W. Wynn Kenyon, professor of Bible, Theology, and Philosophy at Belhaven University, went to be with Jesus this last week.  He was my professor at the end of the 1980’s when Belhaven was still a college.  I had attempted college before and couldn’t manage it, going for years without a degree.  I served in the US Air Force to save money to pay off the old college debt and start again.  The USAF had brought me to the South and gave me time to understand myself better as a believer.  I had read a lot of theology and philosophy but had been tempted into an apologetic fad.  When I finished my term of service I wanted to go back and finish.  I knew I wanted to go into a school that embraced my distinctive brand of doctrine, but was also affordable and would let me finish in my major.  The only thing left to do was work on a minor and I decided to make my minor philosophy to sort out my head.

After taking six months to adjust to civilian life again, I wrote to certain colleges.  Unlike other schools, Belhaven had professors cold call me.  Since I had put down an interest in a philosophy minor, I received a call from one Wynn Kenyon, the one phil prof at the school.  Even though it was a cold call, Wynn challenged me through questioning when he discovered my philosophical inclinations.  I found out that he was a personal disciple of one of the leading thinkers of the school rival to my own chosen school of thought.  However, we found common ground in both liking a then recently published book, “Allen Bloom’s “Closing of the American Mind”.

That call was the beginning of a long and meaningful friendship with the man.  he was very much my mentor and we stayed in contact all those years until now, at least by phone.  But I was not unique in that respect as many students of his would enjoy is generous attention over his whole career.  He was a most beloved teacher.

Wynn came from a very large extended family from the heart of Western Pennsylvania and his father and grandfather were both ministers.  He was originally on plan to be in the ministry himself until he came to loggerheads with his denomination over his views about woman’s ordination in a case that became a watershed for the future of the denomination, and his one piece of notoriety as the named in “The Kenyon Case”.  Having been stalled in the ministry he chose to go on into philosophy and education, getting his doctorate at University of Miami, FL.  He then settled into his first job at Belhaven college and stayed for decades until the end.

Wynn was a student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, a mainline liberal seminary but one which still had Dr. John Gerstner as a professor, a godly man (who I met through Wynn) who was widely loved by the regional Presbyterian Churches and a scholar of Jonathan Edwards.  Gerstner and Wynn bonded at a time when the Vietnam War was going on and many were joining seminary to avoid the draft.  Wynn showed me a cartoon a seminarian had made for the school newsletter about a theological appointment the school made, a woman professor who did not accept the deity of Christ.  The cartoon shows Gerstner in full Grand Inquisitor garb surrounded by his favorites, including Wynn, who is drawn saying “Hang the Witch”.  Wynn told me that he was once called into the president’s office.  The president assured him that the school still proudly stood in the Reformed tradition.  Wynn replied, “Suppose I was once a John Birch Society member but had come around to becoming a Marxist, yet I still assured everyone that I proudly stood in the John Birch Tradition”.

Many others were blessed by Gerstner’s oversight, including R. C. Sproul of Ligonier (Renewing Your Mind) Ministries.  But Wynn was a quieter influence and was not in a hurry to dismiss the old church that dismissed him.  But he finally did change his membership when he thought that he erred too much on the side of giving the church the benefit of the doubt (soon after Gerstner himself came to the same conclusion).

Wynn was beloved for his greatness of spirit and genuine compassion.  He was working enormous course loads at Belhaven that would shame the average unionized teacher in a university today but he also had great emotional capacity for individual students.  His Miami dissertation was on the ontological argument and unfortunately that and a few devotional bits are all his published work.  Like so many other intellectual greats, the fruit of his intellectual labors was in effect reserved for his students.  Hopefully the distinctive Wynn brand of scholarship will make itself felt on the world of theology and philosophy.

Ligon Duncan of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi has given a memorial sermon at the Belhaven University Chapel that cannot be improved upon,  so I won’t try.  I will remember that precious truth that sometimes Christ withholds his healing power to show His glory more greatly, and that in his glory we find our joy.  But for the moment, the world is a colder  and more dim place without Wynn in it.  Like the soldier in “Saving Private Ryan”, I have to come to grips with my failure to realize the potentials and gratitude I have received from such a rare gift as the time I have spent with Wynn Kenyon.