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Living By The Book Paperback – July 22, 1993
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Principles and procedures that will make your personal Bible study more fruitful and productive. You'll be challenged to read more closely and probe more deeply, and you'll learn how to make key observations that will bring fresh application to your life.
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Before anyone can preach, they must understand how to rightly divide Scripture. A preacher who does not perform his or her due diligence lives contrary to the teaching of 2 Timothy 2:15 and brings shame upon their life. Preachers and teachers of biblical truth are held a higher accountability (1 Timothy 6:3-4; James 3:1) and must preach with a knowledge that lends to a clear conscience (1 Timothy 3:9). Therefore, one tool a pastor may find as advantageous is Howard G. Hendricks' Living by the Book: The Art and Science of Reading the Bible.
Hendricks divides, fairly evenly, the book into three major sections with each section representing one step in the three major steps that defines his solid method of biblical study. The first step is observation or asking the question, "What do I see?" The main idea is that many may read the Bible, but few take the time to observe what is going on in a particular passage. Learning to focus on the details can bring out dozens, if not hundreds, of points one small passage can contain. A few points worth highlighting are observing repeatedly, purposefully, and acquisitively, in that, they are often forgotten and yet greatly needed. Putting to practice the previous ideas, the preacher will discover details that are repeated, related, or emphasized that may otherwise be missed.
The second step is interpretation or asking the question, "What does it mean?" Dealing with the plethora of barriers that stand between the modern reader and the ancient biblical text can be daunting. Nevertheless, as mentioned above, the preacher or teacher must be cautious of not misrepresenting Scripture to those they preach or teach among. Hendricks provides five keys to assist the interpretation process: content, context, comparison, culture, and consultation. Out of the five, this reader found solid value in focusing on context and culture, two ideas that are often misused or not used at all in modern day sermons.
The third step is application, "How does it work?" The crucial role all preachers must understand is bridging the gap between two worlds. Observation and interpretation concern the personal study of the pastor or student of the Bible. Application concerns how what has been studied moves from inner knowledge to outward expression. Depending on the demographics of the pastor or student, trying to express what they have learned can be a challenge. The learner must understand their own background, as well as, the community and context in which they desire to express what has been learned. Hendricks offers sounds steps and solid advice on how to apply biblical truth to change lives.
One of the major strengths of the book is being highly thorough on the topic of studying the Bible. Although the size of the book may intimidate the casual reader, the serious student of the Bible will discover an advantageous addition to their study helps library. Instead of having multiple smaller books to reference though each time the pastor or student goes to study, which can take up study time, they can simply use one book that has the same flow and thought patter throughout.
Another strength can be found in the multitude of profitable examples that provide tangible application of the ideas presented. Along with the examples, Hendricks provides discussion questions and examples that a pastor or student can immediately put to practice. This places the text in a category above others in this genre that simply provides ideas with no examples or questions to guide the reader. There is also a workbook that corresponds with the book that provides even more helpful exercises.
A final strength correlates to the previous one, the book's flow and style of writing is fluid and approachable by a wide range of readers. It is as if Hendricks is speaking to the reader as they move through the ideas. The chapters are short and to the point, although some chapters have a bit of repetition. Nevertheless, this is profitable because not all pastors or students of the Bible have the opportunity for higher education in private college or seminary. Although Hendricks is a seminary teacher of higher learning, he has taken difficult principles and written them in a manner that opens up his book to a wide audience of readers.
The only weakness this writer finds is that, being as thorough as it is, the text could have added a few chapters. One of the chapters that could have enhanced the book could cover a brief history of the Bible. The Bible was written by many people over hundreds of years. Cultures and societies from the beginning of the Bible to the end were vastly different. A short treatise on how Scripture came to be the way one reads it today would have been advantageous. Yet, adding this could produce another negative being that the book is already lengthy.
Another chapter that would be a solid addition to the book would have been to better explain the various translations of the Bible. One of the major questions that secular society presses upon Christians is, "Why do they say the Bible is the infallible and inerrant Word of God and yet have so many translations?" There are even preachers and teachers who claim one is better than the other skewing people's beliefs even further. Even though the appendix does address translations briefly, a chapter dealing with this issue would be profitable for anyone trying to address this question when addressing the larger question of various translations.
On a more personal note, I first encountered Howard Hendricks' books while doing a Bachelors of Arts in Biblical Studies. His book, Teaching to Change Lives: Seven Proven Ways to Make Your Teaching Come Alive, has been one I have read many times and have given to dozens of people, especially those I help equip and develop as teachers and small group leaders. Therefore, I may have a bias toward anything that Hendricks writes. Notwithstanding, Hendricks has impacted thousands of students and teachers who have profited from his teachings demonstrating that his works are valuable.
Living by the Book will be a new tool that I can continually go back to when studying. While reading, I came to realize how much I lost in the art of observation. Years ago, I would spend hours in a passage. Lately, I have only skimmed the surface. I have not been digging as deep as I could in a passage missing timeless truths. I have already put "Six Things to Look For" (chapters 19-23) into practice in my own study time while I read through 1 and 2 Peter. I know for a fact, when I allow my study of the Bible to fail to live up to what the Word is worth, I will continuingly refer back to Hendricks for fresh inspiration. Paul explains in Colossians 4:4 that he desires them to pray for him to proclaim the Word clearly as it should be proclaimed. May that be all of our prayers as we preach and teach the Bible.
In the first few chapters, Hendricks challenges all the excuses we have for not studying our Bibles and posits clearly superior reasons in favor of doing so. He then uses Scripture itself to show us what we will gain from regular study of God's Word. In typical Hendricks fashion he begins by humoring "I wish we had a better term than `Bible study,' because for most of us, `study' is a bad news item. It has all the appeal of flossing our teeth" (13). He tells the story of a man he met at a Bible conference who drove twelve hundred miles to "get under the Word" and Hendricks muses "was he just as willing to walk across his living room floor, pick up a Bible, and get into it for himself?" (9).
There are three steps, which will transform that sometimes-dry text into the spiritual growth that we desire in our lives. They are Observation, Interpretation and Application. These three steps are the heart of the book.
The ability of Howard Hendricks to communicate clearly and effectively is unmatched in this introductory work on Bible study. The pages of this book come alive as he swiftly and painlessly removes the obstacles to personal study while at the same time equipping the reader with the proper tools to understand God's Word. Virtually every chapter contains exercises for the student of Scripture to get hands-on experience instead of just theoretical book knowledge. Much of this book is essentially the application of Mortimer Adler's book, How to Read a Book, (which Hendricks highly acclaims) to the Bible. The anecdotes, illustrations and "quotables" are alone worth the price of the book, not to mention the enlightening elaboration of the three-step approach to Bible study. This book should be the absolute first book a new Christian reads apart from the Bible itself.
In any case, a friend recommended this book to me, and it forever changed my Bible study methods and habits. Its not deep, but simple and practical. The first part of the book might be overly basic for someone who has gone to Bible college somewhere, but still contains good reminders. The author is every engaging and makes you want to put the book down and dig into the Bible.
This book helped me specifically in the following areas:
1) Becoming a better observer of the text, and therefore making my time in the Word, even if relatively shorter on any given day, far better in quality
2) Getting me all over the Bible, instead of solely reading and studying in my favorite books only, or on my pet theological interests
3) Helping me create a plan of daily study that would cover the entire Bible over a period of time; not just reading, but studying it
4) Making Bible study interesting and enjoyable; forever changing it from something "I should do" to something "I get to do" and "look forward to"
Highly recommend this book!