This past weekend I attended the funeral of my beloved professor and mentor, Wynn Kenyon, who taught Philosophy at Belhaven University in Jackson, Mississippi for three decades. It was Kenyon who taught me how to think critically and introduced me to the notion of Christian worldview. It was Kenyon who expanded my mind theologically, enabling me to understand the sovereignty of God in all situations. And, most importantly, it was Kenyon who best modeled for me how to live with Christian integrity, demonstrating virtue in all domains of life, beginning with his own family.
When I came to Belhaven in the early 80s, I had no idea what subject to major in, let alone what career to pursue. So I consulted my youth leader for advice, and he told me that someday I would meet someone and think, “I want to be just like that person.” This, he said, would be the signal for me as to what career I should pursue. At the time, I thought this was lame counsel but, sure enough, within a few years (and after about half a dozen of Kenyon’s Philosophy classes) it dawned on me that Wynn Kenyon was that person. So I set my sights on graduate school and never looked back. Since arriving at Taylor University in the early 90s, I have essentially tried to be a version of Wynn Kenyon for our community, though I know I will always fall short.
Kenyon was as unique an individual as I’ve ever known. He was a sturdy figure, both physically and intellectually. In terms of philosophical aptitude, he possessed a rare combination of fine analytical skills and “big picture” understanding. One moment he would be explaining some subtle nuance on the doctrine of essences, and the next moment he would show you the implications of that point for the entire history of modern philosophy and theology. But despite his intellectual prowess, Kenyon was remarkably humble and even boyishly playful. He was a practical jokester and seemed to appreciate being the butt of jokes as much as playing jokes on others. And when something amused him, he would burst forth with his signature monosyllabic laugh—Ha! And when he found something especially funny, he would not repeat the laugh but simply increased the volume—HA!!! Even in a crowded cafeteria, everyone would know when Kenyon was really humored by something, as his guffaw would resound, momentarily drowning out all other sounds, and bringing smiles to faces all over the room.
Kenyon was also absent-minded and notoriously unconcerned with fashion. Known for his unkempt hair and disheveled dress, it was understood that he was too busy solving metaphysical riddles to be bothered with such mundane details. But he was never too preoccupied to help others, even when this inconvenienced him. For example, one day after church I inadvertently left my Bible on the roof of my car. When I drove off, the Bible flew off the roof and split into several pieces as my girlfriend and I headed down Jackson’s busy Northside Drive. Suddenly I remembered my Bible and quickly turned around to retrieve it. As we headed back up the street, my girlfriend said, “Look, some kind soul is picking up your Bible in the middle of all that traffic.” Then in one astonished voice we cried out, “Its Dr. Kenyon!” There he was, making a spectacle of himself, not to mention risking his personal welfare, gathering all of the sections of my NIV Bible that had been strewn across the street. I drove up, and he handed it to me with a wry grin, saying something like “Here, you might want to keep this inside your car next time.”
This anecdote typified Kenyon’s good humor and relentless servant spirit. Wynn Kenyon’s entire life was devoted to humble service, in fact. And I am one of thousands whose life he powerfully impacted. Back in the 18th century, Sir Richard Steele said of Bishop George Berkeley, “Till I knew you, I thought it the privilege of angels only to be very knowing and very innocent.” If ever there was a man of our time about whom the same could be said, it was Dr. Wynn Kenyon. He will be missed, but the impact of his life and ministry will endure.
For more reflections on the life and adventures of Wynn Kenyon, see this Facebook Page dedicated to his memory.