Dr. D James Kennedy: A man for the ages
By: Robert E. Meyer
Last week in the mail, I received a letter from Brian Fisher, the executive vice-president of Coral Ridge Ministries. The letter stated that Dr. D. James Kennedy, one of the Christian stalwarts of our times, had retired from his pastorate at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Dr. Kennedy had a heart attack last December, and complications from that condition have diminished his mental and physical faculties to the point where he would not be able to resume his duties.
Now as I write this piece, I have just received word that Dr. Kennedy has passed away. It is with a heavy heart and a bit of shock that I continue this piece, but I began this venture with the intention of honoring Dr. Kennedy–and so I shall.
We knew for some time that Dr. Kennedy was in a seriously debilitated condition, so we had some time to absorb this shock, yet time alone is never enough.
Rather than give a biography of Dr. Kennedy, I would rather discuss his accomplishments, and how his ministry has impacted my own life.
I’m not sure when I first heard of Dr. Kennedy, but I do vividly remember that I first saw his T.V. program early in 1999. At that time he was urging those in his audience to be vigilant about the Y2K phenomenon, that they should regard it as more than just another periodic scare. Before his name became familiar to me, I referred to him as the Y2K guy when discussing his broadcast with my wife. Before long, it became the favorite religious program of the several we watched on a regular basis.
My wife and I had attended a reformed church, and the thing I liked right off the bat about Kennedy, was that his sermons were relevant in addressing the current cultural issues. He exemplified the reformed tradition, that Christ is Lord over all of life. Besides the elaborate and beautiful arrangements of traditional hymns, and his timely motivating sermons, the program always made an evangelical appeal to the lost, and presented a documentary about some vital cultural issue.
Dr. Kennedy often received letters from his viewing audience, containing personal testimonials and notes thanking him for his tireless efforts for the kingdom of God. I never wrote Dr. Kennedy personally, and now wish I had. But, I still want to share how he impacted my life.
After one sermon shortly after I began watching his show, Dr. Kennedy said to his viewing audience: “Some of you need to run for public office; some of you need to write letters to the editor.” It was as if Kennedy was speaking to me personally. I certainly took him that way. I decided I would try both. I have to admit the political angle didn’t turn out as expected, but the writing aspect did bloom into a passion. In fact Dr. Kennedy had a large hand in the fact that you are reading this piece about him today. In my late teens I had a burning desire to move ahead with the things of God, but over time I lost this youthful zeal. I spent most of my 20′s and 30′s sitting on my hands, but Kennedy helped renew my life with that conviction and zeal.
Kennedy’s influences extended well beyond his own sermons and the auxiliary ministries that grew out of his initial calling. Kennedy introduced us to so many other influential Christians through the books and audio/visual materials he endorsed. His documentary segments inspired us to look into certain issues more closely.
What I liked best about Dr. Kennedy was his strong emphasis on the cultural mandate, and the need for the Christian worldview to be a bridge spanning our entire social milieu. While many today bemoan Christian involvement in the public square, Kennedy taught that social and political activism are the Christian’s inherent duty.
Too many influential personalities today, are urging people to compartmentalize between their spiritual and social lives. All that has brought about a culture increasingly hostile to Christianity and apathetic toward the very things bringing great harm to society. Kennedy was a watchman on the wall, ever vigilant, sounding the clarion call, warning us against these dangerous trends.
It is reasonable for us to ponder the question of who will (or can) replace the small handful of committed visionaries, that by God’s grace, are given to us sparingly in each generation. Over the past five years we have lost such Christian luminaries as Henry Morris, Carl Henry, Adrian Rogers, Jerry Falwell and Billy Bright. Add to that list an ailing Billy Graham, other aging evangelicals, and now Dr. Kennedy. It is easy for the evangelical community to ask who will lead us now, who will replace these fallen stalwarts?
Remember what Jesus said to the religious self-righteous of his day, when they complained about the people who praised and worshiped him. He said that God could raise up the very stones and cause them to worship. God will call new believers to meet the growing challenges of the day. As for Dr. Kennedy, he already had appointed faithful believers to carry on with his vision.
I will miss Dr. Kennedy dearly, yet I will continue to be inspired by his fine example and strong convictions.