Editor’s note: Dr. Dennis Kinlaw – author, scholar and theologian – recently offered AFA Journal his insights on some of the major moral issues facing our culture and issues that challenge our theology. Dr. Kinlaw is past president of Asbury University and a past professor at Asbury Seminary (both in Wilmore, Kentucky), and co-founder of the Francis Asbury Society.
July-August 2012 – A few decades ago, Asbury College president Dennis Kinlaw was in need of a sociology professor for his staff when he found himself seated by a young man on a plane.
“We got to talking, and I found out he was a sociology professor!” said Dr. Kinlaw. He vividly recalls their conversation, which went something like this:
“Could I ask you a question?” Kinlaw began.
“Of course,” the man responded.
“Can you as a sociologist use the concepts of right and wrong, true and false, good and evil to make sociological judgments?”
He thought for a minute. “Well, no.”
“How can I, in my sociological system, pass an ethical judgment on another sociological system?”
Kinlaw paused a moment, then resumed the dialogue: “Do you enjoy your work?”
“I love it.”
“There are so many things wrong with our world.”
Kinlaw smiled but didn’t say a word, and his new friend began to turn red before admitting, “You caught me, didn’t you?”
Kinlaw contends that this young man’s faulty logic was not logical at all. In fact, it illustrates precisely what still plagues our culture today – a morass of moral mumbo-jumbo that declares there is no absolute truth, no right and no wrong.
Father of 5, grandfather of 16 and great-grandfather of more than 20, the 90-year-old Kinlaw remains active as an observer and interpreter of family-related issues that face the body of Christ and impact the culture at large.
Marriage and family
For example, take the hotly contested debate on marriage. In the politically correct circles of Washington, D.C., and other liberal strongholds across the nation, traditional marriage is passe, perhaps even antithetical to an enlightened populace. Subsequently, the traditional family, too, is no longer a virtue to be revered, but rather a dying relic of a self-proclaimed progressive people.
Kinlaw believes that if our nation is to survive, the battle line in our day is to preserve the pre-eminence of marriage and family.
“I am at the point where I think this issue is the central one,” he said. He suggests that in the broad political sense, the body of Christ must stand for some sacred things because with the current administration in the White House, we are into “total paganism,” and the family continues to be dismantled.
“This is one place where the difference between Christianity and the options becomes crystal clear,” he said. “The Christian church has to recognize it is a minority. We’re back in the same position we were in during the second century AD.”
Kinlaw says the concept of family is rooted not in sociology – as secularists might have us believe – but in the divine nature of God. The evidence is that the Trinity itself includes a familial relationship, Father and Son.
“Everything hinges on the family,” he said. “There’s no discussion of law in Genesis; it’s all family. You get the law in Exodus, when Israel becomes a nation.”
Furthermore, Kinlaw interprets God’s words “I brought you to Myself” in Exodus as a nuptial covenant, not a legal covenant. Thus, rooted in the earliest history of God’s people are marriage and family – the two institutions God uses to teach us who He is and who we are.
Regarding the activist homosexual agenda, Kinlaw offers an interesting insight, as it impacts society’s determination to redefine the Judeo-Christian concept of marriage and family. “We lost [the battle] on homosexuality when we made it a moral thing,” he said. “I don’t think we can win it politically because everyone has his own view of law.”
Sanctity of life
Another issue that Kinlaw continues to follow closely is the pro-life struggle as it gains momentum in the public debate.
“I think the hottest issue philosophically and theologically is the subject of personhood,” he said. Kinlaw referred to Notre Dame professor Christian Smith’s recent book titled What Is a Person? Smith told BigQuestionsOnline.com, “By my account, a person is ‘a conscious, reflexive, embodied self-transcending center of subjective experience, durable identity, moral commitment, and social communication.’”
If Smith’s definition is correct, then a baby cannot be considered a person until he is able to make moral decisions and communicate socially with others – presumably in a language other than crying and cooing.
“The astounding thing is that he misses the point totally,” Kinlaw said, explaining that we wouldn’t have the words person, personality, personhood or personal had the term person not been coined to refer to Jesus. “That was the term they chose to solve the question of how, in Mary’s womb, you could have an infinite, eternal God married to flesh without either losing its character.”
The nature of God
Kinlaw observed that many denominational and theological institutions declare that the central characteristic of God is His power, His sovereignty. However, he points out that a father is not characterized primarily by power. In this regard, Kinlaw’s logic seems to come full circle, calling our attention to the fact that God was a father long before He had created anything over which to be sovereign.
With typical Kinlaw insight, he mused that, when teaching his disciples to pray, God didn’t tell them, “When you pray, say ‘Dear Sovereign,’ or even ‘Dear Lord.’ He told them to pray to ‘Our Father.’” In his recent book titled Let’s Start With Jesus, a look at the theology of Christian faith, Kinlaw tackles this very issue. (See below.)
Kinlaw cited the impact that the name of Jesus can have when spoken in the public arena. It can evoke silence and awe among those who revere Him. Conversely, it can unleash a storm of protest among those who reject Him.
Kinlaw said, “I think one of the most significant events in my lifetime occurred when the media asked George W. Bush, ‘Who’s the philosopher who has influenced you the most?’”
President Bush replied, “Jesus,” and, Kinlaw concluded, “[A]ll hell has broken loose ever since, because that’s the one thing that hell doesn’t want said. Now, Jesus is the issue.”
More wisdom from Dr. Kinlaw
Let’s Start With Jesus – In this 176-page book, Kinlaw explains that in recent generations, we have tried to construct a theology based on philosophical arguments about God’s existence. He proposes that a solid theology must begin with the person of Jesus. ($17.99)
The Mind of Christ – This provocative study describes how the Holy Spirit can completely transform a person’s thinking. Indeed, the Scripture says that the Spirit can give any believer “the same mind that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5). ($12.50)
This Day With the Master – Three-hundred-sixty-five meditations explain how other people have searched for a more intimate relationship with God. Included are the stories of Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Joshua, King David and King Solomon, and generations of other people who have looked for God in times of quiet solitude. ($14.99)
Learn more about these and other resources at www.francisasburysociety.com or 859-858-4255.