My only personal encounter with the late D. James Kennedy did not go particularly well. I was still a wide-eyed writer at Coral Ridge Ministries in Fort Lauderdale. But about a year and a half into my job, I had decided to attend Columbia Biblical Seminary to study world missions.

One day I met Kennedy, who was striding to an appointment with several members of his retinue. Screwing up my courage, I said hello and mentioned I would be attending Columbia for grad school. Kennedy physically recoiled and thundered in his trademark baritone preacher's voice, "Columbia? I wouldn't send my worst enemy to Columbia!"

It felt as if I had been slapped in the face. But recovering quickly, I figured out he was talking about that bastion of doctrinal liberalism, Columbia Theological Seminary—not Columbia Biblical Seminary. That matter cleared up, he wished me well, and we went our separate ways.

Kennedy, who died last fall, always was one to dream big, act decisively, and let the chips fall where they may. A card-carrying member of what has come to be known as the Religious Right, he rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.

All who knew him, however, talked most not about his views on abortion or school prayer but about his integrity and warm pastor's heart. To me, that heart is most exemplified not in the imposing Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, nor in his media empire, nor in his now-defunct Center for Reclaiming America for Christ. It comes across in two simple questions:

  • Do you know for sure that you are going to be with God in heaven?
  • If God were to ask you, "Why should I let you into my heaven?" what would you say?

I'm speaking, of course, about Evangelism Explosion, which Kennedy founded in 1962. I believe Kennedy, with all his fervor ...

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Foolish Things
Stan Guthrie is an editor at large for Christianity Today and author of Missions in the Third Millennium and All That Jesus Asks. His column, "Foolish Things," ran from 2006 to 2007.
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