Kenneth Taylor: A Life Lived Well

John ArmstrongAmerican Evangelicalism

Kenneth Taylor, whose "Living Bible" introduced a generation to the Scriptures in conversational English lived about two minutes from my home. Dr. Taylor died peacefully on Friday, June 11, at the age of 88.

Ken Taylor was a graduate of Wheaton College and Northern Baptist Seminary. He represents one of the stalwarts of "the greatest generation." His legacy will most likely remain for several generations to come.

I knew Ken Taylor, but not exceptionally well. I know some of his children and grandchildren even better. His funeral sermon will be preached in Edman Chapel at Wheaton College, on Wednesday morning, by my dear friend, Dr. Wendell Hawley. Wendell served on our staff and board for several years. It was through Wendell, who knew Ken Taylor so well and worked with him closely for nearly thirty years at Tyndale House Publishers, that I came to know a great deal more about the private life of Ken Taylor.

I have three distinct memories of meeting Ken Taylor personally. First, as a college student, I attended a BIble class he taught in a home near campus. He was a humble man who loved the Scriptures and clearly loved to teach them. My second memory was of seeing him regularly at College Church, where he always sat in one of the front pews. He faithfully attended to the preached Word with respect and reverence. My third memory, and clearly the most impressive, was talking to Ken, and his wife Margaret, in the airport gate area in New Orleans following a Christian Booksellers Convention. There I learned that he had been a founder of the CBA. It was also there that I saw his love for Christian publishing and good books firsthand. I also learned that he shared some of the same concerns I had for the future of Christian publishing. His love for life, and especially for the work of Christ, was quite evident. His quiet, unassuming, and humble spirit were also evident as I spoke with him.

I am reminded that when The Living Bible became the number one bestseller in America in 1972 and 1973 a number of Christians attacked Taylor for his "mishandling" of God’s Holy Word. They insisted that he had tampered with the text and that since he had removed parts of Scripture he was incurring the judgment of God upon his life. During this time Taylor lost his ability to speak except in hushed and raspy tones. This was interpreted by his critics as the evidence of God’s judgment. He seemed to handle this with great grace and dignity. He never fought back and never tried to defend himself.

In view of Taylor’s great publishing success he could have amassed a great personal fortune. Instead, he lived very simply and gave away a fortune. He invested untold millions of dollars in a foundation so he could put the Scriptures into the hands of millions around the world. As many as 60 translations of the New Testament, and many of the complete Bible, were accomplished through Ken Taylor’s investments in the kingdom. He also used this foundation to fund projects that impacted the church through publishing. On two different occasions his foundation gave small donations to assist our work with the quarterly Reformation & Revival Journal. His desire was to impact a new generation of pastors and these gifts allowed us to give the Journal to seminarians.

When I think of Ken Taylor I will remember his simple and generous lifestyle, his quiet and good manner of dealing with people, and his refusal to become vindictive or defensive when he was under attack from Christians. He encouraged me and I am grateful I got to know him. His life was clearly well lived.