+ Dennis James Kennedy + 1930-2007
When I was in college I subscribed to Rolling Stone magazine for a couple of years. I enjoyed the magazine’s reviews of rock music, blistering critiques of American culture, and the birth of “gonzo” journalism. Rolling Stone recently noted the passing of Dr. D. James Kennedy as “the most influential evangelical you’ve never heard of.” Perhaps the general readership of RS sleeps in on Sunday morning, but millions of other Americans knew him well from his weekly TV show, “The Coral Ridge Hour.” Rev. Kennedy suffered a heart attack last December and never recovered. He is with Jesus now. A one-time Arthur Murray dance instructor, Kennedy became pastor of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale in 1959. Their 45 members dwindled to 17 until the new pastor’s energetic leadership caught hold. Today the congregation claims over 10,000 members. Just reading about Kennedy’s energy and vision make me feel tired. He founded a K-12 school, Westminster Academy, on his campus; established John Knox Theological Seminary across the street, built a huge worship center and television studio, and founded two political advocacy groups, the “Center for Reclaiming America for Christ” and the “Center for Christian Stewardship.” He authored 65 books. He certainly was the handsomest of the televangelists, and in an arena often caricatured for its money-grubbing and hustle, I always appreciated the gravitas he brought to the religious screen. I mark his passing with two final appreciative notes: First, you are reading these words because of Coral Ridge. When Time of Grace Ministry was only a dream, the exploratory team members visited Coral Ridge and were most graciously received by the staff. We were both awed and encouraged. The determination to launch Time of Grace emerged at a Ft. Lauderdale restaurant later that evening. Second, not only did Dr. Kennedy write about evangelism (his book Evangelism Explosion has sold hundreds of thousands of copies), but till late in his life he set aside one night a week for personal evangelism in Ft. Lauderdale. Thousands of Floridians were probably surprised to see a man on their stoop who said, “Hi—I’m Jim Kennedy.”   R.I.P.