be obvious for the devout Christian at least in terms of the fundamentals.
What is most distressing about Hendricks work is that he places almost all of his concentration on making every possible effort to work with the Bible to observe, construct, and apply, and in his regard he states, “Scripture does not yield its fruit to the lazy.” (Hendricks, 33) The fundamental problem is that a dog barks because it is a dog by nature as it need not get any training on how to bark nor does it need a nearly four hundred page book on the subject, and in a similar way when people are born again, then they take on a new nature that makes understanding the Bible and doing works of righteousness just as natural and effortless as a dog barking because it is a dog. One must be reminded that the believer will be risen from the dead by God just like Jesus Christ was risen from the dead, and in this process absolutely nothing at all that is done by man could cause a resurrection from the dead and glorification of the saints.
Consider very carefully what the Bible has to say about the instruction of the believer,
“As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us'”eternal life. I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit'”just as it has taught you, remain in him”. – 1 John 2:24-27 (NIV)
The fundamental point of the above passage is not that believers all got together, concentrated on the Bible really hard, and applied a nearly four hundred page book on how to live by what the Bible has to say, but instead the point is that knowing the truth most of all depended upon God giving revelation to man through being in the Father and the Son as being anointed became the avenue for future revelation.
The value however of what Hendricks writes is that he can really help to clarify or to make sharper a person’s practice of working with the Bible. The problem however is that when people that can freely do a very good job at understanding and practicing biblical truth, are treated like, “retarded monkeys” and are taught a vast system of biblical hermeneutics it can disable that person’s ability to read and practice biblical truth in the way that the Lord is shaping them by the new nature to do so. When this happens, spiritual development gives way to rigid ‘mechanical’ approaches to working with scripture as people may then practice what they think is biblical truth when it is not directed by God (does more harm then good), when they are constructing a god with their bibles instead of relying upon God, and when they are relying upon their knowledge and works instead of God’s grace and revelation.
Effective Preaching Promoted by Book
Preachers and teaches could gain a lot of value from Hendricks work, and I for one can see much value in a very well developed model for reading the Bible and then doing what the Bible has to say. A work like this will really increase my effectiveness in preaching by understanding the value for making as many observations of the text as possible and for understanding more about reading strategies that can be applied to the scripture. In short the book has opened my eyes to more possibilities for methods and strategies that I have not considered as thoroughly in the past.
One should take into consideration that figs come from fig trees because that it what fig trees produce, and the point is that everything producing according it its kind. A Bible scholar will thus produce Bible scholarship, but it would be a injustice to force someone that is not a already scholarly person to became a Bible scholar. What I mean to say is that if God intends for a person to be very loving and sociable that only operates by a few central biblical principles (a rather simple person), then such a person might not be a likely candidate for working through an elaborate hermeneutic process to read the Bible unless such a person showed interest or potential for developing new gifts and talents. On the other hand one should not keep a person away from gaining the benefits of such a vast hermeneutic process based upon stereotyping people in such a way as to rob them from ever developing their perhaps hidden talents.
In preaching, I would thus have to take into account very carefully the type of audience that I would be dealing with, and I would have to offer different kinds of biblical truth for different kinds of people as God directs. I would be very effective to recommend the work and concepts of Hendricks for those that either have the interest or for those that would positively grow from it. Overall, knowing what the work is and what it contains will make me more effective at preaching because I will be able to bring it forth when needed in order to elaborate in ways that would serve others best.
Hendricks, Howard and William Hendricks. Living by the Book: the Art and Science of Reading the Bible. Chicago, Illinois: Moody Publishers, 2007.