He was orphaned at nine months old and raised by his childless aunt—already past retirement age. As he grew older the questions, “Who am I? Where am I going? Why am I here?” gave him no peace. When he looked to the culture around him, he found no answers, and nothing to comfort his aching heart.
Nothing—until he heard a minister preach on Ephesians 2:8-9:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves;
it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
The man was Dr. Michael Milton, now Chancellor of the Reformed Theological Seminary—a system of seminaries with 2,700 students and eight campuses and extensions around the country and in a couple of international locations. The minister was the late Dr. D. James Kennedy, founder of Coral Ridge Ministries (now Truth in Action Ministries), and Senior Pastor for 48 years of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
As Dr. Milton describes it, that “sacred encounter with Jesus Christ under the preaching of Jim Kennedy became a divine calling of Jesus Christ that led me to train under Jim Kennedy.” And so Mike Milton became the first pastoral intern under D. James Kennedy in the newly established Master of Divinity program at Knox Theological Seminary—another of the ministries founded by Dr. Kennedy.
As his intern, Milton assisted Kennedy in worship, went with him on pastoral calls, and was by his side on many occasions, both public and private. And yet, when Dr. Kennedy asked him to become the minister of evangelism at Coral Ridge Church, Milton saw that God was calling him in a different direction and he went to Oakland Park, Kansas, where he planted Redeemer Presbyterian Church and started a Christian school there as well.
Later Dr. Milton did return to Ft. Lauderdale to serve as the interim president of Knox Seminary, traveling on behalf of the seminary and preaching all over the nation. But when he was asked to stay on as the seminary president, Dr. Milton says, “I figured I had another church planting in me and I wanted to continue to shepherd the fold of Christ in the local church. So we planted a church in Savannah.”
Milton’s next step was to assume the role of senior pastor of the historic First Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga, Tennessee, which had been planted in 1838 by missionaries of the David Brainerd Mission as a mission to the Cherokee Indians. In 2007, he was invited to become president and professor of practical theology of the Reformed Theological Seminary, at Charlotte, North Carolina. On June 1, 2012, he was appointed Chancellor & CEO of the RTS system.
Today, Dr. Milton says, “There’s not a day that goes by in my life, literally, that I’m not drawn back to the essentials of what Jim Kennedy taught me.”
“If there’s anything I learned from Dr. Kennedy,” says Milton, “it was about the dignity of the pulpit…. When I talk about the dignity of the pulpit, what I learned from Dr. Kennedy and what I saw displayed in his ministry was that he poured all of his learning, all of his scholarship through the narrow channel of preaching because he felt that was primary in the plan of God for salvation.”
Milton explains further, “The dignity of the pulpit didn’t have anything to do with the dignity of D. James Kennedy. [It] doesn’t have anything to do with the dignity of Mike Milton, or anyone else. It has to do with the dignity of the King whose emissary we are in that one divine moment called preaching. It is the dignity of being an ambassador of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ.”
It was the high calling of preaching that motivated Dr. Kennedy in his personal scholarship and study, says Milton. “He told me that he studied for the doctor of philosophy not so he could become a seminary professor—though he was called to be that; or a seminary president—though he was called to be that. But he studied because he felt that the pulpit and the people…were as deserving of the finest scholarship the church had to offer as a seminary student. And anyone who knows about his ministry, including his children’s ministry, knows that he poured all of that scholarship into teachers who poured it into the students—the parishioners of his church, whether you were 5 years old or 95.”
Some people might ask, says Milton, “Why was Jim Kennedy so concerned about the cultural mandate? Why was he concerned that Christ should be brought to every area of life?” The answer is a telling one that should serve as a challenge to all who claim to love the Lord Jesus Christ.
“It’s because of the love of Christ in Jim Kennedy’s heart,” says Milton. “It was because if you love your parent, you love your father, and you love your mother, you want to bring their values to bear in every area of your life. Well, infinitely more important is the love of Christ and the Lordship of Christ.”
When they hear Christians talking about the “cultural mandate,” some may think of a kind of “imperialistic agenda.” But Milton says, it simply means “subduing the earth with the knowledge of God and with the knowledge of Jesus Christ…. [T]he kindest thing anyone could ever do would be to bring the truth of Jesus Christ to government, the truth of Jesus Christ to business, to ethics, education. Why? Because Jesus Christ said in John 8, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” It’s about freedom. It’s not about the imposition, the imperial imposition of my values on you. It’s not about a theocracy.”
Although some have mistakenly labeled Dr. Kennedy’s preaching “theocratic,” Milton says, “there was nothing theocratic about it. It was simply that he wanted to bring the truth of Jesus Christ to every area of life because that truth had changed his life. And we can’t compartmentalize God. He is either God and Lord of all, or He’s not God and He’s not Lord.”