Saturday, September 08, 2007

Off-Topic: Dr. D. James Kennedy, RIP

It's not news by now, but the radio and television evangelist Dr. D. James Kennedy passed away early Wednesday morning at the age of 76. Dr. Kennedy is best remembered for inventing the "Evangelism Explosion" method of lay evangelism and for his radio and TV ministries. Kennedy, the recipient of multiple earned advanced degrees, possessed two characteristics rarely associated with the term "televangelist": education and integrity. His peppered his sermons with quotations from Herodotus, Plato, and Cicero. His rich tenor soothed millions, and his sermon text was ever as crisp as his delivery. And to date, I do not know of a single allegation of financial or personal misconduct against him. (Many vangates who would piously hold him in judgment don't have such a record of "walking the walk.") It must be noted, he proclaimed an unabashed Calvinism marked by muted but sometimes harsh anti-Catholicism, neither of which I share. Yet for the morass of radio preachers, he was nearly as "high church" as one ever got. (A sad commentary: influential media purveying "old time religion" only cover the era before Geneva if one tunes into "The Lutheran Hour," and then only by a fraction.)

On a personal level, I remember vividly the first time I heard Dr. Kennedy on the radio -- trapped as a passenger with a driver who listened to the local fundamentalist station and had told me Kennedy was "different from most televangelists." I rolled my eyes. I was pleasantly surprised to encounter a sermon (and ultimately a series of sermons) that were later transcribed into his book Why I Believe, an apologetic for the Christian faith. It was true; he was not like the average televangelist. (And I later got a copy of the book.) Decades later, not all his historical claims withstand scrutiny, but the bulk of his argument has remained and has undoubtedly brought many agnostics to faith in Christ as their "Lord, God, and Savior." He was a Calvinist who may have believed that I, an Orthodox Christian who believes in a lifelong synergistic and ascetic struggle, was not a Christian. I recognize the errors inherent in Calvinism. But TULIP was hardly the focus of his average sermon: instead he focused on the "basics" of proclaiming the Divinity of Christ and calling all to Him. Kennedy touched millions with messages like those I heard so long ago. May his good fruit outweigh the errors committed in ignorance, and may his memory be eternal.

Update 1: His family has established a memorial website.

Update 2: I see DailyKos has weighed in with a typically loving response: "Another Hate Merchant Meets His Maker." The president had more charitable comments.

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