Book Review: “Living by the Book” by Howard and William Hendricks (1991)

Bookstores overflow with Bible study helps, and one unaccustomed to reading them might assume “the thicker the better.” At nearly four hundred pages, Living by the Book: The Art and Science of Reading by Howard and William Hendricks would thus be a prime selection for such a person. Seminary students, however, not being like those unaccustomed to reading Bible study helps, ought to know better. Amongst the majority, Living by the Book is mediocre at best. The following book review will first summarize briefly the 48 chapters of Living, then discuss several of the positive and negative aspects of the book, and finally suggest some alternative approaches to how this book could be better applied as a textbook for seminary students.

Howard and William Hendricks break their book down into three major sections covering the observation, interpretation, and application of the Bible. Filled with stories, playful examples, and exercises for its readers, Living certainly does prove to be an entertaining read, though one has to complete the book entirely (378 pages) before he has all the tools to effectively work through the majority of the suggested exercises. The authors then end their book with a beautiful and useful annotated bibliography.

Living contained several other positive aspects, besides the annotated bibliography, that can benefit a reader of any age or position, most notably the exercises and sidebars. Although one needs to already have the basic understandings of observation, interpretation, and application settled in his mind before effectively working through these exercises, the exercises did prove to be a healthy survey of many of the biblical genres that can help satisfy the hungry mind. The sidebars sprinkled throughout the text also made the reading much more effective, as the Hendricks team exemplified how best to accomplish the tasks they were attempting to teach. One final positive aspect of Living, one that would nearly make the book worth purchasing, is the Hendricks discussion of the “Five Substitutes for Application” found in Chapter 39. Such a topic can prove beneficial to any reader of the Bible, whether novice or expert. Because seminary students are those who often get lost in the professionalism of Bible study, perhaps this section is the most useful section of all.

Living also contains some negative aspects, as this review has already implied. From a seminary perspective, this book is almost insulting in its simplicity. While seminary students do need to be reminded of the basics of Bible study (i.e. how many books there are in the Bible, p. 32), most students will agree that such reminding takes place in nearly every seminary class, and it is about time these classes get away from the milk and start immediately on the steaks of God’s Word. Seminary terms are too short, and classes are too expensive to be wasted on the mediocre textbooks. The varied selection of passages used in the exercises, as noted above, may also be viewed negatively, for it gets the reader’s mind off studying a book as a whole, but instead on selecting passages at random from any portion of the Bible.

Living has its place in the world of seminary classes and textbooks, and the following are mere suggestions for its more effective use. First, the book could be touted as a potential textbook for a seminary student to offer his own future students, not merely as a textbook for his own personal study. Second, the textbook could be offered as assigned reading for seminary students, if only “Part 3: Application” were required. This section on application could itself be an entire book, free from all the basics and fluff, that could prove essential to all seminary students and pastors as a reminder of the importance of genuineness in Bible study.

Living by the Book has its advantages for seminary students, but not all 48 chapters fit into the category of “necessary reading.” This book is fitting for anyone new to the Bible or for anyone seeking to teach others how to read the Bible. The section on application is fitting for everyone, but perhaps most necessary for those experienced in full-time ministry.

©2012 E.T.

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