One Year Later

Last year, on this date, I wrote a quick post about the loss of a spiritual giant. Dennis Kinlaw was a mentor, friend, and example for at least three generations of Christians. I labeled the post the first in a series which I never got around to finishing because I was wrapping up final edits and preparing for graduation in the days following. As the one year anniversary of his death looms on my calendar and in my heart, I have been thinking a lot about him and his influence.

One of the most important resources to come out in the year since his death was a compilation of his sermons titled Malchus’ Ear. For a scholar like Kinlaw, whose sharp mind kept him learning and writing until he died1, it might seem odd that a posthumous volume wasn’t a scholarly work or even a Festschrift2. But, to those who knew his evangelist heart and his abandonment to our Triune Creator God3, a volume of sermons is fitting. Particularly these sermons which were carefully chosen and edited by his longtime writing partner and beloved granddaughter.

Dr. Kinlaw was a scholar. He was also a dilettante in the oldest sense of the word. He had an interest in nearly everything. This is the world the LORD has made, and he wanted to know about it all. I chuckle recalling our last conversation, one in which I wanted to delve as deeply as possible into the subject of Christian perfection, but we ended up spending thirty of the ninety minutes talking about quantum mechanics! The man had an interest in his Father’s world, and he wanted to learn how to sing and dance to the “music of the spheres4.” His curiosity was borne out of his love for and experience with our Triune Creator God. He wanted to know everything he could about the lover of his soul, and he wanted to tell other people about this God whose love and holiness are abundant and never-ceasing.

Therefore, we have these sermons. In the preface to this volume, there is a personal testimony about the perfect love of God being shed abroad into the heart of a young Dennis Franklin Kinlaw:

In the years since, I have never found words adequate to describe to anyone what those next few hours were like. It was years before I even tried. Human language just could not do justice to what occurred. It was a profoundly emotional moment. A joy flooded my inner being, a joy of a deeper magnitude and of a different essence than anything I had ever known before. Later, I found myself thinking of it in terms of the promise in Romans 5:5, that the Holy Spirit can shed abroad in the human heart the very love that binds the three persons of the Holy Trinity together in the human believer's heart. There was a marvelous sense of inner cleanness that now seemed to leave my inner spirit as if it had been cleansed from all of the normal defilements that haunt a thirteen-year-old boy's conscience. Yet even this sense of cleansing was not my primary consciousness. That was completely different. It was the sense of a Presence, an Other, who had come to me.

I’ve spent a good portion of the last fifteen years (particularly the last six) thinking about and agonizing over the doctrine of Christian perfection as an experience of God’s great love and holiness that any believer can know - mostly because of Kinlaw’s influence. One of the reasons I think the book is so important is because of this testimony. It was this witness to the holy and perfect love of God “shed abroad in5” his heart that sent him on a lifelong adventure of walking in close relationship to God, of scholarly work in the Old Testament, and of co-founding the Francis Asbury Society with Harold Burgess.

As I’ve been working on and praying for Christian perfection for the past few years, I’ve been toying with a term I made up called “Realized Theology.” I believe realized theology is the place where the truth of God becomes a personal experience. I think this is at the heart of the theology and ministry of John Wesley: Aldersgate was the place where justification became more than a doctrine, it was the experience of a sinner receiving pardon. It was this experience of grace that fueled Wesley’s passion to “spread Scriptural holiness over the land.6” It was the realized theology of Christian perfection Dennis Kinlaw experienced at Indian Springs in 1935. This man of effusive joy flowing out of the love of God gave his whole life to making sure people could have a realized theology of their own.

I have another piece for this blog I’m working on at the moment on the need for a holiness reclamation project within United Methodism, and without wading too deeply into that piece let me say that the life, work, and writing of Dennis F. Kinlaw is essential. Not to that piece of writing, but to the whole world, and particularly the witness of United Methodists in the white fields of the world. We lost a friend, an advocate, and a standard-bearer when he died, but we have a legacy worth carrying forward no matter the cost. I miss him, but mostly I want to carry on the ministry he left behind. I hope you will pray about doing the same.

  1. He was working on a manuscript on anthropology for at least a couple of years before his death. ↩︎
  2. Something Dr. Kinlaw deserves and I hope there is a project in development toward this end. UPDATE - I discovered there was one published in 1982, but I was only 5 at the time, so I was completely unaware. ↩︎
  3. I use this name a lot when writing about God because I want to be specific. I’m deeply indebted to Mary Fisher for her constant usage of this phrase to describe God. Her words have had a lasting impact on me. ↩︎
  4. If you’re not familiar with the quotation, please listen to Babcock’s hymn “This is My Father’s World.” ↩︎
  5. Romans 5:5 KJV ↩︎
  6. 845 vol. 10 of Bicentennial Edition of the Works of John Wesley ↩︎