In Memoriam Dr. Dennis F. Kinlaw (#UMC)
Serious engagement with the Wesleyan tradition began for me during my college years with a book by Dr. Dennis F. Kinlaw. A Christian since childhood, I had long suspected there was more to the faith than the mere forgiveness that often characterized evangelicalism in the second half of the last century. The book was The Mind of Christ, and it was given to me at a missions conference in 2000 by Dr. Harold Spann, then Chancelor of Wesley Biblical Seminary. That book exposed me like never before to the deep truth for which I longed but had not yet understood. With it, Dr. Kinlaw taught me that forgiveness of sin is only the beginning of the Christian journey, not its end. I learned that forgiveness is an instrument and necessary means to the end of holiness. I learned that what the world really needed was to see women and men embody the holy love that is the character of God revealed in Christ and Spirit, and to do it consistently and comprehensively. And I learned that all of that is above all a work of grace. It is no understatement to say that this book set me to the course I am on today. Other important volumes have come along. This one will always have a prominent place among them.
From that point forward, I read everything by Dr. Kinlaw that I could get. I sought out his sermons online and listened to as many as I could find. Some repeatedly. Kinlaw had a way of communicating stunningly rich and deep theological truth in a clear and understandable way. His turns of phrase often gave me pause and prompted extended reflection on scripture, discipleship, and ministry. My first published book review was in the Wesleyan Theological Journal, and the book I chose to review was Let’s Start with Jesus. With this book, Dr. Kinlaw flexed his theological muscles to interpret scripture in light of the Church Fathers and give us a vision of the unparalleled beauty of the God who is triune. This book was altogether robust and practical in every way as an invitation to dwell in the beauty of God’s perfect love, and to have that love made perfect in us.
During my time as a student at Asbury Theological Seminary, I was privileged on one occasion – and long after his retirement – to have Dr. Kinlaw as a substitute lecturer. The course was Triune Theism taught by Dr. Al Coppedge, who is also a mentor to me and son-in-law to Dr. Kinlaw. Dr. Coppedge had to be away one day, and the class was a small one. So, we were instructed to meet at Dr. Kinlaw’s house that day instead of in our regular classroom. We were to read Let’s Start with Jesus beforehand so that we could discuss it with the man who penned it. That day will always stand as a highlight of my seminary education. I couldn’t be more grateful.
Word began to circulate yesterday that Dennis Kinlaw died, and the Wesleyan world now feels the weight of losing one to whom so many of us looked for leadership, instruction, and nurturing. He modeled a combination too rarely seen. He was a scholar thoroughly familiar with advanced issues in biblical criticism, but his sermons never sounded like lectures. He was both theologian and preacher. And he was one of the first to model the union of those two vocations for me. My own sense of calling and vocation has been indelibly stamped by his preaching, his scholarship, his witness. He was a man set apart by and for the love of Christ to preach scriptural holiness. And we are all the better for it. His death for us is a loss, though it is gain for him. He has joined the saints at rest in the presence of the One whose love abounded in his life. And he now waits in hope, with all the saints, for the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the dead. Thanks be to God.