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Dr. John Killinger
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JOHN KILLINGER

John Killinger, often called “a preacher’s preacher,” was educated at Baylor, the University of Kentucky, Harvard, and Princeton. He nevertheless remembers when he was ordained as a Baptist preacher and pastored his first church at the age of eighteen. Then, he understood that the essence of being a preacher was to be a good storyteller with an important message to convey. He still regards that as his job. Seven churches later, and seven colleges, universities, and divinity schools, and seventy books with his name on them, he is still telling stories and still on message.

His churches were small and large. Little Poplar Grove Baptist Church in rural Rockcastle County, Kentucky, where the men sat on one side of the church and the women on the other. Smart, fashionable First Presbyterian Church of Lynchburg, Virginia, with 65 doctors and an equal number of attorneys and school teachers. Stately old First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, the first English-speaking church in the City of the Angels, whose majestic organ is the largest in the world and whose center aisle is so long that the choir sometimes has to sing the same hymn over again because it takes so long to process from the back to the front. And diminutive but charming Little Stone Church on Mackinac Island, Michigan, where he conducted 40 to 60 weddings every summer and preached to a congregation of summer visitors from all over the world.

His school jobs were mostly big, important ones. Places like Vanderbilt, Chicago, Princeton, and Claremont. But he started out as Dean of the Chapel at little Georgetown College in Kentucky, and ended up as Distinguished Professor of Religion and Culture at mid-sized Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. He was a born teacher, who always explained things clearly and patiently to his students, and they loved him. In his second year of teaching, he was named Most Popular Professor. Four of his former students are now bishops and many are teachers and authors. His students still call and e-mail him from all over the U.S. He and they will always have a special relationship.

Because John Killinger is interested in almost everything, his writings have touched on many subjects: Christian history, personal spirituality, world religions, preaching, worship, church politics, a female Christ figure, the Gospels as devotional literature, secular writers and artists, the nature of pastoral ministry, and the relationship between theology and contemporary culture. He has even written a book called The Loneliness of Children, about the inner fears and worries of most children in our so-called Good Society. Many of his books become textbooks in seminaries, and ministers around the world quote what he says in their sermons. They also use his prayers from their pulpits and in their Sunday bulletins. Maybe the most special thing about John Killinger, say those who know him, is the way he says what’s really on his mind, whatever other people may think about him for saying it. Like Andy Rooney, he has an attractive kind of honesty whatever he’s dealing with, whether it’s theology or politics or spirituality or human behavior of any kind. It has often gotten him in trouble with fundamentalists, politicians, and institutionalists. But he never seems to mind.  He just goes on being who he is and saying what he thinks he ought to say. It’s his calling, he says.

But what he says isn’t without compassion. Never, because John Killinger is a tireless lover. He loves God and he loves life and he loves people. He has often said that if he had to sum up all of Christian theology in a single word, it would be “love.” Somebody quoted him recently as saying, “All the theology and fine preaching and great devotionalism in the world aren’t worth a thimbleful of kindness done for a little child.” This is probably why he has been invited to preach in many of the most famous churches in America and why thousands of people always look forward to his next book. They know he will be honest and that he will speak from a heart filled with love.

 

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Revised: May 29, 2017