FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (BP)–D. James Kennedy, the Presbyterian pastor whose Coral Ridge Ministry television and radio programs were broadcast worldwide and whose Evangelism Explosion lay-witnessing method led to the salvation of millions, died Sept. 5. He was 76.
Kennedy died following complications from a heart attack suffered Dec. 28. He had been in poor health since then and retired in August as pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a congregation he planted in 1959. He preached his last sermon at the church on Christmas Eve.
Known for his distinctive baritone preaching voice and methodical delivery, Kennedy was a leading conservative in America’s cultural battles and often used his broadcasts to touch on such issues as abortion, “gay marriage” and evolution. In addition, he was well-known among evangelicals for his books and sermons about the nation’s Christian founding fathers.
Kennedy also had a passion for equipping other believers to share their faith and founded Evangelism Explosion in the 1960s as a method for doing just that. Now taught in many Southern Baptist churches and in more than 200 countries, “E.E.,” as it is known, uses a conversational, outline-based presentation as a method of witnessing. His 1970 book, simply titled “Evangelism Explosion,” helped popularize the program.
“All of Christendom should be saddened by the home-going of Dr. D. James Kennedy, one of the giants among Christian preachers and statesmen of the last third of the 20th century and beyond,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “We will miss his keen mind, his pastor’s heart and his evangelistic fervor. Although we are saddened at our loss, we rejoice that our brother in Christ is now with the Lord Jesus for eternity having heard a hearty, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant.'”
Kennedy’s passion for broadcasting was due in large part to the fact that he was saved through a radio ministry. Sleeping late one Sunday morning in 1953, his radio alarm woke him to the voice of a preacher saying, “Suppose you were to die today and stand before God and He were to ask you, ‘What right do you have to enter into My heaven?’ — what would you say?” Kennedy subsequently accepted Christ and a short time later felt God calling him into the ministry.
Three years ago Kennedy said the nation was in the midst of a spiritual awakening.
“America is in the throes of a cultural shift with enormous implications for the future,” he said in 2004. “If that trend continues, and I believe it will, evangelical Christians will be in the majority sometime in the next decade.”
Evangelism Explosion, no doubt, played a role in the awakening he saw. In 2006 alone, nearly 5 million people worldwide accepted Christ after hearing the Gospel through “E.E.”
Steve Witt, pastor of evangelism and discipleship at Thompson Station Church in Thompson Station, Tenn., learned the “E.E.” model in 1993 and today teaches it to others. It is a multi-week program with “on-the-field” training, whereby leaders teach others how better to witness.
“The Lord has used Evangelism Explosion to equip me to share my faith and to equip others to do the same,” Witt told Baptist Press. “I have had several opportunities to meet Dr. Kennedy and it always impressed me that even though he was the pastor of an amazing church and had several national and international ministries, his greatest passion was to share the Gospel and to train others to do the same.”
In leading E.E. training clinics, Witt recounted, “I have witnessed God do amazing things through E.E. in cities from Fresno, Calif., to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. I have seen God use this ministry tool in Prince Edward Island and Nicaragua. The churches I have ministered in still use E.E. to this day. The reason: It works.”
Witt first learned E.E. under the tutelage of a 72-year-old lady named Dottie. “Through the 13 weeks [of training] we saw several people accept Christ and I knew this was an answer to the prayer I had prayed when I accepted Christ [in 1991 and had] promised God that I would witness until He took me home if He would show me how.”
In 1974, Kennedy started the South Florida Christian radio station WAFG (90.3 FM), and in 1978 saw his first worship service broadcast in a television program known today as the “The Coral Ridge Hour.” In 1984 his ministry launched “Truths That Transform,” a daily radio program, and in 1992 began a 90-second radio commentary, “The Kennedy Commentary.” Thanks to an “extensive inventory” of his messages, the TV and radio ministries will carry on “long after his passing,” the ministry said in a statement.
It was the church’s growth — and Kennedy’s popular preaching — that made the radio and TV ministry possible. His congregation met first in an elementary school in 1959 with fewer than 50 people before moving into a 500-seat building in 1962. In 1974 it moved to its present-day location, with evangelist Billy Graham preaching at the dedication service. Approximately 11,000 people attended that day, with nearly 600 making decisions for Christ. In 1978, the church voted to leave the Presbyterian Church (U.S.) to join the more conservative Presbyterian Church in America (P.C.A.). The building underwent a $13.8 million expansion in the late 1980s.
Kennedy also founded two schools: Knox Theological Seminary for training pastors and Westminster Academy, a pre-kindergarten through 12th grade Christian school.
Kennedy’s death follows the death of several other prominent Christian leaders in recent years, including Adrian Rogers and Jerry Falwell.
Kennedy is survived by his wife of 51 years, Anne, and his daughter, Jennifer. A memorial service will be held at the church at a time to be announced.
An official tribute website to Kennedy has been launched at www.djameskennedy.org.
Michael Foust is assistant editor of Baptist Press.