Saturday, September 1, 2007

Dr. D.James Kennedy Retires

The Rev. Dr. D. J. Kennedy became known to many Lutherans through his popular outreach program of the 70's (First developed in 1962): Evangelism Explosion. Although long since modified by other evangelism incarnations, his program became a standard for a variety of denominations eager to make a difference in reaching the lost.

After 48 years of active ministry Dr. Kennedy is finally retiring. Actually his last sermon was on December 24, after which he is said to have suffered cardiac arrest, keeping him since then from resuming any work in the pulpit.

Dr. Kennedy, predominantly known by the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church he founded in 1959, shepherded a small parish of 45 members to an eventual mega church of 10,000. It became the center of a world-wide TV and radio program that reaches 3.5 million people for all of its broadcasts. He is also the founder of Knox Theological Seminary, which began in 1989, and like its founder reflects the commitment to traditional Reformed (Calvinistic) theology.

Kennedy became known to me, as he did for many my age, through his regular services on TV. I was impressed by his conservative, yet relaxed nature, and dedication to biblical truth. He was at the forefront of the cutting issues of our era, both theological and cultural, and was not afraid to speak out and write about these issues so that others might be encouraged in the truth.

As a traditional Presbyterian it is to be expected that there would be differences with his Lutheran listeners. While a staunch defender of the verity of the Word, he nevertheless was deficient in his sacramental theology. The Reformed, as Calvin taught them, do not believe in what Lutherans would recognize as the true, physical presence of Christ in the Supper.

Given the classic Reformed doctrine of the limited atonement (the "L" in TULIP for those who learned Reformed theology from this this acronym), I am surprised by Kennedy's energetic embracing of evangelism. For a classic Calvinist cannot believe that Christ died for all, just for the elect. I'm not sure how Kennedy stood on this, and it is possible that like many Reformed he had long since discarded this point.

Kennedy, known by many through his pulpit work, produced popular sermons that often concentrated on various current themes and personalities from the history of the church and the nation. From a classical Lutheran point of view I saw his homiletical treatments as more of a speech than a true sermon. While they defended and upheld traditional morals and the truth of the scriptures, they failed to provide any consistent Law-Gospel division or a true proclamation of the living voice of Christ speaking to lost sinners a word of forgiveness. This may be due, in part, to his Reformed background. Perhaps as a Reformed minister he did not feel that he could proclaim the Word this way, or that the Word was a "living Word" to all.

Kennedy will be remembered as a strong voice in the public square, who willingly took his stand against the cultural forces of the day, using his intellect and learning as a tool to win a hearing for the Truth. Lutherans can find material in his vast writings from which to learn (especially his apologetic works), even as they carefully note those theological errors which direct the person away from the means of grace.

[A summary of his academic background, writing and other works can be found on the Coral Ridge site here.]

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