Who is D. James Kennedy?
D. James Kennedy (1930 –2007) was an American pastor, evangelist, and Christian broadcaster. He founded the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where he was senior pastor from 1960 until his death in 2007.
Kennedy also founded Evangelism Explosion International, Coral Ridge Ministries, the Westminster Academy in Ft. Lauderdale, the Knox Theological Seminary, and the Center for Reclaiming America for Christ, a socially conservative political group.
In 1974, he began Coral Ridge Ministries, which produced his weekly religious television program, The Coral Ridge Hour, carried on various networks and syndicated on numerous other stations with a peak audience of three million viewers in 200 countries.
The Coral Ridge Hour continues to air widely as does the daily radio program, Truths That Transform, which airs on radio stations in the United States. Current and archived versions of both programs are available on the Coral Ridge Ministries website. During his lifetime, Coral Ridge Ministries grew to a US$37-million-a-year non-profit corporation with an audience of 3.5 million.
In 2006, the National Religious Broadcasters association inducted Kennedy into its Hall of Fame. As a result of a heart attack from which he never fully recovered, Kennedy last preached at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church later that year, on December 24, 2006. His retirement was officially announced at the church on August 26, 2007, and he died in his home ten days later.
Personal information and career
D. James Kennedy was born in Augusta, Georgia, and moved with his parents to Chicago, Illinois, during his childhood. His father was a glass salesman, and his parents were Methodists. Kennedy joined the Boy Scouts. He later moved with his family to Tampa, Florida, where in 1948 he graduated from Henry B. Plant High School and began studying English at the University of Tampa.
After two years he dropped out of college, began working as a dance instructor at the Arthur Murray Dance Studio in Tampa, and later won a first prize in a nationwide dance contest. On August 25, 1956, he married Anne Lewis, whom he had met while giving her dance lessons at Arthur Murray. They had one daughter, Jennifer, born in 1962.
Kennedy became a Christian in 1953 after hearing a radio preacher present the Gospel, which Kennedy later said he had never heard up to that point. In December 1955, Kennedy decided to quit his Arthur Murray job to enter the ministry. He resumed his studies at the University of Tampa (graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in 1958) and began preaching at the small Bethel Presbyterian Church in nearby Clearwater, Florida.
The following year, Kennedy entered Columbia Theological Seminary, receiving a Master of Divinity degree. After his ordination in 1959, Kennedy became the pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, where he remained until his death. In the 1970s he earned a Master of Theology summa cum laude from the Chicago Graduate School of Theology, and in 1979 a doctorate in religious education from New York University.
His doctoral dissertation was on the history of an evangelism program he founded. Kennedy said that he earned a Ph D. "to dispel the idea there is an inconsistency between evangelism and education...evangelical ministers [need] to be thoroughly educated and equipped to meet on equal terms anyone with whom they come in contact".
Ministry and theology
Initially ordained in 1959 by the Presbyterian Church in the United States, Kennedy later became an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America, after he and his church left the PCUS in 1978. Espousing a traditional Calvinist theology, Kennedy's theological works include Why I Believe, What If Jesus Had Never Been Born, Skeptics Answered, and Truths That Transform. In 1971, he founded the Westminster Academy in Ft. Lauderdale and, in 1989, Knox Theological Seminary.
Kennedy was a conservative evangelical minister who was often involved in political activities within the Christian right. He wrote What if America Were a Christian Nation Again? and frequently preached messages arguing that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. Kennedy started the Center for Christian Statesmanship, an evangelical ministry on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
The Center, closed in 2007 by Coral Ridge Ministries but quickly reopened under the auspices of Evangelism Explosion International, awards a "Distinguished Christian Statesman Award" annually to high profile Christian political leaders. Award recipients include Tom DeLay, Sam Brownback, and John Ashcroft. He was called by critics a leader of the Dominionism movement.
Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
Kennedy founded the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida in 1960. Beginning with 45 persons attending a typical Sunday service, it became the fastest-growing Presbyterian church in the U.S. in the 1960s and had 1,366 members by 1968. Kennedy developed the Evangelism Explosion ("EE") method of evangelism in the 1960s, which emphasizes the training of church laypeople to share their faith by home visitation in the community.
In 1978, Kennedy began the weekly Coral Ridge Hour on national television, which at its peak had a weekly audience of three million viewers in 200 countries and was aired on more than 400 stations and four cable networks, including the Trinity Broadcasting Network, The Inspiration Network (INSP) and the NRB Network, as well as broadcast to more than 150 countries on the Armed Forces Network. By the 1980s, the church's membership had grown to almost 10,000 persons. As of 2009, the church has 2,200 members and weekly attendance averages 1,800 persons.
Retirement and death
On the evening of December 28, 2006, Kennedy experienced prolonged ventricular tachycardia at his Ft. Lauderdale home, leading to cardiac arrest which deprived his brain of adequate oxygen for six to eight minutes. As a result, he sustained a loss of short-term memory and speech impairment. Despite several months of rehabilitation and convalescence, he was unable to resume preaching and his retirement was announced on Sunday, August 26, 2007, at the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church by his daughter, Jennifer Kennedy Cassidy.
In a statement following news of Kennedy's retirement, the church announced the development of the D. James Kennedy Legacy website in tribute to the life of the Christian evangelist.
Kennedy died in his sleep at home in the early morning hours of September 5, 2007. The White House issued a statement the following day, saying that U.S. President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush were "deeply saddened" by Kennedy's death, calling the Florida-based televangelist and author "a man of great vision, faith, and integrity ... Dr. Kennedy's message of love and hope inspired millions through the institutions he founded...". Kennedy is buried at Lauderdale Memorial Park Cemetery in Ft. Lauderdale.