A Great Reformed Evangelist Retires

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I was both happy and sad to note the press release announcing the retirement of Dr. D. James Kennedy from the pastorate of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church.  The only reason I was happy was that I know how much this announcement was needed and also how difficult it was to do.  For while I understand that Dr. Kennedy has seen some improvement from his cardiac arrest late last year, everyone who is at all close to the situation also knows that this event has providentially brought his ministry to a close.  How difficult it can be, however, for all the vested parties to come to agreement in such a situation.  The unity of action between the Kennedy family, the elders of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, and the leaders of Coral Ridge Ministries is no small thing, and it reflects the legacy of godliness and integrity reaped from Dr. Kennedy's own life and ministry.

Of course, such an announcement involves a finality that also brings sadness.  I know this is palpably the case with those who love Dr. Kennedy so well at CRPC.  The matter of Dr. Kennedy's advancing age and declining health had burdened hearts at Coral Ridge for some time.  Now they can turn their hearts with thanks to God and in appreciation for the gift they have received for almost fifty years, even while they continue to minister in love and prayer to Dr. Kennedy and his family.

I, too, have many reasons to give thanks to God in appreciation of D. James Kennedy: The first thing that comes to mind is Jim's evangelical fervor.  Having known him personally for only a few years, I still had many opportunities to witness this telling characteristic.  D. James Kennedy is first and foremost an evangelist.  If you wanted to capture his attention, you only had to mention the sharing of the gospel.  For instance, a couple of years ago I was over at Coral Ridge for some meeting.  As I was leaving, Jim Kennedy came down the hallway.  He was moving with purpose, obviously needing to get somewhere, accompanied by a small entourage.  I could tell that Jim was hoping to politely avoid a long conversation, but he still was kind enough to stop and ask me what I had been up to.  I said that I had just returned from Uganda, where a team from our church had done EE training and where we did street evangelism.  Well, that was it -- we were going to have a conversation because Jim completely lit up and demanded the details as his entourage started glancing at their watches.  Jim ended up insisting that I come in to discuss more on his radio show.  When we taped that program it was obvious that he was utterly enthralled with ever detail of the spread of the gospel.  That was just one example of his passion for evangelism.

In this respect, perhaps above all others, D. James Kennedy has been indispensable to the Reformed movement in our lifetime.  In a time when many have sought to write off Calvinism as deadly to evangelism (and in which some Calvinists have sought to exemplify such criticism) Jim Kennedy has stood out as living proof to the opposite.  This man is as deeply committed to five-point Calvinism as any man I have ever met.  But he is even more committed to the gospel and its mission in this world.  This is the very kind of Calvinism needed so greatly today -- a gospel-centered and gospel-impassioned Calvinism -- and for almost fifty years D. James Kennedy has been its leading model.

As an aside, I am always annoyed when I encounter Reformed people making snide, off-hand comments regarding Evangelism Explosion.  I realize that there are some comments in the EE book to the effect that sharing the gospel is like giving a sales pitch.  Those comments are only meant to indicate that we have something desireable and valuable to offer to others.  EE has three great virtues that have made it a singularly useful training program for the spread of the gospel.  The first is that it teaches Christians a straight-forward, biblically-accurate, and didactically sound manner of explaining the core truths of the Christian gospel.  And what a difference it makes for believers to have such training!  I cannot imagine why any Christian would be opposed to such training.  The EE outline is just that -- it is an outline, not a mantra -- but what a powerful outline it is.  Secondly, the two questions of EE are at the heart of a pastorally sound evangelistic methodology.  I realize that flexibility is needed in its application and that postmodernity will sometimes mandate adjustments (the EE folks understand this too).  But I have often marveled at how quickly and efficiently the two questions have succeeding in transitioning a conversation to the core matters of the gospel: God, man, sin, cross, grace, faith...  Thirdly, the EE training process is amazingly effective at helping Christians become comfortable in speaking about the gospel to others.  If you don't think you could ever become a bold evangelist, just go through EE and you might find out how excited you can become about sharing the gospel (and how people will actually come to saving faith in Christ through even your witness).

What a difference D. James Kennedy the evangelist has made to our generation.  There really has been no one like him in our time, and the legacy of his evangelistic passion will continue to be felt for a long time.

More briefly, I learned to appreciate Dr. Kennedy on a number of other levels.  He is a kind and generous person.  I have both experienced and witnessed his personal graciousness a number of times to the great delight of my heart.  Moreover, Jim is a courteous and genteel man of a sort that we frequently meet any more.  I suppose this is one of the reasons I was so drawn to him.  I have been blessed with close relationships with two men who carried themselves with this kind of dignity: my father and James Montgomery Boice.  The way Dr. Kennedy carries himself always reminds me of both.  I am getting just old enough that my father figures are starting to move on -- both my father and Jim Boice died in 2000 -- and it makes me feel like a boy again to be around men like Jim Kennedy. 

Lastly, I was deeply impressed in my dealings with Jim Kennedy by his deep humility before the Lord.  Of course a man like him has to get comfortable wielding authority.  But on a number of occasions, he confided to me areas in which he was struggling or how convicted he was about what we had just studied in the Bible.  Not many men of his public stature would speak so readily in this manner, and it spoke to me of a strong work of grace in Kennedy's heart.

May God bless D. James Kennedy.  I have been praying for some months that God would grant a sufficient recovery that Jim would be ably fully to enjoy his salvation in Christ during his remaining time in this life.  I have also been praying that he would have enough of a recovery to be able to address his beloved congregation, even briefly, one last time.  May God bless his wife Anne and daughter Jennifer, who have done such a service to the church by speaking on Dr. Kennedy's behalf in announcing his retirement.  May God bless the elders and congregation of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church.  I had the privilege of speaking to the officers of Coral Ridge at their retreat this past spring and I know them to men of godly integrity and purpose.  They have a difficult burden to bear and deserve our prayers.  So far, it seems that the congregation is holding together well.  On our last Sunday in South Florida, my family and I worshiped at Coral Ridge and were greatly blessed by the congregation and by the preaching of Sam Lamerson (of Knox Seminary). 

Lastly, may God bless the Reformed movement in America with more men, new men, who like D. James Kennedy are identified as gospel men -- evangelists -- who hold to the whole counsel of God in Scripture and burn with a passion for the salvation of the lost.
Posted August 28, 2007 @ 9:33 AM by Rick Phillips
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