By James V. Heidinger II
Dr. Kenneth Cain Kinghorn, 87, passed away peacefully at his home on July 23, 2017. Where does one begin in describing such a fruitful and productive life as his? Ken was a highly-respected author and teacher among Wesleyans literally around the world. He was a friend to evangelical and orthodox United Methodists, and a personal friend and encourager to many of us in denominational renewal ministries.
Ken attended Asbury Theological Seminary and then earned a Ph.D from Emory University in historical theology. During this time as a graduate student, he pastored Methodist churches in Kentucky and Georgia. He joined the faculty at Asbury Theological Seminary in 1965 and taught full-time until 2003, and then part-time until 2016, an amazing span of some 51 years! During those years he taught church history winsomely to thousands of future church leaders. He also served as Provost (1983-1986) and as Dean (1995-1999) at the seminary.
I never had the privilege of having a class under Ken at Asbury, but I did share in a small prayer group with him while still a student there. My admiration for him began there and continued to deepen across the years. For the past three decades, Ken and his lovely wife, Hilda, have been active members at First United Methodist Church in Lexington, where my wife Joanie and I have attended. For several decades, Ken spent many weekends traveling to churches across the country preaching, teaching, and leading workshops. It was always a rich time to catch up with him after church or over lunch to get a report on where he had been and how his weekend of teaching and preaching had gone.
It was also refreshing, as well, to get reports on his latest writing projects. Here was a full-time professor, an active churchman, and a husband and father who still had time to write — and did he ever write. Ken authored hundreds of articles (including a number for Good News) and more than 25 books, including The Heritage of American Methodism, Gifts of the Holy Spirit, and his highly significant three-volume set of John Wesley’s Standard Sermons in Modern English. A number of his works were translated into multiple languages. (He did preaching and teaching tours in Japan and Korea.)
Ken was able to be so productive because he was very Wesley-like in his personal disciplines — rising early each day for devotional reading, prayer and writing, always redeeming the time. His last book, an unusual high-quality volume of portraits of John Wesley, he completed just a month before he died.
Ken has been a friend to seminarians in more ways than most might realize. He helped to found, and to lead — as well as fundraise for — several foundations providing financial support for graduate students preparing for academic and pastoral vocations within the Wesleyan tradition. These included A Foundation for Theological Education (He was a founding and long-time member of the AFTE board of directors), a visionary ministry written about recently in the pages of Good News, and also a Foundation for United Methodists. His heart was set to help students. For many years, he taught continuing education (up through 2016) for the United Methodist Church’s Appalachian Lay Pastors School. This is simply who Ken Kinghorn was, a servant of the church.
Ken is survived by his wife, Hilda, three sons and a daughter, and numerous grandchildren. Thanks to you, Hilda, for encouraging Ken as he shared his many gifts with thousands of folks all across the country and beyond. So many of us have been enriched by his life, his winsome faith, and his Spirit-led teaching and ministry. My hearts is still profoundly moved as I reflect on what his life has meant to so many. And to me.
Kenneth Cain Kinghorn was one of the most authentic and consistent followers of Christ I have been privileged to know. Thank you, Heavenly Father, for this splendid Christian scholar, teacher, friend, and mentor of so many. His life has borne much fruit—and we know it will continue to for countless years to come.
James V. Heidinger II is the publisher and president emeritus of Good News. A clergy member of the East Ohio Annual Conference, he led Good News for 28 years until his retirement in 2009. Dr. Heidinger is the author of several books, including the recently published The Rise of Theological Liberalism and the Decline of American Methodism (Seedbed).
Dr. Kinghorn also taught many students at Appalachian Local Pastor School which is a course of study extension school of Emory. I had the distinct pleasure of having him for a professor there. I am sure many of us who were his students will morn his passing and miss his brilliant mind! He has been a blessing to many and has served the Lord well.
Dr. Kinghorn’s passion for the history of American Methodism and his extensive knowledge of the topic inspired me in my understanding of what it means to be Methodist in general, and what it means to be authentically a Methodist pastor in particular. He was a giant and yet humble and affable. He will be dearly missed, but his legacy will live on.